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[SBNet] Fear

This is my latest SBNet piece, and basically explains what the hell's been going on with me for the past week. It also explains the mental struggle I've gone through since 2004, when I seriously got hurt. I don't know how to put what I think about in better terms than this.

It has been awhile since I wrote anything exclusively for this site. My Chaos review was shit, because the game was shit - and also about five minutes long - and I've been working on other stuff for DHGF. Or at the very least, I WAS working on things for DHGF.

Then last Tuesday hit.

For those that don't know me, I have a history of head injuries. I got my first concussion playing baseball years ago, and over a lifetime of playing baseball as a catcher, hockey as a goaltender, and as a sailor who once fell 30 feet off of the O1 level of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier onto the windshield of a small boat, I've acquired a *recorded* nine concussions to go with who knows how many smaller ones have gone unnoticed considering my physical style of doing just about everything in my life; I'm the kind of guy that could turn ordering a sandwich at a local deli into a mosh pit.

Of all the concussions I've had, the one in 2004 was my worst. I was reffing a roller hockey game alone, between two outstanding teams. While skating and trying to keep up with the play, I ended up running head-on into Billy Boguniecki - brother of NHL centre Eric - smashing us both up - we didn't see each other - and having my head slam into the court. After that, I responded to a fire call about three days later, as I was a volunteer firefighter at the time. I went back too soon, and ended up losing a whole three weeks of productivity - thankfully, the only thing I was doing was hockey and firefighting, or I'd have surely lost my job - and permanently ended my time as a firefighter. Since then, I still get very bad periodic migraines, which hasn't outright cost me a job yet, but has caused tensions at work, even with people that generally like my work otherwise.

Despite all that, I still try to be active. I still referee. I still want to get back into competitive baseball, almost on the day I turn 30 and can join leagues more my speed. I still want to play hockey next year, despite knowing I'll be on a young team and will have at least one fighting major. I was even giving thought to doing either martial arts training or going back to boxing training, the latter being more likely as I don't see martial arts training as being applicable to any legitimate situation. The thought of turning off my active lifestyle is repulsive to me; I stopped playing hockey because of injury issues, and that's led to a weight gain and longing to return. I want to be able to walk away on my terms, and know that I had everything to give before I got to old to give anything. I don't want to look back in my 40s and ask "what if". The guy that played high-level hockey at nineteen just wants to be an acceptable men's league player in his 30s.

All of this changed last Tuesday. I was doing skating drills with my friend Terrell while getting ready for the upcoming hockey season. We both like to say we're the two hardest working officials in the state of Connecticut, and considering how lazy and comfortable 98% of them are, not only do I find this a true statement, I don't say it with much pride, based on the mediocrity around us. We were drilling, when I apparently fell and smashed my head. I say apparently because I still don't remember quite what happened; I only remember waking up lying on the ice. I definitely got a mild concussion - at least my tenth - and am still mildly affected a week later. I finally was able to skate yesterday, but didn't look or feel good doing it. The sad thing is that I was wearing my helmet - a Bauer 4500 that has served me well for five years, but needs replacing - and was still fucked up. I'm aware that this would have been much worse had I not been wearing one, but there's a part of me asking why it was so bad in the first place.

This reignited the fear in the back of my head: the fear that at any moment, I could be hit hard enough - accidentally or on purpose - to render me unconscious, potentially for the last time. I'm aware that one more serious concussion could have damaging permanent side effects which would make my current case of post concussion syndrome a walk in the park. I'm aware that if I get caught one more time, I could die. I know yesterday, it had an effect on my skating; I was afraid of crashing if I did a more serious drill, and how I would be able to handle that. Eight year olds have that fear when they're learning how to skate; I shouldn't have to have that fear when I'm well into adulthood. Every time I thought I was losing my balance, I immediately pulled up instead of powering through it. This is not how someone officiates high-level hockey.

In my younger days, I would have said fuck it; if I get hurt, I'll get past it. Even now, I say to myself that if I die on the ice, big fuckin' deal, I'll be dead and won't care, and hey, I'd rather live 30 great years than 70 shitty ones. And while it's nice for me to say that, I'm getting to the point in my life where I don't just answer to myself anymore. I don't "answer" to my mother, but I know if something happened to me, there would be little else for her; it would hurt her much more than myself. And what about Aileen? Can I seriously expect to look into the eyes of the woman I want to marry and have children with that hey, I want to still play recreational sports - the skills I used as a hockey player in my younger days have all but evaporated - and if I die, I die? Can I really look at her and say with a straight face that if I get one more injury I have the potential to never be able to work - and therefore bring in money for her and any children we have - again, and she might have to take care of someone more closely resembling produce than a competent human being, but fuck it, I want to play sports? And can I look at myself and ask questions of whether I left the game too soon or was too conservative - too "scared" - just because I wanted to "play it safe"? Can I ask myself - a physical, borderline reckless player - to "play it safe" when I have never played it safe in any aspect of my life?

These are the questions that float around my head every day of my life, on the days when I can actually think straight enough to ponder them. These are the questions I try to avoid in my private time with a woman I love dearly, and try to avoid when discussing things with friends and family, scared that they judge me weak or yellow. They're questions that cause me to intensify my research into everything from mouthguards that absorb the shock of getting hit (I've never, ever worn a mouthguard) to new helmets that claim to solve the issue of hockey players getting concussions, such as what's being done over at The Messier Project (thanks, T). They're the questions that too many athletes - infinitely more talented than I - have had to ask before they were ready to answer, men like Eric and Brett Lindros, Pat LaFontaine, Ted Johnson and Trent Green, as well as athletes who never got the chance to answer them such as Chris Benoit. And they're the questions I'll ask myself until it's determined that I can no longer compete in my sports of choice, and hang up my gloves/skates/sticks/bats for good.

Whether it's a choice that I make or a choice that's made for me remains to be seen.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 9th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
#10? This is a concern, and it is increasingly possible that the choice will be made for you, but ... what can you do? I have no answer for that, and, as you have noted, neither do you.
Sep. 9th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
Man, tough post. It can be pretty discouraging to balance a love for something and the possibility that it might kill you. I don't think that concern over that is at all a bad thing, especially with how much publicity head injury deaths have been getting. People think it's just a "bump on the head," but even the slightest ones can be fatal. Of course, I'm sure you know that. But in this case, I'd say that playing it safe is your best bet. It's more than just you. Like you said, it's your mom and Aileen. And it's all the rest of us that care about you. You shouldn't have to give up doing what you enjoy, but being careful about the more dangerous aspects would be really beneficial.
Sep. 9th, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)
Don't take this the wrong way... but I take almost no impact from most of the "other people" that care about me.

The vast majority of my friends - online and off - are for the most part acquaintances. I know if something were to happen to me, there would be minimal impact on 98% of these people. There would probably be tributes from ex-FESSers and the like, but most of those would be by opportunists looking for their own attention. "Look at me, I'm so caring about this poor guy, uh... what's his name?" Maybe some people that played with me over the years would wear a sticker with "29" on it, but it would be more of an obligation than a sincere show of support and respect. After awhile, I'd be mostly forgotten, like everyone else in this situation.

Therefore, I can't take the opinions of these people into any sort of confidence; they don't know me, and would not be there for me if push really came to shove.
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
Thought of saying several things, but none of it seemed right on further thought. One thing I do think is that you should worry less about that "what if" scenario your mentioned, especially before it's even that far. The choice really isn't between 30 great years and 70 shitty years.

As for the seeming weak or conservative part, I don't think anyone would have any basis on calling you that, and I don't think you should care about those who do. It's like you said above, they don't know you, and wouldn't be there for you if push really came to shove. Their opinions should be the absolute least of your worries in this whole thing.

Of course, all of this is easy for me to say, considering I've never had a physically active lifestyle, and the one sports-related injury I have that affects my daily life just serves to make me more cautious about it. But knowing several people who do live with sports around them, I know it's not that simple.

I can only wish you good luck with making this work. Whether that is through finding a way to limit the worst risks while continuing to do what you love, slowing down, or something else altogether.
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Reading this makes me wish you could hang up the hat on the wall peg, say "Good game," and move on. I can't fully relate or understand this love of sports, but I'm also not enthralled with the prospect of making a mistake or someone else's overzealous maneuver knocking me out - permanently? - to me, it screams waste of potential. A waste of the next 40 years that, for all you know, could also be just as good; after all, life is whatever you make it. Just because the rest of your life is unknown at this point in time doesn't mean those years are worth throwing away.

Maybe walking a thinning line of injury between living and vegetating is heroic, adrenaline-pumping, enthralling, or something else, but I don't see the appeal of having something other than myself take out... well, myself.

If that choice is made for you, and instead of you dying, you live through that choice only to become a living vegetable - something you've never wanted to be - you're going to wish it had killed you. You'll regret going to that baseball game or reffing that night, you'll wake up hating just about everything.

I don't think it's worth risking your life over. It's not a matter of playing it "safe," but rather playing smart.

I think this post makes sense. Let me know if it doesn't, it's been a long day.
Sep. 11th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
Also consider the fact that I've spent most of my life athletically proving people wrong. "You can't goaltend, you're not a good enough skater" "You don't hit well enough to play baseball" "you're not good enough to play midget hockey" "you're not good enough to play in MLRH" "you're not good enough to ref in MLRH" "You're not good enough to ref in PIHA" "You're not good enough to do high school hockey" "you're not good enough... you're not good enough... you're not good enough..."

The side of me that's been fighting this bullshit my whole life is regarding this as another "fuck you" to give to anyone that's doubted me. It's not rational, but to play high level sports - as a ref, player, what have you - you can't really be rational. Rational people don't have the wherewithal to do whatever they need to do to get that extra goal, get that extra save, do the things that are the difference between winning and losing, which is what determines if you move onto the next level as an athlete. This is ingrained into our psyche, and moreso into mine as I've always been known as someone that maybe cares a little too much at about everything I do.

This is the mindset you would have me fight. I cannot stress how hard it is, and how much self-loathing I feel whenever I do something that feels "safe", even if most people - including myself in my private moments - would consider it "smart".
Sep. 12th, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC)
One question is --

Why is the judgment of those people so important?

Why do the people who doubt you, those who say "You're not good enough," register more on your radar than the friend/acquaintance/whatever that says "you certainly are"?

You care about everything you do, but you realize that if another concussion takes you out, you won't be able to do anything else that you care about.

You're almost OCD about the subject -- I think it's because there's a very real potential of it [by it, I mean sports] not only being taken away from you, but also, it giving you a OHKO. You're dogged to keep it yours, because it being yours means it's under control. Namely, your control.


It's not, really. You have a head that's still bitching a week after going down. It's a red flag you're not sure you should ignore. You think you should, you're pretty sure you ought to not ignore it this time, but also in your head, you've got some wires crossed -- namely, this voice that says taking the safe route is what a pansy does, and only a big man can keep going, this paltry injury, psh! I'm here to save the day!

Playing smart doesn't necessarily equate to playing safe. Playing safe just for the sake of playing safe is you putting your thumbs together and going "Oh! I'm scared! ;_; I'm not going to swing that hard, or run as fast as I can, because I'm a little bitch and I can't do this anymore! sniff... oh god, I'm sad, I need another pair of shoes!"

Playing smart is taking control of the situation and saying, "I have bigger things in my life than this, and I'm not going to throw it away!"


I don't get it... It's like you view this situation as a pair of scissors against your ballsack, and if you walk away, you lose a nut. That's just not the case.

No, actually. I think you're the one doubting yourself. Whether you can be good enough, do well enough, perform high enough.


Haven't you already?

Haven't you already done well as a coach, a player, a friend, a boyfriend/fiance, a son, a brother, a computer dude, a writer, a gamer?

Once you realize that you've already accomplished what they said you couldn't -- and you're the only one with any real importance that's doubting you (because you are, indeed, your own worst enemy) -- you'll understand that you do a lot of things well beyond the threshold of "good enough," and that the potential of dying for one thing when you do so many other things well is a waste in the big picture.
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:42 am (UTC)
This is a tough thing to have to contemplate - and I can definitely understand how confusing it is, and just how frustrating.

It looks to me like you're trying to work out all of the pros and cons of your life-style as it is right now, and from what I can see, you're asking yourself all of the right questions. The thing is - no one can give you the answers you seek, and sometimes those answers can't even be found when you dig as deep as you can into your own heart. (I know - shitty thing to say that doesn't help - ya?)

Have you thought about Tai Chi? It'll keep you moving and grooving, but has a relatively safe track record - or so I've heard - I could be whistling Dixie out my ass and not know it.

I would hate to see you end up as Mohammed Ali - but at the same time I would really hate for you to have a life that you aren't happy with. Like you said - sometimes 30 great years is better than 70 shitty ones.

But you do have someone you love very much, which makes me wonder if your years without contact sports would be all that bad with her by your side. *wink* You could always take up "indoor" sports.
Sep. 10th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
How can they possibly judge you of all people to be weak and yellow? You've had 10 something concussions and when you're worried about dying from the 11th straight one you're thinking more that these people will think you're a wuss?

If you don't think these particular relatives or friends can help than I understand or you don't want to worry them but sometimes talking to those that care about you can help you sort things out.
Sep. 10th, 2009 04:06 am (UTC)
As much as I would want you to take the road of less risks, and as much as it terrifies me to imagine you turning into a vegetable or possibly even ending up six feet under, I don't feel like it's my place to tell you what to decide on this. I want you to be happy, and I want you to be safe and healthy. I hate to think that those might be mutually exclusive.

Also, anyone that would judge you for this isn't worth an iota of your consideration. Your number one priority should be you, what you want, which choice you believe would enable you to live a life that's fulfilling and on your terms.

Just know that I'll love and support you every step.
Sep. 10th, 2009 04:26 am (UTC)
Damn, 'Bus. I don't know what to say. I know what I'd do, were I somehow in your position, but we're extremely different people, so that'd be all but useless to you.

I guess all I can do is wish you the best of luck in making a choice that you'll be able to comfortably live with in the years to come.
Sep. 10th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC)
I totally get what you're saying here, although I will admit that it's not really something that I myself can really empathise with. Either way, it's definitely not something that you can rush a decision for.

Either way, I'm sure whatever the answer is, it'll reveal itself in time, be it through events or what have you. Of course, only you can make that choice.
Sep. 10th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
You may want to live 30 great years instead of 70 shitty ones... but those 70 years may not be as shitty as you might think. In fact, they could be great.

At the very least, see a doctor about the concussion thing. I don't know if you've already seen one, but still do so all the same. Not only is this number ten, but this is also the one whose pain is still persisting after a week, as you've said yourself. If your local doctor's no good--and I do remember your saying that you hated your doctor--you might be able to find someone at a hospital to check on this. No, I don't know if that'll be easy or hard or what have you... but you can't leave this as another injury to tough through. You need to have this checked out if you want to remain active. Do that, at least.

As Crystal said, you underestimate how much those who know you care about your wellbeing. You really do....
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


Mr. Met
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