Bella's Story From Award Winning Show Jumping to Helping Other Concussion Survivors Cope

by Ari Schonbrun

Bella’s Story From Award Winning Show Jumping to Helping Other Concussion Survivors Cope


Bella Paige was an award-winning showjumper at the age of 15 with the Olympics in her sights when she started having debilitating headaches. She would later find out they were a symptom of multiple concussions she suffered during her career as a showjumper. Her symptoms made it hard for her to get out of bed much less pursue her love for show jumping. She shares her struggle, how she overcame the bricks she faced to graduate from University, and the whispers that helped her find a way to help others going through similar struggles. A truly inspiring story you don’t want to miss!

Episode Transcription:

Intro plays

Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari Schonbrun, and I’m your host. I have the honor and the privilege of having Bella Paige as my guest today. Now Bella is the proud owner of post concussions Inc, a website to help brain injury survivors and their families. after sustaining over 10 concussions, and experiencing post concussion syndrome for nearly nine years, she realized that she could help others. Bella believe there was something missing in the world of brain injuries. The Bella’s still struggles with symptoms, she is now living happily after suffering from both severe depression and chronic pain, and believes you can too. Please help me welcome Bella Paige. Hey, Bella, how you doing?

Bella: Good. How are you?

Ari: Doing real? Well, you’re looking good today. Let me tell you.

Thank you. Okay, so

Ari: Bella, as you know, the name of this podcast is whispers in bricks. Now the whispers of those voices telling you what the right thing to do is and it represents the good in life. The bricks represent the bad things that we go through in life. The things you know, life is not a straight line, there are many ups and downs, many bricks and most people have bricks thrown at them at some point in time in their lives or others. Some are better, some are worse. Now the reason I asked you to be on the show, is because after I heard your story, I knew that there were people out there in my audience who are going through some of the same things that you had gone through, maybe not exactly, but they had been hit with brick after brick much like you. And they needed to hear and to know that they could get through their trials and tribulations, the same way that you did yours. They needed to know that there were whispers out there that could help them. Now in your life, you had many bricks thrown at you. The biggest one, in my opinion being when you were on the road to participate in the Olympics. Can you take us back to that time, like when you first started to have concussions? Like how old were you? And what were you up to then?

Bella: For sure. I was 15 at the time I had been riding since I was eight years old. And riding, riding riding horses. Oh, showjumping. Yeah, so Wow. Okay, that’s how I got most of my injuries. And I was 15. And that’s when the headaches started. And I kind of ignored them for the first while because I didn’t want to accept that maybe I had been hit a few minute too many times. And then it was about two seasons. And I did the winter season and then the summer season. And then I moved back home to go to school. And that’s when I got hit with a brick. And let me ask

you before you go on, how old were you when you started to ride to jump horses? So

when I was eight years old? Oh, wow. Yeah.

Ari: Okay, so you were riding from the age of eight till about 15. And everything was going well, things were good, right? Yeah. And everything was going well and tell us a little bit what was you what were your aspirations at the time?

Bella: For sure, well, at the time, when I was 14, I was allowed to move away and start competing. And that’s when like Olympic Scrum, priests professional level showjumping started getting brought up. It wasn’t gonna happen then. But it was definitely on the it was all of a sudden, in the view, like you could, every day I’d be mentioned like my parents were all for it actually went to the Olympics to watch because it was a whole, like, this is what you’re expecting. And that was like, what my the two years, three years before we’re like, it was very, like, this is the plan. This is how we’re gonna get there and it might take eight years, it might take four but like you’re gonna get there kind of thing.

Ari: Wow. Wow. Okay, good. Continue. Yeah. So

Bella: when I hit that brick, it was more like the adrenaline rush from not writing anymore, at least not every day and not competing almost every weekend went away. And that’s when my symptoms kind of overwhelmed me to the point where I was. I almost dropped out of high school I was told to drop out of high school by doctors. And then I started being in the hospital all the time with chronic pain, and I was going to school. Eventually I figured out a way that I would go home Monday for a class Tuesday for a class and then Friday I’d have off. And that was the only way I could get up and even manage. And that took a while. For those about a month or two registered and CO at all. Because the pain was so significant significant, I could get out of bed some days. And I would collapse at the top of the stairs before even going down to eat. My I was just in the pain was just excruciating. And then with the pain came things like light sensitivity, noise sensitivity. And that’s how it all started. And it’s been nine years and I still get headaches just not everyday.

Ari: Well, so that happened. You are what 15 Yeah, 15 to 15 years old 1516. So you’re, you’re a sophomore junior in high school, you have the whole world ahead of you, you the Olympics are in your view, alright, and everything is just going perfectly. And then all of a sudden, you get hit with this brick. Wow, that must have taken a toll. So what happened?

Bella: So I went, I kept riding because I was stubborn. And even with all that head pain, I still rode quite frequently actually, which probably made it a little worse. And I got through high school with a lot of help between my parents vouching for me between getting asked to be removed from school from one teacher, having doctor’s notes, living in the hospital, all types of things. But I did graduate. And then I decided I was going to move away from home and compete again. And I did and I kind of told everyone that I was better. And I told myself I was better. Except for I still had a headache every single day. And something that I had already had been two years. It’s still not normal. I shouldn’t be in pain every single day. But I kind of just carried on and I moved away. And I went to university, which is normally a big step. But it was a huge step because I hadn’t even been going to high school very much. So I went from barely going to high school to full time University and full time riding. And then I lost you.

Ari: Where did you go to school?

Bella: I went to the University of Calgary because I wanted to ride somewhere called Spruce Meadows to compete. And I wanted to move there to compete on the other side of Canada, because I’d already done a lot of states and Southern Ontario.

Ari: But wait, where? Where are you from? Originally?

Bella: Thunder Bay, Ontario in Canada.

Ari: Oh, see you. You’re born and bred in Canada? Yeah, I’m sorry. I didn’t I didn’t I didn’t catch that. Okay, so guys, he was University of Calgary, where you, you’re in writing you are studying?

Bella:Yeah. And I lasted about four months, three, three or four months. And then the headaches started getting really bad. So I stopped going to school and just kept writing and didn’t tell anyone. I just turned 18. And that’s all I cared about. So that’s what I did. And also I remember I had to like papers due for things that I hadn’t read, because you’re supposed to read a book a week for my one class and I could barely read a page. And I remember calling my sister and saying what do I do. And then I kept riding for a little while and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t ride because the pain was getting worse. And then my vision disappeared one night. And there’s a three hour timezone between me and my parents and our two hours. And I called my mom and his pilot the middle of the night. And that was after my vision came back. And I’d been gone for a few hours. And it kind of just made me realize, maybe I can’t live alone and deal with this. Like I’m young, I should probably be near my parents because like losing your vision, living in an apartment alone in a city you’ve only lived in for a few months is kind of terrifying.

Ari: Oh, that couldn’t be a good thing.

Bella: You can’t do anything. You can’t call for help. You’re just kind of stuck there. Oh my god. And then I like kind of called her and then I decided to move home after the end of that semester. And I did that. And I kept riding because you know, that’s me. I just decided to not ride when my head hurt lot was my new plan. And I then this time, I got a bunch of accommodations in school. And those really helped like I didn’t need to be in class. I got extra time for tests. I got a worksheet and we did a bunch of testing to prove that my memory was not really great at all. Like I would go to a test and not remember what I studied at like I would read a question and couldn’t remember the topic. So things like that. And then I went through the four years of university with I wrote for a while I tried to compete again and then ended up other things happened my horse had to be retired because horses to get injured. And then I kind of do

have a little Let me stop you there did I assume I don’t know why I didn’t think this so you owned your own horse? Oh, assuming quite a few. Yeah. Quite a few horses. Yeah. So what? Alright, I’m just I’m sorry. This is so new to me. You know, I I’ve never met anybody that rode horses, you know, competitively. So when you moved, like, what when you I’m assuming that when you are home, that’s where this that’s where it all started with the writing and everything. Yeah. Alright, so then when you move to Calgary or wherever it was? Alright. Did you have to? Did you take your horse with you?

Yes. You’re kidding. Yeah, they go anywhere. Like they go on planes. Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Ari: Wow. i Wow. Okay, go ahead. I’m sorry.

Bella: Okay. Yeah, they, you can bring them pretty much everywhere. But yeah, so I got through university. And then I had a, I ended up overdosing in my last year of university because I didn’t realize how bad my mental health had been. I actually started to think I was doing better. But I think because I’ve just been shoving it down, like, I could do things, but then I’d pay for it. Like, I’d go for go to a concert with friends. And I’d be in bed for a week I’d read a book, I’d be in bed, like there was lots of like, give and take in finding a balance. And it just kind of caught up with me not being able to ride much my horse had been retired and I hadn’t gone to get a new one yet, or like, you know, find something else to really ride that I liked. And there was just so many things going on. And having my horse sick really upset me and dealing with a headache every day really upset me. And there was just so much kind of overcrowding my life and I had really bad thoughts and I couldn’t get them to go away. And then after I overdosed, I ended up in man, that was

Ari: one second. When you talk about overdosing, what were you? What did you overdose?

Bella: I attempted suicide.

Ari: Okay. All right. Oh, my God.

Bella: So after that, I was put in something called Mandatory therapy, where you go, or you get put in like a inpatient unit. And that is what changed my life for the mental health side, because my health had been getting better like the headaches were starting to get better than but I couldn’t get rid of like the bad thoughts like the, like, why are you dealing with this, like, You’re in so much pain, you can’t do what you want to do, like lots of like, and then in my brain would just spiral to the point where I would be overwhelmed or I’d have an anxiety attack or a panic attack. And

Ari: so, so I’m assuming that you were at that point in time? I did. would you classify as like clinically depressed? Oh, yes. Yeah. Must have been for sure. Okay. All right. Now, by this point in time, I guess. What was with what was the Soviet the Olympics? Yeah, you’re still thinking about it? Or was it? You know, was it water under the bridge where you told you can you you can’t What, what, what was going on?

Bella: Well, what happened is I kept getting told both. And one doctor would tell me never to write again. And one doctor told me I could. And then that got really hard, because they’d all have different opinions on what I could and couldn’t do. And then actually, after that, I tried to write again, which was when I went I went to Florida, went to look at a bunch of horses, got a bunch lined up, like had a couple, but then I kind of went from doing nothing to doing too much like I wasn’t having headaches every day. But then I went from not riding to riding six horses a day, sometimes for about a month. And by the end of the month, I could almost puke in a bucket after I got off. So I wouldn’t realize the pain when I was on. It’s almost like, like, my brain wouldn’t realize it like the excitement, the adrenaline rush from just being happy. And being on the horse. I didn’t notice until I get off and be like, Whoa, my head hurts kind of thing. And then that is when I realized that all of it, all the dreams had to kind of write about my health first and kind of focus on other things and find other things to be passionate about, so that I could kind of just carry on like, I was old enough now I wasn’t a stubborn teenager anymore. And I realized that writing was very important to me, but I could have other things in my life that were just as important.

Ari: Wow, that’s just so scary. So scary. So when you so they how long in the hospital when you you know when you’re going through Gray, water, whatever the issues that you’re having, how long have you in the hospital? Well,

Bella: I was never in the hospital for very long because they don’t know what to do for concussions. So usually you Go, they’ll sometimes scan your head, and then they’ll give you pain meds, and then they send you home. So that was it. Like I would go mostly to get the pain meds because it’d be like an excruciating pain. And then, like, there was a point where I had breathing issues and like, I got help with that kind of thing. But a lot of the time, it was actually pretty funny became like humerus for me and my mom, because if I mentioned, another symptom that didn’t relate to my head, all of a sudden, they did investigate that instead, because they didn’t know what to do when, like, even the research now, like they don’t know that much. It’s getting a lot better, but still, a lot of it is a mystery.

Ari: Right? But it like after you attempted suicide. Okay, you went you went into that you went into a hospital, did you not? Yes. Yeah. How long you in the hospital there?

Bella: Just about 2036 hours, maybe Undertale. That’s it? Yeah, they just like pump you full of anti liver failure, med kind of things, and then talk to you and you talk to a ton of therapists. And then because I have like, always like to mention, like, my family is great. But I have three wonderful siblings and all their partners who are wonderful. And my parents are great. They’re super supportive, always been there for me. And so because I had that whole support system, they allowed me to go home. And then I was kind of like, just watch 20 470 Wow,

no, that’s, that’s great. You know, and it’s it’s always, you know, you always hear stories, where if you have a choice, if you’re given the choice where you can be in a hospital, you can be at home, it’s like, you know, who doesn’t pick going home, but everybody, everybody picks going home? Because you know what? You’ve especially when you have the loving family surrounding you in the hospital, yeah, you know, the nurses and doctors, they do care. All right. That’s why they do what they do. But they they can never care like a family.

No, no, no. Your own bed, it’s better than a hospital bed. And for sure room is better, like those kind of things, for sure. Better to be home.

Ari: For sure. So when when when you made the decision that you know, you weren’t going to be able to ride competitively anymore. And the and you know, the Olympics are out the window. What did you What did you do? What what was the next phase in your life?

Ari: Well, the next phase was figure out what’s next. So I ended up working for my friend’s horse company because they develop writing clothing, custom writing clothing for riders. And I was like, Well, this is a good like, horse related thing and work with my friends. Sounds great. So I did that. And then I was on the hunt for like a new sport, because that’s kind of how my brain works. So I went through like a whole list of them. And one of the biggest things was finding something that was safe. Funding, that was something that was safe. And then that went to the Olympics, for the potential possibility of how my brain worked. And so I started, we went like over so many things like different kinds of showjumping. Like there’s lots that don’t go to the Olympics, but still, like it would be the same feeling right? Like there’s something called hunters that doesn’t go to the Olympics. Or I could do dressage, which the jumping is what caused a lot of the headaches, because the impact of lending up the jump, so I was like, oh, maybe I’ll try this. Maybe I’ll try that. And nothing really, I had a really big problem, I call it the piece of cake. It’s like how, when you have a whole cake there, and you have one piece, it’s really easy to have the second piece, but if you have no pieces, it’s really easy not to touch the cake. And that’s kind of how it is for me with riding I do a lot better not touching the cake at all. I have my one retired horse, the rest of them are sold given back kind of thing. And it’s easier just to brush him not ride him because every time I have gotten on since then my brain starts spiraling like okay, if you write a few more times, like you don’t have a headache today, like you know,

Bella: I should start like, Yeah, well, yourself. Yeah, you start

kind of over planning into the future. And then, like, disappoint yourself, so I found archery actually after the few months, and that kind of helped. I did it for about a year and a half, like quite a lot. And it just kind of helped me give something else other than work. I needed something else to focus on. That was like, things I could improve on other than just work in a social life. Like I always need another activity to do.

Ari: Right. And when did what was it called?

Bella: Posted me your company post concussion, Inc. post concussion.

Ari: And when did that come about? I kind of figured I know how it came about. Yeah, okay. I kind of figured that. But when did that come

Bella: about? Yeah, that came about I guess a year ago. Now was when I started really planning it. I was talking with my brother and I was like I really want to help people like maybe that’s But I can do because I want to do something and like other things aren’t working out, I need to be able to have my own schedule. Because there are still days where I’m in bed. It’s not as often like, it’s once a month now. But there’s still those days, they’re still I still need a nap every day. Like, my life needs to be very flexible. So I decided to start my own business, because then I can kind of work around me, right, I can work later, which one if I need to sleep in the day kind of thing and make it work. So I wanted to do a blog. And then my brother’s like you love to talk do a podcast. So it took me a lot of like courage because like, I don’t like listening to my own voice. So that took me a while. And then I started it in January. And it’s just taken off since then. And I love it. Now I talk to concussion survivors, brain injury survivors almost every day, and just help people realize the other side of life after brain injuries, concussions, because people don’t realize that it’s not just a few months, some people it’s a few years to the rest of their life that they’re affected, and they’re affected more than just physically.

Ari :Wow, is it? Do you also deal with people that suffer from migraines? Or do you get involved with that at all?

Bella: Uh, not so much. I’ve had a few people who’ve reached out who’ve said they get headaches like migraines, but usually it’s people who are related to injuries.

Ari: Uh huh. Okay, no, cuz I know that my daughter used to suffer terribly from migraines. And it’s literally debilitating. I mean, you know, there were days she couldn’t get out of bed like and you know, which basically, she was describing, you know, what you are going through, you know, so that’s why I was That’s why I was wondering about that. Yeah. So you started the business? That’s what you’re focusing on right now. Excuse me. So let me ask you this, before we go, is there anything any words of wisdom, any words of advice that you can give my audience who might be going through or are going through their own challenges? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Before I ever get to before I get to that question, I’ll share a little secret when my son was 11 years old. He woke up one morning, and he started crying out in pain. And you know, we pay we as parents, we rent running into his room, what’s the matter? What’s the matter? He says, I can’t walk. And what do you mean, you can’t walk because I can’t walk, my, my legs are killing me, I can’t walk, he couldn’t get out of bed. And we didn’t know what to do. We went to the pediatrician, etc, we found that it was something called RSD, which is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. He was out of school for four months. Because he couldn’t walk. And it was the scariest thing in the world. You know, for us, we we wind up going to a doctor down in Delaware. Who is the the, the big monka, the big Maven, in the, in, in this in this field, especially pediatric. And he got him to walk, you know, with through the pain, everything else, he finally got him to walk. And we asked, you know, is that can this come back? And he said if he gets through puberty without having another attack like this, he’ll be fine. And he’s now 26 happily married. He does occasionally suffer from you know, leg pain, you know, just out of the clear blue, but nothing like it was before. So my question to you going back and knowing all this. All right. Do you have any words of advice to like people like me who at the time I would have loved if somebody could have said to me? Hey, listen, don’t worry, this is what you can do. And this is what’s gonna happen. You know, do you have any kind of words of wisdom?

Bella: Yeah, for sure. Well, for survivors, I always like to say one day at a time, because no matter or you’re going through something tough because you have to take it one day at a time because when you start planning into the future, or you get angry at yourself, like I had, just this past weekend, I had two great days followed by a day in bed because I spent too much time in the sun. And my head’s really sensitive. And I got up the next day, I was like, alright, it’s all good. We’re good to go. I reset. And sometimes you just have to do that. You have to accept that that’s it might be a part of your life right now. But you can get through it. And for parents and families who are watching somebody else suffer. It’s really hard. I know it was really hard on my siblings and my parents and be the annoying person. That’s what I always say. Like I honestly thought my family was they drove me nuts. They were always asking how I was they were looking into research and therapies and things that I could do to get better. And as a teenager, I was honestly really annoyed with them because I just wanted to be left alone. But now that I’m doing a lot better, I’m so grateful because I did need the constant support, even though I didn’t feel like it at the time.

Ari: Wow, that’s amazing. I have a 17 year old. So I know what it means to have a a child who’s a teenager who you all you want to do is help them you know, my son had got had been going through certain things on his own. And all we wanted to do was help him and all he kept saying was leave me alone. Just leave me alone. You know, and that’s the hardest thing for a parent to hear, you know, because we know what’s good for him. You know, parents know what’s good for their children, but children don’t want to accept it. It’s just life. You know, as always, my father was used to tell me, you know, when he was growing up, he, he said, the older he got, the smarter his father became. You know, because when you’re a teenager, you think you know it all you think your parents are idiots, right? And as you get older, you realize that your parents aren’t that stupid. And you’re the one who’s right. Am I right?

Bella: Yeah. Yeah. Wow, you’re so stubborn as a teenager, just people say that a dad just like, does not matter. Like people always ask what I would tell my younger self. And I always said, If I told my younger self, something, she wouldn’t have listened anyway. It’s true. Yeah.

Ari: So if people want to get a hold of you, they’re going through their own issues or whatever they want support. They need help. They need somebody to talk to. Is there a way that they can reach out to you website or phone number or email?

Bella: Yeah, for sure. So if they go to Everything is there. They can find all the social media there and they can contact me right there as well.

Ari: Wow. Bella, thanks so much for sharing your story with my audience. I’m sure. I’m sure you’ve touched the hearts of many of my audience. Good luck going forward. Keep up the good work. You’ve been listening to whispers and bricks. And I’m your host Ari Schonbrun. Until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the breaks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.