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Setbacks Are Not Permanent, but the Change They Bring Is

Facing concussion and dealing with it helps us to weather the storm.

Key points

  • When facing a setback, it's easy to succumb to fear and despair.
  • However, human beings are resilient and can adapt to even the most extreme circumstances. 
  • Recalling lessons learned from past difficulties can help people navigate future challenges more easily and skillfully.
Source: Kat/Pexels

The Trouble With Setbacks

The pandemic swirls around us. Like the sun edging into the dawn, hope for better health and a return to normalcy begins to rise into our hearts. But hope can blind us to realities like the third wave. No matter how much some of us are used to setbacks, again and again, we do not see another one coming, even eminently predictable ones.

And when we’re in a setback, we fight despair and the lying certainty that the setback is permanent. Neither the hoped-for return to health nor setbacks are permanent. But neither do they circle us back to the normal we’re used to; they lead us into permanent change... until the next health crisis or miracle changes the change.

As I recover from another recent, and hopefully mild, concussion, I marvel at the recovery lessons I’d forgotten because I had no longer needed to compensate for an untreated injury or treat it intensively. And I’m thankful that this time I have specialists I can turn to who know what to do and can prescribe me the protocols to use on my low-intensity home laser therapy and audiovisual entrainment devices.

It’s a far cry from over a decade ago when another unknowable and unthinkable thing happened to me. A time when specialists didn’t understand what was happening, nor did I. Like the pandemic did to everyone, this previous setback created fear in me because of lack of knowledgeable help and understanding. But unlike everyone in the pandemic—and unlike today—back then, I had to manage my fear alone.

Below is an excerpt from my book, Concussion Is Brain Injury: Treating the Neurons and Me.

Humans Aren’t Tigers but Elephants

Saturday, January 6, 2007, I awoke and ran my tongue around the inside of my mouth, inhaled deeply, and felt the air flowing through my throat, filling my lungs. I sagged, broken in relief. I was still alive.

I looked in the mirror. Water swelled the delicate tissue under my left eye. My flailing brain had punched me. I iced it. I spread melaleuca cream on it. My brain found another spot on the right side of my nose to scream its exhaustion.

I ate breakfast and swallowed my Prednisone. My energy fled, weakening my legs and wasting me like I had been after my injury. Only recently had I been able to eat breakfast and not need a nap after.

Now back to post-crash endless zonked.

My GP called me back from a party. His answering service had failed to deliver my Friday message. He said that he would have given the Prednisone differently. He would’ve given first a huge dose, then tapered off. But he said that he wasn’t going to interfere.

Great, I thought, as I hung up. Now what? I’m having it given all wrong. Would it work? Make me worse?

I thought back to the doctor I’d seen years after that day in 1981 in the ER, who’d diagnosed why I’d collapsed on a rainy, hot day only a month after my grandmother had died. Her complex testing revealed that not only did I not produce enough adrenaline and norepinephrine under normal circumstances, but they also didn’t rise under stress. That’s why when I was stressed, my blood pressure dropped like a stone in a still pool.

But that was before my brain injury.

My blood pressure had instantly risen at the crash site. It had taken me all these years to remember why normal numbers were wrong for me.

I wished that physician was still alive to advise me. My GP did too and suggested I see an endocrinologist. My choice, he said. He’d always respected my medical knowledge and my self-knowledge. He’d always supported me in my medical choices.

I latched on to adrenaline insufficiency. I latched on to the endocrinologist.

I googled adrenaline insufficiency. My brain in revenge swelled up my left eye again. I hurriedly got off the computer and checked my throat in the mirror. I could still see it. Maybe it was safe to eat. I poured out a small bowl of soup and ate an early dinner.


My old physician had told me to eat licorice to prop up my adrenaline levels. I searched in my cupboard for licorice tea. I’d thrown out my licorice years earlier after my brain injury. I couldn’t quite remember why. But the tea would help. I inhaled its steam and sipped its sweetness.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Now the clock in my head added to the counting up of years Lifeliner was on hold, the time lost to my regressing health. Its ticking dominated me, and I strained to rest against its urgency.

After church, Mum took me out for lunch. It was safe to eat with another watching me. I was hungry. And if my brain stopped regulating my body temperature or started shooting out swellings in bad places, Mum would see.

She could stop me choking to death, I thought but did not say. If I said these words out loud, the fear would grow like a giant; people would laugh at me and throw me back into my home alone. What would happen to me when the Prednisone ran out? I had to see an endocrinologist now.

Copyright ©2017-2021 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.