20,000 thousand screaming fans, but silence ringing louder. Athletic men, running at world class speeds, but complete slow motion. Playing a team, I have never played before, but I have lived this exact moment in a distant dream. Two eyes open, but vision blurred. Body completely unharmed on the surface, but chaos running amuck inside.
This was the feeling moments after receiving a head to head hit in one of my College football games. It was a hit so brutal to see, that it would make a mom never allow their son to play the game of football again. In shock and haze I ran to the sideline, only to be asked if I was ok by the trainers. Years of mental conditioning by all my coaches had trained me to say I was fine to go back in the next play. Trainers, with pressure by coaches to allow the starting quarterback back in the game gave the thumbs up for a swift return to action.
Next Play, WHAM! My physical self was present, but my spirit was out of my body floating in the air. My body continued to play like a plane on auto pilot, but my mind was in a fog so thick I did not know what day it was. With each hit I took my mind drifted further into a state of complete unconsciousness. But unlike a broken leg or a torn ligament, no one saw the injury that I had sustained. My teammates noticed a different vibe from me, but its football and “getting your bell rung” is normal.
The game ended with our team losing and we proceeded to shower up and get on the bus to ride back to our University. Emotions started to stream into me so violently that at 20 years old I sat on the back of a football bus next to all my teammates balling my eyes out. Then, two seconds later I was laughing with the guys. Two seconds after enjoying a nice laugh, a wave of anger overcame me that prompted me to call my then girlfriend. While on the phone my range of emotions scattered from depressed and dark to laughing and loving. It was then that I knew something was not right.
You see when an injury like a concussion is present, there is no remedy. There is nothing a doctor can do. There is no way to explain to people how it is affecting you. People assume you are exaggerating your symptoms because they simply cannot see them.
The next morning, I called my head coach and told him about the severe mood swings I had at night and how I was not feeling like myself. My coach grew up in the “throw some dirt on it” era, so when I met with him that morning he asked if I had thrown up or had a bad headache. He was trying to see if I had the common outwardly easy to see symptoms, which I did not have. He told me that I was ok and that I could see the trainers again if I wanted, but it would likely mean that I wouldn’t be able to play the next week. AKA we need our starting quarterback, so why don’t you stop faking the severity of this “injury” and rub some dirt on it.
I went back to my car and called my then girlfriend. She proceeded to tell me a story about how some guy was hitting on her that day and how it made her feel uncomfortable. I am not a jealous guy and normally would not have cared at all. But I turned into a raging monster as fast as the new Tesla can reach 60 MPH. In my car, I began to slam my fists in rage twice as hard as a Hulk smash. I was attempting to rip the headrest from the passenger seat, I was pissed! I immediately called my dad. Again, I felt in zero control of my own thinking and this scared me straight. I was feeling desperate, lonely, and like no one could understand or help me.
I went to the emergency room that day, and waited for two hours just to be told that I indeed had sustained a concussion, and there was nothing they could do to help other than tell me to rest my brain. From that day, to about a week later I spent day and night in a hotel room to totally avoid over stimulation of the brain, to heal up to return to football as soon as I could.
The trainers began to run me through a ten-day standard return from concussion protocol that is as useful as warning label on a pack of cigarettes. With pressure from my teammates and coaches to return, I fudged all the test and said I was doing better each day. Within two weeks I was cleared to play again. I finished out the season, taking several more blows to the head throughout the rest of the year, many giving me the same out of body feelings, but I kept them all to myself.
I kept the mood swings to myself. I kept the feelings of depression to myself. I isolated myself from friends and other people. I did not even want to leave my dorm room to go eat. I found solace in the distractions of TV shows and movies that allowed me to escape my reality. I was, in essence, living a life in which I had lost control of, and did not have the ability to admit it to myself. I could not understand what was happening to me.
I changed that day on the field forever. My personality changed, my social life changed, my demeanor changed. A little part of me was lost that day. I have slowly over time come back to a more normal version of myself, but deep down I know my moods and feeling are way more extreme than before. I know that I am not who I was before that collision.
Concussions are a scary and not well understood area of sports and I just hope that these have not affected me in a way that will hurt me immensely down the road. But no one knows what will happen to players like me. That is the most frightening part.