AUSTIN - Imagine not being able to go to the grocery store, hair salon, or gym -- all because the visual and noise stimulation is just too much for your brain. That's what concussion survivors deal with each day, and it's just part of what they go through.
But the non-profit "Hope4Minds" is working to bring them some hope and help.
"A lot of the survivors, they're having a lot of anxiety, and even depression, and I think that one thing that you can do when you're having such symptoms is being able to talk to someone and really understanding that you're not alone and know that people are going through a similar situation or feelings, and then you can find a lot of comfort,” said Ronda Johnson, the executive director of Hope4Minds.
Kristy Chadderdon is seeing that first hand.
KVUE was there as she went to her vision therapy appointment. She did various brain exercises -- from pressing buttons as they light up, to pointing to numbers in her peripheral vision.
It’s part of her therapy, as she works to heal after a series of concussions.
Chadderdon first got a few concussions in high school from a car wreck and from cheerleading.
Her most recent concussion was three years ago while snowboarding. She still hasn't recovered.
"I have a headache of every second of every hour of every day for the past three years,” Chadderdon said.
And that's just the start. Chadderdon said she often has anxiety, mood swings and even depression.
"It's the anxiety that comes along with it, there's mood swings, there's depression … there's nausea, there's dizziness,” said Chadderdon.
She said her brain is often overworked.
"I can't do my everyday life -- like go to the grocery store after work, I can't even do that. I have to go home and stare at a wall after work because it's too much for me," Chadderdon said.
Chadderdon said she can't work out and has to sleep a lot.
"If it was only pain, it would be much easier in my mind,” Chadderdon said.
She can rarely drive, and when she does, she has to wear a hat to block the sun.
"I would say the worst part about this is it's completely changed my life for the worst,” Chadderdon said.
Chadderdon told KVUE she's lost thousands of dollars trying out different therapies -- anything to find a fix.
"My entire life has changed,” Chadderdon said.
They're all things that few people can understand.
A few people that Chadderdon is thankful to have she found at the Hope4Minds concussion support group.
"I still have headaches and migraines every day, and that's what I'm really struggling with,” said one concussion group member.
Hope4Minds teamed up with former University of Texas cheerleader Kaitlyn Behnke to form the group. She has suffered six concussions herself.
"I think specifically with concussion, it's something that is really hard to understand unless you've gone through it yourself,” said Behnke. "I just felt like if they could get the same resources, get the same knowledge, they would be able to recover a lot faster than I myself have been able to recover."
"I think that's one of the hardest things. Not that it just changed your life, but not knowing what the fix is," said Chadderdon.
The group shares therapies they've tried while looking for relief.
"There's no really good research out there to tell you what to do,” said Chadderdon. "It's been extremely beneficial for me for the therapies I found out through the group."
But Ronda Johnson with Hope4Minds said they also talk about much more than that. She said they talk about the difficulties of dealing with the symptoms.
"We're just hoping to grow the group and be able to teach others what we have learned so far, and hopefully learn from others as they enter into the support group,” said Johnson.
"When you have a physical injury, like your arm or you're on crutches, people understand. When it's inside your heard, nobody gets it. You look very normal, they don't understand,” said Chadderdon. "We put on a smiley face in front of people, we really act like everything is okay and we do that because we don't want people to perceive us as weak."
Bryce Crane, who got a concussion in a mountain biking accident, said the group has been helpful.
"Being able to find someone who has the same problems as you -- it's just really relieving,” said Crane.
As a result of his concussion, he had a stroke and couldn’t talk or walk. He has also had memory loss and anxiety.
"I feel relieved being able to talk to people who have the same symptoms as I have and being able to connect. We kind of help each other out. We kind of talk. I give them my advice and they give me their advice,” said Crane.
"I mean it’s not nice knowing that other people are going through it, I really don't wish this on anybody, but at least other people can relate to it,” said Chadderdon.
"She realizes that she's not alone,” said Jon Roseberry, Chadderdon’s boyfriend.
He goes to the support groups with her, wanting to learn everything he can and help any way possible.
"It really hurts when you have someone you care for and you love who is suffering and there's nothing you can do,” said Roseberry. "You don't always realize that she's suffering inside, and how much she's suffering.”
Whether it’s their struggle of pain or celebration of a solution, concussion survivors like Chadderdon are glad they're not alone.
"I've made a little bit more progress coming here than I had in the two and a half years before this group," said Chadderdon. "I think people in this group know a lot more than a lot of doctors.”
If you want to join the concussion support group, you can find out when and where the next meeting is on the Hope4Minds website here.
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