This is not a “cry for help.” I have many folks I love and who give me reason for existence. Rather, if it serves as a clarion call for any person suffering, I’ve met my mark. God bless all who suffer (It’s a Beatitude, even).
This is a story I told more often when it was funny, which is a more polite way of saying ‘before it scared the ‘$#!+” out of me.
It’s February 2000 and I’m 18-years-old. There isn’t much I cared about more than hanging with my friends, seeing my girlfriend and — most of all — playing ice hockey. I do the latter for the Kenmore East varsity hockey team, mediocre at-best. My hockey heroes have been Mike Foligno and Matthew Barnaby, the latter to whom I pay homage nearly every game by being a pain-in-the-ass and attempting to hit everything that moves. So I suppose you can be forgiven if you think I got what was coming to me.
It’s a late season game and we’re playing at Hockey Outlet against the Lancaster Redskins. I’m jockeying for position in front of the net, getting the living crap beat out of me by some giant oaf. As the puck leaves our zone, I give him a no-look lovetap with my stick. The next thing I feel is my legs going out from under me. The next thing I see is an elbow coming straight down on my head.
My short-term memories of what follows are exactly this:
1) Feeling really dizzy and sick on the bench, telling my coach I was ready to go back in.
2) Getting checked out by the team trainer after the game and being told I have a concussion and not to go to bed.
3) Driving home in a teammate’s truck and going to bed.
The reality is I was knocked out on the ice for a while before my teammates helped me to the bench. I wouldn’t go to the locker room and appeared “drunk” to my coaches. I barely made my way back home before mumbling something to my mom about getting hit and then spent the entire night on the phone with my girlfriend, who was afraid to let me go to sleep (that part of concussion tale turned out to be fable, which stinks cause I was tired).
Here’s where things get extra dicey. The next morning at school I get a hug from behind from my girlfriend, who I don’t recognize at first despite talking to her for hours beforehand. She takes me to the nurse who calls my mom, who cannot pick me up in a short period of time. Being ever the young punk, I convince the nurse to let me walk home. It’s only 1.1 miles and four turns (Thanks, Google Maps). I’ve lived there nearly my entire life, but I get lost and it takes me nearly an hour.
Once home, I climb on the couch and cover myself in blankets. I’m freezing, shivering and every time I move I want to puke. The slightest move of a blanket sends my stomach into flip-flops and I feel like Scottie Ferguson at the top of the belltower in “Vertigo.”
At some point in the evening, my mother gets me to take a shower (since I hadn’t the night before). I turn the shower up as hot as it goes, but nothing is keeping me warm. I’m shaking, heaving violently. I’m screaming for my mom, who doesn’t want to come in the bathroom considering, well, I’m a young punk kid 18-year-old and I’m naked and they generally don’t favor their mom coming in. But I’m a kid who needs his mom and she comes to get me, helps me put a lot of clothes on before my father and she takes me to the emergency room.
As you can imagine, it was my last hockey game in high school. The doctors, still new to the concussion game, told me to sit out until I felt better. Hindsight being 20/20, I should’ve sat out a half-decade, if not forever.
That sounds pretty lousy, I’d imagine, but it’s been cakewalk compared to some of the long-term effects. First off, it’s a heckuva lot easier to suffer a second concussion, which I have several times (but not since 2003). The one that put me out of contact hockey for good — yes I was stupid enough to come back — was on the final morning of try-outs for UB club hockey, when I laid out a winger coming into our zone yet left the ice in a daze despite being the guy who was still standing after the hit.
My mom will tell you that I went from being a young smart-ass to a dark, brooding person who holed himself up in his room. Thanks to braver souls before me like Elliott Smith and Woody Paige, I have the guts to admit that I did think about going “Pi” on my temples to stop the horrible thoughts and depression. I suffered through headaches. I talked to psychiatrists. I got tested for ADHD, OCD and a number of other acronyms that aren’t a lot of fun.
The entire time in that darkness, which I’ve learned to live with by embracing the beauty and blessings that abound in my life, I could see myself from the outside. I watched myself be a total d——- to people that I loved. These are the people who stopped me from doing something stupid just by loving me. And yet while I knew I was being a pejorative term, there was a part of me that couldn’t stop it.
The worst part, by far, was the lack of resources for people being suffering from post-concussion issues. The closest thing I had were articles about Pat LaFontaine or Eric Lindros and their head trauma issues. Even at the turn of this century, we were dealing with a society that told us to “man up and get back out there.” I remember vividly a hit during freshman football practice where I clocked a guy — a rarity indeed — and the coach said, “Ha! You’re seeing stars right now. Wrung him good. Watch your head next time.” No one followed up. It wasn’t a big deal in 1996.
It’s a really big deal today. There’s no use being paranoid about it, but I look at some of the pro football players who are literally losing their minds. Every now and then, that darkness rears its head and I wonder if my ignorance to the pivotal nature of my brain will cost me time with my grandkids. Heck, I wonder if it’ll cost me time with my own son. I’ve considered writing a book of letters to him “just in case.”
Most days, though, I’m just smarter about how I take care of myself. When I play soccer, I don’t go in the wall. When I play hockey, I’ve learned not to do anything too stupid (on occasion in any sport I can’t get out of my own way, further proof of my idiocy).
Regardless of where you fall on the Junior Seau emotional spectrum, what happened to him is terrifying. Personally, I ran the Seau gamut; I loved him as a Charger and even owned his jersey in high school, but I hated his needless Patriot celebrating of a sack of JP Losman with :58 left in a meaningless game.
I’m not going to tell you we need to stop football, but their reputation as gladiators is for a good reason. It’s not because of how tough they are, it’s that they are risking their livelihood for riches, glory and entertainment. I personally believe the world would be better off if football went back to wrestling helmets. Players would stop feeling invincible with a tank on their dome.
Seau was known as a man who would do anything to help the community. He went out of his way for underprivileged kids. Yet the story that lived in my brain up until today was the domestic abuse incident that lead to him “accidentally” driving his car off a cliff (and surviving. Tough emmer effer).
So when I heard that Seau, like Dave Duerson, shot himself in his chest, I knew that depression was concussion-related. I knew Seau wanted everyone to know that he was not a violent madman. He wanted his ex-wife and kids to know how much he loved them.
Who knows how vicious his demons were, but I know how mine felt. Whatever you need to understand what’s going on in your brain, get it. Need counseling? Don’t let some meathead tell you it’s for the birds. Need medicine? It’s a heckuva lot better than being obsessed with ending your dance on this green place.
Take care of yourself and realize that someone cares about you, and you’ve got as much chance as anyone to play a pivotal role in making this world work for the good people. If you’re reading this, no matter who you are, know this: I’m in your corner.
Any time, email: email@example.com