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?

 

 

When getting hurt feels good

Hurt doesn't always hurt

I’m back from vacation, and I’m already starting to feel over-taxed. Time to get out in front of what I’m doing and take command of my days, my time, my energy. Most important of all,  I need to not get down on myself, thinking there’s something wrong with me, because I can’t “keep up” with everything going on. I have more stringent definitions of what “keeping up” is all about, anyway, so I need to give myself a break and be a bit easier on myself.

I’m doing great. I really am. I’ve been getting great reviews at work, and I have a really good feeling about this year. We’re already through the first quarter, and we’re moving on. Just gotta keep moving on…

One thing I noticed – again – is that I tend to push myself harder than I should. It’s partly because I have high standards, it’s partly because I have this perpetual sense that I’m falling behind, and it’s partly because I really dig the feeling of pushing myself really hard — even to the point where I’m hurting myself. I’ll stay up too late, take on too many tasks, drive myself onward-onward and feel the effects of it, day in and day out, till I crash. But I won’t stop.

I did this when I was younger, too. When I played sports, I would just push myself and push myself and push myself, playing through many injuries, including head injuries. It didn’t help that I had pre-existing concussions by the time I got to high school and started playing organized sports. I think, in fact, it contributed to my willingness/eagerness to play through injuries. Definitely, having the prior concussions contributed to the impact of the ones I sustained in high school. They made the actual injuries worse, and they made my responses to them less intelligent and more stubborn and non-compliant.

Why?

Am I innately self-destructive? No, I’m not.

Do I want to hurt myself? Did I have a deathwish, back when I was younger? No, that’s not it.

Do I disrespect myself and think poorly of myself, so I have to be punished for some terrible thing I think I”ve done? Sometimes I feel that way, but not all the time.

So, why do I do it? Why do I push myself hard (and crash hard, too) when I know it has a negative effect on me and my world.

Because as much as I intellectually know it bodes ill for the rest of my life, the simple fact is, it feels really good to push through, to play through, to keep going.

This comes back, yet again to the energy/focus/analgesic stress idea that’s been on my mind a lot, over the past years. It has to do with the calming effects of stress hormones, the way they help block out all extraneous details and simplify things for me. It has to do with the pain-deadening effects of the biochemical cascade that comes online when you’re in high-pressure, dangerous, high-stress situations. It has to do with the rush and the chill that comes from extreme living.

It has to do with pain and trouble introducing a relief of some kind, and how I instinctively seek that out.

It’s not that I want to harm myself with stress and pain. I actually want to help myself. Because the pain and fatigue and confusion of so many stimuli coming up — when I’m fatigued, I become even more sensitive, and my hearing, sense of smell and touch, and eyesight all become amplified, picking up every little thing. It’s painful and confusing, and I just want it to stop.

So, I push myself. I push myself through the work I’m doing. I push myself to get up earlier, to stay up later, to take on more tasks, and I overwhelm myself.

On purpose.

Not because I want to hurt myself, but because I want to help myself. And the stress hormones do just that. The adrenaline I get pumping, the intense focus I bring, the ability to shut everything out, just to focus on one individual task or experience at a time… it gives me a huge amount of relief. Relief from the aches and pains and sore tightness in my joints and muscles. Relief from the fog that sets in from having so many responsibilities going on that I lose track of. Relief from my insecurities about being able to get anything done at all.

Just relief.

And that’s a problem. It’s always been a problem, for as long as I can remember. As far as I’m concerned, this need — real, physical, logistical (NOT psychological) need — to plunge into stressful situations — has been at the root of many of my issues over the years. I can very easily see how it has fed my behavior issues, my distractability, my inability to complete things, my restlessness and inability to stay the course over so many years before I got started with rehab. Contrary to what many psychologists will say, I’m convinced (from my own personal experience) that it’s NOT a psychological choice to “sabotage” myself — that’s not it at all. It’s a real physical, logistical need that’s borne of neurological conditions, not psychological ones.

And to think that for so many years, I was convinced that there was something wrong with my psychology, that I was suffering from low self-esteem, that I was self-destructive, that I was somehow psychologically impaired, when all along, there were fundamental underlying neurological and biochemical reasons for my behavior and choices.

It makes me a little nuts, to think of all the years I spent feeling psychologically impaired because of misunderstood neurological conditions. But at least I’m aware of the true nature of my issues now. And that’s half the battle, right there.

If I can get some rest, step back, take another look at how I’m living my life, and make some choices that I want to make about how I want to live my life, rather than having them be made for me by reflex or reaction, drive by others’ agendas, that will be good. I’m doing that now. I’m looking at my pain levels, my sleeping issues (I’ve started lying down on the couch earlier in the evening and just going to sleep for a while when I’m tired, so I’m less exhausted when I actually go to bed – and I can actually GET to bed), my daily routine… I’m looking at it all.

Vacation was good, but it didn’t solve everything. But at least it gave me a little more rest and some distance to contemplate what it is I’m doing with myself and why/how I want to do it all.

Which is good.

Getting hurt isn’t the only thing that feels good. Sometimes getting things right feels pretty awesome, too.

I just need to make a point of focusing on that.

And find yet more replacements for the kinds of activities that give me that huge rush — the rush I don’t just crave, but can’t live without.

Introducing Project Brain Wave

Project Brain Wave is an initiative coming out of King of Prussia, PA.

It is

a movement of contributions committed towards the protection and preservation of athletes’ careers through the sharing of knowledge and personal stories.  Project Brain Wave originated at the community level in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and has since expanded to become adopted by The Concussion Blog, for the goals of all contributors at this site target one thing—addressing the sports concussion crisis.  Through this effort, we hope to give a platform for the voices of those who were once rejected by the stigma concussions are associated with.  The sharing of stories of those who have suffered from mild traumatic brain injury, as well as the thorough distribution of facts regarding the brain and concussions specifically, will be essential to the fight to gain universal attention and acknowledgement of concussions in sports.  As Christopher Nowinski once said in an interview with John Gonoude, “We need to take a step back and start taking care of ourselves.”

Contributors are:

john gonoude

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Co-Director of Project Brain Wave
Writer, The Concussion Blog
View John’s Bio

tracy  yatsko

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Education Advocate for Project Brain Wave
Public Speaker
View Tracy’s Bio

glenn  beckmann

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Innovation Specialist for Project Brain Wave
Marketing Communications Manager, Schutt Sports
View Glenn’s Bio

dustin  fink

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Co-Director of Project Brain Wave
Founder, The Concussion Blog
View Dustin’s Bio

lauren  benwell

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Education Advocate for Project Brain Wave
Director of Public Relations & Marketing, Full 90 Sports
Some of these folks have been active over at The Concussion Blog. It’s great to see them branching out and taking more of this information online.

But getting hit on the head was just part of the game

I’ve gotten to watching YouTube videos today, since I’m off work. Here’s another one I just watched:

Just part of the game

I’ve been thinking back to when I was a kid, and all the rough-housing I and my siblings did. We were a pretty rough-and-tumble gang, and we played a lot of games that involved a fair amount of hitting and falling and running into each other. We used to play full-contact soccer in the back yard, and by the end of the game, any living plant on the periphery of the “field” would be shredded, we’d be all hopped up from chasing and jumping and crashing into each other, and our heads would be spinning. It’s like we got this major contact high from going all-out, and the experience of falling down (or being taken down) and having your vision be disrupted, have your hearing get weird, and be wobbly and unsteady on your feet, wasn’t something we were particularly worried about.

If anything, it was part of the game. We just went all-out. And this was in the days before organized sports took over. These were sandlot/backyard games, and God only knows how many concussive or subconcussive hits I took over the course of my childhood and youth.

In retrospect, when I think back on those games, I can remember some element of wooziness many times. I can practically feel the wooziness when I think back. Memory is a tricky thing, of course, and there’s no guarantee that I’m 100% on, but the feeling of being out of it when you got up and went back to playing was not unfamiliar to me. If anything, it meant that you were playing right. You were going all-out. That’s all that mattered.

There’s another piece of this sports concussion discussion that I think gets lost in the shuffle — the fact that sustaining a concussion, getting hurt, having the breath knocked out of you feels… well… good. It wasn’t a bad thing. It didn’t scare me. It didn’t even hurt as much as it might have. OR if it did hurt, the pain-suppressing endorphines would flood in, and all would be right and well with the world.

Getting concussed was actually a good thing, as far as my feelings told me. It may have knocked me off my feet and pulled the rug out from under me when I got back up, leaving me wobbly and woozy, but otherwise, I felt like I could do anything. Like I was a berserker in some Norse battle, where the worse I was hurt, the more intent I was on going back in.

This is all anecdotal, of course, so it’s an unscientific observation. But it may be worthwhile considering, among athletic trainers and others who are looking out for kids’ safety on the playing field. Feeling something that is closer to good than bad, after you’ve sustained a brain injury, is all the more incentive to lie about your symptoms and dive right back into the game. And having more concussions in the course of playing isn’t necessarily detected as a bad thing. It feels right, and since we live in a society that tells us “If it feels right, it must be right,” going with your instinct to seek out more of the same kinds of hits that knocked you off balance would seem to be the “right” thing to do.

It’s exactly the opposite of right, and it’s very, very bad. But it sure doesn’t feel that way.

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.