Christopher Nowinski's Frightening Post-Concussive Symptoms

It took years for athlete Chris Nowinski to overcome his many symptoms from TBI. They ranged from debilitating headaches 50% of the time, REM [sleep] behavior disorder, short-term memory problems, and more.

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My post-concussion symptoms were many, and they lasted a long time. The primary one I dealt with almost every day was headaches, and that was 50% of my waking hours. If I didn't have it in the morning I could be pretty sure I would have it in the afternoon. A lot of times I would have it in the afternoon and just give up for the day, and just try to go to sleep at 5:00, because I knew there was a shot that I would wake up in the morning without a headache. I did develop sleepwalking, or what they call REM disorder behavior, or REM behavior disorder, one of the two. Bascially I would go to sleep and about an hour into sleeping, you know your body is supposed to become paralyzed while you are in dream sleep so you don't actually make the movements you're making in your dreams, and that ability became impaired. So suddenly my body was alive while I was dreaming, and so I was acting out my dreams. It was a very dangerous disorder to have because you end up— The first time it happened to me I had jumped off the bed and then fell. Other times I woke up chasing shadows and different— I've had so many conversations with my closets over the last few years because I also wear contacts and so at night I can't see. So every shadow I was convinced were people, and I would talk to them for 5-10 minutes before I would realize what was going on. I have woken up attacking my girlfriend before, and it's not a good thing. I almost jumped out of a window once because I thought I was choking to death. I used to wake up—I haven't done that in a while—I used to wake up always thinking I was choking. I did have a lot of short-term memory problems. For about a year and a half after the injury I was having a lot of trouble remembering people I'd met and things that had happened. It kind of came up—I remember I was still working for WWE, and I would go to shows when they were around, and there was one wrestler who had really crazy hair that was this big, and I remember I'd meet him and I was always polite, nice to meet you, and like the 4th time he started getting angry at me. I didn't know it was the 4th time we met, and he was like we've met 4 times. I didn't remember at all, and I didn't really realize my memory was bad until these people would say these things to me. What goes with that sometimes is depression. It's hard to know if the depression was because I had headaches and lost my job and all that stuff, but there were some down moments when I was recovering from the concussions. Today, I am finally over the headaches from the concussion problems. So they are very rare although they do still happen. The biggest problem I have is I can't exercise like I used to be able to. I can only get my heart rate up about 80% before I start feeling sick. So I really can't do anaerobic activity for more than a few seconds. I feel like my memory is back, but I also do take a cognitive stimulant every day, because I feel a little fuzzier when I don't take it. It's been 3-4 years where I have not been off it so it's hard to tell anymore what my baseline is, but it's certainly not where it was. I feel like I'm functioning at a very high level. I do put everything in my calendar, but that's because I am doing a million different things. I am lucky to get back to close to where I was. I used to not need anything. I used to never write anything down. I was very lucky.
Posted on BrainLine September 20, 2012.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine, and Dan Edblom.