This was 4 years ago today.
I was so naive about long term effects of injures, specifically head injuries. I figured concussions were a mind set and that most that struggled to recover, were probably lacking mental fortitude. Maybe this injury was Karma for being so ignorant, or maybe it was just a bad accident that happened to turn into the best thing that happened to me. Before you think I have completely lost my mind, hear me out…
This started out as one of the worst stretches of time in my life. My father had had a serious heart attack and once I returned from flying to their home in Arizona, I was hit by a line drive to the face before being dumped by a man I was truly in love with just a few weeks later. Like the ball, I didn’t see it coming.
This post is only about one of those incidents, and that’s the head/face injury. I was playing third base and took a line drive to the face. I was comfortable at third base and had fielded numerous hot shots in both college and elite adult leagues and never had an issue with being hit in the head or face. For whatever reason that was about to change…perhaps I was distracted, but I remember seeing the ball tail a bit and the last thing I remember was actually the sound it made when it hit my head. From that point on it gets a bit fuzzy and really the details aren’t super important here. I broke 4 bones and haemorrhaged my retina, and because I was knocked out for a period of time, I was immediately categorized as a Stage III concussion which is the most severe. I didn’t care too much at the time, because I just figured I only had to wait until the bruises and swelling subsided enough to get my vision in my right eye back and I would be good to go. I had almost no aftercare outside of the ophthalmologist who’s primary concern was to make sure my retina hadn’t detached at that vision would return to my right eye in the near future. She made it clear that I needed to be done with sports because I had a brain injury. Of course, I didn’t want to hear it so I chose not to take her advice seriously. (No need to lecture me in the comments, I’m well aware of my mistakes here haha)
I did all the wrong things.
I really did.
I did the wrong things because I was “fine” and I thought a concussion was a mindset that I could defeat if I just kept moving.
I have been open about my mental health issues for the last few years and most of you know it has been around for most my life. What some don’t know is that I was feeling like I had a small grip on it at that point in time before all this. Aside from the initial fear of my dad’s recent heart attack (he made a full recovery), I was really in a good place!
The swelling went down and I regained my vision back, but suddenly I was having CONSTANT panic attacks… almost worse than I had experienced any other time in my life. I would start crying for no reason and forget where I was at times. I was scared and confused and soon had my first real experiences with crippling depression too.
K… so life is in the shitter at this point. I feel like I am disappointing my peers at work, I am scared about the things I couldn’t remember and the weird crying fits, and the lack of appetite accompanied with horrific migraines. On top of that, the sport I loved so much slowly started to change and I was able to participate less and less. I have ALWAYS identified as an athlete and I now felt like I didn’t really know who I was or where I was going… so… I turned to art. I started trying to find peace in creating both emotional art, but also art of the sport I loved so much.
Fast forward a bit… and my anxiety, headaches and depression remained but I was starting to get some recognition for my art in ways that fulfilled me more than the job I had. It wasn’t that my job was bad, in fact I loved the people I worked with so much, but I felt my ability to focus was terrible and I was losing passion as I no longer felt that competent. I didn’t feel like I was succeeding in the way I felt when I created something. I still didn’t think I could ever leave my job. Ever. I would have to be an idiot….
I first delivered art to Ryan Dempster, a previous member of the Red Sox and current part of the Cubs organization. That was followed by James Paxton with a little help from social media and I started to wonder if I could do this as more than just a hobby. Fear of being an imposter (look up imposter syndrome if you are confused) and failing miserably were too loud in my mind and I couldn’t find the courage.
Fast forward again…
I found the courage
I went after this crazy career that came out of trying to cope with a head injury and mental health struggles when I couldn’t play the same level of sports I had previously used as my outlet.
I don’t have any moment of doubt that that injury and tough time is what gave me this gift now and I actually feel gratitude. So much gratitude.
Not only do I get to make sports art for a living but I am occasionally given a platform because of my MLB art to speak about Mental Health Awareness and my experience with how that was complicated by a sport related head injury. I feel like I am doing what I was meant to do, and while I don’t recommend standing in front of a baseball and catching it with your face, I can say that sometimes the worst times in our lives are just repositioning us and getting our attention to pivot and head towards a brighter light before we can see it.
I am grateful.
If you are in the middle of your own storm, hang on. Just hang on for a bit and let your mind pivot towards whatever helps you cope in a healthy way. Follow the little light that you do see… even if its just for a few mins at a time. Maybe it’s when you read to your children at night. Maybe it’s when you play fetch with your dog, or cook, or create, or sing….etc. Just follow it… it may not be what leads you to the end of the tunnel, on solid ground where you can the storm in the rearview now, but don’t rule it out.
Just hang on.