Post 1981 – Riding the downward slide

You may remember this

This is my 1981st post, and 1981 was the year my downhill slide started to pic up speed.

During my sophomore year in high school, I had started to drink and smoke pot. I had a rough year, my freshman year, and the next year, I realized that I could dull the pain and also fit in with people if I used “chemical enhancement”. Nobody cared if I had trouble understanding what people said to me.Nobody cared if I said strange things and lost my sh*t over stupid things. They didn’t care if I was distracted a lot, if I couldn’t finish things I started,and if I had an on-again-off-again brain.

All they cared about was whether or not I’d share a drink or a drug with them. If I did that,I was “in” — and in ways I was never “in” with any other crowd.

So, I did.

I went out partying with a bunch of friends… and those friends had other friends who did harder drugs. I’m happy to say I never got into really heavy stuff like cocaine or heroin — mostly because those drugs weren’t available when I was still partying. They were too expensive and too rare. And everyone was terrified of them — even the hardest luck cases.

So, I’m sure that didn’t help my brain at all.

I also played a lot of sports and had a pretty rough and tumble life, and I got clunked in the head a lot while playing soccer, football, etc. I ran cross country and did track and field, because they let me get away from everyone and be by myself, while also being part of a team. Coaches from other sports tried to recruit me, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. It just felt too hard, to have to keep track of all the action on the field. I loved baseball, but I had a hard time judging distances, so I wasn’t much good in the outfield. I also had a hard time staying really focused on what was happening in the infield. I got distracted a lot. So, I played third base a lot. Part of the action, but still on the margins.

My junior year was the peak of my athletic performance. I was captain of both the cross country and track teams. And it was probably the highlight of my high school career. The following year… well, I’ll talk about that later.

When I look back, my recollections are darker than the whole experience actually felt at the time. When you’re in the thick of things, just trying to get through, you can lose yourself in the experience of life, but when you look back, you see all sorts of things that you didn’t realize at the time. And a lot of those things aren’t always that great. Because you realize that you were caught up in something that was a lot more difficult than you wish it had been, and you can’t help thinking, “What if things had been different?”

I’ve been getting caught up in that a lot, lately… looking at things as they are and wishing they were different. Work is difficult, right now — mostly because there are all sorts of rumors and gossip and uncertainty, and once again I feel as though I need to make a shift away from how things are… start fresh. Leave all this behind. I hate the whole thing of getting up and going to work each day, and I’m feeling pretty stuck… even though I know I’m not.

When I was a junior in high school, I did feel stuck. I lived in a rural area that didn’t have a lot of contact with the rest of the world. There was no internet, there were only three local  television stations we could pick up on our black and white set, and the public library was the only connection I had to the wider world. I felt so cut off from where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be, and I didn’t know how I was going to get where I was going.

I knew I had dreams. I just couldn’t do anything about them at the time. All I could do, was bide my time till I was 18 and able to be self-sufficient. And go out into the world and be a writer.

‘Cause that’s all I really wanted in life. To be a writer. Well, actually I wanted  to be a forest ranger (mostly to spend a lot of time alone in the woods) or a conservationist of some kind.  I wanted to travel the world and experience things and write about them. I was going to be an adventurer who wrote pieces for National Geographic about boating on the Amazon or climbing the Andes. I was going to do all of that. Be wild and free and write all about it.

But I kept getting hurt. I kept getting in trouble. I kept getting caught up in the wrong sorts of company, and that really took a chunk out of my capacity to invent my own life. I also got married fairly early… saw that marriage dissolve… and married again not long after. I don’t regret the second marriage. It’s still going strong. But my spouse was sick a lot, and they were very poor when I met them and unable to provide for themself. So, I’ve spend the past 24 years providing for both of us, for the most part (except for a brief and very rare stint in the early 1990s when they were making more money than I was, holding down a bigger and better job than I had).

So much for roaming the world.

But looking back, I have to say it’s been well worth it. I wouldn’t have stayed, if it weren’t so. And I have had some pretty amazing experiences along the way, even if my surroundings have been pretty tame. I’ve done good work, and I’ve been part of some pretty amazing teams, doing some pretty amazing things. All this, while dealing with a sh*t-ton of blocking issues that I just moved through and worked around.

In a way, it has been an adventure, all along the way. I have to remember that. I haven’t been unhappy through the years. I’ve been challenged and engaged and pulled this-way-and-that, and I have built a good life in the process. And looking at my life now, I can see that I actually am the person I was hoping to become. Despite all the setbacks and difficulties, if I had met the person I am now, when I was 16, I would have been pretty impressed. I’m not perfect, but that’s not what would have interested me.

Being interesting was… and that’s what I am.

That’s what I have to remember — a lot of things may be wrong in my life, and I might need to sort a lot of stuff out, but I really am happy with the person I’ve become. All those experiences made me into who I am — here and now. And it’s good.

Well, the day is waiting. Onward.

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Learning to throw with my left hand

This is how my left hand throws
This is how my left hand throws

I really loved to play ball when I was a kid — basketball, football, soccer… and especially baseball, softball, whiffleball… you name it. If there was a ball (and preferably a stick to hit it) involved, I was in.

I loved the pace of the ballgame, the cadence, the mental game, the choreography on the field. Watching ballgames was less interesting for me than actually being on the field. I wanted to be IN it. Not watching.

So, I grew up throwing a ball. I often had a glove on my left hand, and now that I am practicing juggling, I can tell just how biased the use of my hands has been.

My left hand is kind of useless, when it comes to tossing a ball into the air to catch. It’s strange to realize this, because it never really occurred to me before. Maybe I never had to think about it before. But now I’m training myself — training my brain — to be better coordinated, so I’m finding out just how much work my left hand needs, to hold up its end of the bargain.

The simple motion of tossing a ball into the air, palm up, wrist flexing, is no easy feat for my left hand. I had no idea I was this uncoordinated. Is this a new thing, or have I always been this way? I suspect I’ve always been this way — or at least for a very long time — because I’ve always avoided even trying to use my left hand to throw. It didn’t look good. I looked like that guy on the VW commercial who’s trying to show his son how to throw a ball.

And it’s just awful.

But my left hand can relate.

So, I’m doing something about it. I’m paying close attention to how my right hand throws — the movement of my wrist and fingers and how coordinated they are, through the whole motion. I not only have to notice how my hand moves together to toss it, but I have to notice how my fingers contact the ball while I’m holding it, and how my arm moves to catch it when it’s on its way back down.

This is much more challenging than I expected. And I didn’t even realize I needed help, till I tried switching directions with my juggling a few days ago.

And my discovery that my left hand is way dorky, really put me off. It embarrassed and distressed me, so I stopped juggling for a few days.

Now I’m back at it, because I am NOT going to let it stop me. I am going to train my left hand to trow — or at least toss. I have to get both sides working independently.

And so I shall.

Slowly but surely, with plenty of rest in between. Because when I really focus on something for a short period, then I take a break and rest, my brain and body are able to integrate the information and grow and learn and develop new skills.

But I have to give it a rest. Pushing myself is counter-productive. I need to give my brain a chance to catch up.

Spring is here. And I think I’m going to start spending time outside when the weather is nice, practicing my juggling and throwing. It’s been a long time since I played ball regularly, and I miss it. But getting back in that game could pose certain dangers — like getting clunked on the head again. When I play, I lose myself in the game and I push it, so the chances of me getting hurt again are not neglibible.

What’s the alternative? Do some of the things I miss — like tossing / throwing and catching a ball. And do it in a different way — like juggling. That’s about as low-impact a sport as I can find, frankly. It might be a good use of my time.

Is juggling my new sport?

 

 

How Can I Recognize a Possible Concussion?

One of the nice things about being a blogger is that I can add my information to the general wealth of data about subjects of interest to me – in this case, mild traumatic brain injury. This blog is about more than telling my side of the story — it’s about fleshing out info that other trusted sources provide, in ways that are personal and individual… and hopefully contributing to the general understanding about traumatic brain injury, and sports-related concussion in particular.

The CDC has a wealth of information on concussion in youth sports over at their Heads-Up site.

What’s missing is a bit of in-depth explanation about the different points they make.

Since this month is Brain Injury Awareness Month, I hope to contribute to the awareness piece with further info and examples from my own concussion experiences.

From the CDC site about recognizing concussions:

To help recognize a concussion, you should watch for the following two things among your athletes:

  • A forceful bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head.

AND

  • Any change in the athlete’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.

Athletes who experience any of the signs and symptoms listed below after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play.

Signs Observed by Coaching Staff

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
  • Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall
  • Can’t recall events after hit or fall

Symptoms Reported by Athlete

  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Does not “feel right” or is “feeling down”

Remember, you can’t see a concussion and some athletes may not experience and/or report symptoms until hours or days after the injury. Most people with a concussion will recover quickly and fully. But for some people, signs and symptoms of concussion can last for days, weeks, or longer.

Now, for some explanation to fill in the blanks…

To help recognize a concussion, you should watch for the following two things among your athletes:

  • A forceful bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head.

The head, atop the neck, holds our precious brain — which has the consistency of pudding, and is surrounded by fluid which protects it from the bony inside of our skulls. Unfortunately, the bony insides of our skulls can have rough/sharp edges which can rake across the surface of the brain and cause damage that way, should the head/bodybe knocked so hard that the brain pushes past the protective fluid and scrapes against the inside of the skull.

You can see a video of different types of brain injury at YouTube. It’s very informative, and I recommend it.

When the body or head is hit hard enough, the brain can hit against the front inside part of the skull, be injured there — and then fly back against the rear of the skull (called coup-contracoup — which means head-back0fhead — injury), causing damage to the rear part of the brain as well. Under ideal conditions, the protective fluid provides an ample buffer to shelter the brain, and the inside of the skull is not really sharp and uneven. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that that’s the case.

Forceful bumps or blows or jolts to the head can be things like:

  • being hit on the head by a ball, such as in soccer or baseball
  • colliding with another player and bumping heads
  • being elbowed or kicked in the head
  • colliding with the catcher and slamming your head against his/hers when you’re trying to steal homebase
  • falling and hitting your head on the basketball court floor

Another way the brain can be injured by a hard hit to the body, is a whiplash effect — where the connections that are located at the base of the skull and neck are twisted and torn by the head snapping forward and backwards really hard. You don’t need to be knocked out, and you don’t even need to have your head hit, to sustain a concussion in sports.

Forceful bumps or blows or jolts to the body can be things like:

  • being tackled hard in football
  • being fouled hard and knocked to the floor in basketball
  • falling during a soccer game
  • colliding with another player when going after the same ball
  • landing hard after any kind of fall, even if your head doesn’t hit the ground
  • running into the wall when you’re eplaying squash/raquetball

It’s important to remember that these very common collision/impact occurrences (which are part and parcel of just about any sport) will NOT necessarily lead to concussion. If everyone who was tackled hard, or fell, or was fouled hard and ended up on the floor/ground sustained a concussion, there would be a whole lot of impaired people walking around.

Being hit or tackled or falling during a game or practice is NOT a guarantee of a concussion. This is where the next criteria comes in… the “and” part.

AND

This AND is important. The first set of criteria — the bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body are no guarantee that a brain injury has occurred, but they can serve as a trigger to watch out for the following. The next point is what acts as an alert that a concussive event has occurred.

  • Any change in the athlete’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.

Signs Observed by Coaching Staff

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
  • Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall
  • Can’t recall events after hit or fall

Symptoms Reported by Athlete

  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Does not “feel right” or is “feeling down”

Here are some examples from my own experience:

When I sustained a concussion from a hard tackle during a football game in high school, there was an immediate change in my thinking and physical functioning.

  • First of all, I was not thinking as quickly as I was before the hit. Even I could tell I was slower — I wasn’t following the calls by the quarterback very well, and I was clearly a little dimmer than I had been before the hit. I had trouble understanding what was said in the huddles before the following plays, and I had trouble following the instructions I was given. For example (I can’t remember the exact details, but this is how it was), when I was told to go long and then cut left at a certain point, I went long, but I didn’t cut left.
  • Secondly, I was not as coordinated as I had been before the hit. I ran clumsily — like I was drunk — and I couldn’t catch the ball when it was thrown right to me. I also stumbled a lot, and I fell a few more times. For all I know, I did more damage to myself, but I was so totally focused on continuing the game and not letting my teammates down, I refused to take myself out of the game. They had to stop the whole game, completely, to get me to quit playing. I was that stubborn.

When I sustained another concussion from a fall during a soccer game a year or two later  in high school, there was yet another immediate change in my physical functioning and behavior.

  • First of all, I was a lot less coordinated than I had been before I fell. I couldn’t control the ball as well as I had before, and it felt like I was moving in slow motion. I stumbled and fumbled, and there was obviously something different about how I was playing.
  • Second, I was not the same player I’d been before my fall. Before, I had been aggressive and confident on the field. Afterwards, I was hesitant, confused, and I hesitated before shooting on the goal (or just plain failed to shoot). I had a number of opportunities to score, but I didn’t, because I was uncertain and confused. I was also less able to be a team player. I didn’t pass the ball to my open teammates as frequently as I should have. I also became more withdrawn and was not communicating with the coaching staff on the sidelines. It was like I was in my own little concussed world, suspended in a foggy soup that slowed down all the input and output.

Athletes who experience any of the signs and symptoms listed below after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play.

Absolutely, positively. This must be done. Unfortunately, I myself never received any medical evaluation or treatment for my injuries. But on the bright side, I was removed from play in both instances. Nobody watched me afterwards to make sure I was symptom-free and it was OK for me to return to play. Then again, by the time I got to those games, I’d had a number of TBIs already, so I already showed symptoms of impairment. Still, the changes I did experience, on those two separate instances, were clear indicators that I’d undergone a concussive event. I only wish someone had known what to look for, and helped me out.

Another important piece of the CDC info is:

Remember, you can’t see a concussion and some athletes may not experience and/or report symptoms until hours or days after the injury. Most people with a concussion will recover quickly and fully. But for some people, signs and symptoms of concussion can last for days, weeks, or longer.

This cannot be overstated. Concussion, hidden as it is inside the skull, can also be hidden by time. It can take hours or days for symptoms to show up, which is why it is so important that not only coaches, but also teachers and parents and teammates are all familiar with the danger signs and informed about how to respond appropriately.

One of the things that can show up later, are behavioral issues. Indeed, behavioral issues are the bugaboo of mild traumatic brain injury, because on the surface everything looks fine, and the brain may have recovered from its initial trauma, but there are microscopic changes under the surface that can have long-lasting effects. If you know someone who plays sports, whose behavior has suddenly started to change for the worst – suddenly they have a lot of anger, rage, irritability, distractability, sensory issues, fatigue, insomnia —  it could be they had a concussion during a game or some other event — and nobody realized it, including them.

Concussion doesn’t just affect the student athletes — it affects everyone who interacts with them, everyone who loves and cares about them. It’s in all our best interests to learn about it, learn what to watch for. And to report it to someone who can help.

As the CDC says, most people recover quickly and fully, and it doesn’t need to wreck their lives. But if you don’t pay attention to the first warning signs, it is all too easy to re-injure yourself (having a concussion increases your chances of experiencing another one from 2-6 times). So, paying attention, right from the get-go can help prevent other problems from happening.

In retrospect, I wonder what might have happened, if I’d stuck with track and field and cross country exclusively, and not played any team sports that involved tackling or the danger of falling/collisions. I wonder if I would have been so susceptible to drugs and alcohol, if my behavior would have been so problematic. Thinking back, I had a ton of problems when I was a kid that actually resolved as a result of organized sports. Unfortunately, the thing that helped me most, also introduced more problems to my mix.

Well, I can’t worry about it. What’s done is done, in my case. I’m just happy I’m as functional and well-off as I am, today.

I also hope that coaches and trainers and teachers and teammates are learning enough, today, to help avoid the kinds of situations I got myself into… and help address the after-effects of the kinds of injuries that I — and hundreds of thousands of others young athletes — experienced. The CDC material is really helpful, and they have lots of free information and additional materials available.

Check ’em out. It’s worth the trip.