Life After the Game

On a somewhat unrelated note: USC’s Robert Woods gets clocked, stumbles, falls… and later gets sent back into the game by his USC coache(es). Way to wreck one of your stars, USC. Image from SBNation – click the image to read their article

Found a new blog today — Life After the Game, a blog by a former soccer player but had her career cut short by concussions.

It’s good to see and hear new voices showing up. Post-concussion syndrome is no joke, and it can be a real torture at times. It can completely take over your life and turn you into someone you (and your loved ones) don’t even recognize. It can take from you the very things that mean the world to you – including the game you loved with all your heart.

In the end, of course, it is just a game. But what about the love and purpose and comraderie that you feel when you’re playing? How do you replace that? Especially if you’re struggling, day in and day out, with symptoms and difficulties?

That’s where I think a lot of concussion management comes up short, in my very humble opinion. It’s vital to keep the game in perspective and to not make your entire life dependent on it. But “the game” is more than just a game – it’s community. It’s tribe. It’s family. It’s being part of something bigger than yourself and working towards a common goal. And in this fractious life where it can be so hard to find people who are willing to put aside their own petty, selfish desires for a common cause (or the cause is sponsored by powers who have ulterior motives for rallying people together), having sport to unite you with teammates and supporters can be a lifeline for people who really thrive in that kind of environment.

This all says more to me about our world in general and our present-day society, than it does about sport. It tells me that people still crave belonging. They still hunger for a connection and thirst for success. There’s still a fire in us that burns bright and hot and fierce, under the right conditions.

The challenge — after the game, or when the path back to your old life is cut off from you because of injury and difficulty and, well, life — is to find those things that spark you and get you fired up, and to keep that fire going, to fan the flames… to create those kinds of experiences of teamwork and dedication to a common cause in other areas of your life.

But how? How? The old institutions of church and politics don’t seem to cut it for many. And our workplaces, which used to be where we could find our place and have some structure and meaning to our lives have been gutted by global greed and upper-management excuses about needing to shuffle people around constantly because of “business conditions”. The old structures and frameworks that used to work for us and provide us with a sense of who we were in the world… they’re not as reliable as they once were. What’s more, finding people who are willing to toe the line for the sake of church or political party or the company, is getting harder and harder, as our leaders disappoint us again and again, and it turns out that the people who were supposed to be setting a high moral bar, were actually allowing their subordinates to molest countless young children for decades.

In a world where there is so much moral ambiguity and it’s harder and harder to find a sense of belonging in the world, sport offers us just that — a chance to join with a team of like-minded others and pull together towards a common goal: the win. It’s a chance for us to prove ourselves in a field where there are clear rules and regulations, and we know what constitutes a “win”. In life, things are rarely so clear-cut. But in sports, we can know. We have a scoreboard. And even if the refs screw up, everyone knows they did. And the instant-replay shows it plain as day.

This, I think, is the great loss we suffer, when we can no longer play our chosen game, thanks to TBI / concussion. We lose our connection with clear-cut simplicity, as well as a community of others who agree with us on the Big Questions, who practice and fight and win alongside us, who share our interests and (often) have our best interests at heart, as members of the same team. We lose our sense of belonging, our sense of purpose. We’re cut loose —

— and when we are, we often lose not only our purpose and focus, but also our peeps. We lose our community, our sense of belonging, and we don’t know how to regain it. Especially with TBI, we can become so locked into certain ways of thinking and doing, that we have a hard time learning new ways of thinking and being. What’s more, our friends and families often aren’t resilient enough (or imaginative enough) to imagine us any other way, and help us get to where we’re going next. In fact, we can sometimes be punished by those who think they are trying to help us. We’re fragile, we human beings. And we become even more brittle when the ones we love have been hurt and are no longer there for us in the same way they used to be.

TBI recovery can be a lonely, isolating process. And considering how common it is, there are surprisingly few resources for people who are serious about their recovery. In fact, there are even people in the TBI line of work who say that “true recovery is impossible” — as though the way you were before you got hurt, is the only way you’d ever be, and you’d never would have changed or become a different person if it weren’t for your traumatic brain injury.

I don’t have a lot of kind things to say about folks like that, so I won’t say anything. I will say this — my experience has been different. My life has totally changed — for the better — since I started down this road of deliberate recovery from recurring mild traumatic brain injury — nine+ concussions — and the chronic post-concussion symptoms that have dogged me for as long as I can remember.

If others want to give up, that’s their choice. But I choose something different, and I have had a very different experience than this “no recovery” business. Maybe it’s because my injuries have been “mild” – though I’m not sure what’s so mild about the violently raging maniac and job-hopping wild money-spender I used to be, or the teetering on the brink of total ruin that used to be the story of my life. Or maybe it’s because I have made up my mind to deal with the debilitating noise and light sensitivities, work through the chronic pain, find strategies to offset my really sh*tty short-term memory, and constantly practice to strengthen my ability to focus and keep my act together in the face of challenge and upheaval.

Five years ago, I was in seriously deep sh*t. I was on the verge of losing it ALL.

But that didn’t happen. And it doesn’t have to happen to each and every person who gets brain injured — mild or otherwise. I’m sorry – I just don’t think TBI is a death sentence for the things that mean the most to me in my life. No way. No how. Uh-uh.

Life after the game can bring a ton of adjustments, few of them easy. Actually, none of them are easy. If they were easy, we would have done them a long time ago, with no TBI to prompt us to change. But they can be done. Then can be worked with and adjusted to. They don’t have to be terrible turns of events, but they can offer us a new path, a new way of moving in a completely different direction, where we discover more about ourselves than we ever thought possible.

And when we find that balance inside ourselves… when we realize that the changes we’re going through are more than just handling TBI and PCS, but are really just part of being alive, being human… we can start to reach out to others, see how they are also struggling with the same kinds of challenges we have… and we can start to build our own community, our new team, our new sets of rules that are in agreement with our innermost compass.

We can get a new team in place. And we can define a new game for ourselves. We can start to find the togetherness we seek and the common causes that unite us with others.

But first, we have to be willing to let go. We have to be willing to step away from the familiar, when it is no longer working for us. As hard as it is, as tough as it can be, as heart-breaking as it will be, at some point we need to choose — will I keep looking back (and only back), or will I look forward with the past as a point of reference?

It’s our choice, really. And in the end, sometimes we find that that game never actually ended. It just changed a bit. And there is no “after”. There is only “during this part of”.


Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

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