On January 25th my life was forever changed. The sun was just coming up when my three-year-old bounced into our room, onto our bed, and then flung his body and his head backward – into my face. I only remember the cracking sound. After that, I don’t remember much.
I remember stumbling to the bathroom. I remember throwing up and I remember saying “I’m ok” over and over again.
Over the next 3 days my symptoms just got worse. I was told I had a concussion. I wasn’t able to see clearly out of my left eye and for whatever reason my left arm wasn’t working properly but I thought that was a normal side effect of getting hit in the head.
After a few days I decided to try and go to the grocery store and discovered I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t remember my address. I didn’t know where I was and the cars were so loud I couldn’t think. I started to throw up again and cry. I was 60 feet away from my house. The clerk at the convenience store across the street had to walk me back home.
My husband was worried. I was annoyed! I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t able to go to work, care for my kids or even do basic things. My husband said that it would just take some time and we both agreed things could not possibly get worse. They did.
Strange things started happening. I woke up on the couch with a mouth full of blood, exhausted and sweating. I would be sitting eating breakfast and the next thing I knew my bowl was tipped over and I was covered in cereal. I stopped eating hot food as I burned my lap once and I couldn’t remember spilling it. On the weekend my husband was in the basement and came up the stairs to see what I wanted as I had been knocking on the floor.
I wasn’t knocking. It was my head repeatedly hitting the floor – I was having a seizure.
Things moved rather quickly after that. Neurologists, MRIs, EEGs, more EEGs. During these appointments it was also confirmed something that I already knew but would never admit.
I couldn’t read.
A 33 year old woman who always had something to read tucked in her purse and would skip nights of sleep just to finish a novel was now unable to read street signs or instructions.
In one week I was told the following:
- I was not to pick up my children or carry them (my youngest was 18 months). If I had a seizure I could drop them
- I was accepted onto Long Term Disability. My neurologist did not feel like this would resolve in less than 2 years.
- I was accepted into the Acquired Brain Injury program where I was going to work with a team who would help me daily to use memory aids, learn how to go grocery shop, and work to control my rage-filled outbursts that often accompany traumatic brain injuries.
Often times you hear of people who at their lowest points muster up the energy to do great magical things. This was not one of those times.
I repeatedly told my husband to leave me. I cried all the time. We ended up selling our house on a major street as even with earplugs I could not stand the noise of traffic and people.
My rehab team had me make a list of things I wanted to accomplish in the next 6 months. This was my list:
- Pick up my children from school and daycare
- Do grocery shopping
- Make dinner 1x a week
- Read simple passages and phrases
And that is what I did. I worked full time at getting better. I began to learn to read again with my 4 year old (I still hate those frog and toad books); I learned how to grocery shop by just buying the exact same things all the time; I wore earplugs to control the noise outside; I went out with only one person at a time as groups of people were overwhelming. I saw specialists to help control the crippling headaches so I was not confined to my bed after 5:00pm.
After 1.5 years I had gone through my list and 3 other lists. One night after I had made dinner – all by myself – my husband said to me: “Well if you can do this, you can do anything. What do you want to do?”
I spent over a year of my life worrying that if I fell asleep I wouldn’t wake up and that I would never see my children again. I worried I would have a seizure on the street and get hit by a car.
I wanted to work. I used to love my job. I decided to try to work for myself so that I could take it slowly and also spend much needed time with my kids that I felt I had lost to over 140 appointments and hours in rehab and waiting rooms.
I had been a return to work specialist and HR professional before this and I wanted to keep using those skills to help individuals rather than only Fortune 500 companies. Moms at Work is now Canada's largest network for working mothers. It is my gift to the world and the thing I am most proud of. I am so proud of all the women we have supported and who support us in all we are trying to achieve.
I am still not perfect. I will never enjoy loud concerts and still use computer software to read long emails to me but almost losing everything at 33 has made me a different person.
I keep this list in my purse on a scrap of paper. It is my life list:
- Never say can’t. Say I don’t want to or it is not a priority. I can do anything I want.
- This day and every day is a gift. If it was your last would you be happy?
- Slow down.
- Good things take time. Don’t be afraid to spend time building something spectacular
- Ignore outside noise. If it is important let it in. (This is for noise but also stress, unwanted advice and criticism)
- Tell them you love them. Every day. Preferably more than once
Originally published in 2019.
Allison Venditti is the founder of Moms at Work. Allison brings over 15 years of experience in career coaching, salary negotiation and Human Resources. She is a thought leader for women & work, motherhood, and work, pay transparency and equity as well as women's rights.