PSA: Concussions

I am a rock climber. I am an outdoors enthusiast. I love nature. But love does not save us from the perils of steep hikes, falling rocks, snake bites or bear attacks. While, yes, I love the outdoors, I, by no means, like the possible hazards it presents. 

This past weekend I took a trip to Devil’s Lake, thirty minutes north of Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a beautiful, anomolous, Garden of Eden with layers of quartzite that are not only a beautiful, reddish hue, but very slick. Anyone who is a rock climber and who climbs there knows just how dangerous the rock can be. If you’re a trad climber, you know that placing pro is coupled with a Hail Mary and a whole lot of luck. I learned firsthand just how treacherous quartize is and I’m just glad it didn’t end any worse.

My view before topping out. Beautiful, no?

After a wonderful day climbing, my partner and I headed back down the East Bluff trail contented and ready for a butter burger from Culvers. All would seem fine until I slipped on a quartzite boulder and fell down a steep grade off the trail. My backpack and rope broke most of my fall. My head broke the rest.

I thought I was fine. I was lucid. The hike continued. I got home. Still felt lucid, but with a nasty headache. Went to bed. The next day, didn’t want to wake up. I slept more than I was awake, but chalked it up to a long day of climbing and a little spill off the East Bluff trail. Monday came around. I made it to work. But the symptoms started getting worse—headache, disorientation. Bad things.

In the end, I ended up with a concussion, but no internal bleeding according to the CT scan. In other words, I bruised my brain (or brain contusion, I think). How in the world does this tie to writing, you ask? For this reason: I cannot focus. I cannot read without getting distracted after a minute. With this nasty head injury, I cannot work on my book. I’m forced to step away—and that makes me crazy.

So, my lesson is this: sometimes stepping away from our big projects is a good thing for us writers. Without the ability to remove ourselves from our work, we become obsessed. It’s easy to do. We want our writing to be perfect. We pore over every little detail, every word, every character motivation. It’s a wonderful and painful labor of love.

But sometimes we just need to… breathe.

This East Bluff concussion is forcing me to do just that. I’m playing Tetris. I’m napping. I’m watching bad horror movies. I’m allowing myself to take a recess from the creative process and be human again. It’s a nice change of pace. Although, I’d prefer to be concussion-free, but hey, such is life.