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I was completely out of the world

ESSAY / The author Hanne Ramsdal tells here what it means to be put out of action – and come back again. A concussion leads, among other things, to the brain not being able to dampen impressions and emotions.


March 12, 2020 I am squatting under an open cupboard door in the kitchen. I have bought food and coffee and soap, because now my daughter's father is in quarantine after his ski holiday, and now they are closing down the country. So many bags of coffee on the floor. Everything should go into the closet. But I must have come up with something. Or did the phone ring? I do not remember. Maybe I got an impulse? An email I should finish writing before I got everything in the closet? I must have taken aim and shot speed right up to the edge of the open cupboard door, because suddenly I was standing in the middle of the floor shouting. But I did not faint. I did not vomit. I was not dizzy. So I did not take it easy and did not lie down for at least 48 hours, as I now know that you should when you hit your head hard. Even if you do not get symptoms. I picked up my daughter in kindergarten. I sat in front of a screen for a long time and worked at night. The next day we went for a bike ride to the sea, and I ran in the sand. I was so tired, but I was before I hit my head too. I explained the nausea by saying that I had forgotten to eat. After five days, I collapsed, sound and light, dizzy, nauseous, as if I was both hungover and seasick. I saw two crescents in the sky.

Dizzy and disoriented

I did not get through to the GP because corona, so I called Volvat, and they said it was probably a concussion, and that I should take it easy for two weeks. The nice, warm spring light shone brightly in my eyes. All the sounds were so disturbingly loud. It will probably get better next week. My children were with their fathers. I was in the darkest room in my apartment. Outside, Oslo was closed down. We were supposed to be careful about seeing each other because of the risk of infection, but a few friends brought me food. We laughed because I called the cutlery drawer the denture drawer, and when I wanted to say something about rhetoric, I did not understand what the word was, just that it reminded me a bit of the wording in graffiti. So much to watch in someone else's face – and at the same time try to catch what they said. I had to go to bed and rest after twenty minutes. Next week everything will probably be fine again.

I'm in a long soar and can hardly bear to meet anyone.

At the same time, house prices and stock prices plummeted. The days went by. The weeks passed. But I did not get better. And the infection in the world went crazy. Every time I felt better and tried to behave as before, I understood the reason why one should take it easy after a concussion: I should put on my shoes and sit on the floor. On the way up, I banged the back of my head on the edge of the table behind me. Or I was going to vacuum and did not see the radiator knob that protruded when I was going to plug it in. Shit. I was without depth and so dizzy and disoriented that I hit my head in the strangest of ways, in mirror frames, shelf edges, posts and door frames, and somehow I managed to burst into other people's sharp body parts, elbows and knees. Every time I hit myself, it was like falling to the bottom of the ladder game and starting to climb slowly again. I was ashamed to be so clumsy that I did not dare to tell that I hit myself. "Have you shaken your head again?" "How about getting yourself such a padded case from the Assistive Technology Center?" Yes, I actually put on a helmet when I vacuumed, because I had no sense of space, did not understand if the wall was far away or close. At night I had the wildest dreams.

I ordered light-tight blinds from a curtain shop and was so brought out by the socket of the light strips that pressed into the room along the window sill, that I called the shop and took it upon myself to be loudly angry that it was not totally light-tight. No one had told me that concussions can cause the brain to be unable to dampen impressions and emotions. I lay straight out and cried.

Even though I have long ago made a choice that I should never take my own life, I envisioned different ways to die. The winning psychiatrist would not put me in, but I was allowed to come there and talk, and I was given a phone number I could call at any time. They said I was not the first to have a concussion who came there. I tried to be with the children, but I could hardly stand on my feet. All I wanted was to hide and close my eyes, to lie completely still in a quiet place. Good friends picked me up and looked after me for a few weeks, cooked for me, massaged my feet. Dad came and went for walks with me. We did not hug, but it was so nice to walk slowly through a forest with him, the trees were so very green, and the white way looked very white and the sky looked very blue and his back so safe. Afterwards I slept like a child. But I did not have the strength to meet my own children.

The sharp sounds were unbearable.

Like a child of five

When the risk of infection decreased during the spring and summer, I went to my chiropractor and an optician. I got exercises for balance and sight. I went on many slow walks, and some days I woke up and felt absolutely fine. Not drunk. Do not feel dizzy. I tried to pick her up at the nursery, but my daughter was so angry with me because I had been away from her for a long time. The sharp sounds were unbearable. I avoided all confrontations and became like a stupid aunt who bought herself peace with bowls and toys. I tried to work a little, but what I read did not stick. What I heard on the radio did not stick. I had nothing to attach it to. It was like a big void in me. I're floating, I thought. I walk past people I know a little, but I do not remember what they are called. No maps are formed. I'm in a long soar and can hardly bear to meet anyone, I thought, even the only thing I wanted was to be close to someone. But no one should be close because of covid-19.

And my children, who I should have been close to, I could not be there for. I thought that the novel I published last year was reverse reality literature. I wrote about a woman who loses touch with her child. And now it was me who hardly saw my children. I could feel a little better and feel energized and wanted to make dinner for them. So I arranged for them to come, bought food and drink and got excited, brought herbs and ice cream for dessert in the shopping cart, and I was myself again for a while while I picked up goods. But out on the street with the bags I was suddenly exhausted, I could not carry two bags of food. I was standing on the street crying and thinking that I might look like a woman in her forties, but right now I'm more like a child of five who is alone and who should not be, and I can not ask anyone for help, for we must keep our distance. I had to go back to the store and say that my son came and picked up the bags later. The sixteen-year-old picked up many bags for me all summer and autumn last year, and vacuumed for me. I asked him the same question several times without getting the answer. I said I was going to get well again, but I did not know if it was a lie. I thought he heard it in my voice, that I was completely out.

The world I have woken up to

It would take ten months to get better. Today, towards the end of January 2021, I am still on sick leave. But I'm starting to wake up in a slightly more lasting way. It's been a while since I'd shaken my head at anything. I can be a little more mom again. I can take out of the dishwasher without having to rest afterwards. I do not wake up every day and feel hungover and seasick. I have felt like working and friends my eyes to screen. I carry bags from the store. Cooking dinner. Follows and picks up at the kindergarten. I have started reading The Lionheart brothers for my daughter. And the world I have woken up to is disturbingly reminiscent of my wildest dreams. Trump supporters on Capitol Hill. And new mutated viruses. Unstable stock market. Wild-growing housing market. Good and bad vaccine news about each other. Assumptions. Unrest. Nobody knows what's going on. I have never felt so in tune with the world. Equally unpredictable in form.

I hit my head in the strangest of ways, in mirror frames, shelf edges, posts and door frames.

What would I do without family and friends who have helped me? But in Norway I can be so bad for almost a year without having to sell the apartment, since we have a system that helps me. And I think of all those who work, all the doctors, all the health workers, all the garbage collectors, bus drivers and others who keep everything going. Hands that lift and hold.

There are 191 synonyms for "work", I read online, now that I will practice being online again. So many nice words I find: bale, sweep, kave, nisy, sjaue, vede, base, idke, koke, onne, stie, veve, duge, ivre, lage, pole, stri, yste, elte, mase, sage, ta in, desert, act, use, fix, rumble, hurve, jaw, arrange, potle, drift, call, climb, carpentry, strive, slave, thresh, clamber, cry, starve, sweat, rule, squeeze, press, voice, pull, step… I think of all those who have been laid off, who are not allowed to do their work. I also read that more than half of those who have been on sick leave for more than half a year do not return to work. I'm scared to read it. And I notice how slow it goes when I try to work on the novel I was just working on before the injury. How little capacity I have. After one poop in the top of the head.

My mind gets stuck somewhere

Are all the side effects just mental and mental, I have wondered. But this is denied by those who work with people with head injuries. Both the chiropractor I go to, and the doctors at the head injury center at Ullevål, say that it can take time. If you do not recover after a couple of weeks, it can take half a year, a year, maybe more to get completely well, with a slow escalation of work. I start to miss writing something more than scribbling down something I afterwards do not remember what was. And when I was asked if I could write an essay for New Time about being out of the world or out of action, I thought it was a nice start to the opposite. A few thousand words, just. It seems affordable.

Photo: Ramsdal And Pixabay

I've been writing a little bit every day for over a week now. I write for twenty minutes, and when it catches my eye, I take a break, go for a walk. Then I write a little more, and it's as if my thoughts through the writing work get stuck somewhere. The ongoing dialogue I have with myself is gaining direction. Connecting lines are formed to other things I have written, read and thought about. Writing connects the psyche and the body. A line of thought I did not get to vote yesterday will be explained today. And tomorrow there might be a title based on something I came up with today.

The absence from writing has given me a greater understanding of what writing does to me, and this experience is certainly transferable to all types of work. Absence from work is also an absence from the long ongoing processes that connect us to others and to the world in an effective way. And now I'm trying. An essay. An attempt to reconnect via a deadline. The text should be read. I'll get it back and fix it. It will be proofread, set, printed and sent out in mailboxes. I will have an invoice made, and I will check with NAV that I have worked a few hours this month.

Hanne Ramsdal
Hanne Ramsdal
Ramsdal is a writer.

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