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  • Writer's picturekeeleyshantzrmt

Keeley's Concussion Journey

Like many people, I wasn’t aware of the prevalence and seriousness of concussions until late highschool. Before then, I had sustained multiple concussions through hockey and had largely ignored them. That is, until my 2014 concussion.

I sustained my first concussion in grade 9 in 2011. I was playing for the Markham-Stouffville Stars Rep B hockey team and we were facing the Scarborough Sharks in our final playoff game and we needed to win that last game to make it to the next round. I was playing wing and in the 3rd period, I accidentally collided at top speed with an opponent. We clashed heads and I fell backwards, hitting my head on the ice. I was winded and dazed. I made it back to the bench on my own, where my trainer, a nurse, checked me for concussion symptoms. She took one look at my eyes and told me that I had a concussion and that I needed to sit out the rest of the game. I burst into tears, which was highly unusual for me! I begged to get back out on the ice, but I am grateful that the trainer made me sit out. I could have been at risk for second impact syndrome had I been hit again. (Second impact syndrome is when the brain swells rapidly after a second concussion when symptoms from a first concussion aren’t yet resolved. It is often fatal.)

A teenaged Keeley playing hockey

Treatment for this first concussion was minimal. I went home, sat in front of the TV with my family but didn’t watch because of my headache and vision sensitivity, but mostly because I had been told to avoid electronics and be quiet. My memory of what happened after this concussion isn’t so great, possibly because it was so long ago, possibly because the concussion wiped my memory, and possibly because I healed so quickly that the injury didn’t seem like such a big deal. Avoiding electronics lasted maybe a few days and I kept up with school. I certainly didn’t stop playing hockey. Thankfully, most concussions are supposed to resolve quickly on their own. I got lucky.

It is important to note that I didn’t have a classic public school education; rather, I was homeschooled from JK through grade 12. Being homeschooled through highschool was a personal choice. I had high social anxiety, a blown up fear of public school, and a low tolerance for neurotypical social behaviour. My neurodivergent self craved independence and control over my schedule. I was able to get more work done than a typical highschooler in a shorter amount of time, leaving glorious free time for exercise, hobbies, and work.

Because I was homeschooled, I easily resumed schoolwork during my concussions. I wasn’t forced to wake up earlier than my body was ready, commute to school, sit in a crowded, loud, bright classroom for several hours a day, or deal with copious amounts of homework after a long day at school. I could take breaks and eat when I needed and control the volume and brightness of my environment.

I suffered my next concussion in grade 11 (2013) while refereeing a Markham-Stouffville Stars U10 Rep A hockey game. A player made a late change behind me and unexpectedly took out my feet from under me. I landed on my back and hit my head on the ice. In an instant, the lights were too bright and the noise was too loud. The world seemed shaken. I managed to finish the game, but my refereeing partner, whose daughters had suffered many concussions, looked at my eyes and declared me concussed. "Not again! I have work! I have hockey!" But I was too sick to care at that moment. I was supposed to timekeep a Senior A (adult) hockey game afterwards, but my brother did most of the work as I drew my hood over my head and curled in a ball to block out the stimuli.

I should have followed concussion protocol after this fall, but I chose not to. As a hormonal teenager with hockey games and social scrimmages on the line, I chose fun over wellness. Within the next day or two, I played a game against the Georgina Goldenhawks - a notoriously physical team - followed by an all-ages, all-gender scrimmage with some friends. I don’t know how I managed to muster through my symptoms, but I recall that things were rough around that time. I’m very lucky that my brain didn’t get injured again within that time frame after my second concussion.

My next concussion is deemed “The Concussion.” In grade 12 (2014), I played boys’ U21 houseleague hockey with my brother and my friend. I was playing wing and in the 1st period of the first game, I got absolutely decimated by a hit from the largest player in the league. My head hit his chest and didn’t hit the ice when I fell backwards. I was winded badly for several shifts. As my head hadn’t hit the ice, nobody thought to check me for a concussion. We all assumed I was “just winded.” I finished the game and continued playing the season.

Even though school, work, and hockey carried on as per usual, everything fell to pieces after that. I had headaches, difficulty concentrating, “brain fog,” and my depression and anxiety were out of control. Everything was too loud, too bright, too intense. My tinnitus (ringing in the ears) increased to a scream. I started not sleeping well and I was exhausted, no matter what. My balance was poor and I was playing very badly in hockey. I was overly aggressive on the ice and an emotional wreck at home. My grades plunged. I remember working for a pool cleaning company, falling asleep every morning on the way to the first pool, hardly able to rouse myself to begin work, and feeling dizzy at the edge of the pool, thinking I would get sucked into the depths like Frodo in the Dead Marshes. This went on for three months, undiagnosed. I thought I was going crazy. My parents worried if I had bipolar.

During this time, I was also playing for the Markham-Stouffville Stars B team. I got so many penalties and into so many fights defending my goalies. At one point, my mom recalls me falling to the ice and hitting my head. She believes I sustained another concussion at that time, but I was in so many fights, I honestly don’t recall. I am extremely lucky that I likely didn’t sustain second impact syndrome during this time.

Then, my mom had a dream. The dream led her to think about me having a concussion. When she told me, I was in total denial. "No, I was hit hard in that boys’ game, but not that hard. Surely a concussion would have been caught months ago if this were true. Plus, I’m in grade 12 - I have so much going on! Grades to make, college to apply to, hockey to referee and play. I can’t afford this right now." Thankfully, my mom was adamant. No more hockey, put school on hold, and heal. (For grade 12, I was taking online university courses through Athabasca University to serve as a transcript to apply for college, so we put those on hold. I love the flexibility of homeschooling and online school!)

By acknowledging my diagnosis, I was finally allowed to fall apart for the next several months. No more holding on to sanity for sanity’s sake - just pure emotion and hurting and healing. I visited my family doctor, a sports specialist doctor, osteopaths, a massage therapist, a concussion physiotherapist, a naturopath, a specialist pain clinic, an endocrinologist, and more. The most helpful therapies were osteopathy and massage therapy, which spurred my interest in becoming a registered massage therapist only three years later. I even took some osteopathy courses to broaden my horizons.

It took me 10 months to finally feel symptom-free. I attest that it took so long because I was in an abusive, emotionally-wrought relationship at the time. The week after I finally broke it off, I felt more like me than I had the entire past year. I was free.

The only post-concussion symptom I live with today is tinnitus, but it is so quiet and routine that it doesn’t bother me. I continue to see an osteopath, a massage therapist, and my naturopath to continue my wellness journey.

The key takeaways are that

  1. You can get a concussion from doing anything (in my massage practice, I treat concussions most often from car accidents, seniors falling, and teachers slipping on ice - oddly specific, I know - but also from swimming, basketball, and playing with children),

  2.  I believe that homeschooling helped me get through my concussions by allowing my to control my schedule and environment, and

  3. Healing has no timeframe. Be patient and kind to yourself.

Do you have an injury story like mine? Email it to to be featured on our blog to help other people in pain!

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