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Ahhh, you are all probably so sick of hearing about the concussion, but indulge me once again. I promise: I will stop blogging about concussions soon!

When you have a concussion — especially if you are dizzy — it’s all you think about. When you stop being miserable, you start thinking about other things. That’s exactly what happened to me. One of the things I realized was that I needed to start doing regular, routine maintenance of my body. I knew I was due for a yearly gynecologist appointment. And I was probably due for a mammogram, I thought. I called the radiology place first. After all, it can take a while to get a mammo slot. The woman on the phone asked me my date of birth and all that junk. Then she asked me if I had been anyplace else for my 2014 mammo. No, I said. “Well, you haven’t been here since February 2013.” I couldn’t believe it. I was so busy worrying about being dizzy, I forgot to take care of my female parts. Sigh.

I scheduled the mammo for last Friday. I went in, donned the gown and did my thing. Mammo and sono. Ugh. And blech. But I figured at least it was done for another year. Except then this happened:

Ugh, a mass.

Ugh, a mass.

They took me back into the room and did another sono. Then the radiologist came to talk to me. I had a 9 mm oval-shaped mass with slightly bumpy outside. The shape was good, she said, but the bumpy borders meant it was suspicious, she said. In fact, in her opinion it had a 50/50 chance of being malignant. They needed to do a biopsy right away.

I was scheduled for the core needle biopsy on Monday. I did it. Without anesthesia, I may add. I was the first person in the doctor’s 20 year career who did it that way. I swear it didn’t hurt. The doctor nicked my skin with a scalpel, put the needle inside, hit the plunger to activate the vacuum and then did that four more times. In between swearing it didn’t hurt, I asked her if she agreed with the first doctor’s assessment of my chances. She did.

I won’t bore you with the stuff that went through my mind. Well, maybe I will. What would I do if it was malignant? Would I lose my hair? Would I need a lumpectomy or a total mastectomy? Why was this happening to me? Wasn’t dizzy enough?

Cut to the chase: They called yesterday with my results. It was benign. A fibroadenoma. A condition that most often occurs in younger women. So why did I get it? I have no idea. I will ask my doctor when I go to follow up.

The point of this long, drawn out saga: Write down on your calendar and in your phone and on your computer when you are due for a mammo. And — I don’t care if the world is rocking, you’ve got the flu, or you win $1 million — make sure you get it. My story had a decent ending. It could have been a very different one. Very.

So…when was the last time you had a mammogram? Never had one? Are you over 35 with cancer in your family? Over 40? Go get one. Most insurance companies will cover one in full. Can’t afford it? There are foundations out there that will provide free or low-cost mammograms. (And here’s another.) They may suck. They may not be comfortable, but they are worth the time to prevent a bigger problem.

As for me, I will be following up with a doctor and doing a repeat sono in six months. I already put it on my calendar.

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This time last year I was working on a story about noise and how it affects the body, mind and soul. I loved writing it because it was personal for me, which is why I originally pitched it! This was pre-concussion, but my husband and I spent most nights fighting over the remote. I would turn the volume down. He would turn it up. I realized I was sound-sensitive and started doing research. There was so much out there I knew I needed to write about it! For example, did you know that noise has an adverse affect on health, productivity, stress levels? Pretty much every part of your body and mind suffers when you are exposed to too much noise. I included this in my original query.

My editor loved the idea and asked me to write 2,000 words on the topic. The resulting story was assigned in March, filed in May and published in the November issue of Experience Life. Then I got a concussion and I found out how truly debilitating sound could be. All through this journey I have struggled with noise to the point that I ended up having custom-made earplugs made. Even today I sleep with cotton in my ears at night so I don’t wake up.

I was really proud of the story, and hoped people liked it. Yesterday, I found out that — for some people — the story was life-changing. I actually got an email via this blog. The author of the email gave me permission to publish it, so here it is:

Dear Ms. Bannan,

You wrote an article for the November 2014 issue of Experience Life magazine. I was fascinated with the ideas in your article and that started me thinking about how to share this information with others.

Your article served as inspiration for a project I wrote for my sixth graders at Clarendon School in Phoenix, Arizona. The project was submitted in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow 2015 contest and was chosen as the state winner for Arizona. The students then got to work in class and around campus. Our video was chosen as one of fifteen national finalists.

Below is a link to our video. We hope you like it and we wanted you to know that your article was the catalyst. We have been invited to New York City to give a live pitch to Samsung about our project. Two teachers and two students will be presenting at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Wednesday, March 18th. We would love to meet you if you are in town that day and available.

Thank you, Jill

I was floored and humbled. I shed a tear or two. I posted it to my Facebook page and my friends made me feel even more humbled as one by one they added little notes of encouragement and love.

I have been a journalist for a very long time. I have written for some of the best publications out there — The Wall Street Journal, Time, Scientific American, The New York Times, Health, Redbook, Fitness, Woman’s Day. However, this note and this story is probably one of the things I am proudest of. (Maybe my Parents Magazine story about miscarriage comes in a close second…)

Anyway, please watch Jill’s video and please vote for her! I would love to see her team win this contest! And in the meantime, think about sound and noise. It can change your life!

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Making the Switch to Glass

Today I posted a link to a new study on my Facebook page. (Did you like my page yet? If not, please do!) Anyway, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study, which was covered by ScienceDaily, detailed the fact that phthalates found in plastic products can disrupt pregnancy hormones. Here’s the summary:

Exposure to hormone-altering chemicals called phthalates — which are found in many plastics, foods and personal care products — early in pregnancy is associated with a disruption in an essential pregnancy hormone and adversely affects the masculinization of male genitals in the baby, according to new research. The findings focus on the role of the placenta in responding to these chemicals and altering levels of a key pregnancy hormone.

The big problem with this was for mothers carrying male babies. More phthalates exposure meant smaller genital regions.

As I mentioned on Facebook, we have been pretty much plastic-free here in our house for more than a decade. We use glass containers to store food, drinking glasses and plates, and glass water bottles from LifeFactory. When my kids were babies they drank out of glass bottles. It isn’t — and wasn’t — that big a deal, actually.

Glass food containers are about the same price or less than equivalent high-quality plastic food containers. Glass water bottles are actually cheaper than some of the aluminum ones out there. Yes, I could get a cheap plastic water bottle for $4 or $5, but the glass ones last longer and are so easy to clean. I just throw them into the dishwasher. And when we are done with them we can recycle them — something you can’t say about that many plastics.

You don’t have to do things the way we did it and toss everything out. You can start small. Look for glass packaging instead of plastic at the supermarket. Replace old plastic food storage containers when they wear out with glass options. There are so many wonderful containers out there! As for water bottles: I’d make the move sooner rather than later since plastic water bottles are in heavy use for most of us and again, it’s really not that expensive. And in the end, aren’t you worth a few extra dollars?

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Watch What You Say

One of the old adages I’ve always believed is the one about little pitchers having big ears. Basically, that kids hear and understand a lot more than we give them credit for. However, I didn’t realize how much they hear and how long the things we stay get stuck in their brains until last night.

I was lying down next to Big Girl. I’ve been doing that more lately. Anyway, she was drifting off to sleep when all of a sudden she said, “Do you remember when you said Daddy should take me and live somewhere else for a little while?”

My cheeks burned and my heart ached. Yes, I remembered saying that. Not my finest hour. (I used to have a lot more of those un-fine hours before the concussion.) It was in a middle of an argument with my husband. He was yelling at me, telling me I wasn’t reacting to my daughter the right way. He was saying I was screwing her up. That if I kept fighting with her I would push her away from me — and him.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so upset. I gave everything to my girls, I thought, and his statements felt like he was questioning my worth as a mother. I lashed out at him in anger. I told him if he thought I was such a crappy mother maybe he should take my daughter and go live somewhere else with her if he thought he could do a better job. Even typing those words makes me ashamed. I can’t believe I said them out loud. Even worse, I can’t believe my daughter — with her big ears — heard me say them.

When she repeated them back to me last night I instantly told her that I didn’t mean it. That I had said them in anger. That it had nothing to do with her and everything to do with me and not handling my feelings well enough. I told her I wouldn’t give her up for a zillion dollars. That my heart would break if anyone even tried to take her away. And then I said I was sorry and held her close. She let me squeeze her tightly and soon fell asleep. I went to bed, lying there for a while thinking about my mistakes.

I know, although she forgives me, those words are still in her head. I can’t make them go away even though I didn’t mean them. It’s another lesson. A reminder that words hurt more than anything sometimes. One I won’t soon forget.

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Is She Disappearing?

During the summer of 2013 I sat in the library reading a beautiful essay published in Brain, Child. It was a story about a woman with three kids ages five, nine and 12. The 12-year-old, she wrote, started pulling away from the family as she got closer to turning 13. The story was poignant and haunting. Thee I was. In library with tears streaming down my face. My older daughter was only 9 at the time so I was crying for what I knew might come.

Big Girl is 11 and she’s starting to show signs of pulling away. She doesn’t want her sister in her room all the time. She asks for time, “so I can just relax and be by myself.” She fights more with her sister. She tells me I am so mean. She’s starting to pull away, I think and yet she’s also trying to hold me close.

It’s so hard to watch. Like the author of the essay I am having a hard time dealing with how my little one is handling all of this. She loves her sister so much. Idolizes her. Up until recently they played together for hours and hours. American Girl dolls. Puzzles. Art projects. Pretend play. They could spend 12 hours just with each other. Now, Big Girl wants time alone. She doesn’t want to be with her sister all the time. She wants her space.

How do I explain to a 6-year-old that her sister may pull away even more as she gets older? How do I take that in, too?

I know that eventually my girls will come full circle. They will hopefully become inseparable again. Until then we’ll just have to deal with my big girl’s slow disappearance. It won’t be easy, but I know it’s just another natural phase. Like teething and potty training we’ll get through it. Hopefully with few tears — mine and theirs.

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Olives — Yum

A few months ago (before I was dizzy!) the folks at Olives from Spain offered up their expert, Annie Sibonney, the Cooking Network star, for an interview. They let me ask her questions and recorded her answers. Here, find that video with plenty of interesting olive facts as well as some recipes that sound delicious. The best part: They are offering one NaPM reader a nice gift — some free olives and olive-related items. Want them to come to your house? Comment below and tell me one thing you like about olives.

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As I am finally starting to slip out of the everyday-I’m-dizzy dizziness, I figured it’s time to share some info I learned along the way. Mostly, so others who are dealing with concussions can learn from my experience. (And what a SUCKY experience it was/is!) Here are some of the more upsetting/annoying things in no particular order…

1) Your resting heart rate and blood pressure may go up.

As an avid exercise fan, I always had a low resting heart rate so when I started having palpitations and a feeling of my heart beating fast I went to the ER. They hooked me up to machines and found that my EKG was abnormal. My resting heart rate was high. They sent me home and told me to follow up with a cardiologist, which I did the next day. They couldn’t find a problem. What no one knew — and they should have — was that it was actually pretty normal for someone a month out of a concussion to have a high resting heart rate. I finally found an article that linked to this study, but not before undergoing a TON of cardiac tests that cost me and my insurance company thousands.

2) Dizziness — even from a concussion — can make you nauseous.

During the past four months I have lost about seven pounds. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s actually probably more. I couldn’t figure out why I was gagging on food and having to force myself to eat. My vestibular therapist helped me sort it out. I was doing a walking exercise and suddenly felt dizzy and then nauseous. A light bulb went off in my brain. Again, wish someone had told me that before I assumed I had something seriously wrong with me.

3) You will get lots of strange symptoms that don’t seem to be related to your head.

There are so many symptoms I had that had nothing to do with the common concussion symptoms of headaches, sleep issues, dizziness and fatigue. For instance, one of the things that happened very early on was that I started having severe night sweats. I woke up drenched in sweat and so incredibly thirsty. At the time, I wondered if I was going through an early menopause — it was that bad. And then just as suddenly as it started it went away. I couldn’t find any research on the topic, but I found a bunch of regular people posting online who were having the same issues.

4) You need to change the way you eat and supplement yourself.

It takes an incredible amount of energy, protein and nutrients to repair a brain, so I did the research and started eating extra meat and taking B-12s, omega-3s and a multivitamin.

Earlier this year the FDA came out with a consumer update that said Omega-3s cannot cure or prevent concussions. If you read it, you understand why. They don’t want people taking omegas to prevent a concussion or going back to play too soon after being concussed. I get it. But I also read plenty of studies that find that omega-3s are really, really good for your brain and DO help it repair itself. This April study from the American Society for Nutrition outlines why Omega-3s, in particular, are so important:

Preclinical investigations demonstrate that dietary consumption of DHA provided either before or after [minor traumatic brain injury (mTBI)] improves functional outcomes, such as spatial learning and memory. Mechanistic investigations suggest that DHA influences multiple aspects of the pathologic molecular signaling cascade that occurs after mTBI.

5) You may be anxious and depressed. No, change that. You’re probably anxious and depressed.

This one is well-supported but no one told me that I would have mental problems following a concussion. I should have guessed it when I started crying and hugging a mud-covered stranger as we were leaving the scene of my accident. I wish someone had. Still, I don’t think it would have prepared me for the crap storm of sadness, anxiety, fear and terror that I’ve been through. Wah, wah. Yeah, I know it sounds whiny to complain with a concussion, but trust me, it really, really sucks.

6) Your family is going to have to change.

Six months ago I did everything in my house. My husband, as he says, did anything I asked him to do. Trouble was, I was such a control freak that I didn’t ask him for much. Asking someone to take on a whole new role isn’t welcome or easy. It’s been a learning experience for both of us. And kids? Well, they don’t like watching Mommy “brain rest” every day. They don’t like having to skip things or miss things or have their lives turned around, either. So yeah, things definitely change.

7) People don’t always understand.

I guess this is true with every illness or injury, but there are people to this day who really don’t get why I am not able to go somewhere. (Or wasn’t able to go somewhere.) Or why I would cancel a vacation or not be able to work for a while. You can tell them, but unless you have a cast on they aren’t going to get it.

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One of the things that always bothered me was when people — mostly other moms — said I was a super mom. I felt like it set me apart and made people less likely to want to be my friend. Since the concussion, I have done a lot of what feels like slacking. It’s completely changed how I feel about myself and swung the pendulum the other direction.

Take religion: I am a catechist for my older daughter. I am one of three teachers since we have a huge class. I realized quickly that teaching — heck, even sitting in — the classes makes me dizzy. So much head movement. So much noise and vestibular input. I still go, though, but I dread every class. I even find myself silently cheering when my kids are too sick for me to attend. That sounds terrible, I know.

Last year — the first year I worked with these women — we switched houses every two months so everyone took a turn hosting. I was supposed to host November and December but I realized there was no way I could host. A one hour class is really two when you factor in cleaning up before and after, setting up and waiting for the parents to come. I reached out to the other teachers and said maybe I could host my months at the library. That way I could cut out the extra hour of work. They were less-than-pleased. I explained my problem and asked if the other teacher would swap months with me. (The vestibular therapist says I will feel much more like myself by January.) They went along with it, but in my head I felt like a slacker.

This same feeling has haunted me over the past months when, for example,  I’ve asked another mom to go to a Girl Scout event in my place or when I told the PTA president that I couldn’t put out the school’s magazine-style newsletter in addition to the one-page newsletter I am already doing. Yes, I signed up for it back in June, but it’s not possible now. If I am going to be sitting in front of a computer it’s got to be for work. (And FWIW: In that case I was stunned that no one even said they felt sorry I was still dizzy or that of course my health was more important. They didn’t even reply to my email!)

So yeah, I am not super mom anymore. It really sucks. And yet it doesn’t.

I have spoken to a therapist, doctors and a priest who have all told me something pretty profound: This concussion, this dizziness should be a wake-up call. I was doing too much, and I didn’t love everything that I was doing.

I volunteered so much at school because I was desperate to be class mom for one of my kids. I figured doing Reflections, school store, both newsletters, and all the other stuff I stepped up for would make me worthy and get me that slot. But you know what? It wasn’t serving me or my family to do so much, especially since very little of it was actually appreciated.

As for some of the other stuff — like volunteering at our beach club — I was doing that to make friends or keep the ones I had. I realized pretty quickly who my real friends are once I hit month two of this nonsense. My beach club work didn’t mean squat. Same goes for being an online coordinator for Girl Scouts and probably 75 percent of the 0ther junk I did. Most of it didn’t mean anything or have any real benefit except to people who are not my kids or my husband.

The concussion also taught me about what I love. I love being a Girl Scout leader. I like teaching religion, but I hate doing it in my home. My family is too busy. Unfortunately, I made that commitment to my older daughter’s class so I will have to honor it for another two and a half years, but if I choose to be a teacher for my younger daughter I will only do it at the church. They have classrooms there that I can teach in and, if one of my kids are sick, they bring in a substitute. I don’t have to scramble or feel bad for dropping extra work on anyone.

So no, I am no longer super mom. I really don’t think I ever was. But since I am trying to be more positive I have to thank the concussion for teaching me yet again what matters. In the long run, very little matters as much as I thought it did.

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Life as a Dizzy Shut-In

When you're dizzy you need to switch from a rocking, moveable office chair to one that is stationary. Like this one from when I was a little girl.

When you’re dizzy you need to switch from a rocking, moveable office chair to one that is stationary. Like this one from when I was a little girl.

It’s been a while since I blogged regularly. For a variety of reasons, really, but lately it’s because I have been busy recovering from a concussion. I have post-concussion syndrome, actually.

What does that mean?

In the beginning it meant I had a headache, was dizzy and exhausted all the time. (If you’ve never been dizzy count your blessings. Dizzy sucks.) It was hard looking at a screen — TV, cell phone, computer, it didn’t matter. I limited my screen time to getting work done. (It’s amazing how we get what we need to get done.) My social interactions dwindled to nothing. Telephone conversations hurt my head. Parties hurt my head. I had a very short fuse and no filter, either, which meant I said stuff that pissed people off. When someone made an inappropriate and rude comment at a block party, I couldn’t ignore it. I snapped and left. When someone did something that I felt was unfair at another gathering, I spoke my mind about it.

The weird thing about post-concussion, though, is that you look fine. You look like yourself so people don’t really have patience or sympathy for your mouth or your ailment. Dizzy? What’s that? You have a concussion? How can a concussion make it so that you’re not yourself? People just don’t understand. It’s been a long ten weeks but now the fatigue and headaches are mostly gone.  I have lingering dizziness, though, and that makes the social isolation continue.

For instance, on Friday a bestie asked me to come to the movies with her and some other girls. I wanted to go but I just couldn’t fathom sitting in a movie theater for an hour. Besides, they were seeing Gone Girl and I didn’t think I could sit through that without post-concussion syndrome so I said no. Yesterday night my husband went to our monthly bowling league. I stayed home. Second month in a row. My vestibular therapist had counseled against going unless I was feeling “100 percent before I left the house.” Bowling alleys are provoking, she says. The noise, the people, the lights. Your eyes need gaze stability looking at the pins.

She has me doing all these exercises to train my brain out of the dizziness and they evoke dizziness so no, I wasn’t 100 percent. Another night getting “brain rest.” I painted with my two kids and the little girl who spent the day with my oldest. I watched The Breakfast Club. I ate apple babka. (Oh, another issue is that the concussion took away my appetite, exacerbated my stomach issues, and caused intense bursts of anxiety. I ended up losing like six or seven pounds. As my husband likes to say, I look like I need to eat a few dozen sandwiches so I am doing a lot of carb loading now to gain back some of the weight.)

But every day I feel a little bit better. I see my progress. Today while staring at the B taped to my wall, I was able to shake my head 40 times in 30 seconds. A few days ago I did 40 shakes in a minute. Progress. Earlier this weekend I was able to have a great conversation with a friend and I didn’t feel drained at all. Work is getting easy again. And faster. I feel like myself again when I sit in front of the computer! That’s huge. I don’t need to use my finger to read on a screen. I’m blogging and it feels good. Good to share what I am feeling. Good that my fingers are flying across the keyboard like they always have. Yes, the vestibular therapist said I will have good days and bad. Yes, I still need to take brain rest for five to ten minutes every few hours, but it’s progress. And that’s a good thing.

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Picture Day Hair

Yesterday was picture day for Big Girl. Today Little Girl got her turn in front of the camera. Both girls donated their hair recently, so they have what I consider shorter hair. Little Girl had more to give so it’s sort of longish. It hits right below her shoulders. Big Girl’s curly locks bounce up when cut so she’s shoulder-length at best. Either way, I felt clumsy and inept trying to style their hair. Facebook only makes it worse.

So many of my friends post photos of their little girls with perfectly coiffed hairstyles. Fish tail braids. French braids. Long, wavy hair with intricate arrangements on top. Big Girl’s hair was combed with product brushed through. (We use Original Sprout Miracle Detangler and Natural Hair Gel. Click here to get $10 off your first order.) She wore a single, thin headband. She looked cute. This morning Little Girl wanted two braids tied back together and a headband. I felt clumsy trying to make her braids, but I did it. It took a while. She also looked cute, but I know I could have done a way better job with both of them. In the whole scheme of things it doesn’t matter all that much, I guess, and that’s what I have to remember.

Both girls are beautiful no matter how their hair is done. As long as it’s clean and frizz-free, I should be happy. They should be happy. So what if I am clumsy when it comes to hair and all things beauty? It is what it is. Besides, there’s always re-take day, right?

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