Trying, failing, and succeeding at running after a brain injury

Almost 4 years ago I suffered from a grade 3 concussion and a related neck injury. Two summers ago, my rehabilitation team suggested that I was finally well enough to start running again. 

I waited about a few weeks before I tried. It was a warm day toward the end of July. I decided to get up early and just give it a shot. I dragged my partner along with me for support. Despite my deep desire to run, I was terrified by the thought of running again. I was afraid it would send me into a downstream of brain and neck injury related symptoms. 

Things started out well. I ran at a decent pace and felt very little strain. In fact, my cardiovascular system seemed to be fairly intact. Being the type C person that I am, that is, a type A person with a strong shot of optimism (see here), I decided to push a little harder and to run up a hill. By the time I was up the hill, I was in pain. Trying to be breezy about it all, I simply told my partner that I was ready to stop. 

It was only when I went back home and grabbed an ice pack that I realized just how much I had overdone it. My optimism had led me to push it too far. It wasn’t the mild neck pain that I had been battling for months. It was the “I’m on fire” and “I need it stop now or I am going to totally freak out” sort of pain that I dreaded. The pain downgraded to a bearable level after I continued to ice it, have a few hot showers, and take some pain meds. 

The pain continued to irk me for another month or two. At the time, I was going through some pretty big life changes (moving, starting a new job) and so I decided to delay my return to running.

A few months later, after I was more settled, I essentially did the same thing. I started a run, this time without my partner. Things went well at the beginning, but by the time I was done I was in pain and the pain lasted for another month or two. This was enough to turn me off running for another two years.

More recently, after the semester ended this year, I decided to try again. This time around, I decided to try a treadmill. It was clear that when I was left to myself I pushed too hard. This time I promised myself to run slowly and to start with two-minute increments alternating between running and walking. 

After the first run, I had a major migraine, which completely knocked me out for a day (think nausea, light and noise sensitivity, and dizziness). I wasn’t sure if it was related to the running or something else. Mustering some courage, I waited a day and then tried again. It went well enough. I was optimistic and I continued running in the same way, keeping my speed slow and alternating between running and walking. 

By the end of the month, I was able to run every other day, increasing the time I spent running while also increasing my speed. Now, a few months later, I’m able to run around a 5k continuously at pretty decent speed and with little to no pain.

In some ways running on a treadmill isn’t what I was aiming for when I started running again. I love being outside, in the breeze and under the blue sky. But try as I might – and I’ve continued to try – when I run outside, I don’t do well. It’s likely because I’m still battling some balance and vision issues that stem from my head injury. Being outside, with many visual focal points, somehow complicates these issues for me. 

As time has passed, I’ve come to be happy with my treadmill in the basement. It took numerous tries, and I’m not running what I used to be able to run or where I’d ideally like to be running, but I’m happy. I’m doing something that I love, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do again.

Meena Krishnamurthy is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan.  She can be seen walking or sometimes running slowly in the lovely neighborhood of Kerrytown in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  She is often accompanied by her reassuring husband, spunky 9 year-old daughter, and extremely cute dog.

Guest Post · injury

Recovered? (Guest Post)

Image description: A tree with red leaves in the shape of a head. One third of the leaves blowing away.  Also, green grass and blue sky and white clouds.
Image description: A tree with red leaves in the shape of a head. One third of the leaves blowing away. Also, green grass and blue sky and white clouds.

By Meena Krishnamurthy

A couple of months ago someone asked me the question that I have dreaded being asked most. The question was a simple one: Are you fully recovered?

Let me back track a bit. Almost three years ago, I suffered from a severe concussion. I had cognitive and visual problems, endless dizziness, migraines, and neck pain. Together these symptoms left me in bed in a dark room for almost 7 months. I was able to brush my teeth and shower, but I wasn’t able to grocery shop or cook. I was able to see people, but only for short times. I was largely isolated from my husband and my, at the time, 6 year old daughter. The dog was really the only one I could tolerate for longer periods of time, but at times even she was too much to handle.

For the most part, through hard work and some good luck, I’ve managed to get back to the things that I love. In the fall of 2016, I started a new academic position and in the winter I returned to teaching. This year I returned to a full teaching load. I’ve also returned to travelling and giving talks on a very limited basis. Most importantly, I am able to spend time with my family and to do the simple things that I love like grocery shopping. Even though it didn’t quite stick, I even managed to start running again this summer. All things considered, things have been going very well for me. I am proud of the progress that I have made and continue to make.

Given all of this, one might wonder, why was THAT question so difficult to answer? In part, it is hard to answer because I had recently been asking myself the same question and I hadn’t come up with a good answer.

The question itself confuses me. It isn’t clear to me what being recovered looks like at this point. If the person (and myself) was asking whether I am back to being the same person that I was before my head injury, then the answer is no. And, what comes next is difficult to say out loud and to admit to myself: I am not the same person that I was before my head injury. Sometimes I have still have days (sometimes many days) where I can’t out of bed. Sometimes, I am still overwhelmed with migraines, nausea, and numbness for weeks at a time. Sometimes, I am still cognitively hazey (this is probably the hardest thing to admit as an academic). More fundamentally, I am aware of my vulnerability, sometimes overcome with (irrational) fear that I will return to that dark room and be unable to do the things I love most.

On the other hand, perhaps I have just changed. Perhaps this is all part of my new norm. I have great days and not so great days and somehow I push through. Perhaps, then, I have recovered as much as I can.

Another option (according to the medical experts that I am working with) is that I’m still a work in progress. According to my neurologist, it can take almost 6 years to fully recover from a brain injury. This isn’t often the answer that people want to hear. People prefer a quick and complete success story – one where the person goes from being stuck in a dark room to being back in front of the classroom and travelling around the world, as if the accident had never happened. Unfortunately, in many cases of brain injury, this is a far-fetched scenario.

At this point, I’m still not sure how to answer THAT question. All of these are live options. My guess is my answer will change with place and time.

Guest Post

Strong is the New Pretty (Guest Post)

By Sage Krishnamurthy McEneany 

For a long time, I have been thinking about what I want to look like and be like. Girls are often told that they must be pretty, that they should wear frilly dresses, high heels, and pink. I want to argue today that real prettiness is strength and power and that all girls should strive for this.

When I was 5, I thought I knew what prettiness was. I thought it was about princesses and makeup, and beautiful frilly dresses and big big ball gowns. But now, I have changed my mind.

The princes always save princesses. Disney makes it seem like girls can’t save themselves, like they just have to worry about how pretty they are. But, princesses aren’t really pretty. True prettiness is power and strength.

Someone who is really pretty might not wear makeup or dresses. She solves problems and tries to make the world better.  She might be afraid of things, but she faces her fears. She might break the rules, if that is what’s needed. She might even get a bit dirty.

When I was 6, I realized, I am not a Disney princess or a Barbie and I don’t want to be. Inside, I am a strong powerful girl, powerful with my words, and my voice. I am stronger than anyone. I am someone who wants to make the world a better place and who wants to help others. I think other girls should be like this and are already like this.

All girls should be strong and powerful. This is true beauty. I hope that everyone will spread the word and live by it: strong is the new pretty.


Sage is almost 7.  She loves art and creating.  She wants to play basketball, but she doesn’t know how to do it yet.  She is inspired by Sarah Kay’s spoken word poetry, especially her piece “If I should have a daughter . . .”.  This post is titled after a series of photographs by Kate T. Parker.

Guest Post · injury · running

The Long Slow Walk (a.k.a. My Recovery from a Concussion) – Guest Post

Though I don’t remember much about the actual event, I do remember the day clearly.  It was February 19, a Wednesday, the day after my husband’s 34th birthday.  I had plans to go out for dinner with friends – an event aptly entitled “Strangers and Friends” because, well, it involved strangers and friends – a dinner that I eventually had to miss.  These details are important to me because they are among the few things that I remember from that day.  The last thing that I remember is that I was running away from my dog, a weak attempt to get her to chase me.  The next thing I remember is waking up with my face flat on the concrete floor with my dog sniffing me and gently licking the blood from my forehead.  I knew immediately that I had hit my head and that I had hit my head hard.  I had all the tell tale symptoms of a concussion.  I woke up dizzy, nauseous and very mentally foggy.  I suffered a grade 3 concussion and have been recovering ever since.

One of the most difficult things for me about recovering from my concussion is that I have had to change the way that I think about myself.  I am, what some people might call, a type A personality or, what I would prefer to call, a type C personality – a type A personality without all the negatives typically associated with being type A and with an extra dash of hope and optimism!  I am a go getter.  This applies to my academic work as a professor of philosophy and it applies to other areas of my life such as running.  After the concussion, everything about me was slower.  My thinking was slower.  My physical movements were slower.  Everything I did led to debilitating migraines.  I watched an hour of tv, I got a migraine. I wrote part of a paper, I got a migraine.  I talked with people, I got a migraine.  I played with my daughter, I got a migraine. I went for a walk, I got a migraine. The longest migraine lasted for 14 days.  For me, the headaches are the least of my problems because I am able to control them with pain medication.  The more significant problem for me is the aura that I get along with the headaches.  My auras involve nausea, visual disturbances (blurry vision and sometimes complete but temporary blindness), auditory disturbances (ringing in my ears, sounds become amplified), and motor disturbances (wobbly legs and arms).  For the first few months after my concussion, I spent a lot of time in a dark room by myself.  I could no longer think of myself as a go-getter because I wasn’t able to go and get much of anything.

Physical activity is a recommended treatment for concussion and post-concussion syndrome.  Before my concussion, I was a runner.  Not a marathon runner, but a runner.  I liked to run for 45 minutes, around 4 times a week.  I never liked walking, but walking, and walking very slowly, was the only thing that I could do after my concussion.  At first I hated it.  And then slowly I came to enjoy it. I walked in the snow.  I walked in the rain and then eventually I walked in the warm sunshine.  And, now, I walk as the leaves fall. I am finally able to walk briskly, to play with my daughter, to talk with people and to read and write a little.  I’m able to imagine myself running again in the near future, something I couldn’t imagine a few months ago.  I am still recovering, but I am slowly coming to accept myself as I am in my current post-concussion state.  It’s a slower me.  But, being the type C person that I am, I am hopeful about becoming a new and improved me and being able to do much more soon.

Mother and daughter walking on the trail
Mother and daughter walking on the trail

Meena Krishnamurthy is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manitoba.  She can be seen walking slowly in the lovely neighborhood of River Heights in Winnipeg.  She is often accompanied by her reassuring husband, spunky 6 year-old daughter, and extremely cute dog.