On the night before the 2015 NESCAC Volleyball tournament, Dana Williams ’18 didn’t understand why she was crying during the team huddle. Her team was happy and ready to take home a shiny trophy at the end of the tournament.
“I thought to myself—there is something wrong with me,” Williams said.
Though she didn’t know it yet, Williams had sustained a concussion during practice.
“I got hit in the head with the ball. It came out of nowhere,” she said.
The next day, although she was convinced that she had not sustained a concussion, her advisor made her go home and emailed her coach, her dean and the Health Center.
It’s been two years since her concussion, and Williams is still experiencing ongoing symptoms like lethargy, particularly within several hours of waking up in the morning. For each individual, the symptoms vary. Some common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea and confusion.
Sarah Trenton ’18, another former member of the volleyball team, sustained a concussion during the same week as Williams after a missed-serve hit her in the head.
“I can’t get my heart rate up too high, so I can’t be involved in any physically straining activities. I would get intense headaches and be in a mental fog during classes,” Trenton said.
Because of their concussion experiences, Williams and Trenton created the Concussion Recovery Group this year. They wanted a space for concussion sufferers—and others suffering from chronic pain—to openly discuss their injuries and continual recovery process.
“The amazing thing about this group is that we are able to talk to each other about the emotional aspect of it,” said Trenton. “That’s not something people around you can notice or understand. For instance, your friends can notice that you’re ‘off’ but they might not know why. That’s not their fault.”
While the Polar Brain Alliance, another student-run group, primarily works to aid students at the onset of their symptoms, the Concussion Recovery Group focuses on helping students handle the long-term emotional effects of chronic injuries.
“None of the medical care I sought really helped with the emotional aspect of a concussion,” Williams said. “We want to create a space for validation of the emotional difficulties that come with having a concussion. Because a lot of times, you’re left feeling like no one understands. And so, validating that experience is a challenge, and sharing it with other people is empowering.”
“Not only are we in pain all the time but also our identities were stripped from us,” said Trenton. “One of the hardest things for me is learning how to not be identified as an athlete on campus because that is something I identified with for my entire life.”
So far, the group, comprised of approximately five people, has met twice. In addition to check-ins and discussions, the group spends an hour meditating, a practice that has become important for both Trenton and Williams.
“Slowing down gave me the chance to really think about how much I was doing and how much I was always on the run. And always going from thing to thing, I never really thought about if I actually enjoyed it at all,” Trenton said. “Now, I consciously choose what I want to do and how I want to spend each day is something that makes me happy.”
Co-sponsored by the Counseling Service, the group has funding to bring in professionals, such as natural medicine doctors, yoga instructors and acupuncture specialists. Next semester, Trenton and Williams hope to take advantage of this funding, as well as spread awareness about the group through posters, emails and word of mouth.