Jessica

Age at interview: 27
Outline:

Jessica suffered her first concussion during a basic training exercise soon after entering the Army National Guard in 2012. She sustained several additional concussions, most stemming from balance issues resulting from her first concussion, which led to an eventual diagnosis of mild TBI. Beyond balance issues, Jessica experienced severe headaches, problems with her memory, and intermittent hand tremors. To cope with these symptoms and struggles with anger and depression, Jessica began seeing a therapist and receiving services through the VA Polytrauma Clinic.

Background:

Military branch: Army National Guard 

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Jessica suffered her first concussion during a basic training exercise soon after entering the Army National Guard in 2012. She slipped on ice while running and the impact of the fall knocked her unconscious. Several concussions later, most stemming from balance issues from the first and each subsequent incident, Jessica relocated from Tennessee to San Antonio, Texas where she now works as a counselor at a local Veteran Service Organization.

Originally a “happy-go-lucky music major” Jessica abruptly changed career paths midway through her undergraduate education when two Veteran suicides that hit close to home prompted her to become a Veteran social worker. She finished her undergraduate degree in sociology and in 2012 enlisted in the military, beginning basic training at the same time she began graduate school. Her concussions, which led to an eventual diagnosis of mild TBI, derailed her career goals when she found she could not keep up with her school work and when, after her second concussion from a fall, she was deemed “too big of a risk” and discharged from the military.

Back home in Tennessee with her family Jessica grappled with symptoms from her head injury including severe headaches, problems with her memory, and intermittent hand tremors. Problems with her balance have led to multiple falls and additional concussions. On top of these issues, Jessica struggled to accept her new reality and dealt with anger and depression. To cope with such major changes to her life and her abilities and help with her “grieving a career," Jessica began seeing a therapist and goes to the Polytrauma Clinic at the San Antonio VA. While she had to put school on hold soon after her first injury, Jessica says her goal is to return and finish her masters using the disability services that are open to her if needed, noting “there is absolutely no shame in accepting help.”

To others who are struggling with a head injury, Jessica says “It’s not linear. It’s going to get better but everybody is going to have setbacks. Clearly, I’ve had seven big setbacks, but it’s a process.” She adds that she considers her new birthdate the date of her first injury. “I’m never going to be the person I was before, so celebrate your new person.”

 

Jessica sustained her first severe concussion after slipping and falling on the ice during basic training.

Jessica sustained her first severe concussion after slipping and falling on the ice during basic training.

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So, we do PT tests, physical training. You do your two-mile run, push-ups, sit-ups, and it was Tennessee, January, it was icy out and during our PT test, we weren’t supposed to be running that day yet we all were in trouble so they had us do it anyway and I slipped and fell on ice. With that being said, I fell backwards and my head was the first thing to hit the concrete, and the last thing I remember. I didn’t know my name. Apparently, the people who found me were all people I knew very well. I do remember people being around me, I just I couldn’t even tell you who it was. And they eventually took me to the hospital and told me I had a severe concussion.

 

Jessica experienced hand tremors and severe headaches, and says that people around her noticed changes in her memory and mood.

Jessica experienced hand tremors and severe headaches, and says that people around her noticed changes in her memory and mood.

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I had very poor memory. I had hand tremors, severe headaches. I didn’t notice particularly how bad my memory was. It was everybody around me who noticed it. I think they were more scared to tell me than anything. But, I guess I would ask the same question or repeat myself over and over. And I had a lot of mood changes. I was really irritable.

I: And did you notice that part? Did you notice?

I think it took a lot of convincing, that I had a lot of emotional changes, which I think has been the longest lasting issue with it, has been my moods.

 

Before her injury, Jessica says she felt like a superhero who could do all and see all, but now she has a lot more limitations.

Before her injury, Jessica says she felt like a superhero who could do all and see all, but now she has a lot more limitations.

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I felt like superhero in some ways, before I feel like I could do all see all. There’s nothing that I couldn’t do before, and I feel like I kind of left that girl on the pavement. I was going to school, I was working full time, I was joining the army, I was doing a whole lot of things at once and since then it’s been a little bit harder. I’ve learned there’s a lot more limitations after you’ve had a head injury. So yeah, it’s a lot harder is the biggest limitation. Limitations.

I: Yeah what do you think are the things that are, what are the biggest limitations?

Um, clearly there’s a lot of physical components that go along with it. A lot of emotional components that go along with it as well. I just feel like, I don’t know, I don’t know that I can pinpoint one particularly I just know that I have to take things one thing at a time now instead of doing everything at once.

 

Jessica talks about no longer having an emotional connection to the hobbies and interests she had before her injury.

Jessica talks about no longer having an emotional connection to the hobbies and interests she had before her injury.

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So, and that I think goes along with the art and music, I had all of my belongings in storage and I didn’t go in there for a couple years, and I remember unpacking boxes and my very, very first major was baking of pastries, and I remember unpacking boxes and saying to my family, I bake? Like with a question mark, like, and then I was like oh I baked but I have like no emotional connection to the pre-head injury interests. So, everything like afterwards that I started doing I have strong emotional connections to, like I know that I did show choir type competitions all my life, like I know intrinsically like I did all these things but like I don’t feel a strong emotional connection to all of that but I do have an emotional connection to all of the post-head injury.

I do attribute quite a bit of it to the head injury only because I did lose a lot of that emotional connection because I was still, like I tried to double major for a little while and I was going to school and enlisting and doing that all at once, so I feel like I was able to maintain that balance of a life style before. And I feel like I lost a little bit of me there. Like I really don’t think my ex-husband would know me now. Like even talking to him sometimes he tells me stories about, about me and I’m like “oh yeah, I am that way, oh yeah I do feel that way.” It’s always so shocking. To think that it’s like, oh you were a bleeding heart for animals, like I know I am but I feel like I’ve become a lot more callous. I never thought I could work with homeless people, like I used to cry when I saw a panhandler and now I work with homeless every day, so. It’s a crazy shift in my personal views and everything, like it’s really strange.

 

Jessica says that the person her husband married wasn’t who she was after her injury and that they both “sort of gave up.”

Jessica says that the person her husband married wasn’t who she was after her injury and that they both “sort of gave up.”

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It affected my marriage and all my relationships at that point.

I: Yeah can you say a little bit more about that, but in what way it affected those relationships?

I got married right after, I guess within a couple weeks after my head injury. We were, this sounds terrible, I’m not even 100% sure why we were getting married when we did. We were scheduled to get married that October and we just went ahead and got married in February probably because of the Army. So that’s my definitive - we were getting married because of the Army, because of Army training. I don’t feel like the person that I was before my injury is the person that he married. So, in a lot of ways I will take blame for the failed marriage cause the person that he married was definitely not the person that he had dated for the two years prior. I was a very, very hostile person to be around afterward.

He was still in the Army and I wasn’t so I was very bitter about that. He was very supportive of everything that happened, but they mis-medicated me immediately after I got out. They put me on a whole lot of different psychotropic medications. I think I was up to taking like twelve different pills a day. And I was up to the point that the more they would give me the more I would take. So, he didn’t know whether he was going to come home to Betty Crocker or whether he was going to come home and I was going to have slit my wrists, so he didn’t know what he was coming home to anymore. I know there were days that he was afraid to open the door because he didn’t know what was going to be behind it and I do feel very bad for that. I know that that was a really big strain on him, so, I will take blame for that but I think at some point he also had his own demons that he stopped coping with because he was focused on coping with mine. So, at some point we both sort of gave up.

 

Jessica sought therapy and counseling to cope with her anger.

Jessica sought therapy and counseling to cope with her anger.

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Therapy. That’s just the honest answer. I’ve been angry for three years now. It took me two years to enlist to begin with because I had some medical problems. I had a really bad knee and other things so the Army barely wanted me to begin with. I fought really hard to get in and then immediately was injured and kicked back out. That was a really frustrating thing and then to have a set-back that pushed me even farther back to where I feel like now my education and everything else suffers. I’m very, very angry. So yeah, it’s taken a whole lot of therapy, counseling time, to be able to cope with what I’m considering grieving a career and my health at this point.

 

Because of her injury, Jessica understands what other Veterans are going through on a much different level.

Because of her injury, Jessica understands what other Veterans are going through on a much different level.

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So, that’s a two-sided question for me. I’m a very career driven person, so that being said, I was very dead set on going through the Army and being an Army social worker. And I view this as a bump in the road I guess. It took me a long time to view it as that though. So, I also view this as a way for me to sort of relate better to my people that I serve. So, I feel like some days I secret shop the VA care system. It just gave me a different avenue to go about doing what I was already going to do. It didn’t stop me but it definitely made it harder. It’s definitely, it’s changed my outlook a whole lot. I understand on a - I thought that going through the Army was gonna be me being able to, you know, have combat experience, things like that, and understand on that level my population, but now I understand on a much different level. Being that I don’t have combat time but I understand what people are going through on a much different level. Especially with the frustrations of the VA system and filing your claims and coping with some of these symptoms.

 

 

Jessica has received medication, physical therapy and a lot of alternative therapies for pain reduction through the VA.

Jessica has received medication, physical therapy and a lot of alternative therapies for pain reduction through the VA.

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As long as I don’t hit my head again it usually does tend to get better. I have figured out the proper doctors are incredibly important. Because for the first while, right after I was discharged, there wasn’t a neurologist on the planet who would touch me until I got on VA care because it looked like workman’s comp, so I guess it was almost two years before I saw a proper neurologist again. It’s the one positive I can say about VA care, once I finally did get back on VA care the polytrauma clinic in Tennessee and the one here in San Antonio have been phenomenal in actually getting me care.

I: And what kind of care have they, like what has that entailed?

They gave me the proper medication and then they’ve done the physical therapy. They did acupressure, not acupuncture, but it’s doing the different pressure points with an electrode machine, it’s very interesting. They have been doing a lot of alternative type medicines, trying to do pain reduction. That’s been very interesting, and even sent me to a vision clinic to try to help with some of those symptoms

…I think just the overall, like they, they go through every medication you’re taking, every, they sat and talked about every head injury that I had. They made a timeline, they even, even the ones in Tennessee went through my diet, like what other supplements are you taking, they even talked about the pre-work out that I take and like how it can affect the symptoms that I have. And then talked to me about alternative medicines and, because at this point I take medication, I’ve probably taken just about every medication out there. I’ve looked for every solution. But giving me alternative to medication is really important to me. So, them offering me like, we’re going to give you all of these services that are non-medication, I don’t know they just, they gave me quite a bit of hope that there was something that they could do for me and that I wasn’t always going to have pain and have memory loss and feel like Specialist Broke Dick. So yeah it’s definitely, they gave me quite a bit of hope that things were gonna progress and get better. They gave me a pretty good timeline and things have gotten quite a bit better.

 

Jessica talks about the importance of having a strong support system and people who weren’t afraid to push her.

Jessica talks about the importance of having a strong support system and people who weren’t afraid to push her.

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Having a strong support system is definitely, I’m gonna say that’s definitely been helpful. Especially people who are accountable, people who aren’t afraid to hold back and tell me exactly what they’re thinking even if they know it’s going to piss me off, because it’s happened more time than not. I do feel like my ex-husband at times would baby me a little bit and I think once I started getting better it almost scared him and my family because I would go out and want to do things more. And I think a lot of people had that really frail person in their head. But having those people who weren’t afraid to tell me, to check me, and tell me like you’re not capable of doing this or you’re laying in the bed get your ass up like what are you doing. That was really important for me.

 

Jessica says it is a process, don’t quit, and even if you aren’t the same person you were before, celebrate your new person.

Jessica says it is a process, don’t quit, and even if you aren’t the same person you were before, celebrate your new person.

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It’s a process. I always tell people don’t quit. It’s not linear. It’s going to get better but everybody is going to have setbacks. Clearly, I’ve had seven big setbacks, but it’s a process. You’re not going to be the same person. You’re not going to be the same person you were before, I tell everybody. My new birthdate is my head injury day. I’m never going to be the person I was before, so celebrate your new person.