What our denial is costing us

It’s not like we can’t see the signs

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Crash Reel, lately, especially thinking about the parents of Kevin Pearce and how they handled his accident and brain injury and recovery. One of the things that stands out in sharp relief for me is how silent his mother is, as she watches her son suffer and struggle. When he’s sitting with the doctor, telling him about how he thinks he should just go out and start snowboarding again… when he announces at a family dinner that he’s looking forward to getting back on the snow… his mother is silent. Sitting quietly in pain, having aged a great deal over the past year, and not speaking up on camera to set him straight.

I know it’s heresy to be critical of parents — especially those who have children who are struggling with a disability or recovery of some kind. It is a parent’s worst nightmare to see their beloved child injured so horribly, even killed. At the same time, parents are one of the most available lines of defense against action sports TBI, and when they don’t step in to stop dangerous behavior, I really feel for the kids who end up suffering as a result.

The kids literally do not know better. Their brains have not properly developed enough to be able to make good decisions. And parents who just leave all the decisions up to them may actually be inviting danger and disaster into their families.

On the other hand, no parent can own or control their child forever, and accidents do happen, no matter what sport you play. Even if you’re not playing a sport, accidents happen. TBI happens. No amount of good parenting will erase that chance 100%.

There are many other pieces to the TBI puzzle, especially when action sports are considered. There’s the X-Games atmosphere of daredevil stunts, the constant push to exceed your (and others’) limits, the steady pump of adrenaline that makes us feel alive — and makes some of us feel like we’re human again.

That adrenaline pump, the flow of dopamine when you accomplish something fantastic, the numbing of pain that all the fight-flight stress hormones make possible… it’s not just an addiction, which people simply dismiss. For some of us, it’s a non-negotiable part of who we are, and without it we are just shells of who we know ourselves to be.

I spent the last week deliberately resting, and man, at some times it was hell. Boring. Dull. Dampened. Blah. Booooorrrrinnnngggg.  I knew I needed to rest. I knew I needed to catch up on my sleep, and it was all good, when I finally got to a place where I actually felt rested. But that persistent sense of being so dull and dim and low-level was extremely difficult to take. And I’m not even an extreme sports athlete.

Imagine how it must feel for someone to go from the thrill and elation of successfully completing a difficult ride down the slopes… to being laid up, forced to rest and recuperate and “take it easy”. Yeah, sheer hell.

It’s the denial of this part of our lives that is the most dangerous, I think. Because we deny that we need that rush, the challenges that test our limits in real life, we don’t get the stimulation we genuinely need, and we live lives that are far less … alive … than they should be. We try to reduce danger at every turn, avoiding uncomfortable situations and everyday challenges, in hopes of having some sense of security. But in the process, we starve our systems of the important challenges and tests that make us more of who we are. We stunt our growth, and we know it harms us. But we are still so convinced that somehow, some way, we can be safe and secure.

In a way, our hunger for safety and security is the worst thing we could possibly indulge. It makes us less than who we could be, and it denies us the necessary genuine risk that fine-tunes our systems and makes us better at being who we are.

But we can’t be deprived forever. As I said, part of us knows the constant risk avoidance is not doing us any favors. So, we seek out artificial challenges that we think we can control ourselves — like extreme sports, velocity sports, collision sports. The worst is when we ask others to vicariously seek out those challenges for us — NFL football players, extreme athletes, and all sorts of danger-seekers we reward with adulation and praise for doing things we could never do ourselves — and which might actually permanently maim or kill them, right before our voyeuristic eyes.

We need action. We need excitement. We need risk. There’s no point in denying it. Our brains and bodies are finely tuned to handle risk and excitement, and if we can’t get it in a healthy way, we will get it in an unhealthy way.

So why not exercise and develop that part of ourselves — safely?

When I say “safely”, I mean without putting our lives and limbs in direct danger — within the context of our everyday lives, taking on challenges that others so frequently flee. Countless “dangerous” situations present themselves to us each day, which we could pursue, and make our lives better in the process. Things like

  • Speaking up and telling the truth about what’s going on around us.
  • Refusing to play along when a bully shows up and demands that you join in their “game” of ridiculing or bullying others.
  • Taking a long, hard look at yourself and admitting what’s really there — and taking steps to address the things you’re not so happy about.
  • Following your dreams, once and for all, and damn the torpedoes or what anyone else has to say about it.

Those are just a few examples of the real risks in life, and those are the ones that get lost in the shuffle. I’ve been seeing a lot of trailers for the “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” movie, lately, and just from what I’ve seen, it seems like old Walter is doing just what I’ve described — replacing the challenges and dangers and risks of everyday life with extreme situations that give him that necessary pump of adrenaline and dopamine that makes him fully human. Fortunately or unfortunately, I suspect the movie concludes with him coming out safe and sound, with no TBIs or other disasters ripping his life apart. Yet more denial? {sigh}

The Walter Mitty story seems not so far removed from the story of sheltered kids taking up extreme sports to supply their brains and bodies with the biochemical pump they need to develop properly. Of course — full disclosure — I haven’t seen the movie yet, so it may turn out to be a good one. I do know the original story behind the movie, so I can speak to it a bit. I’ll have to check out the movie for sure — but on DVD later. I’m not going into a movie theater filled with people who are talking and texting and coughing all over me.

Anyway, that’s my little discourse on denial and its role in producing one TBI after another. We are all culpable, when it comes to cases like Kevin Pearce

  • those who let him take up extreme sports,
  • those who encouraged him,
  • those who rewarded him,
  • those who profited from him,
  • those who continue to urge him back on the slopes to do yet more dangerous stunts,
  • and those who sit by quietly not speaking up when the danger is so apparent, so obvious.

The crazy thing is, this keeps happening every single day, and yet we sit by silently and say and do nothing about it.

Makes no sense. I think we all need to get our heads examined.

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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.

11 thoughts on “What our denial is costing us”

  1. My cat is a feral cat. She spent the first five years of her life out-of-doors. Yes, she was trained and fed by me during that time. I did not have the means by which I could have her live indoors. I was her human, the most important human in her life. When she was beat-up by other ferals, she would return scratched and hurting.

    She now lives indoors with me and yearns to return outdoors. That is what she knows, although in a completely differing area of the country. She is safe but bored. Still she yearns for a life she knew, hazards and smells that are far different do not scare her. She has forgotten the insults and injuries perhaps, she prefers the outdoors where she feels alive and free to roam, on the move.

    Far more dangerous and life-threatening for her to be outdoors it will shorten her life by half the life span at least, if I let her venture there. I refuse to, as her most important human. She cannot fight me, nor does she have the ability to open that door of her own accord.

    Michael had his treating doctors and important humans that said “No don’t go.” He chose to listen to an inner voice and all others that expressed a difference of opinion. He had the ability to open the door of his own accord, his humans unable to restrain him. That situation, not able to be blamed on support networks, necessarily.

    I too have a boring reality. Have settled into far less, as a matter of survival. Having adopted myself as my most important human, I take care of myself to live. I do not live for another’s expectations. I know they will not understand. The things, dreams, hopes I do have, often come with walls of the abled. These are very differing types of dopamine and adrenaline risk-taking offshoots.

    Even these self-made goals I must take with a grain of salt. I do not dare get caught up in fighting processes designed for brain disabled people to lose in a abled world. I know this as head games that may have serious repercussions on disabled individuals, our numbers barely legally represented, when we ask. Our laws do not yet have jaws to protect our numbers. Perhaps that is why the word repercussion is close to concussion? Perhaps that is why many are eager to return to the dangers they knew.

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  2. A very eloquent metaphor. It’s really good for me to keep in mind, because I had cats for years who were all indoor cats – some of whom I too brought indoors after they lived outdoors for some time. They were definitely healthier and lived longer inside, but they always wanted to get out.

    When I think of myself in the terms that I used to think of my cats, it makes sense for me to live by different rules – like what you’re saying. So thank you for the visual – seeing a picture of a situation helps me better grasp it. I can still see my cats sitting at the back door, wanting to go out and tangle with the squirrels in the yard. That would have gone badly for them, if they had been allowed to do it. Same goes for me, in so many ways.

    Sometimes I think that the world we live in is designed to kill and maim — to “weed out” the “weaklings”. But clearly this has not been effective, because look at the state of things as they are now 😉

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  3. And its saddening how many parents surrender their financial security, their retirement planning to provide the care their brain damaged child needs.

    Guess that’s why I’m a supporter of the Affordable Care Act…at least insist your child have, or you pay the premiums for catastrophic health care!!

    My TBI was in 2008 in Albuquerque where they have a “neural trauma ICU’, then flown to Denver to Spalding Rehab Hospital. Health care costs for May to December 2008 a little more than $592,000…can you imagine a parent getting that bill and the child has no insurance????

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  4. I hear you on the ACA. For all the brouhaha about it, there are some saving graces to it. Like anything, it’s a mixed bag. The worst thing about it is that it’s a major change that has not been properly communicated or managed. So, we end up with all the outrage that’s been going on.

    My own parents never could have afforded to get me adequate medical care. Both my parents worked fairly low-paying jobs (Dad was a minister and Mom was an elementary school teacher). They also had no clue about TBI or concussion or anything brain-related. My parents both come from farming backgrounds, and their prior generations were all rugged individualists who lived a day’s wagon ride from town, so they learned to take care of themselves — or accept the consequences of disability or death, when adequate help couldn’t be gotten in time — or at all.

    Nowadays, with so much medical help available, the opportunity to fall deeply in debt and be ruined is greater than ever. I found that out, when my own spouse went through a life-threatening medical situation a couple years after my TBI. I never got medical help, but they did. Actually, it was seeing my spouse go through all that, which made me aware that there was something “up” with how my head and life were malfunctioning. Before I had regular contact with doctors, I just did it all myself. And I nearly undid myself.

    We learn as we go, I suppose. We live and learn… or we don’t live long 😉

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  5. I will forever be a strong supporter of the ACA! America loves to work hard, play hard and multi-task through it all, where something usually gives, is the focus to attention and details, leading to life threatening accidents and incidents. Both government and taxpayers now have the appropriate mechanism with which to absorb heavy financial burdens, my social behaviors have cast upon unsuspecting entities, equally partaking in these activities. Not necessarily opting knowingly, in the repercussions, expectations of the fast-moving sphere and lane I maintain, I recognise I do have the option, of altering my human behaviors. Paying the piper sooner than later, better to be aware than surprised by my own chosen ignorance and naivete, I plunk down my monies to invest in my health care. I am more aware, today than before…

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  6. For the 1.7 million people with TBI EACH YEAR, perhaps many end up homeless and on the streets as did I, in the shelters or independent-living group homes as did I, others will find their way into care homes of mainstream America, still others will be fortunate to be taken care of by caring and loving family members, many have liquidated all assets they had to help with costs related to the TBI incident or accident as did I. Many of my disabled peers, whether victims of our own behaviors or incidents beyond our own control are never insured enough for this medical need. ACA is merely a start in covering some of the bills associated with TBI considering the longevity of the medical need and the net it casts over the community when it occurs. Without an obvious change in our human behaviors including awareness to the horrendous group of diseases and their causative factors, the assaultive behaviors and their causative elements, we stand little chance in making head-way on stopping the tremendous losses. Numerical data included from http://www.insurancequotes.com/health/brain-injury

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  7. I have watched my neighbor recover from losing his wife last year. He is relatively young, though many people with tbi span all age groups. I am older than he is and witnessed again the horrendous destruction of losing a spouse to disease. I lost mine nine years ago and I have been able to assist my neighbor with his loss.

    I re-visited my promise to myself that I would never get into a relationship with someone because of my tbi issues and their unique set of potential prognoses available to me in the future and the seriously-to-be-considered shortened life span.

    When I see my neighbor have his problems, in various areas of his life, I know it will take time for healing.

    At the same time, I recognise in my own life, I can easily prevent these types of pain and self-harms to another person by simply refraining from a relationship.
    You have written about those with tbi that have taken their own lives and the pain it causes the families.

    Do we equally owe an amount of respect to people before getting into relationships, knowing we may very well pre-decease or have severe chronic illness issues, and even these issues may vary in regard to the type of tbi each of us has?

    Of course, nothing in life is written in stone. Any relationship is freely chosen between two people and is never a guarantee. But, I do believe any relationship requires a foundation of mutual honesty, repect, and nurturing to thrive and continue. At times, people with tbi problems will have a tendency to falter from this path, as frail as we can be in our pathways through the myriad of the recovery process.

    For those that are unmarried and marking their pathway with the help of friends and family members, I am wondering if others are as averse to a relationship fate of pain, with a preference of singlehood for these reasons?

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  8. Hm. That is an interesting question. I am married now, and I intend to stay that way, but should something happen with my spouse pre-deceasing me, I’m not sure I’d want to bring another person into my own personal “action/adventure park”. I think I do much better on my own, as it is.

    But who can say? Honestly, none of us has any guarantees, and even those who are 100% hale and hearty can have that change in an instant. So, I say, don’t hold yourself back because of what might happen. Getting into a relationship with someone who’s mature and able to handle things, might be just what you need to keep you on the right path.

    People tend to be a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. And everybody has their “thing” — knowing that our issues stem from TBI gives us an advantage, in my opinion. We can chalk up bad days to that, take corrective action, and move on from there.

    But in the end, the heart will do what the heart will do.

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  9. That is what the biological designation of earth is about but human tool-use interferes with that. As does all other brain-created “tool” adapted and designed social programs such as capitalism and health care that interfered with this main biological tenet, wherein the strong eat the weak. Now you know why death rituals and land was adapted to perpetuity standards for death we started burying people we know in graves of perpetuity, yet have a most difficult time buying homes for modest time periods? Imagine wild animals dragging relatives out of gravesites when no other food can be found, quickly adapting rituals to cultural standards/time periods, where we have many times moved cemeteries to protest and urban growth…

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