Molly MacDermaid is a former hockey player, and was one of the first athletes we featured in our Faces of Concussion newsletter. Thanks to the courage shown by some of you in sharing you story, she has decided to elaborate on her battle with concussions, and how they have, at times, wreaked emotional havoc on her. Mental illness can be difficult to discuss, but Molly rose to the occasion. She has asked us to share this with you, and for that, we are grateful. Thanks Molly!
Concussion-U has been such a difference maker for me. Every time I see a story they share, I am filled with hope and optimism for the future, and I am filled with gratitude for those who are brave enough to share their stories and own up to how concussions have changed their lives, none more so than the recent article by Alex MacAskill. With the hope of encouraging others to share their path to recovery, I have tried to put my own personal experiences into the following words.
At the time I wrote my own bio I was scared to include the words “mental illness”. I was scared to tell the world that I was suffering from major depression. The implication of the words so misunderstood that I feared the judgment that came with the truth. What I failed to realize was that it was only by telling the truth, and admitting (to myself and others) that I wasn’t fine that I could truly begin to recover. I was seriously struggling and it took the darkest of times to help me realize that the first step to recovery was deciding to start talking, start telling the truth. A concussion completely flipped my world upside down. One day I was genuinely happy playing the game I loved and six months later I was hanging up my skates and saying goodbye to the game that had taught me so much, all before I had even reached my senior year of high school. The game that had given me confidence, taught me how to work with others, that sometimes (despite your best efforts) the outcome wouldn’t be in your favor, would no longer be in my life. It was devastating; losing hockey broke me. A downward spiral of self-pity, fear and anger became my new normal.
About 8 months after my last concussion, I began to notice a shift in my emotional symptoms. I was no longer just feeling sad, it was the kind of sadness that literally made you feel like you couldn’t get out of bed, like invisible chains holding you down. It was the unbearable feeling of emptiness that came just as frequently as my headaches. It was feeling like you were a ghost in your own life, just going through the motions. I felt like I existed but I had ceased to live. It was a never-ending nightmare that I couldn’t escape no matter what I did to kill the gut wrenching pain of nothing. So I did the only thing I knew how to do, I sucked it up and I tried to run from the pain, but all that did was cause more pain and prolong my already lengthy recovery. I was impulsive, I was reckless, I made a lot of bad choices, I hurt my family and friends because I couldn’t and wouldn’t accept the hard realities of life without hockey. I felt like my losses were trivialized because even though I couldn’t play hockey anymore, it’s not like I had lost my ability to walk or I was condemned to a wheelchair. To the outside world I still had everything I had before, and in the eyes of most there wasn’t anything really different about me.
Advice is cheap and some would tell me to do something new, make the best of it, but I didn’t see it that way. My losses in the grand scheme of things were minimal, but to me they were enormous. My reaction times were off and I couldn’t remember things the way I used to. When I worked at the golf course pro shop during the summer I would be on the phone one-minute writing names down for a tee time and, by the time I hung up, I would forget all the names. The changes for me were not minimal; they were catastrophic and they were debilitating to my every day life. For a long while my injury defined me. However, as time went on and I fluctuated between periods of bad and periods of awful, I finally started telling the truth. I began seeking help and I started accepting the past. I tried to understand my actions. I tried to let go. I tried to come to terms with what devastated me and then I started talking about it. At first I couldn’t tell anyone other than my psychologist so I started writing about it, and for Christmas this past year I mustered up the courage to finally share all that I had written with my parents. Since then I have felt so much more accepted and understood and although my parents hadn’t been dealt the same cards as I, they were there through all the doctor’s appointments, and the night’s I cried myself to sleep. My parents and my entire family have been remarkable through it all. During the times I gave up on myself, their faith in me never faltered they were always there to encourage me through it, to love me even when I didn’t love myself. Mental illness has plagued me for the past three years, but for the first time I am looking up and the good days are outnumbering the bad; it’s truly amazing to be able to finally let go and find some closure through all this pain.
When I read the stories published by those who came before me they often conclude their stories with the admonition to seek help. There is nothing to be ashamed about and I have always wanted to thank them for their honesty, but I was too frightened to admit I am one of them. Today I am not scared, well maybe a little, but I am optimistic that while my recovery is still unfinished, I have found the conviction that I will make it through the dark days because I have my family and friends, and I have a source of inspiration from organizations like Concussion-U. I may have fallen and tumbled a few times, but I have found a way to get back up. I have found a way to smile despite heartbreak, and I think that’s all we can ask for. I have always liked the phrase “Nothing defines you”, but sometimes I wonder if that’s true. Concussions and mental illness seem to have defined me over the past few years, but in the end, they’ve only made me stronger. Oh, what a beautiful way to be defined!
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.