Sun. May 22nd, 2022

TBI – The Butterfly Inside: My story of how Sports Related Traumatic Brain Injuries led to a life of Addiction

It was 2006, I was 16 years old, on my knees praying asking God for answers. How did I get here? How did I become this person? Will I ever make it through this storm alive? Fast forward over a decade later and I finally have answers to years of questions.

My name is Kelsie Igasan I am from Fresno, CA and I am a former competitive cheerleader and gymnast.

I began cheerleading in fifth grade at my elementary school and continued on until my Junior year of high school where I cheered for a competitive private cheer team at national competitions while also representing my school cheerleading team.

It was during my time as a cheerleader that I spent some of the best years of my life, but I was completely unaware of the impact the sport would have on my mind. As a girl I was always an outspoken leader. I was always confident and enjoyed being apart of my Junior high drama team; while also preforming at sport events as a cheerleader. I was a 3.0 student and was voted “Most Unique” in my junior high year book, and as a senior I was voted “Most Outspoken”.

It was at the age of thirteen that my life took a turn for the worst. It was as if one day I woke up and I was different person.

I felt different, my moods were erratic, and I began to struggle in my eighth-grade play “You Can’t Take It With You.” It became difficult to remember my lines for the play. Something that rarely happened to me in my years of drama. Things were changing but I did not know why. It was during this time I began taking tumbling/gymnastics classes for cheerleading. Injuries, notably head injuries, became a reoccurring element of my life.

Concussions do not just touch the lives of those in sports but also those who have fallen victims to domestic violence, sexual assault, and physical violence.

When a person begins learning new gymnastics skills you are spotted and the risk of injuries is much lower, but as you ascend your way into the art of doing it on your own, falling down and getting up is part of the process. Learning to overcome the fear of falling is what makes the difference between a successful gymnast and an unsuccessful one, as coach always said gymnastics is “10% physical and 90% mental.”

I ended my cheerleading career at the age of sixteen accomplishing a standing back hand spring, roundoff back hand spring, standing back tuck, roundoff back handspring back tuck, roundoff back handspring layout, and was in the works for learning a full twisting layout when I decided to end my career as an athlete. It was at this time substance abuse had made a major debut in my life.

I began to experiment with stimulants. I was exposed to this substance for four months when I came to my parents and asked for help. Shortly after I was sent away to Malibu, CA for addiction rehabilitation and this would be the first day of the rest of my life. When I started on my journey in rehab my Psychologist and counselors struggled to find the triggering event that led to the start of my addiction.

Prior to abusing any substance, I had not been exposed to any major traumatic life events, I had not been a victim to significant abuse; at this time in my life, nor experienced a traumatic event within my family. I remember my counselors saying “we cannot figure out what is driving her need to self-medicate.”

My time as a cheerleader/gymnast and my possible concussion exposure was not addressed and at this time. In 2006, concussions were identified and treated much differently than they are now but this key factor would end up playing a major role in my life in the coming years and take center stage as an adult.

Just as I thought my life was over, I became a Butterfly.

I came home from rehab after sixty days and thus began my journey on the home front submerging myself into the sober community Fresno had to offer and it would be in the walls of AA at Northeast Fellowship my life would begin. It was in this meeting I made my sober friends and met my sponsor, Donna, who would change my life forever. I did not obtain long term sobriety until the age of nineteen after the birth of my first son. I ended up at the age of seventeen spending six months in the Juvenile Justice System or better known as Juvenile Hall in the Substance Abuse Unit ,and it was in this program I learned about myself, in and out, as spending hours and hours alone in a cell forces you to face YOU. I graduated high school in this program. I was released at the age of eighteen and shortly after became pregnant with my first son. It was after his birth my life would take off. I enrolled myself in school and became a Pediatric Phlebotomist for our local Children’s Hospital and did well for myself and my son.

In April of 2017 my life would change forever. I was in a minor car accident where I slammed my face into my steering wheel leaving me with a bloody nose and a concussion. Shortly after the accident I was changing my second sons’ diaper in the middle of the night. The very strong fifty pound two-year-old kicked me in the exact same spot I hit my head on in the minor car accident. I suffered another concussion leading to a seizure and passed out. (At the time of these two incidents I was completely unaware that I had suffered two concussions.) The following morning, I woke up and recognized a feeling within myself that was not of the norm, but it was a feeling I knew all too well and felt often as a young girl, like muscle memory, I self-medicated that feeling, or in other terms, I relapsed. I lost years of sobriety and picked up right where I left off as a young girl.

I only spent a short time in my relapse but it was enough to send me to my roof, where in desperation to find relief from my symptoms, I jumped attempting suicide.

It was in this moment, on my roof, I again found myself praying. I told God I was sorry, I asked for his forgiveness and told him I couldn’t take the feeling of being “crazy” anymore. I had so many questions, so much pain. In the 12 years I had spent in recovery, I experienced so much trauma, from homelessness in 2009 while pregnant to events taking place I had no control of by outside forces. My life of destruction and pain had left lasting impressions on those around me. I had given up on myself. It would be in this desperation that I would find my light.

On April 21, 2017 I went to our local level one Trauma Facility Community Regional Medical Center as a 5150-attempted suicide with a broken tibia/fibula and subdermal hemorrhage (brain bleed). During my stay there I was approached by the lead acute care speech and language pathologist and founder of the Central Valley Concussion Consortium, Brenna Hughes. It was at this time Brenna did a thorough evaluation of my history and my possible concussion exposure. It was in this moment my life changed forever. I realized that all of those years on the cheerleading/ gymnastics team played a major role in my life and the head injuries/ concussions I received were in fact the traumatic event that opened the flood gates to my substance abuse/addiction.

I understand now that concussions have a huge impact on one’s mental health. I was informed that when you have been exposed to several head injuries you are more susceptible to a head injury. With less force needed, and the car accident and kick to my head was enough to cause two concussions back to back. Combined with the brain bleed I sustained from the attempted suicide, I suffered three head injuries in a matter of weeks. I left the hospital with the diagnosis of multiple sports related traumatic brain injuries and in the months to come would be named the Ambassador for the Central Valley Concussion Consortium.

Combining my life of recovery with my healthcare team that specializes in concussion/TBI management is allowing me to find answers to years of questions and has given me a level of self-awareness that allows me to be the best and most productive version of myself.

It is in this title I share my story across my Home town to bring awareness to the impact multiple concussions have on the mind, body, and spirit. As the Ambassador for The Central Valley Concussion Consortium, I have had the opportunity to take my life story back to the Juvenile Justice Campus where I shared with mental health professionals, substance abuse counselors, probation officers, and the Presiding Fresno County Juvenile Delinquency Judge.

It was at this meeting, I was invited to Join the Fresno County Suicide Prevention Collaborative and on this team together, as a community, we end the stigma, bring awareness, and find ways to combat the issue of Suicide. Suicide came to plague our community in 2016, as we suffered a cluster of teen suicides, thus the Collaborative was born. I have shared my story at The Children’s Movement of Fresno, Clovis Community Health Watch, The Central Valley Concussion Symposium, and my story was featured on a local news segment MedWatch Today. It is with hope that sharing my story will bring awareness to substance abuse/addiction and how Traumatic Brain Injuries’/Concussions play a major role in the life of those struggling. Concussions do not just touch the lives of those in sports but also those who have fallen victims to domestic violence, sexual assault, and physical violence. Many of us in recovery know these situations all to well. Concussions make a lasting and detrimental impact on one’s life if gone undiagnosed and untreated.

I now stand before you with an entire team of healthcare providers addressing my Traumatic Brain Injuries and living the life of recovery. These two care plans combined have changed my life. So, what’s different now compared to a decade ago? I work a program of recovery alongside my sponsor, Donna, as I always have, but I have added a Neurologist for my seizure/headache management, a speech therapist for my sensory and attention issues, I attend a Brain Injury Support Group each month, and have the unconditional love, devotion, and support of my husband, three sons, friends, and family. Combining my life of recovery with my healthcare team that specializes in concussion/TBI management is allowing me to find answers to years of questions and has given me a level of self-awareness that allows me to be the best and most productive version of myself .

I went from thinking I have “lost my mind” to understanding and accepting myself and my new way of life in my “new brain.” I have made a decision to not let my disabilities define me and to redefine the meaning of the disabilities. It is my hope that I will make my past a road to my future and save as many lives as I can along the way by sharing my story. It is true, if God brought you to it, God will get you through it. Just as I thought my life was over, I became a Butterfly. You too can make it through your darkest times and emerge from that confinement as a beautiful butterfly, find your purpose here on earth, and use that purpose to help save others.

Originally published in Recovery Today Magazine:

Issue 39, February 2018, pg 16-19

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