I’ve been thinking a whole lot about concussion awareness, over the past weeks. I’ve been checking out a great concussion blog, thinking about all the athletes (and other folks) who are getting injured, who may not be certain about their future prospects in life.
There has been a lot of press about CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy – which is chilling stuff, if you consider how invisible it is, and how it can set in on even those who seem “too young” to sustain brain damage.
What worries me about these kinds of reports and this heightened awareness, is that it could easily escalate to a kind of paranoia, with parents keeping their kids “safe” by enforcing so much inactivity and such stringent requirements for avoiding injury, that it freaks everyone out and keeps kids from having the kinds of fulfilling athletic experiences that so many of us enjoyed.
Now, obviously, nobody wants to advocate putting kids in harm’s way, and there are too many people coaching who either have that old ‘suck it up’ attitude, or just treat head injuries as a regular part of everyday life (perhaps because it was for them — note to self: take the “safe play” advice of an old-school football coach who has had his share of head injuries with a grain of salt). Since concussions are pretty much unavoidable, from where I’m sitting, so what do we do about it all, once it happens?
Well, first, I recommend that we find ways for athletes (and others who have been injured) to develop greater meaning in their lives beyond the activities that can get them hurt. Surely, there’s more to life than chasing a ball up and down the field and colliding with other players. It’s fun while it lasts, but there’s so much more to life.
Second, I think it would be good to focus on the ability of the brain to recover and rehabilitate — to rewire. Just knowing that things can change for the better, despite injury, might help the general public deal more constructively with the topic.
Most of all, I believe that education about the brain is critical… because we have to know HOW to rewire. We have to understand the unique needs of the brain after an injury, and understand what it takes to support it in getting back online. We also need to do away with the idea that once you’ve reached a certain level in life, that’s it. Be it a level of recovery or a level of functionality (before or after the injury), the degree to which we’ve developed in the past shouldn’t keep us from recovering and changing for the better in the future.
We need to widen our definition of “normal” to include variations in behavior and ability, without making them out to be disasters. We need to broaden our acceptance of differences, both before and after injuries, and quit expecting people to be exactly the same after a head injury as they were before — and quit treating differences like deficits.
A big problem with TBI recovery, from where I’m sitting, is inflexibility. Especially with people around the survivor. So the injured person can’t walk and talk exactly like they did before… So what? So the injured person takes a little longer to think about things, and they get tired more easily. So what? Big deal. But people make a big deal out of it, because it’s different. And “different” can be scary, so they react out of fear, instead of understanding and patience.
The intolerance and judgmentality and inability to accept differences is, to me, the biggest impediment to recovery. And when recovery prospects are not as rosy as everyone would like, that leads to fear… which leads to people making decisions that are either paranoid or in denial of the potential seriousness of a head injury… and can also affect someone’s recovery after an injury. None of the above routes is healthy.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I truly applaud the work of people who are raising awareness about the seriousness of concussion, head injury, etc. What I would like to see happen now, is the extension of the discussion to include recovery — in a way that both acknowledges the challenges and difficulties, gives hope through acceptance and understanding, and allows for the possibility of recovery beyond even the most informed expectations.