Sydney Dudley SpeaksUp

Hello, my name is Sydney Dudley and I just completed the ninth grade.  The past three years of my life have been a combination of excitement, joy, sadness, and fear.  I truly believe I have ascended many mountains blocking my path because my experiences and faith have allowed me to escape the valleys.

Until the seventh grade, I had what many would call a “typical” lifestyle.  I had good grades, amazing friends, and a passion for writing.  My resiliency and strength were not truly tested until I faced my first traumatic brain injury.

After an unfortunate accident in soccer, I was diagnosed with my first concussion.  I was shocked and scared.  I had experienced physical injuries in the past, but the nature of concussion recovery was much different.  Suddenly, I was limited academically, physically, and socially.  During the early stages of recovery, my activities were limited to listening to audiobooks in the darkness of my room.  Having an invisible injury made me feel vulnerable and weak.  However, the hope of returning to my past lifestyle helped me to push through the physical therapy.  All of the exercises and tests were exhausting, but I remained committed to the idea of finally getting my life back to normal.

Unfortunately, on the day I was scheduled to be discharged by my physical therapist, I sustained another concussion.  I was devastated as more restrictions were imposed upon me.  I could no longer play soccer, and I was told to avoid contact sports and any activities that posed a significant risk.  Physical therapy appointments consumed my life as I struggled with the idea of recovery, which now seemed ever so distant.   My life felt like one of those games where you dodge one obstacle only to go soaring into the next.  Maintaining optimism was deeply challenging as I became bored with the few activities I could participate in while injured.

After nine long months of recovery, my doctors and parents allowed me to return to soccer.  I loved racing down the field as our team fought hard for the sweet taste of victory.  The adrenaline was incredible, and I had an amazing group of people on my team.  Much to my dismay, the unfortunate pattern continued, and I got my third concussion within weeks of returning to the field.  As expected, I was forced to indefinitely quit any activities which posed a risk.  My days of playing soccer had come to an abrupt and devastating end.

I wish I could say my third concussion was my last, but accidents occur and I was forced to continue fighting the physical and psychological symptoms of traumatic brain injuries.  The following summer, after a fluke accident in an orthodontist office, I sustained a fourth concussion.  Being forced to spend the first half of summer in the dull state of cognitive rest battered my soul as I struggled to stay optimistic.

Luckily, I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel as the physical therapy began to work.  The headaches grew fewer and farther between, and I found myself able to participate in more activities.  It was at this point of my recovery that I was able to begin my journey of finding myself.  Toward the end of the summer, I finally returned to a special volunteering program at a hospital that I had started in June.  For the remaining days of the summer, I worked in music therapy and had the incredible opportunity to help veterans reach beyond their ailments and find peace through music. Suddenly, I started to understand that my world was not over. I realized I could spend my time helping others as my own doctors, friends, and family had helped me.

With help from my doctors and parents, I continued my recovery as I returned to school in the fall.  Thus began my first year of high school.  The first few months were incredible.  I loved making new friends, and I had so many fun experiences.  However, about a week before Halloween last fall, another shocking accident caused my fifth and most recent concussion.  Looking back, I felt blessed to have a massive influx of support from my teachers, school nurses, family, and friends.  While managing my schoolwork during the injury seemed daunting, the strong support system in my life helped me to finish freshmen year with great grades and memorable experiences.

Having a multitude of concussions has been the most terrifying experience of my entire life.  As the number of concussions increase, statistics relating to recovery become more and more dismal.  For the past several years, I have been terrified of what is to come, and if I will ever fully overcome the obstacles placed in front of me.   Even now, I still struggle with the chronic symptoms of my traumatic brain injuries.  I have felt isolated, trapped, and alone.  I have always loved learning, reading, and using my mind to the fullest extent, so forcing myself to rest when symptoms arise has been difficult.  Sometimes, my thoughts still travel to darkest corners of my mind.  What if I never completely recover?  Will I ever be able to participate in more activities that give me joy?  Those times of negativity can be overwhelming.  I’ve struggled to find inner peace when it feels as if my entire world has shifted.  To put it simply, I’ve felt worthless.  However, by spending my time helping others and uncovering my own abilities, I rediscovered my worth.  Overcoming the negative thoughts was daunting at times, but I used my experiences and faith to pull myself up into the light.

To this day, I still use the character and endurance I have obtained in order to fuel my own hope, and to help others recognize the importance of understanding their own worth.  I still fight my battles, and I in no way have a perfect life.  My injuries will always be a part of who I am, and I continue to fight the long-term effects of multiple concussions.  However, I now recognize my own self worth.  Volunteering at organizations such as the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Medical Center and the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation have given me a place to help others fighting their own battles.  When I first discovered the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation through my membership in Girl Power Grants, I was overwhelmed with joy to see an organization working to help teenagers who face the strenuous trials of depression and anxiety.  After working with the organization for over a year, Cameron’s story inspired me to “SpeakUp” and carry her message forward.  As I pave my path in life, I strive to encourage others to realize they are worth much more than they may believe, and to hold onto hope in the darkest moments. 

Katherine Cook