Tomorrow the movie Concussion hits the theaters. Ironically, I won’t be able to go, thanks to debilitating overload from the holiday season, as well as having heightened problems with sensory stimulation, these days. It’s touch-and-go with my energy, as well as my tolerance for crowds. All I can say is, thank heavens I got all my shopping done by 5:30 last night.
Then again, I don’t feel as though I’m being 100% remiss in missing the movie on opening night. My entire life is pretty much run by concussion / mild TBI, and I’ve dedicated a big chunk of my life to not only successfully recovering from this nasty chronic condition, but also educating others about how they can do the same. It’s a daily vocation for me. It matters. And I started doing this back in 2008, so it’s not a new thing for me.
The way I see it, if this movie raises awareness and gets people thinking about this issue in more realistic terms, then maybe tomorrow is a “day off” for me — somebody else is doing heavy lifting in raising awareness about head injuries. And it’s Hollywood, no less. There’s a ton of press coming out about this — and my local PBS station is airing the Frontline special, “League of Denial” in advance of the Concussion movie release.
On the other hand, what kind of awareness are they raising?
Is it the kind that puts people into a panic and sends them into crisis-mode?
Is it the kind that raises the klaxon alarms of LAWSUIT! LAWSUIT! with school districts and colleges… that prompts parents to either refuse to let their kids play any more football, or plunge into a denial-driven heartfelt defense of football as a character-building exercise?
Is it the kind that causes kids to think they’re going to lose their minds and die early, if they hit their heads?
Is it yet one more public awareness campaign that further polarizes an already divided nation about our #1 most beloved sport?
My problem with this kind of awareness-raising, is that it’s so dire – that works against it, in my opinion. It can look like just so much Hollywood sensationalism and propaganda that paints a dismal picture for effect, while it may not actually follow up with any sort of balanced alternative view about what you can realistically do. It might freak everyone out, but how is it reassuring parents, teachers, kids, and everyone else in the mix that while the situation is serious, it’s not the end of the world?
It’s certainly the case that repeat head traumas in football (and other sports) can lead to a host of problematic issues, as well as CTE and premature death. It’s certainly the case that concussion — from any source — can lead to persistent physical, mental, functional, and behavioral problems . Most people recover, but some don’t. And not taking care of yourself after a concussion is a great way to help those symptoms persist.
But HOW do you take care of yourself? How do you do the things that your body needs, in order to get back on your feet and get on with your life? Even before that, how do you understand what’s going on with you and figure out the steps to take to deal with your issues? How do you even figure out the issues that you do have? How do you explain things to friends and family? And when does it make sense to worry? All these are basic, fundamental questions that come up — and unfortunately there’s not a specific set of guidelines to follow. Even the cases where there are recommendations, they can conflict. And given the amount of new research that comes out regularly, it’s hard to keep up.
The confounding problem with treating concussion is that you’re trying to serve a dynamic population with a wide variety of changing, very personal symptoms, whose needs may vary from case to case. Everyone’s situation is different, everyone’s treatment is a little different. And people need to follow through themselves — they can’t just take a pill or expect a doctor to sort it all out for them. How do you get enough information to people up front, so they take proper steps from the get-go… as well as understand what’s happening in their brain, so they’re not so frightened, disoriented, and intimidated?
How indeed? Because it’s important that this happens. I believe that poor care from the very start lays the groundwork for future problems. Not giving your brain enough rest and letting all the chemicals settle down, is a great way to unsettle your system and add stress to an already stressed system. Not taking time away from exertion — even amping it up, because that’s what your brain is telling you to do as it tries to recover from the flood of biochemicals that are unleashed when a brain is injured… well, that’s an excellent way to prolong your recovery, even set it back. It’s also a great way to get injured again. And again. And again. Because your coordination can be off, at the same time your body is telling you to go-go-go.
And meanwhile, the people around you don’t understand what’s going on with you, they may be entertained by your manic behavior, or they may be upset with you because you’re not up to doing the things you did before.
Personal experiences after concussion are as many and as varied as personalities, themselves. So, small wonder, there’s no truly consistent way of managing concussions, just yet.
I do think we will get there. But in the meantime, we’re being deluged with information about how life-threatening concussions are, how much they can mess with you, and how sinister the effects can be. It’s putting people on edge, there’s no doubt about it, and as a result, people are just … well, just plain scared. And/or they shut down the flow of information, because A) it’s too much for them to take, and B) they don’t know what to do about it.
I could go on, but I’m going to break, right now. I’ve written a little eBook about What You Need To Know After A Concussion. It’s free. It’s basic, but it’s got exactly the things I wish I’d known, when I got hit in the head all those times. I’m working on an extended version (that will be a paid version), to support this work — and also provide more value to people who want more in-depth discussion. But for those who just want a high-level overview, just to get their bearings, the eBook (download it here) provides at least something.
So, this Concussion movie really presents us with an opportunity to talk more about this issue in ways that are genuinely helpful. And I think it will fall to the community of concussion / TBI / ABI survivors to reassure a nervous populace that brain injury does NOT need to kill you, necessarily. Sometimes it does, sure. But it’s not a death sentence. Those of us who know better need to speak up — and I’m hoping that more of us will.