Note: This post is part of the Symptoms In Reality Category as a personal experience.
You’ll notice I use the terms “Blackout(s)” and “possible” in relation to the experiences I am about to share. I will say flat out, for the record, that I do believe I have in fact experienced absence seizures — admittedly mild for the most part — but problematic absence seizures nonetheless.
However, as no medical professional will take my history of significant whiplash, head trauma and the accounts of the following experiences seriously; I have not been diagnosed as having had seizures … And so, to avoid being branded one of “those patients” who consults Dr Google — despite my knowledge base coming from life experience and training as a career for people with disabilities — I choose not to refer to the following events or my ever present missing moments as absence seizures.
For this post I am simply going to use the term “Blackout(s)”.
The two most significant blackouts I have experienced happened while I was driving, I often mention these events rather than others because they put the severity of this issue into perspective.
These two events also highlight the negligence involved when a doctor tells a patient who has experienced something like I did, that there is no reason for them to stop driving — as I had done in reaction to my most significant experience, during 2005.
Apparently my decision to stop driving until I had consulted with a neurologist was, in the neurologist’s words, “An overreaction!” … You judge for yourself if I made a wise decision for the safety of others, as well as myself — or if I simply overreacted, as the neurologist had suggested!
You judge for yourself if I made a wise decision for the safety of others, as well as myself — or if I simply overreacted, as the neurologist had suggested!
My first notable blackout occurred during mid 1997, that was 7 years after the first Car Accident of 1990 involving significant whiplash and undiagnosed symptoms of concussion. It was also 2 years after the moderate traumatic brain injury that I sustained in the Car Accident of 1995 and roughly 6 months after the third and final significant Car Accident during 1996.
1990 – Time Perception
Before I get to the first of the most troubling episodes, I should point out briefly that on the day of the 1990 car accident I experienced increasing symptoms of concussion that were overlooked and went unaddressed … More to the point, symptoms that were dismissed by the medical and legal professionals playing their games through the insurance system, at my expense.
Those symptoms that increased in the hours, days and weeks after the accident were suggestive of post-concussion syndrome, symptoms that simply became a new normal for me to adapt to; a new normal that would remain throughout the rest of my life.
One of those symptoms, that I only came to recognise in hindsight, was a difficulty with time management, more so time perception … A symptom that was used to paint me as a lazy, malingering compensation fraud.
The best example I can give is one day I specifically remember in particular, during my return to work after the accident. I was working as a packing girl in the bakehouse of a major supermarket and had suddenly realised that I had lost around a three hour window of time! … Not as in blacking out or not able to recall what I had been doing, but time racing by faster than I could work to complete my usual morning work load.
…I had lost around a three hour window of time!
Not as in blacking out or missing not able to recall what I had been doing,, but time racing by faster than I could work…
The reason I remember this day so vividly was the distress I felt as I had looked at the clock thinking it was around 10am, only to realise it was actually 1pm and I had only barely stacked the shelves with the basic bread lines for the day from the in-house bakery. Shortly after which I noticed my supervisor’s irritation with me, followed by my manager calling me into his office not long after for a chat.
The thing was, I had not been shirking off, I had not stood around talking and there was nothing else that had distracted me that morning.
In fact I had been quietly working away as fast as I could go because all I wanted to do was get back to work and out of the insurance system … But the faster I worked the faster time appeared to slip away from me and I had no explanation other than the physical pain I was still suffering from.
In reality though, the pain I had been experiencing since the day of the accident had nothing to do with it; and I still simply cannot understand how time continues to slip away from me in the manner it did in this example.
This was never a daily or even weekly occurrence, but it did become a troubling part of my life that has remained … One of those beginnings to a new kind of normal for me in relation to time management, and a new kind of normal that I learnt to silently manage throughout the years … Especially after 1995 and even more to an extent after 1997.
1997 – The First Experience of Blackout
During 1997, I had stopped at a red light driving to my parent’s house one afternoon, next thing I knew people were tooting at me and pulling out from behind me while hurling abuse as they drove past. I had no idea of how long I had sat there for … It was long enough to get other drivers as angry as they appeared to be, but not so long that anyone had thought it odd enough to check if something was wrong with me.
I know what you are thinking, I was just day dreaming in my own little world, right!
No, this was most certainly not an off in dreamland moment, it was extremely different to those little moments that your attention wanders while waiting for a change of traffic lights … Like everyone I am guilty of having had more than my fair share of dreamland moments while waiting for traffic lights to change, but this was was not one of them!
Having stopped at the red light I was then jolted to within my body, at the same time there was a rushing sound in my ears, (think that pulsating heart sound or the sound of a baby’s ultrasound in the womb), loud, pulsating and amplified through my head and ears. My face was hot and I felt briefly disorientated.
While any sense of time eluded in those moments, this particular experience (to my mind) was brief and I was able to drive the short distance I had remaining to my parent’s house.
I never actually spoke to anyone about the event at the time, not Daniel (who I was dating at the time) or even my parents, because I felt so embarrassed and almost kind of ashamed that I had allowed myself to be distracted in such a way while I was driving.
Still, it was a notable event that stayed with me due all the bewildering characteristics and emotion involved in this event.
The summary …
- Stationary at red light … Not off day dreaming, completely different!
- Came to with jolt.
- Blood rushing / heartbeat sound in ears.
- Feeling heated in the face and flushed.
- Briefly disorientated but able to get home a couple of minutes away.
The Absence of Stress
I need to make this one point about this particular event … I was in no way experiencing any significant stress in my life at this time!
Why would I feel the need to make that clear? Because everything I have ever discussed with any medical professional that could be related to TBI, Central Nervous System (CNS) injury or even neurological illness, has been consistently written on as stress!
When this experience happened during 1997 I was in an amazing place in my life!
I mean, I had finally met the love of my life and our relationship was nearing a marriage proposal. I had a great network of close knit friends that my eldest son, from my previous marriage, and I had been solidly connected to for a number of years, and I was also an active member of a church I enjoyed being a part of. Quite honestly it was one of the happiest times of my life.
That said, it is true that each day I lived with pain from multiple car accidents, along with living with symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis for roughly a 6 month period at that point. Injury and illness that were just an everyday part of life for me and not an overly big deal with my pick up and push on / she’ll be right attitude … Life really could not have been better in many ways!
And yet, when disclosed with the next experience of this kind, this little event would be one of the great number of experiences and symptoms that would be summed up as just another case of a psychosomatic condition brought about by stress, regardless of the fact I was not stressed at all at that time during 1997.
“Missing Moments” From 1997 Onward
From that day, during 1997, I began to experience many similar, yet much more minor occurrences that I came to call “Missing Moments”. These moments would occur during all sorts of mundane tasks and activities … Sitting in church, watching TV, in conversation with people … They were extremely minor and no one else was even aware of the missing moments I was experiencing, not even family members or the closest of friends.
My reluctance to discuss these moments with anyone stemmed from two positions.
The first position was as simple as the fact that I was embarrassed in a sense by my inability to control remaining present. But, even more so I was embarrassed by the possibility that anyone could notice me fade out and then come to with the jolt I felt within myself. That jolt, along with the heat in my face that made me feel like I was blushing, as if I was crushing lustfully on some hot guy over the other side of the room.
The second and strongest position as to why I never spoke of these moments to anyone, was my experience, once again, within the Work Cover System. An experience that had given rise to a justifiable fear that no one would believe me even if I did seek a medical explanation for what I was experiencing … Go figure! Well, that was a fear well founded, along with a spot on premonition all in one! Wasn’t it then!
Over time however, the frequency of these missing moments slowly escalated and I eventually discussed it openly with Daniel within our first few years of marriage, because these moments were beginning to scare me.
I also discussed it with Daniel because after a time of experiencing these moments silently my self-confidence began to fade through the embarrassment I felt. I needed his reassurance that no one else would have noticed either the jolt or the heat in my face. More than anything though, I needed to know that I had not done anything to embarrass myself, like looking as if I was nodding off in church when I certainly wasn’t.
2005 – The Second Experience of Blackout
It was during 2005 that I experienced the scariest form of these blackouts.
I had left home to drive to the local shopping centre, only about a minute or two before this event took place, I remember coming to a stop at a red light behind one car that had braked as the traffic lights changed from amber to red.
The next thing I knew I came to with a jolt within my body and a nod of my head forward from what felt like a resting back position against the head rest … It had felt like my head was tilted back as if my neck was limp, like being in a sleep state, and as I became alert my muscles kicked in, as if rousing from sleep.
As with the first event during 1997 I had the extreme rushing sound in my ears, feeling extremely hot through the face and disorientated … Except this time, I was actually driving! … And driving a car with a manual transmission I might add, not an automatic!
This blackout was different to the rest in as much as I was functioning through some sort of altered state.
Not only was I driving, had driven while being in an altered state of consciousness, but I was driving dangerously close to the man in front of me who was clearly distressed by how I was driving behind him. This poor man in front of me was waving his arms around trying to tell me to back off, the drivers and passengers of two other cars passing us staring at me intently due to my obviously bazaar behaviour.
Let me clarify … I had pulled up behind one car as the traffic light turned from amber to red. Then without even knowing it, I had driven a car with a manual transmission through on the green light and even made a lane change to head along the exact same route I was planning to take to the shopping centre.
It was not merely a moment of daydreaming, it was an entire sequence of traffic light changes, along with having driven almost 200 metres, including making that lane change … All in an altered state!
As I realised what I was doing, how I was driving and the state of the poor man in front of me I was able to correct my behaviour and make my way home, extremely cautiously, all the while feeling completely shaken and very much terrified as to what was happening to me.
I left that scene completely bewildered and in effect running away like a scared rabbit, my heart pounding, the embarrassment overwhelming, extremely shaken to my core and desperately confused.
Breaking down the 2005 event …
- One moment I was stationary at a red light behind one car.
- The next moment I came to I had driven almost 200 metres, including making a lane change … Having no idea how I got where I was!
- The driver in front was distressed by how close I was driving to him, other people were also reacting to my behaviour and starring.
- As I came to it was with a sudden jolt.
- Blood rushing / heartbeat sound in ears.
- Feeling heated in the face and flushed.
- Absolutely shaken, confused and utterly embarrassed.
- Briefly disorientated but able to get home.
- Stopped driving completely for a number of months. (Until I was told by doctors to stop overreacting, there was nothing wrong with me and there was no reason for me not to drive.)
After this experience I made an appointment with my GP at the time who was quite nonchalant about the whole incident, along with the past experiences that I final discussed with him. His misgivings aside, he referred me to a Neurologist nonetheless.
On a side note – The GP I saw had been writing off many of my symptoms as depression for years and had placed me on many forms of anti-depressants that I had an extremely bad reaction to because, as I kept telling him, I was not depressed … My life was at times extremely chaotic and stressful due to a number of toxic family relationships and religious control, but I was not depressed or in need of psychiatric medications.
The Neurologist I saw did one EEG test and ordered a CT Scan, however nothing showed either way and the event was reduced to a stress induced occurrence. The thing about EEG tests is that if you are not having a seizure during that test or no unusual activity is seen, it does not rule out seizures completely, as is the case with CT Scan as well.
Up until this point no one had ever seen the TBI of 1995 as a big deal. So at this time I had always just dismissed it myself, and at times even laughed off the fact I was knocked out for 1 1/2 hours during the car accident of 1995 … Laughing about the fact I had been involved in bringing traffic to a standstill on one of Adelaide’s busiest suburban roads for a 3 hour period one afternoon … The simple fact is, it wasn’t even referenced to me as a brain injury of any kind, just a head injury.
I did have my suspicions that the head injury, along with the whiplash of 1990 may have some relevance to what was happening to me. However, I had no understanding of the severity of either form of trauma because no medical professional had ever seen either as a significant part of my medical history … And, this Neurologist was no different, deeming the 90 minute loss of consciousness and facial injuries during the 1995 car accident as irrelevant to these episodes.
In the eyes of my GP at the time and this Neurologist I was nothing more than a neurotic woman who, in their view, needed nothing more than a tablet a day to keep my nerves in check.
Acceptance & Moving Forward
I did eventually return to driving for a number of years without any further significant events. Although, my confidence to drive did diminish over time with an increase in traffic on our roads, along with an increase in my physical and cognitive dysfunction.
In the end it was other cognitive factors, along with intense wrist pain, muscle spasms throughout my body and weakness through my arms that took away my ability to drive completely … The final decision to stop driving, I made that after a cramp in my leg, while my foot was on the accelerator peddle of my 2012 HSV Clubsport. Luckily I was only driving slowly at the time and able to prevent my foot from stomping down on the peddle through the intense spasm.
It didn’t take a medical degree or an intervention from family members for me to see all too well that I was a risk to myself, my children and other road users when driving.
Those little missing moments did and have continued throughout the years, moments I have had no alternative but to accepted and ignore for the most part. A part of my life that has been and is hidden away as I live with it silently year in, year out … Adapting, living with the brief feelings of embarrassment … Hoping no one else notices my little absences during conversation as I cover up and fill in the word or two missing in those brief faded moments.
Other than the experiences while driving, I think the missing moments I struggle with the most are the ones that began to tie in with memory and everyday functioning, a tie in that begun around the time of the Life Changing Event of 2006.
On that note, moving on to Short Term Memory & Processing.