“I wrote this reflection after reading Brad Yetman’s story. I am a University Lacrosse Player and former Hockey Player from Nova Scotia. The reflection I wrote relates to #BellLetsTalk and focuses on stigma around concussions and their affect on mental health.” – Alex
Concussion-U is honoured to have Alex share his story with us.
I remember growing up and being a physical player in every sport that I played, priding myself in working hard and playing with heart regardless of how battered I felt. Often, caution was set aside for intensity, and at the time I did not see a problem with that. I remember a number of occasions as a kid getting laid out on the ice (we’ve all been there) and skating back to the bench thinking “Wow, I just got my bell rung”.
That’s what they used to call it. Now, looking back at this I wonder if it was the start of a long battle that myself and many others are facing later on in life. The self contagion curse that follows after your brain rocks just a little too hard for your skull to handle.
I would go on to get my “Bell Rung” a considerable amount of times in the years that followed, with my only real admittance of this issue occurring at the end of 2015. In saying that, I think it is safe to say that long before I understood the full implications of head injuries, they affected me in negative and terrifying ways. My struggle with mental illness has only been catapulted by these nasty injuries, and I am not sure I would have had to fight half of these demons if they had never occurred.
Today, you’ll catch me saying that I’d rather break an arm or a leg, or sustain any other physical injury than be faced with another concussion. My reasoning for that is this: concussions are a confusing, frightening, and delusional injury. They affect the way you rationalize things; your decision-making; and your relationships with your friends, your family, and yourself. They pollute your days with the inconsistency of not knowing when the next headache will occur, when you’ll lash out at someone, or when you’ll just feel like everything’s falling apart. I believe our perspective in life shapes the way we feel and the way we approach our adversities. That is another reason why these concussions can prove so deadly. In my experience, I have had days where everything is fine, the sun is shining, I feel active, included, and awake; but there are also days where my vision blurs, my head aches, and my mind can’t harness anything more than negativity and despair. If you go to a doctor after a blow to the head, they tell you the same thing every time. “You have a concussion. How Serious? Mild to moderate. Go home, lock yourself in your room, don’t read, don’t watch tv, avoid loud noises, bright lights, stressful situations, or anything intoxicating.” That is when the month from hell starts, and that has been the reason for my denial at times, delaying my recovery under the stubbornness of not admitting that I needed help, or that rest was in my best interest. This is the all too familiar four or five day buffer where I lied to myself and said I was fine, reasoning that I could not afford to take another break from life, no matter how much the struggle persisted. I thought about how I didn’t want to explain to my family and friends that I couldn’t go to class, couldn’t go to work, couldn’t do anything except sit in my room and stare at the ceiling.
That is why the misunderstanding around head injuries and the stigma of mental health is so dangerous, and so counterproductive to the very fabric of our well being. I have seen eyes roll and heard voices fade from those that cannot relate, because it is hard for them to emphasize with such a mysterious and disturbing injury. During these times of recovery, when I have felt the best version of myself, it was always due to my attitude, my support system, and knowing that there will come a day when the fog will clear and I can concentrate, communicate, and commute my way through life with little to no impairment. It has been the comforting voice from a family member that has said: “rest up, I understand what you’re going through, the most important thing is your health right now.” Or the sympathetic hand of a friend reaching out and telling me that if I need anything not to hesitate in speaking up. The sad thing is, I can count the people on two hands that have shown this understanding and empathetic attitude towards my battle with concussions.
For those on the outside, it is often harder for them to sympathize, and that is understandable. In saying this, I also recognize that some of the support I’ve received has been in the form of tough love, and I think that’s another teller of the effect these injuries can have on a person. I used to black out and pick fights in bars because I couldn’t control my emotions, only to suffer another blow and find myself back to square one again. There were days or weeks where I’d turn to a bottle to avoid the sobering realization that comes with knowing you’re concussed, and in doing so, only inflicting more of a struggle upon myself and my recovery. It was so easy for people that could not relate to my battle to write this behaviour off as irresponsible and idiotic, and I’m sure from the outside looking in it definitely appeared that way. I crippled relationships, offended strangers, and got myself into almost irreversibly negative situations. I’ve made a lot of memories during my four years of university, and an active social and athletic life is something I was not always ready to sacrifice in order to make a full recovery.
So fast forward to now, as I sit here writing this reflection, just under a month from when I had my revelation. I am sitting in my room, about to cap off a long day of studying for my impending midterms. It has only been two weeks since I finished writing my fall semester exams that were extended because of my injury in October; when I got my “Bell Rung” playing for my university’s lacrosse team. My head hurts and my nerves are acting up, and my concentration remains a little spotty.
Although absorbing information is nowhere near as hard as it was two months earlier, I am ready for the ringing to stop. Permanently. I am ready to stop ignoring the symptoms of these concussions, and start making sensible, cautious, and considerable choices regarding the way I live my life. That bell can only be rung so many times before it starts to wake you up.
I am lucky the cost of my naivety has not been higher. I am lucky that the last blow and the way it affected me was finally enough for me to take a step back, evaluate myself, and start really considering how these injuries could be harming my future. I am lucky for the saving grace of the people close to me, their undying support, faith, and attempt at understanding, even if it wasn’t always clear to them what was going on. To these people, I want to extend my thanks and appreciation for the way you have stood by me and looked out for my best interests. You will all hold a place in my heart indefinitely. For anyone else dealing with a head injury, consecutive head injuries, or mental health issues in general, please feel free to reach out and share your experiences, with me or anyone else you feel comfortable talking to. Do not wait as long as I did to admit to yourself that there’s a risk involved with acting recklessly or playing a physical sport for longer than you should. No matter how competitive of a person you are, put the rest of your life first, and adjust your choices with that in mind. If you are struggling, tell someone about it, and if they are puzzled, refer them to this page for some clarity. I have learned that regardless of how hard something is, dealing with it alone will only make it that much harder. That is why initiatives such as #BellLetsTalk day or the platform that Concussion-U has put in place are so important. It gives athletes or anyone else dealing with this issue a chance to speak out and tell their stories. It helps others that are struggling with the mystery and confusion of concussions deal with their symptoms, and gain some perspective on the matter. If this story helps at least one person, aids in their recovery, and allows them to take the time they need to heal or open up about what their going through than it’s worth it. The insight I have gained from speaking up and talking to others who have battled this injury has proven invaluable, and not being afraid to reach out to the people close to me has made all the difference.
By spreading awareness through the stories here at Concussion-U, I hope others can find solace in knowing they’re not fighting their battles alone. Through increasing this awareness for concussion safety, we can ensure that some of the fog surrounding this issue is lifted and that young athletes can become more informed about what is going on behind the scenes of their injury to help aid them in their recovery. I hope that this will help instill a better frame of mind in people for helping them deal with their head injuries, and that it ends some of the stigma surrounding an injury that is as invisible as it is deadly.
If you would like to get in contact with Alex or reach out to our group feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.