On the Unreliability of Brains: A Story about my Concussion

Hi, I’m Jo, and I have a brain injury.

Let me backtrack a bit. In January this year, I was at my weekly roller derby scrimmage when I took a hit and fell. Roller derby is a full contact sport, so it’s reasonable to expect hard hits, bumps, and falls. (In fact, one of the first things new skaters are taught in derby is how to fall safely.) However, this was one of those weird hits where I ended up flat on my back. My head hit the track, which is laid over solid concrete. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I do remember that there was a meaty sounding noise when my head hit the ground. Thankfully, I was wearing a helmet, but the helmet didn’t prevent the impact; it only reduced it.

I felt fine at the time, and didn’t think anything was wrong until the referee skated over to see if I was okay, and then told me to see our athletic trainer. There’s a relatively standard concussion test–shining a light in my eyes, asking things like what the date is, counting backwards, and so on. I barely passed, but I passed the test, so I thought I was okay.

A concussion is a type of brain injury where, to be completely unscientific, impact with your head causes your brain to jiggle inside your skull. As a result of the movement, brain cells can get stretched or damaged, which affects your neural pathways, and chemical changes can occur. This manifests in a variety of ways and can vary between individuals.

Image description: a simulation of what happens to a brain in a concussion. A hand slaps an open skull, causing the brain to wobble.

About three days later, I started getting symptoms. First it was headaches, especially when it was bright outside, or when I was looking at a computer, phone, or TV screen. Then sometimes things would be out of focus at the periphery of my vision. I found it hard to concentrate. I was irritable and anxious, and my sleep quality went down. I couldn’t leave the house unless it was nighttime because driving required too much brain processing, and walking outdoors during the day hurt my eyes and my head.

I’d also forget things. Sure, sometimes, being forgetful can be funny, in a “ha ha, I’m looking for my glasses and they’re actually on my face” sort of way, and then there’s being forgetful like when you leave a pan on the stove and almost burn down your house. (I set the smoke detectors off at my house twice in the first month of my concussion that way.) After that, my partner had to prep my food or leave me leftovers. For most of my life I’d been blessed with having a pretty good memory, so being unable to remember things like the names of your childhood pet or even what you had for lunch the previous day was pretty concerning.

I think that seeing my brain fail me in ways where I had previously been able to trust it was the worst part about having a concussion. I’m a highly academic and analytic person, and a lot of my identity is tied up in using my brain.  The other thing about concussions is that it can increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s later in life. There’s something scary about not knowing if my memory will go, and when, and how, especially if it comes with the risk of forgetting who your loved ones are–or who yourself are–somewhere down the line. But, maybe that’s me overthinking it.

But, there are ways to mend. The main treatment for concussions is to rest your brain–basically, this involved avoiding things that were mentally stimulating, getting lots of sleep, and just… not thinking about things. I spent a lot of time lying in a dark room, listening to podcasts on my phone. This was mostly fine if I could cue up the podcast playlist in advance, because looking at the phone screen would make my head hurt. Sometimes when people on podcasts said “s” sounds at a particular timbre I’d get a headache. For someone who thrives on tech and video games, not being able to interact with digital media was hard. I also had to learn how to zone out. It sounds counterintuitive, but I had to use guided meditation apps to help structure my thoughts (or lack thereof) when I was relaxing my brain.

Image description: Pie chart of concussions by sport. Football, boys ice hockey, and boys lacrosse are the primary sources of concussions depicted. Source.

Roller derby is still a relatively new sport, so there’s not a lot of data about the occurrence of head injuries. Incidentally, there’s not a lot about concussions in women’s sports at all—the majority of sports-related head injuries occur in male-dominated sports: football, ice hockey, and lacrosse. It’s hard to extrapolate from the experience of a male footballer twice my size and half my age to understand what my body is doing when it recovers, so a lot of it is guesswork: I’d turn the lights on and see if that bothered me. Then I’d try looking at a phone. And maybe do multitasking. Maybe I’d do jumping jacks and see if I felt like throwing up. Or I’d try some sudoku of various difficulties. And then I’d use those to track improvements.

Recovery was–and is–slow. I imagine a lot of it is making sure my brain can reforge its neural pathways, and I don’t know what needs fixing until I discover it does. I’m mostly back to normal and I have more good days than bad, so that’s promising. Occasionally I still have days where things will set it off. About two months ago (so, almost three months after I initially had a concussion), I was watching Altered Carbon and noticed that I’d have a headache from some of the visual effects, especially if accompanied by screen shakes. It made me nauseous for an entire day.

One of the scenes from Altered Carbon that didn’t make me feel great was this one where Takeshi gets spammed with advertising on his ocular implant.
Description: an upward panning of a futuristic city interrupted by garish neon signage

Sometimes I’ll forget something and wonder if I’m really forgetful or if it’s caused by the concussion. For most part though, I feel fine. I don’t know whether I can go back to normal or even what “normal” means anymore, but it’s something I’m working through and will continue to work through. I’m hopeful that I’ll get better, more adaptive, and stronger brain out of it.

 

Author’s note: This is not intended to substitute for medical advice as concussion symptoms can manifest differently across individuals. If you have questions about how to treat and manage your symptoms, see your doctor.

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Get Ready to GiveBIG!

Tomorrow, get ready for a day of giving with GiveBIG!

GiveBIG is sponsored by the Seattle Foundation. It’s an online fundraising marathon designed to help Seattle area nonprofits create momentum and excitement about community philanthropy. You can pre-schedule gives to GeekGirlCon right now, and you won’t be charged until the morning of May 9. This way, you can set it and forget it, as it were.

This is our third year of GiveBIG. In previous years, our funds donated to GeekGirlCon have gone to supporting our annual convention and year-round outreach programming. Our goal is to make attendance accessible and affordable for every geek. That’s why we also partner with other organizations to provide free passes to those who may not otherwise have the resources to attend.

There are ways to make your dollar go further too. Per GiveBIG giving requirements, there is a minimum of $10 to participate, but there is no maximum. Also, donations for GeekGirlCon ‘18 benefits begin at $50 and all donations at that amount and above will receive convention benefits.

You can also harness the power of donation matching! GeekGirlCon will be offering a match during GiveBIG thanks to a generous donation from I-Wei Feng, GeekGirlCon’s outgoing board president. All gifts will also be eligible for a Dollars for Change grant. If your gift is selected, GeekGirlCon will receive an additional $2,500. If you have an employer match, you can indicate so with your donation. A GeekGirlCon staff member will follow up after GiveBIG to complete any necessary documentation.

You can donate here on the Seattle Foundation GiveBIG page. Thank you in advance for your support!

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

We have Questions: Digital vs. Hardcopy Program Booklets?

Image: Gif of Destiny’s Child asking a question, from their music video Independent Woman

 

GeekGirlCon is half a year away, but:

  1. You can buy passes now at the discounted early bird rate; and
  2. Our staff are working hard behind the scenes to make sure that we make #GGC18 the biggest and best convention that we’ve ever organized!

One old reliable we’ve had for our convention has been our program booklet. In the past, our program books have been printed, hard copy guides with maps, lists of schedules, featured contributor biographies and all the nifty information you need to get the most out of your con weekend.

It looks something like this:

Image: A pair of hands holding the GeekGirlCon program book

Last year, in addition to our physical booklets we also had a digital program guide that was pretty popular. And this year, we’re thinking about focusing primarily on the digital program guide, which you would get in the form of an app. For those of you who like a tactile guide that you can hold and read, never fear! To accompany the digital program guide, we’ll also be designing a physical poster that you will receive at admission. Information included on the backside of this poster would be a streamlined version of our panel schedules, maps, highlighted panel information and events information. (We’re still in the process of designing the poster.)

Going digital has its pros and cons, and we’d like to pick your brains for your thoughts on whether you’d prefer a program book, or a digital app to get your information. There are environmental, practical, and technical considerations. But, ultimately, we want to do what’s best for our community–YOU.

Image: a GeekGirlCon attendee reads on a digital device

So, we’re hoping you can help us make that decision! What format would you like to see your programming information in? We’ve put together this survey in order to help us figure out whether or not you would be interested in seeing our program guide go primarily digital. We value your opinion.

Take our survey here!

Thank you in advance for your help! We look forward to receiving your feedback, and we’ll see you at #GGC18!

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Accommodations fit for a Geek!

Once again, we’ve partnered up with Hotel Max to bring an awesome deal for all you con-goers*!

If you’re planning to stay in town for GeekGirlCon this October 27-28, we have a group rate especially for our convention attendees. For just $169 per night, you get a spacious modern hotel room with a king size bed, free wifi, waived facilities fees, and additional amenities! And, if you want to be extra fancy, valet parking is only an additional $30.

Image: Map of Seattle outlining the path from the Washington State Convention Center to Hotel Max.

Hotel Max is just a safe, short jaunt down to the Conference Center at the Washington State Convention Center, so you’ll be able to be in the city right when the convention opens, and you’ll have a place to keep your cosplay in pristine condition, or store all your Artist Alley swag. And even after our convention doors close, you can continue getting your geek on with various events around the city, or just chilling in your hotel room and watching your favorite TV series.

A Hotel Max hotel room showing a large bed with red and white bedding, and a gray couch in the foreground

And, bonus! One of the reasons why we’re so excited to partner with Hotel Max again is that Hotel Max supports our organizational mission–for every room night that gets booked, we get a $5.00 rebate! So you can make your dollar go further in supporting our organization, and also be right onsite for the convention! It’s a win-win situation, if you think about it.

To get in on this awesome deal, book online or contact Hotel Max on +1 866.833.6299 and make sure you mention that you want to book with the GeekGirlCon 18 rate. The group rate is good for October 25 through October 29.

Make sure you don’t miss out! See you in October!

 

*And if you’re not a con-goer yet, what are you waiting for? Passes are available right now at our Early Bird rate!

 

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Hey Staffer! Whatcha Geekin’ Out About? An Interview with Kathryn Storm

[Image description: a black and white picture of Kathryn looking at the camera and holding a figurine.]

Here is our latest installment of Hey Staffer! This month, we’re talking to Kathryn Storm, who runs all the video gaming events at GeekGirlCon. Kathryn has been with the organization for several years and geeks out over tech, cosplay, and of course, video games! Read on to find out more and to get a sneak peek of what we have in store for GeekGirlCon ’18!

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Hey, Staffer! An Interview with Alyssa Askew

Alyssa, wearing a sweater with Darth Vader on it, and holding a stuffed Chewbacca toy and a bag of popcorn. (Source: Alyssa Askew)

New Year, New Staffer! We’re kicking off 2018 with an interview with Alyssa Askew, our Assistant Games Manager. Alyssa has been working with us since early last year, and works with our Manager of Gaming, Alyssa Jones. (Yes, there are two people working on our games team named Alyssa. What are the odds?) Here, she tells us about moving to Seattle, her love of Star Wars, and what it’s like to be a girl detective.

 

Who are you and what do you do at GeekGirlCon?

I’m Alyssa Askew and I am the Assistant Games Manager. I help the other Alyssa and the rest of the awesome Gaming team create Tabletop and Video Game content for the convention and beyond. My position fluctuates based on what Alyssa and the rest of the team need and I jump in to help wherever I can. This year that meant organizing some tournaments, coordinating signage, writing volunteer job descriptions, and having a whole lot of fun with the team!

What do you do for your day job, when you’re not being awesome as a GGC staffer?

I work in video games! I am currently working as an Administrative Assistant (aka Professional Organizer of things) at Big Fish Games and learning as much as possible about the production and creation of our games so I can continue to work towards my dream of producing games. On the side, I am producing an indie horror game with friends to hone those skills!

Sounds awesome! Tell me more about your indie game!
Horror games are not usually my jam (I spook easily!), but helping my friends get organized to make things is a lot of fun and they are super talented. Play throughs have been entertaining because I think I get even more frightened when I know what is about to happen in the game. I can’t wait to see how it shapes up.

Alyssa concentrates as she plays Centipede on an arcade machine. (Source: Alyssa Askew)

Have you always considered yourself a geek?

Oh, probably… When I was about 9, I wanted to have a Star Wars themed sleepover and watch the entire original trilogy in one night. I LOVE geeking out over themes. I invited all my friends over and decorated the living room. We got through half of Episode IV and my friends took over and we watched Titanic. I still hate that movie and I still love Star Wars so I guess I have always considered myself geeky.

Alyssa holding her super cute BB-8 mug! (Source: Alyssa Askew)

What sort of (geeky) things do you like to do in your spare time?

In case it wasn’t already evident, I love gaming! These days, you can most often find me playing Stardew Valley, Overwatch, and a variety of mobile games. When I can recruit friends or family, I love a good board game too.

I am also in my happy place while munching popcorn at the movies or curled up with a novel or comic book with tea (in a geeky and adorable BB8 mug).

What are you currently geeking out about?

Right this second, I am most excited for Black Panther to come out. It looks phenomenal and I’ve probably watched the trailer 30+ times. Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero since I was twelve, so I’m also looking forward to his starring role appearance in Infinity War and try my best not to think too much about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse because December is so far away.

Gaming wise, I just purchased a bundle of twenty or so Nancy Drew games from Her Interactive and they are golden! I’ve been dedicating a fair amount of time to solving crimes as a teenage sleuth.

Girl detective games? That sounds awesome. Who would you recommend these to?
I think anyone who read Nancy Drew, watched Veronica Mars, or played detective of any sorts when they were young would enjoy the Nancy Drew series. I mean, who doesn’t want to solve crimes about haunted carousels or mysterious old clocks? They are easy to pick up and play without being hardcore, and while they are a bit silly sometimes, I’ve had a lot of fun with them.

Alyssa dressed as her character from the game Stardew Valley (Source: Alyssa Askew)

Okay, let’s talk about the org. How did you get involved with GeekGirlCon?

I moved to Seattle from Canada early last year and wanted to get involved and volunteer in some capacity straight away. Up in BC, my volunteer life was a huge part of who I was, and organizing STEM events for the Girl Guides of Canada was one of my favorite things to do. I had attended GeekGirlCon and kept checking the volunteer page because I love everything the org stands for, but was intimidated by most of the roles, having never organized a con before! When I saw the Assistant Manager of Gaming position I was really excited because it seemed like a great introduction to convention planning, I had the skill set, and also I really, really love games. I applied for the position and now I’m here!

What is your favorite thing about being a staffer for GeekGirlCon?

The wonderful humans I get to interact with as a result. Being in a new city is scary, but everyone in the org has welcomed me with open arms, taught me so much already, and made me feel at home. The Agents I got to work with at the GeekGirlCon last year were exceptional and their commitment to the convention is inspiring. I can’t wait to work with them again. Finally, our attendees are what make GeekGirlCon so special.

What were your thoughts on GeekGirlCon ‘17? Did you have a favorite moment?

I LOVED my experience at GeekGirlCon ‘17. The whole event was nothing less of magical and I was humbled to be a part of the staff organizing the convention. My favorite moment surrounding the con weekend actually happened virtually. Part way through the weekend, I was checking twitter and saw a friend say they were thinking of attending and asked if GeekGirlCon was a safe space for them. I let others answer, because I thought maybe I was a bit biased, and my friend ended up attending on Sunday! I got to say hello in the midst of running around, and they seemed to be having fun. My favorite moment came on Sunday, the attendees had left, we were cleaning up and winding down from a great weekend. I checked Twitter again and saw the same friend post about what a great time they had at GeekGirlCon ‘17, how glad they were that they attended, and that they definitely would be back next year. Seeing that post made my heart so happy. I love the space GeekGirlCon has created and am proud of how hard everyone is constantly working to make it truly safe and inclusive.

What are you looking forward to for GeekGirlCon in the future?

I can’t wait to see how GeekGirlCon continues to thrive in the coming years. I feel so lucky to be a part of the team and I know the wonderful people involved will make it better every year. I look forward to seeing how the programming changes and grows to be as inclusive and diverse as possible and I am excited about all the wonderful content that I’m sure we’ll line up for next year!

 

If you think you’d like to be like Alyssa and support GeekGirlCon all year around, check out our available volunteer staff positions!

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Hey, Staffer, Whatcha Geekin’ Out About? An Interview with Andrew Chan

Image description: Andrew Chan wearing a glowing Iron Man hand.

Here’s one last Hey, Staffer interview for the year. Meet Andrew Chan! Andrew is our merchandise assistant but also spends a lot of time dabbling with cool technology, fighting with lightsabers, and watching his favorite scifi shows! We ask him about what it’s like to be a Trekkie, technobabble, and the lengths he will go to for a good geek convention.

 

Who are you and what do you do at GeekGirlCon?

I’m Andrew and I help Shubz run the merchandise department. This includes climbing through stacks of boxes in storage to count our inventory, ordering new stuff, processing online orders (and getting the online store running), and helping set up and run the merch booth during the con. I’ve also taken over as an interim sysadmin running the internal infrastructure.

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

In Which G. Willow Wilson Talks About Identity, and I Try Not to Fangirl Too Much

Let me get the obvious out of the way first: I’m a fan of G. Willow Wilson’s work. Her storytelling finesse, and experiences as being at the intersection of several identities speaks to me. I recently saw her in conversation with KUOW’s Jamala Henderson as part of Humanities Washington’s speaker series, talking about identity, the comics industry, and of course, Ms. Marvel. Part of the flyer for the event introduced Willow (the G is silent) thusly: G. Willow Wilson lies at the epicenter of multiple fault lines of American identity.

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Panel Recap: Making Games that Bring People Together

Playing Magic: The Gathering at GeekGirlCon 16

One of my favorite things about gaming is that it is transformative: you get to become someone (or something) else: you can be a warrior mouse, an anthropomorphic mushroom, a dragon, or anything else that the game setting allows for.

You can also become a new friend to someone who shares the same passions for games that you do.

There are plenty of stories about players creating groups to play together, forming real-life relationships, or whose lives evolve because of the game and the people they’ve met playing it. This year, at GeekGirlCon, I got to sit in on a panel with Featured Contributor Elaine Chase, who has a direct hand in influencing people’s lives in this way.

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

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