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Navigating online college with a concussion

Concussions are never fun, especially if it's your fourth one and during online classes at the end of the semester

<p>Word of advice? Try to not get concussed! But if you do, be patient with yourself, your mind and those around you. Alright, I think that’s enough screen time for me now…&nbsp;</p>

Word of advice? Try to not get concussed! But if you do, be patient with yourself, your mind and those around you. Alright, I think that’s enough screen time for me now… 

I think it is safe to say that for many of us, our college experience has been anything but “normal” for over a year now due to the pandemic. For about two weeks now, my days have been even more abnormal — not because of the pandemic, but because of a concussion. Here’s a look into how it’s been… 

What seemed like an innocent trip to the bathroom ended up causing me some head trauma. To give some context, I was in my bathroom one morning and I was trying to do my hair. In an attempt to put my hair up, I bent under my sink to grab a hair tie from the basket that resides there along with some other toiletry items. In a hurry to get back up, I somehow managed to bang my head against a metal shelf that is located beside my sink. 

At first, I didn’t feel a thing — the spot where I hit my head was a little sore but I didn’t have a headache or experience any normal concussion symptoms such as passing out or feeling dizzy. I was relieved that I was okay, but I still felt a little paranoid because of my history with concussions. Prior to this incident, I have suffered through three concussions — one of them being severe, and I have lasting symptoms to this day. You can see why I’d be concerned, right?

Unfortunately, I was only asymptomatic for about a day or so. The symptoms came slowly but surely — it first started with some nausea and lack of appetite and later manifested to more severe symptoms like tinnitus and disorientation. I still don’t recall which day of the week I actually hit my head, but it was a Friday afternoon that I felt the worst. After talking it through with my roommate and mom, I decided to go get my head checked out. Even on the way to be seen by a doctor, I thought I was over exaggerating the situation or hyperbolizing the symptoms I felt. However, I decided to follow my gut — I just knew that something didn’t feel right. 

If it wasn’t obvious yet, my gut was right. I had a concussion, but it was only a minor one. With that said, I was sent home with a set of instructions I have grown far too familiar with — drink lots of water, only take Tylenol for my headache and stay off my screens. 

At first, it felt like I would finally get to have some rest during this rather chaotic and stressful semester. However, those thoughts were short lived as I quickly remembered all the work I had to do. That particular weekend, my to-do list was particularly extensive as I had to study for a pharmacology exam and write a paper about ethics. How was I going to do all the work I needed to get done? To say I felt overwhelmed was an understatement.

Despite having recovered from a concussion three times prior, it didn’t make the frustrations I had any easier.  You really can’t do much aside from lay in a dark room or just sleep when you have a concussion — at least that’s how it’s been in my experience. While that may initially sound enticing, it gets old quick. This proved to be the case even more so this time around. 

Since almost all academic affairs are virtual, we are constantly glued to our laptops as students. For someone who is not supposed to be looking at any screens, this makes life almost impossible. I say “almost” because I actually found a few ways to work around this rather large obstacle. 

First, I sent an email to my professors letting them know what happened and asked for appropriate accommodations or extensions for their respective classes. I also reached out to our TC — also known as Theresa Carroll, senior assistance dean for academic and student services at the School of Nursing  — for some extra help in navigating my academics as I recover. All responses I got from professors or other staff at the University were beyond supportive and reassuring. 

To navigate online classes, I switched from taking notes on my iPad to printing out notes and writing them by hand. I would do this during an asynchronous or even synchronous lecture with my laptop screen turned away from me and my headphones plugged in. Much to my surprise, I found that this technique was not only helpful with my concussion but also in paying attention during class. With sounds being my main and only guide during class, I focused solely on what I was hearing rather than getting distracted by my environment or opening other tabs on my laptop. 

Socially, things were a little harder. I was unable to text or FaceTime my friends as I usually do throughout the day which proved to be tricky and somewhat detrimental to my mental health. To compensate, I began sending audio messages where I could easily listen to what my friends were saying and respond in a way I wouldn’t be impeding my recovery. I also went a little old school and actually called people instead of only using FaceTime. This was a good alternative but I definitely missed the face-to-face aspect that video calling offers. Along with virtual options, I opted to do some lowkey things with a few of my close friends such as a socially distanced dinner outdoors or a short car ride to get some low-caffeine Starbucks. 

Most importantly, I learned to be even more patient with myself. It is easy to get caught up in a mindset in which you are constantly doing things even if your battery is low. Due to my concussion, I had no option but to slow down and give myself the breaks I needed — if I didn’t, I would be suffering even longer and risk exacerbating my symptoms. With that said, I was patient with myself if I needed more breaks to get through an assignment or if I needed to nap more than once a day. I stopped beating myself up over not doing as much as I wanted to during one day and instead celebrated how much I had accomplished. By being patient with myself and my mind, I was also able to reassure myself that things were going to be okay — that I was going to be okay. 

With what limited options I was given, I think I really made the most of them through the changes I made. As much as I thought I would struggle given the circumstances, I actually found myself adapting to the situation rather well. I am also beyond thankful to have been supported by so many amazing people who helped make my recovery much easier. 

While I am not fully concussion free yet, I am definitely making my way towards it. Concussions are a difficult injury to bounce back from, and if my fourth one has taught me one thing, it is to be even more careful! So, word of advice? Try to not get concussed! But if you do, be patient with yourself, your mind and those around you. Alright, I think that’s enough screen time for me now… 

Zoya Zahid is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at


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