Molly O’Brien is no stranger to concussions. In fact, by age 23, she had already recovered from six of them. But the seventh was different.
In February of 2017, Molly slipped and fell on some ice while walking to work and hit her head on the curb.
“Right after I fell, I knew something was really off,” she said.Molly had headaches and shooting nerve pain. Her speech and vision were impaired. She was sensitive to light and noise. And she was afraid to leave her house.
“I would get confused really easily,” she said. “When I had to go in public, or be in busy environments where lots of things were moving around, I would start to have panic attacks.”
But what Molly didn’t realize at the time was that the headaches, visual disturbances and anxiety were all symptoms of an even deeper issue in her brain.
Traumatic Brain Injuries Can Seriously Affect Cognitive Abilities
Molly’s experience is not unusual. In fact, concussions are one of the most common types of traumatic brain injury (TBI).
But when an accident happens, patients are often preoccupied with treating their physical symptoms, so the cognitive issues sometimes go unaddressed.
“Once I was back at work, I noticed my ability to think and concentrate wasn’t the same,” Molly said. “I was so distracted by the headaches and light sensitivity that I didn’t realize this issue right away.”
Molly wrestled in high school and university. That’s how she suffered the first six concussions. But the seventh dealt the hardest blow to her personal and professional life because she didn’t recover as fast.
Big group meetings were suddenly a nightmare. She struggled to hear more than one person speak at a time. She couldn’t understand how everyone’s points were connected. And she didn’t know how to present her opinions or respond to questions.
“This concussion changed my understanding of traumatic brain injury,” she said. “After six concussions I thought I knew the recovery stages, but this one was unpredictable. It was isolating.”
How Cognitive Therapy Can Help Traumatic Brain Injuries
Molly struggled for months at work. In addition to issues following group meetings, she couldn’t organize her ideas to build presentations or complete projects.
“I couldn’t keep track of the big picture,” she said. “I was too bogged down by the little details.”
Her employer recommended she contact the Watson Centre Society for Brain Health. She’s been in Watson’s part time program for three months now and is seeing big results.
Molly’s concussion damaged the part of her brain responsible for processing speed and decision making. At Watson, she works on an exercise that helps her make connections in a timed setting. It’s an exercise that is having a ripple effect in her work life.
“I started feeling like I could come to a meeting, sit down and know what we were there to talk about,” she said, adding that before Watson, it took her five to 10 minutes to understand what the meeting was about and what she was expected to say.
After only a month in the program, Molly also felt like she could take breaks at work and easily return to her computer and focus.
While her time at Watson isn’t done, it’s already been a life-changing experience. For her, it’s more than a cognitive program. It’s also a place where people with various traumatic brain injuries come together to support each other.
“There are a lot of emotions involved in recovering from a brain injury,” Molly said. “It’s very frustrating when your brain won’t do what you want it to do, so we celebrate each other’s successes.”