Why I stopped asking ‘what if’

BY: STEVEN EDELMAN

I imagine Bill Buckner must have repeatedly asked the ‘What if?’ question to himself for years after the Boston Red Sox lost the 1986 MLB World Series. What if he, the Red Sox first baseman that made an error during the ninth inning which cost his team the game and the series, scooped up the ball perfectly for an out and the Sox became champions?

Bill buckner misses ball
BILL BUCKNER MISSES THE BALL IN THE 1986 WORLD SERIES; PHOTO VIA REDDIT

What if his teammates stayed in Boston and the team played with winning results for the next decade? What if they became a legacy that would have been remembered for generations?

‘What if this had never happened’ is a question that goes beyond sports. It’s an examination that we all ask about ourselves after major mistakes we’ve made, or a tragedy we’ve experienced.

The answer we tell ourselves, the majority of the time, is something more positive we wished had happened. This leaves us unhappy with the life we are currently living. It’s counterfactual thinking and it’s a way to avoid facing uncomfortable truths of our experiences.

Around 12 years ago, I was a sports journalist in San Diego. A decision I made one night changed my life and those who are close to me forever. I had too much to drink at a party and thought it would be a good idea to get some attention from others by pulling a risky trick on the third-floor deck. Unfortunately, during my attempt, I fell 25 feet down to the concrete below.

I was unconscious and an ambulance took me to the ER where the doctors diagnosed me with a Traumatic Brain Injury. There was severe damage to parts of my brain and it wasn’t unclear as to what can be healed.

Man sitting alone

After I woke up from a three-month coma, my recovery began. In a rehabilitation hospital, I had to re-learn how to walk, how to speak, understand information when listening to others and grasp as to how I ended in the hospital. The process was challenging and demanding. Nonetheless, over several years I gained most of what I had lost.

It seems like the usual positive ending of this story, but it wasn’t that simple. I was angry. I was angry with God as to why I, a drunken man, was given another chance while other people are not. I was angry with friends that didn’t understand why I was different from the person I used to be before the accident. I was angry at myself for putting all the people I loved in stress and pain. Mostly I was angry with myself for not appreciating what I had until it was gone.

That’s when my ‘What if?’ self-talk started. What if this accident never happened? What if I continued my career as a sports journalist and I didn’t have to stop for my recovery? What if my relationship with my friends and family continued to grow?

What if I didn’t lose all that time and went traveling? What if there were other opportunities that I missed during my time healing? The questions never ended and I fell again in a dark place with no idea how to get out.

The way I eventually got out of this depression was to stop denying my past by creating a made-up ‘What if’ story that was unrealistic. I had find a way to get to the present.

It was about changing my pattern to a new one where I was in control. In many cases injuries are out of our control, but how we absorb them is in our control.

Since the accident I easily forget peoples’ names, it’s not as easy to learn new information. I am not exactly who I was before my brain injury. Yet this is a new chapter in my life where I have different expectations and new priorities. I have a supportive wife and a newborn son who gets nothing but my love and attention. I’m not denying my past and what has happened, however, I am part of something bigger than an ‘error’ I made and overcame.

The truth is that Bill Buckner never played the ‘What if?’ self-talk game with himself despite that he and his family were threatened after his mistake. He took responsibility for the error and found a way to overlook the anger that Red Sox fans and the media had created for a long time. Buckner was only concerned about his family and he understood that one misstep does not describe a person’s character.


I’m Steve Edelman, a survivor of TBI that never lost who I am.  I entered a new chapter of my life with an understanding wife and a healthy 1-year-old son. 

Having a concussion has prepared us for this pandemic

BY: NATHALIN MOY

To anyone who has had a concussion, I hope this reminder encourages you in these strange times:

Having a concussion has prepared us for this pandemic.

Staying at home, self-quarantine and self-isolation are not new concepts to us. Following a concussion, we are told to rest and to avoid social interaction. We end up spending most of our time at home, alone, in bed. That is the definition of self-isolation, is it not?

Having a concussion has forced us to learn to be mindful of how we feel and to take care of ourselves, physically, mentally and emotionally.

We have learned to see the light at the end of the tunnel
PHOTO COTTONBRO VIA PEXELS

We have learned the importance of eating healthy, drinking water and sleeping well. We know that while it is tempting to eat everything in sight while stuck at home, doing so is detrimental to our health and our recovery. Conversely, we know that fasting or drinking insufficient amounts of water can make our symptoms worse. We know that while it is tempting to throw a regular sleep cycle out the window when we don’t have to leave the house, that is also detrimental to our health and recovery. We also know that light physical activity can help with recovery and improve our mood.

We know that with a lack of social interaction comes a lack of mental stimulation. While avoiding stimulation is essential to helping our brains recover, we know how easy it is for our brains to lose important skills. We have adopted light mental activities to wake our brains back up before they get back to full capacity, and also to combat boredom. We know the limits of our brain functioning and have learned to respect those limits. We know what times of the day we can be productive, and for how long.

We have experienced the stress that comes with isolation and uncertainty. We have stayed home and felt unproductive for what felt like indefinite periods of time. We have dealt with amplified feelings of depression and anxiety, whether triggered by our circumstances or the brain injury itself. We have developed coping mechanisms and support networks to help us through these tough times. We have learned to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if it feels infinitely far away. Most importantly, we have developed empathy for anyone who is suffering, which these days, is everyone.

None of this is to say that having had a concussion makes sitting through a global pandemic any easier. Knowing that, myself and countless others, have had this experience (multiple times) puts me a little more at ease, and gives me a greater sense of control of how I respond to each day.

I hope it does the same for you.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay strong, and STAY HOME!


Nathalin Moy recently graduated with a Masters in Sustainable Energy Policy from Carleton University in Ottawa. She uses her experiences as a student with a concussion to support other students with concussions and advocate for better academic support systems. She can be found on Twitter @therealmcmoy

Review: Cracked the Musical

BY: HILARY PEARSON

One thing about this pandemic, there has been no shortage of creativity taking place online. Shot with the entire cast socially isolating, the short musical,Cracked, is no exception.

Vanessa is a high-achieving but emotionally distant woman who has had a concussion. As per the musical’s synopsis, “Vanessa gets conflicting doctors’ reports via her personal injury lawsuit – the doctor hired by her insurance company says she is fine, but the doctor hired by her lawyer says she is not. She then has to figure out who to believe, how to determine whether her symptoms are real or not, and how to proceed going forward – before her case goes to trial.”Cracked the Musical Poster

As a member of the brain injury community, I am glad there is something like this out there. This musical is truly unique. I am impressed with the production team’s creativity in composing their 16-minute mini-musical. Each cast member performs in their own living space, as is life right now.

A caution to all acquired brain injury (ABI) survivors that suffer from phonophobia or sound sensitivity, note that Vanessa sings with power and can definitely reach a high-C note.

Vanessa expresses very powerful thoughts after sustaining a head injury.

“Life as you know it is over.”

“Doctors say opposite things.”

“This is my life. It’s not a game.”

“I listened to them more than me.”

Vanesa refers to her lawyers, John and Chris, in the third song of the musical. She doubts herself throughout the process of recovery and pursuing a lawsuit. The pressure to make a decision is a very real and authentic experience of many ABI survivors.

The show asks the question of how a patient’s self-perception or sense of self-worth can be altered by the dramatic process of going through a personal injury lawsuit.

I think this concept is quite apparent throughout the performance. Vanessa has one line that I think all ABI survivors can relate to.

“The pain went away- wait, it’s back. I don’t know what’s real or fake. Am I fine?”

This rollercoaster of emotions, symptoms, pain, confusion, and uncertainty is absolutely a part of every patient with post concussion syndrome. The final song starts with Vanesa contemplating the concept of mindset. She consults reading material that suggests, “How you think you are, will directly impact your recovery.”

Vanessa has an interesting response.

“So what if I just decide I am better?”

Vanessa enthusiastically works through her opportunities ‘now that she is better.’ She can read books and visit her mom and her friends. She can return to work and excel in an environment that fosters a supportive community. I remember having the same thoughts during my recovery. I can resonate with the longing for relationships and contact with friends and family. After two and a half years of recovery, I was finally able to attempt reading again. I finished my first 200-page novel. That was a victory, a win.

Brain injury takes away so many luxuries I never knew I could miss. Like tying my hair up in a pony-tail. Surviving an entire day without a migraine attack. Meeting a friend at a coffee shop for a visit, an environment with loud noise and bright light.

Positive mindsets can be important for recovery. It is important to note that every single head injury is different. Every single path to recovery is different.

Cracked shows us one brain injury survivor’s journey. Vanessa’s journey is evidently painful, confusing and stressful. This is quite relatable. I personally cannot resonate with the concept that an instant change of mindset was the turning point in my recovery.

The Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA) provides their members with a Brain Injury Survivor Card. This card includes the following information:

NO TWO BRAIN INJURIES ARE ALIKE.

Symptoms of brain injury MAY include:

● Poor coordination or balance
● Slurred speech
● Confusion
● Impatience
● Impaired judgement
● Difficulty processing
● Agitation
● Communication difficulties
● Impulsivity
● Memory problems
● Disorientation
● Hearing or vision loss
● Seizure disorder

This card can be used to communicate with others in public if the individual is experiencing a flare up of symptoms. Many ABI victims can appear intoxicated to others who do not understand their behaviours while in pain or experiencing brain fog or sudden memory loss.

The survivor card also states, “You are not alone.”

I find this comforting. Just as I feel comfort in knowing there are other ABI survivors out there writing musicals about their concussion experience.

I hope that Vanessa’s message sparks some motivation for those who are still in the thick of their recovery, to fight for a mindset that masters a positive attitude. I applaud the cast members of Cracked in their initiative to create awareness of this life altering injury in a fantastic expression of art and music.

Tickets are available until May 31. Buy them and watch HERE

For more information, go to: http://crackedthemusical.mystrikingly.com


Hilary is a Toronto-based non-fiction writer and UofT master’s student. Hilary is recovering from TBI, PCS— and spends much of her free time on FaceTime with Isla, her baby niece.”

This post originally appeared on her Instagram, @halite_brain_beads

 

How Five Feet Apart — a story about Cystic Fibrosis – is relevant today

BY: HILARY PEARSON

One thing most of us have learnt during this pandemic: germs can spread as far as six feet when someone coughs or sneezes. They can land on surfaces, such as a doorknob, or in another person’s eyes, nose, or mouth. That’s why social distancing guidelines state we should be standing six feet apart to limit the spread of the Corona virus.

For people with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), social distancing has always been a way of life. Being close to others with the disease puts them at increased risk of getting and spreading dangerous germs and bacteria, a term referred to as cross‐infection. Not only are these dangerous germs difficult to treat, but they can lead to worsening symptoms and faster decline in lung function for those with CF.Physical Distancing

That’s why it’s important for people with CF to stay at least six feet away from others with CF and anyone with a cold, flu, or infection.

I’ve listened to this audiobook, Five Feet Apart, a few times now.

Stella Grant— a teen living with CF — describes her experience living with chronic illness:  

“Counting out exact doses of multiple medications. Being extra careful to not forget one. Careful to not accidentally overdose. Careful to take them at the specified time. Missing out on social events due to a flare up of symptoms. Going to the hospital because of catching a cold. … We’re basically doctors by the age of twelve.”

I feel this. All the work that goes into my fight with my disability. Chronic pain. Chronic fatigue. Chronic migraines. Chronic asthma. Memory loss. Aphasia. Photophobia. Phonophobia. Post concussion syndrome. Brain damage.

I can’t begin to understand what CF individuals have to go through. I don’t know their fight. But I can begin to connect with the things we feel. Like the isolation. The complicated relationships. The chronic everything.  

Even if you don’t have a chronic condition, I still recommend reading this book.  

We are all fighting in this pandemic. We can all begin to relate to those who need to always keep social distancing in mind.

We can all begin to see each other.


Hilary is a Toronto-based non-fiction writer and UofT master’s student. Hilary is recovering from TBI, PCS— and spends much of her free time on FaceTime with Isla, her baby niece.”

This post originally appeared on her Instagram, @halite_brain_beads

 

Things haven’t slowed down enough

BY: MARK KONING

Cautious Approach

Since I acquired my brain injury from a viral infection as a child, saying that life is challenging is an understatement:

Public school. High school. Employment. Relationships. Friends and family. Self-awareness. Understanding.

Yeah, even that last one. The ups and downs of dealing with being me. Putting one foot in front of the other, memory loss and being at a loss for words. Looking into the mirror on a regular basis and wondering why these symptoms are so invisible.

But I have always managed to get through. Fighting the good fight both in and out; and along the way I have gained many skills and understanding. Great times with those closest in my life helped drown out any darkness.

 

Slowing Down

But the lingering fatigue, the uncertainty, and a list of big and small issues, have left me wanting one thing: for things to slow down. I always felt that the world around me was at times on fast forward and I was having difficulties catching up.

Because of Covid-19, things have slowed down in some ways. But I still can’t catch-up. I feel though that this time it is not math or language or thought processing, it is something else. I am still tired and stressed and anxious, but for unexplainable reasons, it is a different darkness.

And it is sadly strange and ironic that for someone who shied away from large social gatherings and remained somewhat quiet, we are now being told to keep social distance and even self-isolate. What? How am I supposed to understand?

But. like always, I will adapt somehow, and survive.

There is nothing wrong with slowing down, maintaining some safe distance from large gatherings, and taking a cautious approach to life. It can lead to some beautiful things.

It was said best by Bob Marley, and I hold strongly to it, ‘Light up the Darkness.’


Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back, has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing, for others as well as himself. His experience as a Survivor, Caregiver, Mentor and Writer, has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com.

 

Quarantine Queen: March Online Community Meeting Recap

We are THRILLED to introduce our new writer, Hilary Pearson, who will be writing re-caps about our Community Meetings. Thank you to Julia Renaud for writing incredible re-caps for over 2 years – we’ll miss you and we wish you very well!

Hilary’s first re-cap is about our March Community Meeting – our first online Community Meeting – with the topic: Coping with Anxiety due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Our speakers were BIST executive director Melissa Vigar; Michelle Diamond, Director, Case Management and Client Services at Function-ability Rehabilitation Services (and a former member of BIST’s Board of Directors); and Jenn Bowler, Clinical Leader of Allied Health who currently serves on the BIST Board of Directors.

Welcome Hilary!

BY: HILARY PEARSON

Like many of us, living with my level of disability usually means I am inside most of the time anyway, pandemic or not. I remind myself that I am a Quarantine Queen and I was built for this. Nothing much has changed for me. I miss seeing my family for our visits every few weeks. But on a day-to-day basis, I don’t have to worry about me and isolation. 

I feel more empowered and equipped to help others right now. It’s the people who do not live with chronic conditions or disabilities that are struggling with the drastic change in daily life. Living in isolation sucks. But I went through that ‘this freaking sucks’ period a while ago, when I first realized that I couldn’t go back to work, I needed to stay home, I needed to rest, and I needed to prioritize my physical and mental health.   

How do I stay safe?

The best way to keep safe is to practice physical distancing. Germs can spread as far as six feet when someone coughs or sneezes, landing on surfaces or in another person’s eyes, nose, or mouth. That’s why it’s important for people to stay at least six feet away from one another during this time.

Here are some physical distancing tips:

  • Wave to people instead of shaking hands.
  • Arrange for grocery delivery – this is hard to do right now. There are some volunteer resources that can also help with this and other grocery delivery options do not charge delivery fees. Find them, HERE.
  • Arrange for medication delivery. (Most pharmacies deliver for free).

If you need help getting groceries, medications or other necessities please call BIST at: 416-830-1485 or email info@bist.ca.

Picture of Dundas Square with large billboards warning of COVID-19
Toronto’s Dundas Square. Photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels.

What do I do if I think I have Covid-19?

  • Check out the Government of Ontario’s Online COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool, HERE.  
  • Call Telehealth Ontario to speak to a registered nurse: 1-866-797-0000.
  • Call your Family Doctor (most practitioners are having phone appointments.)

COVID-19 Symptoms include:

As we know, this virus is new to humans and researchers are still learning about symptoms. It is agreed that common COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • cough
  • fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • pneumonia in both lungs

If you have a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, muscle aches, reach out to any of the above resources.

When the state of emergency was announced, I found myself taking the online Covid-19 Assessment Test daily. 

The link below lists resources that can help during the Pandemic. BIST is updating this information as much as possible

Resources that can help during the COVID-19 Pandemic

You can find information on:

  • Financial Assistance, HERE
  • Food Access Programs, HERE
  • Mental Health Resources, HERE
  • Legal Resources, HERE
  • FREE Online Courses, HERE
  • FREE Self Care Apps, HERE
  • FREE Gentle Exercise Videos, HERE

If you need help accessing any of these services, please call BIST: 416-830-1485 or info@bist.ca.

Social Support

If you have little people in your life, FaceTime calls can bring joy to you and possibly give parents a mini-break from their 24-7 duties. Photo by Shanice McKenzie from Pexels.

Do you live alone? Go see someone else’s face.

My favourite face to see is of my 17-month-old niece. Isla sticks her face right into the camera and fills up my entire screen. She babbles about bears, elephants, pandas, reindeers, turtles, apples, cheese, bananas, blueberries, and everything else I pull out of my fridge. We played this game for two-and-a-half hours on day four of quarantine. 

It is so important to stay connected right now. FaceTime  is one of the most convenient tools for connecting with loved ones, especially if you live alone.  

On Easter Day, my whole family joined a four-way call on FaceTime. We all stared at each other while eating our favourite ice cream. Definitely quality quarantine family time. This felt weirdly normal. I think the attempt at maintaining some form of face to face interaction is significant.

Of course, I would rather hunt for Easter eggs in my parents’ house with Isla and my siblings. But I didn’t feel as though Covid stole a family holiday from me. I plan to frame the picture I took of our Easter FaceTime call. It’s our new normal. 

You can also connect with others via BIST’s Online Programs: https://bist.ca/online-programs/

The Story Mindset

 A speaker at the BIST community meeting said something that changed my mindset. 

“How will I tell a story to my grandkids about how I made it through the pandemic? What’s a creative, funny thing I did to help me.” 

This is the ‘story mindset.’ 

This concept stuck.

My brother, Daniel, insists on doing all the grocery shopping for our family during this pandemic. He shops and delivers groceries and supplies to three houses, in three different cities. Daniel wears a green face shield and blue surgical gloves.

We enjoy a physically distanced conversation, me on my balcony, Daniel on the sidewalk. I take a physically distanced selfie. Last time, Daniel launched a small plastic bag over my railing and onto my balcony. He thought I would like the sliced apples his wife packed for the drive.

Hilary Social Distancing Selfie
An edited selfie of Hilary from her balcony with her brother below on the sidewalk.

The stress, disappointment and grief the world is feeling right now is in-describable, but there may be moments that will stick out. Pay attention to these moments, as reflecting on them can help get you through.

Feeling isolated?

You can call BIST at 416-830-1485 to help with problem solving, resource finding or just to chat. We answer our phone Monday  – Friday 12-4 pm.

Check out our online programs: https://bist.ca/online-programs/

Learn about Mental Health Resources which are available during the Pandemic: https://bist.ca/resources-covid-19/mental-health-supports/


Hilary lives with one cat, one roommate, and one mini fridge stocked with lime Bubly water.

Logan: my story of living with multiple concussions

BY: LOGAN JUNG-RITCHIE

Hello everyone, my name is Logan and I live and work here in Toronto with my wife Renée. I have recently become a member of BIST in hopes to connect with others that have gone through similar injuries and challenges I have. So, to begin I thought I would share with you my story with concussion.

I grew up in a very rural part of Canada, where hockey is a way of life. Everyone plays, watches, and has a favourite NHL team.

kids playing hockey
Photo by Arthur Brognoli from Pexels

In small town Northwestern Ontario, the local high school team is a community centrepiece. When I moved up North from a southern town just about an hour outside of Toronto, I was the new kid in town heading into grade two, and I just wanted to fit in. I had to join the hockey team.

While I never quite managed to fit in off the ice with the guys who were born and raised in town, but on the ice I did. I placed value on myself for how I performed. Part of the culture around the game is that showing any type of vulnerability is a weakness. Back then, concussions were viewed as a non-issue, “You just got your bell rung, sack up and get back out there!” is the polite way to put it.

I never expected to run into concussion issues and I never took the risk seriously. With the arrogance of a teenager I felt invincible; even though I had suffered two concussions between the ages of eight and 12. Neither was I terribly serious in terms of recovery time, but I mention them because they set the stage for more severe incidents later on.

I was one of two players to make the high school team as a freshman, and I thought that could be a springboard for me to play higher levels within a couple years. I was sufficiently self-aware to know that I wasn’t good enough to play any sort of professional level, but the idea of playing for a university team was realistic. Between the ages of 16 and 17, I received a few offers to play at a higher level. However, I never accepted any of them because by that time I had grown disillusioned with the ‘hockey culture’. There were some things I just wasn’t willing to do so I decided that going to university and focusing on my studies was more important to me. I still intended to be a part of the game, playing in recreational leagues, for example. I did not want to leave it all behind me, but I had simply changed my priorities.

Playoffs during my final year of high school were the end of a chapter. In what was to be my last home game, my parents were in the stands along with a lot of friends, so I was flying high with emotion. In the second period of the game, a puck got caught in my feet from an errant pass and I had to turn to face the boards to fish it out. The captain of the other team was on top of me quickly and while my back was turned, in the most dangerous position on the ice, he hit me ruthlessly from behind. I went into the boards head first, the point of impact being the crown of my head. Funnily enough, I cannot recall much about the days following, but I remember that moment crystal clear. The first thought that went through my head was my neck was broken. That hit is incredibly dangerous, and has left other players paralyzed. My parents happened to be sitting right where it happened so they had a front row view. My Dad told me afterwards he thought I was paralyzed with the way I was lying on the ice not moving. By some stroke of good fortune—I wasn’t, but I was severely concussed. I had a splitting headache, nausea, blurred vision, and my head felt like a pressure cooker. The team doctor diagnosed me right away and took me through the treatment protocol, which doesn’t amount to much besides rest and avoiding stimuli such as noise, light, and screens. My Dad helped me out of my gear and I showered barely able to stand upright.

Hockey players entering the rink
Photo by Francesco Paggiaro from Pexels

After the game, my coach’s main concern was if I could play the following night. I couldn’t be in a lit room never mind skate or take another hit. He looked at me as if I was a disappointment. I felt weak and his reaction filled me with a sense of shame. I was team captain. I was supposed to be the leader, strong and infallible. I now know that there was no reason to be ashamed; but at the time, some support from a person I’d looked up to for five years would have gone a long way.  I remember being in shock at how close I came to my life being forever changed, and it stung that he could brush that moment off as if nothing happened. If I’m being honest, that reaction created a lot of resentment and anger that I still hold onto today. At that point, I was grateful just to be walking out of the rink, so recovery was not something I was concerned with. That would change as the months wore on and the symptoms continued to remain persistent. It is because of this injury that I made the decision to walk away from hockey permanently.

I thought, at the time, it was the game that ended it for my brain, but really it was my brain that ended my game. I made the decision, no one else. It was the only way to ensure my brain could take care of itself.

Guilt Trash Can
Photo via durera_toujours on Flickr

Funny thing about concussions, the recovery process starts right away. But unlike a broken bone that feels less painful or a surgery scar that starts to fade, symptoms can ease and you feel better one day—only to wake up the next day worse off than a week before.

Once your symptoms decrease, doctors will tell you to take it slow and increase activity incrementally. I was impatient to return to myself, feeling weak and vulnerable were not welcome feelings for me. During this time, I’d often be reminded how close I came to paralysis, thoughts which would bring on episodes of panic. Instead of relief, I often felt depressed, anxious and guilty.  The other thing I felt was anger towards the player who hit me. It was a filthy, gutless play which all players are taught to avoid. I also felt anger towards my defence partner for putting me in that position (this was unfair on my part and nothing more than self-pity). I even felt anger at my coaches and teammates for ignoring me after the injury and for laughing when I attempted to express my anxiety. But the most anger I felt was towards myself. I was the one who turned my back. A former coach of mine would have been ashamed of me. You never turn your back, ever. But I did. That guilt still wears on me to this day.

Without the support of my parents, I think I would have sunk into a dark place. They always lifted me up and gave me the time I needed. But in that time following the injury, I felt very lost.

In hindsight, I recognize that I went back into training too soon. I probably should have taken the spring sports season to fully heal. But I was adamant I wanted one last hurrah before heading off to university, so I geared up for the soccer season. Soccer, the sport that involves hitting a flying object with your head, perhaps not my best decision. But I made it through the season with no incident and left high school onto a new adventure. I hoped that this injury was the last and all concussion issues were behind me.

In my first year at university, while attempting to adjust to a move 2000 km from home, I suffered my fourth concussion while playing intramural soccer (against a team from our Med School, no joke).

Each concussion is unique, like a hellish snowflake. Judging recovery time is difficult, even for specialists. Happening so close to my last concussion, I was sure that I would be feeling the effects for weeks if not months, which would have been catastrophic to my exam hopes. But, surprisingly, symptoms cleared within a week and I was back to my normal self. The guy who was the best man at my wedding took me to the emergency room, and he made sure I was able to sleep properly without complications from the injury. Such support meant everything to me and I believe it is vital to proper recovery.

Each concussion is unique, like a hellish snowflake, and judging recovery time is difficult, even for specialists.-4

After that, I went five years without one concussion. This was a relief to me as I started to learn more about some of the research concerning repetitive brain trauma and CTE in athletes. However, while I was on holiday with my girlfriend and parents in the summer of 2017, a late night, bleary eyed trip to the bathroom resulted in a significant collision with a door frame. As ridiculous and embarrassing as the accident was, I have never had a feeling like that. My head felt like it was in a vice grip. I was knocked loopy and could barely form a proper sentence. When I woke up in the morning, the pressure in my head was worse and I felt like I was in a fog. It was incredibly odd to be conscious and yet feel like everything around me was passing by while I was locked in my own mind. Not being unfamiliar with the drill, I knew rest was crucial—so naturally I had to jump on a flight the next day, to get back to school, where the pressure changes and noise would cause the symptoms to worsen. Once I arrived back at school, though, I was hopeful that the symptoms would clear up quickly.

They didn’t. After a couple days of not listening to my head and strangling pressure, I decided to take time away and rest. For two weeks I laid on the couch or in bed staring at the ceiling and sleeping. The most I allowed myself was to listen to the radio in an effort to avoid losing my mind. At the end of two weeks I wasn’t healed, not even close, but I convinced myself I needed to go back to school and finish my Master’s thesis. I was a month away from my defence and my funding was set to expire, so I felt delaying was not an option. So I fought through the headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Somehow I made it through and successfully defended my thesis, but afterwards I was completely exhausted and needed to rest.

Here’s the thing about post-concussion syndrome. People can’t see the hurts or fog. As time wore on, and my symptoms remained the same, I felt at greater pains to explain to others and myself why I wasn’t healing. It made me feel like a wimp for not ‘grinding through’, and I think that frustration and embarrassment took a toll.

For the first time post-concussion, I experienced mood swings. Sharp mood swings. I could go from happy and upbeat, to sad, depressed, even tearful, and then into a blinding rage within minutes. From some of the reading I had done on recovery, I knew this was experienced by others who had suffered multiple injuries, but you are never prepared for it to happen to you. Being so far away from my parents and girlfriend (who had moved across the country for her first post-university job opportunity), physically separated me from my primary support system. Despite this, they did more than I could have ever asked for. They honestly pulled me through to the other side of my darkest time. I’m not sure what would have happened without them. Renée was even able to make me laugh! Through it all, they helped me keep faith that the pressure would ease and the headaches would go away.

Not that there is ever a good time to be concussed, but  getting one right at the end of my Master’s was extra difficult because it came right at a massive turning point in my life. After university, I started searching for my first job, feeling the stress of bills to pay and needing to find a new place to live. Everything was changing at once and I couldn’t keep up. It was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning. It felt like I was locked away in my head while life passed me by. My lowest point during recovery would be mid-November, three months after hitting my head, when I went for a walk on a trail as flat as a pancake and within five minutes my head felt like it would explode. This happened after what I thought was a series of ‘good days’, and left me feeling completely defeated, like I would never get better and that normal would never return. I remember thinking to myself: “I’m a geologist, how on earth could I make anything of myself if my brain is mush?”

At that point, my family doctor decided to send me to a specialist. I was told that any more concussions would most likely result in a recovery time of at least six months. As an added bonus, I was strongly advised to quit all contact sports, which made all the sense in the world.

In a strange way, my experience has helped to understand my new normal. Not that I recommend going out and getting your head smashed in, but it did help me get to the point of accepting that some things needed to be kept in the past and I need to embrace new challenges and ideas to move forward. Scientific literature and anecdotal evidence will describe mood swings, changes in personality, and a tendency towards depression as potential lasting effects of multiple concussions, and I have noticed this to a certain extent in myself. I have to work harder to keep my mood up and it’s easier to fall into a depressive state. But it’s not scary anymore, it’s empowering.

These events happened to me, I cannot change that. I cannot change the nature of the game, I cannot prevent the next player from turning their back, and I cannot prevent the next late night bathroom trip (I am getting older). I also cannot change the choices I made while in recovery or the attitudes of others around me. But what I can do is reach out, learn, and listen; because I am far from the only person who has or is going through this.

And that brings me to the point of writing this and sharing my story in its entirety, for the first time. The only other person who I’ve told in this detail is my wife (Renée, who was my girlfriend I mentioned earlier in this story).  It is my hope that perhaps by sharing my experience that someone who is going through something similar or is a support to someone knows that even though it can feel like it they are not alone and things can get better with time and resilience.


Logan Jung-Ritchie lives in Toronto with his wife Renée. He is a former hockey player turned geologist working for an environmental consulting firm. He wants to write about my experiences with concussion not just in association to hockey, but also in everyday life. He says, “I hope that by sharing my journey with this brain injury that I can connect with others who have had or are having similar experiences.”