Universe Knocking? Upside to a Concussion
|by Kelly Eckert, November 2013|
Just a year ago, my daughter Sophia was visiting Wellesley College, at the time her top choice for colleges. She was salivating over the myriad courses in women’s studies and in environmental sustainability, her two big passions. When Sophia saw Wellesley takes applications from “highly qualified” high school juniors, she even started making plans to apply immediately.
And then she got a concussion. Her second one, to be precise.
Sophia had been pushing herself academically since 8th grade. While I have nurtured in both of my daughters and my son the courage to follow their own hearts and passions, Sophia was inspired by her dad’s and my stories about our time at Harvard. The hard work she had been putting in at school for her own learning and pleasure, she realized could translate into admission at an Ivy League college.
Sophia already knew she wanted to make a career of helping women in developing countries, and to combine that focus with environmental sustainability. She believed having a degree from a college such as Harvard or Wellesley would enable her to do the good she wanted to do, by opening doors and garnering a level of respect that would facilitate getting a job, or raising funds. Sophia ‘busted her butt’ to maintain a competitive GPA. We rarely saw her at home because she spent hours—often well into the night—doing homework and working on school projects.
Of course, those hours couldn’t commence until she got home from playing sports: field hockey and, her favorite, lacrosse. It was in a lacrosse game in April 2012 that Sophia got her first concussion. She was hit in the forehead by the stick of an opposing player. The resultant headache felt to Sophia very much like the headaches and migraines she was already prone to getting. We had no idea she might have a concussion and she went to school the next day.
It was the dizziness, nausea, blurry vision and complete inability to focus at school that sent us to the doctor, where she was diagnosed with “severe traumatic brain injury.” Sounds much worse than “concussion”! We knew Sidney Crosby was out of hockey for a concussion, but that’s ice hockey, not girls’ lacrosse. Certainly Sophia’s concussion would be no big deal?
That “no big deal” turned into missing the last five weeks of school, including the advanced placement exam Sophia had been preparing for all year. She did heal enough to go on a community service trip to Nepal that summer and to start her junior year of high school with high academic hopes.
So we took a trip to Boston in September of Sophia’s junior year, where she visited—and would have matriculated right then if they had let her—Wellesley. That first month of school had been a struggle. Her memory wasn’t back where it had been pre-concussion. She was getting daily headaches. And her level of stress was increasing. But Sophia has the stubbornness to persevere when she really wants something .
I had a feeling the second concussion might be a sign from the Universe. “You’re doing it wrong,” I thought I heard it say to Sophia. Doing what wrong? Her life path?
That second concussion—a result of hitting her head on her own bed—came just a week after visiting Wellesley. Another concussion meant more missed school and more struggle at school. She took only three days off from school that time—not nearly enough to heal. She found herself falling asleep in class on a daily basis, something she had never done in the past.
Her concussion doctor put Sophia on a medication, a neuro-stimulant similar to that taken for ADHD, to help her get through the day with fewer headaches and less sleepiness. This helped Sophia get through the year, but her grades dropped significantly – and her memory problems were getting worse.
Sophia worked with a therapist to reduce stress and started doing yoga. She focused inward, on what she really wanted for her life, and began to see that Wellesley was irrelevant.
Sophia’s goal in life is, to use her words, “to work in the dirt with people,” helping them create clean and sustainable living, working and learning environments. When she’s not traveling the world helping people, she wants to live in a commune growing her own food or backpack in the woods reconnecting with nature.
Once Sophia became totally clear on and committed to this vision of her life path, she realized that she could achieve her goals through means other than a “top college.” Now in her senior year of high school, Sophia’s college list includes schools such as Green Mountain and College of the Atlantic, schools that are blazing a trail in sustainability, service and activism. Sophia decided that she didn’t want to go to a college where sustainability is an option; she wants to go a college where it is a way of life.
In some ways, Sophia is lucky to have had this experience so young in her life. Instead of following someone else’s road map, losing herself and falling into a depression in her 30s or 40s, (like what happens to so many of us women) Sophia was able to reevaluate her life and her path from the safety of her own home. She was able to do this reevaluation with the support of her parents, at an age when changes can be made without the responsibilities of a job or a spouse or kids.
Did Sophia need two concussions to push her onto what now seems to her a truer life path? Maybe not. But I’ve always believed, and I think she does too, that when we ignore the Universe whispering in our ear, it will hit us over the head with a sledgehammer—or a perhaps a lacrosse stick.
In addition to being a concerned mom, Kelly Eckert is the creator of the Fear Releasing Method™ and Branding with Spirit Animals™. As an author, speaker, advocate and coach, Kelly translates her degrees in biology (M.S. from Tufts) and anthropology (B.A. from Harvard) into bio-spiritual tools that help women put the meaning and magic back into their lives. Kelly is a co-host of the Geek Girl Soup podcast, where she gets to discuss her favorite films, TV shows, books and video games. She is a wife, the mother of three, the person of four cats, an animal-lover, a Star Trek fan, a vegan chocoholic and an advocate of making life awesome by just being you.