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Going from My Biggest Life Crisis to the Life of My Dreams - Interview with Rikke la Cour

Updated: Feb 14

 





Q: Can you tell us a little bit about you? What do you do right now? Anything you'd like to share?

 

Rikke: Sure. My name is Rikke la Cour. I'm 47 years old and I live in Copenhagen, Denmark with my husband, two children, and dog. Today, I have two jobs; I work as a senior negotiation specialist and coach in one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. In addition to that, I have established BrainBrave, where I coach and mentor people suffering from concussions. Today, I have recovered 100% from my concussion.

 

Q: That's so impressive, running two jobs on top of having suffered a concussion. I've done around 20 interviews in the past, and you're actually the first person I've heard say that they are 100% recovered from their brain injury. So can we go right into how that happened and how you recovered?

 

Rikke: Yeah, so we go back to April, 2018, the day before my injury happened. We had just returned from a great holiday in Spain. Life was good! We were in a good place as a family and life was treating us very well. The day after our return, we attended a 40th birthday party. While dancing, I lost my balance, fell backwards on the dance floor, and hit the concrete floor without anything to hold onto. Although I wasn't unconscious and got up quickly, I felt a bit dizzy. I didn't make a big fuss about it, thinking it was a typical situation of falling and getting back up. However, over the next hour or two, the dizziness persisted, and everything seemed to spin. At that point, I didn't connect it to the fall; I thought that perhaps I had one beer too many. So, I told my husband I'd go home. The next morning, I woke up with an intense headache, and I thought it was a hangover. I took some paracetamols and stayed in bed all day, but the headache persisted. By Monday morning, the headache was still there. Still not linking it to the fall, I just figured I was tired after the party and went to work. I actually ended up going to work for the entire week even though my health seemed to get worse and worse. Yet the week after I stayed at home and eventually scheduled an appointment with my doctor because I was feeling so poorly. And so it went and it wasn't until eleven days after the fall during a doctor’s visit, when the doctor asked me if there was any chance that I could have hit my head recently, that I realized what had happened. I had suffered a concussion from the fall. It finally clicked. At that point, I couldn't read, I struggled to look at screens and the scrolling was impossible, I was dizzy, nauseous, and experiencing severe headaches. From that moment on, my condition deteriorated rapidly. Many cognitive and normal functions stopped working. I couldn't perform everyday tasks. The symptoms kept piling up, starting with headaches, nausea, and dizziness, and evolving into intense jaw pains, eye tics, and tinnitus - a constant ringing in my ears. The jaw pain was awful, like a hoover inside my head that was sucking my jaw inside. It was so painful. I was so low on energy, crying a lot because my life change was such a shock. It felt overwhelming – a sudden shift from a life where I could do everything to a life where I could do nothing.  

 

Q: I'm so sorry to hear that. Brain injuries affect everyone differently and it really seems like yours was one of the more extreme cases. Did you think it has something to do with not being able to rest and your going about with your daily life?

 

Rikke: Yeah, that's a great question, one that lingered throughout what turned into a two-and-a-half-year recovery journey. I often pondered: What if I had recognized the concussion earlier? What if I hadn't tried to maintain normalcy for those initial 10 days? Would my recovery have taken a different, possibly shorter path? It's all speculative, of course. What I do know is that the moment I grasped the severity of the situation, I took it seriously. Despite having minimal energy, I devoted it to reaching out to individuals connected to someone with a concussion or who knew someone within the field, seeking advice on where to go for help. Navigating the realm of concussion recovery is like entering a jungle—it's an area still under exploration. We have insights into what happens in the brain, but there was no treatment protocol at the time of my concussion as such. It's a trial-and-error process, exploring the jungle and figuring out what works for you. I was utterly exhausted; all I could do was rest in my garden, go for short walks and sleep continuously. As a tiny bit of energy returned, I channeled it into exploring various treatments and consulting different “experts” in the field [experts in air quotes]—I always do it like that because how do we know if they really are experts? My view is that only we, us who suffer from the concussion, can feel if a treatment works or not. This was something that I realized over time.

 

Q: Can you go into a little more detail about things that you found that worked for you to share with readers of Voices of Brain Injury?

 

Rikke: Sure, we can split them into the things I could do myself at home, and then the external treatments. Initially, due to dizziness and constant neuro fatigue, I could hardly walk more than 50-100 meters. But it became one of my go-tos – walking in the nearby nature. Surprisingly, sometimes I could reduce my symptoms through walking. So simply doing meditative walking in nature, where it was all about me, not about my children, my husband about anything, and there was no purpose. I mean, there was no goal, no end destination, it was just a matter of me walking, slowly deepening my breath, and listening to my footsteps really. This activity became essential, especially to alleviate my headaches.

 

I also introduced brain breaks, listening to restorative music, applying different aesthetic oils to calm my system down, and lying down with a small eye pillow. And I just tried to tap into that inner quiet, you know? Because my mind was like a constant motor. Thoughts, concerns, fears – all swirling simultaneously. It was a pursuit of finding a bit of peace. I used to tell people, “I wish I could just fall asleep and wake up in one or two years, and everything would be fine.” It was truly overwhelming. Outwardly, I appeared normal. In the mirror, I looked like me. People thought I was myself, but inside, I felt broken. I was anything but myself.

 

Q: It's invisible. That’s why brain injuries are called invisible disabilities!

 

Rikke: I discovered restorative yoga sessions and calm yoga postures on platforms like YouTube or on yoga and meditation apps. These gentle activities were beneficial, and when calming my nervous system down this also seemed to have a positive impact on my symptoms.

 

I also felt that as my brain was gradually recovering, it was utilizing a significant amount of energy. And at some point, I realized that my headaches would increase the longer I came away from my last meal. It became evident to me that I needed to have some high protein snacks or something that was easily accessible because I didn't have energy to cook a meal, right?  I incorporated easily accessible high-protein snacks into my routine, such as protein bars, almonds, avocados, and almond milk. I even started making protein shakes with almond milk, frozen bananas, strawberries, and protein powder. This approach seemed to have a positive impact for me, potentially assisting in balancing and alleviating building headaches. And I think it makes sense because if you think about what happens in the brain when we have a concussion, the energy centers are kind of deflated. And the energy centers are battling for these communication “lanes” to start communicating again, but there is no energy. So somehow, for me, it made sense that if I helped boost the energy a little bit, maybe I could get the communication lanes going.

 

Q: Yeah, nutrition is a huge part.

 

Rikke: So, these were some examples of things I did at home. I also spent a lot of time listening to straightforward and easy audiobooks, nothing too complex. This was crucial for me to take a break from my challenging situation, just to forget for a moment and immerse myself in a story. Initially, I couldn't manage it in the first months, but after a while, I could cope with listening for about 20 minutes and then continue later. It provided some relief and a temporary escape from the challenges I was facing.

 

 

Rikke: Then, I also adjusted my social interactions. I mean, I was super social before my injury, I was the one that was always out there with high energy. However, during the recovery period, I wasn't socializing much due to the lack of energy. When I did prioritize seeing a friend, I would go for outdoor settings like a café, where I could sit outside to avoid overwhelming acoustics. I would communicate upfront my uncertain stay duration and align expectations with my friend, “I don't know if I will stay for five minutes or one hour, but for sure, I will not stay longer than an hour”.

I kept feeling I was disappointing people, I was disappointing my husband, my family, my children, because I couldn't do much. And my friends, right. So you kind of feel like one huge disappointment to everybody. But I had to just acknowledge and be open about it and say, this is how I feel right now, I’d love to see you, but it had to be on my terms. If meeting outside wasn't possible, I'd use earplugs or noise cancellation headset to reduce the noise. For larger family events and gatherings, Iwould take brain breaks every half an hour to balance the overloaded brain stimuli. These were some measures to protect myself at home or in social settings.

And then I started to see and explore different kinds of therapists or treatments. Because I had so many symptoms, I realized I couldn’t feel nor address them all at once, because maybe one treatment would help for one symptom and something for the other. So I made a pact with myself to only focus on the top two symptoms.In the initial phase, headaches, jaw pain, and tinnitus were prominent for me. I initially consulted a physio to release and address the neck tension and explore its impact on my headaches. They provided me with a set of gentle exercises for home use. Soon after, I transitioned to an osteopath, a blend of a chiropractor and a physio, focusing on comprehensive body alignment. This approach marked a significant turning point for me as they emphasized overall body correction. Even though the pain was primarily in my head, misalignment from the fall with my hips and legs, affecting my posture, could contribute to the issue. The osteopath's techniques, including pressing specific points inside the ears and mouth, played a crucial role in releasing tension and addressing the root causes, especially for my jaw pain and headaches.

 

Q: Did you try any other treatments or see other experts?

 

 

Rikke: A very important go-to during my recovery was my neuropsychologist. She ended up becoming one of the most important people in my recovery, because she helped me immensely to understand the importance of energy management and how to gradually increase activities over time.

 

I also tried different alternative treatments. I did acupuncture for my nausea and dizziness. I did reflexology treatments and cranial sacral therapy to calm down my nervous system. Both treatments were very helpful for my nervous system because I was in a constant state of alarm after the concussion, so I was very focused on figuring out ways to calm the system down while at the same time exploring treatments that also helped with some of the actual physical pain.

 

Q: Thank you so much for sharing. How did you go from this very strenuous process of rehab to creating your own company? And in between? Can you just clarify, if you resigned from your previous company when you suffered a concussion, how did you get back into it? What did that whole timeline look like?

 

Rikke: Sure. So first of all, I was very fortunate to be in a company that supported me throughout. I actually remained in the company throughout. Obviously for the first many months after my concussion, I was off on a full-time sick leave, but after a while I started on a slow return process in close collaboration with my neuropsychologist. I started on an extremely slow job return, about two hours per week in the beginning, gradually increasing. It took almost 18 months, going from two hours a week to full time. The support from my company was a tremendous factor in my recovery; I have absolutely no doubt about that, and I am forever grateful because I didn't have to deal with the uncertainty of not having a job. Before my concussion, I worked in a senior role with very complex job tasks. When I initially returned, I would sit and sort papers – that's all my brain could do in the beginning. Yet over the course of the return period, I ended up coming back stronger, handling the same complex job tasks as I had before the concussion.

 

Rikke: In the last couple of years after my recovery, I became a go-to person in the community for those who had suffered from concussions and shared advice and learnings from my own journey with concussion in my spare time. At some point, someone said to me, "You're the most important person I have met on my recovery journey. Why didn't I hear about you before?" That made me realize I needed to do something about it. So along with becoming a certified coach, I also wish to become a voice for and to people suffering from concussions. To share my learnings and provide them with tools on how to recover. The dos and don’ts. So, a while back, I asked my current employer for reduced hours to pursue my dream and, perhaps, my true purpose in life: coaching and mentoring others who suffer from concussions. That's how BrainBrave, my newly founded company, came about.

 

 Q: That is such a heartwarming story. Is there anything you want to touch on that we haven't spoken about?

 

Rikke:  I believe my most important message is to maintain hope, even in the darkest moments, and to try to focus on the positives. My recovery first really started when I accepted that life would be different for a while. Initially, I fought against it, constantly hoping for a quick fix and fast return to normalcy. However, the true healing began when I acknowledged that the process would take time and shifted my focus to self-care and recovery. Someone who had experienced a concussion once advised me that the slowest way forward is often the fastest way. When encountering people with concussions, I encourage them to keep believing, emphasizing the high percentage of individuals who recover in full and eventually return to a normal life after a brain injury. Positivity and gratitude played a significant role in my recovery. On the worst days, finding something, however small, to be grateful for became a powerful practice.

I even maintained a gratitude journal where daily I noted down three things I was thankful for. Admittedly, there were days when finding anything positive seemed impossible; life felt overwhelming. However, even on those challenging days, I could identify small moments of gratitude, like having breakfast with my daughter, witnessing the sunshine, or enjoying half an hour without experiencing any symptoms. Practicing positivity played a crucial role in my recovery journey.

 

It's important to remember that I was in an incredibly difficult place with my concussion, crossing off every symptom in the concussion catalog. I remember vividly the day, when I asked my nine-year-old son if he could help me take out the trash. I was trying to tie a knot to the plastic bag. And I couldn't.  I tried three times, but my brain could simply not communicate with my fingers. And I just broke down in tears, right there on the kitchen floor, crying my eyes out and just saying to him, “please go, please just go- take out the trash!” and I literally pushed him out the door.  Because I just needed a minute for myself because I was so upset. And my poor little son left with the open plastic bag to take it down to the trash containers and me sitting there feeling like the worst mom on Earth. I couldn't even tie a knot. I couldn’t even hold myself together in front of my son. 

 

I think this part of my story is important to share, because it shows how I've evolved from a point where I couldn't tie a knot or read a bedtime story for my child to the person I am today—balancing a highly complex job within capability building and negotiations, whilst helping others through coaching and mentoring with BrainBrave.

 

Rikke: I really want to be a voice for the good stories. To show that it is possible to recover 100%. I hope that through the sharing of my story and the learnings I made, that I can inspire and help people believe that they too can return to a normal or even better life. Somehow my concussion led to me now living the life of my dreams, combining two jobs and purposes that I am deeply passionate about.

 

Instagram: @Brain_Brave

Facebook: @BrainBrave

 

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