My concussion IQ tests off the charts. I’m not a neurologist, coach, trainer or health teacher. I’m  just mom who learned way more about concussions than I ever wanted to.

My son picked up a ball before he could crawl, and has continued to toss one around virtually every day since. Given the number of hours he’s spent in a gym or on a field, it’s probably statistically pretty good that he didn’t get his first concussion until freshman year in high school, back in March 2012. He was out of school for two weeks, and sports for eight.  The injury was bad, but the recovery process was worse. The doctor’s instructions were clear—no activity, reading, bright lights, loud noise or looking at screens (TV, computer, phone) until all symptoms cleared. It took several days for my son to power down and be okay sitting quietly, just thinking or resting.  It was isolating.  It was boring. And what I didn’t realize at the time is that it was also pretty scary.

At first he acted like a typical invincible teenager. He was fine and a little TV, he reasoned, won’t matter. But as days passed, he didn’t feel better. He realized that if he did too much (or anything at all) too soon he could permanently damage his brain. He became more willing to chill out. I told him that it was his head, and only he could know if he was healing. Problem was, just as there are no visible signs of a concussion, there are no concrete markers for recovery. Everyone, including him, wondered if he was sure that he did or didn’t feel better yet. But he eventually did bounce back, and when he decided to quit rugby and football and just play basketball, I rejoiced.

When he got a second concussion exactly one year later, the fear was exponentially bigger. Concussions are bad. Two concussions could mean more damage, a longer recovery and, worse of all, the end of competitive sports. This time, my son was a model patient. He iced his head, rested, avoided screens, didn’t even dribble the ball.

After three weeks, he was feeling 100% and back to school and sports.  While doing homework a few days later, he dropped his pencil and as he bent to retrieve it, banged his head on the table.  He panicked. He had a headache, nausea, was sensitive to sound and light. The doctor said he had re-concussed.  A week later, he bumped into a door and freaked out again. He was so fearful that if a butterfly had landed on his head, he’d have sworn he was re-concussed yet again. Or so it seemed.

Eventually my pediatrician stepped in and suggested my son talk to a therapist.  When I shared the doctor’s thoughts with my son, I could see him turn over the idea in his mind. “Hmm, you mean I could be fine but not know it,” he said.  “Well, then I feel better.” Within one day he was fully recovered.  He never saw the shrink. The mere suggestion that it was all in his head was enough to cure him.

These days he’s careful but still plays aggressively, which he has to—the team motto is “Play Hard or Go Home” (why we push kids to train at profession levels is a topic for another post). When a basketball lands on his head he wonders if he’s concussed, but then realizes probably not, and keeps going.

Concussions: How Much Do You Know to Protect Your Teen?