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Stanford graduate student and Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin Commits Suicide Following Concussion

See also: Comments on “Pro Cyclists Open Up About Depression”.

Update: see also Olympic Cyclist Kelly Catlin Seemed Destined for Glory. Then She Killed Herself.

The death by suicide of 23-year-old is Stanford graduate student and Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin is a sad story I’d rather not have read. I couldn’t piece it together until I read the following story:

According to the family, Kelly’s mental health struggles began in December after she suffered a concussion during a cycling race. She began having vision problems, severe headaches and was unable to complete workouts with her team, Kelly’s father, Mark Catlin, tells PEOPLE.

“She wrote that she had been having racing thoughts and her mind wasn’t working the way it used to,” Christine says, adding that she believed Kelly was describing symptoms of the concussion. “She described being tortured mentally by not being able to do what she used to do.”

The story resonated with me for three reasons: I’m a cyclist, I had a concussion last year with sinilar issues, and I’m a Stanford alum.

I wish there had been some way I could have reached out and helped her. I’ve been pondering starting a concussion support group actually—I am still considering it.

Not being able to do what was possible prior to the concussion is to be expected. It’s awful that someone did not or was not able to communicate that to her, to counsel her to give it time and rest. Presumably she was driven to excel, which means that accepting that kind of setback must have been extremely difficult, leading to highly negative thoughts.

I also had vision problems and headaches and was unable to train normally during 3 weeks or so after. Indeed, a very short workout 5 days after my crash apparently did further damage, sending sent me to the ER a second time where it took me 30 to 60 seconds to answer simple questions, and where I did not realize it was my wife holding my hand (I thought it was a kindly nurse).

I suspect that Catlin made the tragic mistake of trying to train without even having gotten over the acute phase—what the hell were the coaches thinking?! But I don’t really blame them, as my experience is that doctors and even most neurologists really don’t have a clue about concussions—blind people feeling up an elephant. If you haven’t experienced it, you really cannot understand how it works inside the head, IMO.

I had not been assessed for a concussion after my crash, even though I had clear signs of one (crying, walking like an old man, inability to speak for half an hour, etc). Not that assessment is worth a whole lot necessarily depending on the when and how: I had a almost complete inability to speak for 30 minutes or so after the crash, followed by volubility, followed by emotional breakdown and physical impairment.

After a concussion

To all those cyclists (or others) out there who have had a concussion or know somehow who has, please read my concussion log for perspective—I did not hold much back. If it only helps a handful of people, then I am content.

Attitude and expectations are everything to recovery.

A reality check: it would be crazy to train on a broken leg, but it’s not so easy to understand training with an injured brain because it is not visible! Yet it is potentially far more dangerous during the acute phase. Later, training is the best way to return to normality (increased blood flow to the brain is critical IMO), at least it was for me. Work and study have to wait.

Emotional breakdowns are a classic sign of a concussion, so family and friends should be vigilant. They don’t necessarily resolve in a few weeks! For perhaps 6 months I was emotionally fragile—easily triggered into crying. One gut-wrenching crying fit lasted 14 hours or so, about 3 months after the crash. Another one 5 months after, lasting about 3 hours. Various less severe ones. A year later, I do not feel as strong that way as before, but it has been months without any serious trouble.

Staying in a low stress environment is really important—rent an RV or Sprinter van if you have to, and get far away from life stressors (camp out and listen to the winds and birds)—your recovery and the rest of your life might depend on it. Take 1 month or three and understand that it is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Anon writes:

Amen to that. People have no idea about the lasting effects a head injury can have.

My injury was over 5 1/2 years ago and the perceived physical effects (numbness, loss of fine motor control, etc etc etc) caused by the brain injury are *still* evolving (mental effects too of course). People think that because you can stand up andga

eat a cheeseburger you must be completely well, but the truth is very far from that.

Your points about what happens later are too true also, e.g. part of what happened to me lying in ICU was a stroke to the thalamus, which I believe to be the source of a lot of my lasting brain issues. you can’t make this deal of course, but if I could exchange the loss of a leg for having my brain back I’d do it. Fortunately I’ve avoided falling into the trap of that kind of hypothetical bargaining. Of course it could be worse, I came within minutes of death and there are a lot of survivors of head injuries out there who have it a lot worse than I do, for instance I don’t have neuropathy expressed as unrelievable pain, I don’t have long episodes of uncontrollable rage and I can live with my difficulty spelling.

I’ve never really gone into the effects with you because these injuries are unique to the individual and I see no reason to scare people who are on a different path.

WIND: the areas of the brain affected can be different, and the brain is extremely complex. Anyone with a concussion might should take it very seriously. My concusssion log might offer some guidance as to how things progressed for me.

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