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The Silent Battle: Concussions and Mental Health

Two weeks ago the hockey world was shocked when Carey Price, the goalie who carried the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup this past summer, announced he would be entering the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program.  This came out of nowhere from one of the most consistent and quiet performers in the NHL.  It was a statement which came out of nowhere and surprised many people (including GM Marc Bergevin).

I'm writing this post today because when I read the explanation from Carey's wife about the situation I could immediately relate.  People in the hockey world were shocked and incredulous that the Canadiens organization didn't know this was coming.  But I understood it.  I knew exactly where Carey was coming from.  I wrote a comment on that Kukla's Korner post where I explained my personal experiences - things I had only told a handful of people.  These were things I had previously felt embarrassed and ashamed to write, but it was so easy to identify with Carey that I had no hesitation writing a post about it.

So what's my story?  In 2016 I experienced my first ever concussion.  I wish I had a great story about how it happened, but I don't.  According to my wife I passed out while I was standing in the bathroom at home and hit my head on the granite countertop.  She was asleep but woke up from the sound; she came into the bathroom and I do remember her screaming at me.  I thought I had done something wrong for her to be yelling at me, so what do I do?  I stuttered to get up, walked to bed, and then fell asleep. 

For the next week or so, everything was okay and I didn't think about it at all, but about two weeks after my fall I found I was getting incredibly dizzy, was struggling to focus on things, and could not remember ordinary things which typically were easy for me to remember.  I mentioned it to a friend who had dealt with concussions before, and he told me, "Dude, you had a concussion man, and it sounds like a real bad one."  I shrugged it off..."No way!" I thought, "It didn't feel like a concussion!"

So I continued on with life as though nothing had happened.  I continued struggling with memory and found that I was having a hard time keeping up at work.  I also found myself having outbursts with my wife and family - something I didn't do before.  I started thinking more about my friend's diagnosis and did some research - I had all the telltale signs of having had a concussion.

One of my biggest concerns was my job.  I was forgetting things I should have remembered, making mistakes which were small but noticeable to my team and boss.  There were days in the office when complete strangers would talk to me as though we knew each other; they'd walk away and I would ask my co-worker, "Who was that?"  They would tell me the person's name; I would search it in my inbox and find many emails I had exchanged with the person (not to mention some calendar invites from in-person meetings I had with them).

The question I struggled most with at work was, "Should I tell my boss and my team?"  I continue to struggle with this question, and it's where I completely understand where Carey Price is coming from.  Should I tell my boss.  Should I put this on their radar, but then they start to doubt my recollections...doubt my input...second-guess my output.

A couple years after my 2016 concussion I started to feel better - I would say my good days outnumbered the bad days.  But then I suffered another concussion, this one was mild but I knew it the second it happened and shortly thereafter my symptoms began coming back more frequently.  A few years after that I was feeling better again, until this summer when I suffered yet another mild concussion and, again, the symptoms have come back.  Most days it's not a big deal, but sometimes I will have days that are absolutely miserable.  I had a day this past week where I could not function.  My wife asks me what's wrong and I want to explain but I can't even find the words to explain how I feel.  It's like when you feel like you just want to cry, but you can't even muster up the tears.  I look at her, try to move my lips, exhale and look at the floor, and she knows.  She doesn't understand the feeling, but she knows what is happening.  She's very patient with me and I love her for that.

So what's the point of all this?  Because it's important for all of us to know there are others just like us out there, regardless of if we are actually talking about it or not.  After I shared some comments on the Carey Price post a couple weeks ago, I was genuinely touched that some of you took the time to post your own situations and perspectives, and I hope others feel comfortable to do the same again here.

It seems there is still a ways to go with how society views mental health issues, but I hope it changes.  One of the reasons I have put off any meaningful treatment is because of how my situation was dismissed (and in one case laughed at) by Doctors.  It's a shame, and I was foolish and immature for letting that persuade me not to further seek treatment.  But I do hope society is improving in how we view these situations and care for those who are going through them.

I can understand what Carey Price is going through, and I hope this snapshot into my own experience helps broaden just a couple other peoples' perspectives into the battle others may be going through as well, albeit silently.

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Comments

Paul's avatar

I normally do not post submissions to the KK Members blog to Twitter but this one I did.

via Travis Yost tweet,

Really good, thanks for sharing

Posted by Paul from Motown Area on 10/18/21 at 06:16 PM ET

ilovehomers's avatar

Scariest part on that first one is how you were fine that first week. And I would be just as stubborn in dismissing any serious issue.

I was lucky enough to not be athletic enough to do anything other than Cross Country and track through college, and in a small enough town that hockey was never an option.

But I’ve got a daughter now and I am sure more on the way. Doesnt have to be football or hockey (or even a sport at all). But gymnastics, soccer, etc. are in my future.. Im glad this is gaining steam now.

Posted by ilovehomers on 10/18/21 at 06:53 PM ET

Avatar

Every time someone speaks up, it makes it harder to marginalize
and dismiss the next person. And hopefully awareness goes up
and there is more confidence to keep sharing and keep encouraging others
and keep asking for help.

One thing that sort of surprised me at first was how many soccer players
deal with concessions. A guy will flop lie on the ground for a couple mins and sometimes it seems not just excessive but like theater. Then you realize how hard
the balls velocity can be when headed, and how many times players knock heads
going for balls or just colliding. No helmets. I wonder if being open about concussions in soccer is discouraged.

The closest I got - and I count myself lucky - was playing a silly but genuinely
at times very competitive sport: coed kickball in Manhattan. Talk about a beer league! It was a fun way to enjoy a second wave of college-like fun as professionals.
I met a serious longterm girlfriend playing in that league. Anyway we all pretty much knew each other as a community and the games were mostly friendly. But some teams actually travelled to national tournaments. Teams practiced. A lot. Developed complex tactics. I was playing first base one Monday night and the throw was wide. The runner had an easy base. I was just trying to corral it and ensure no extra base. And the runner - just pointlessly - needlessly - ran me full speed as I was reaching for the throw and went chest into the side of my head. I knew immediately it wasn’t a normal bump. I had to spend the rest of the inning on the sidelines, shaking off cobwebs.
I was pissed and had a right to be. But was hardly going to pick a fight immediately after being concussed. I did finish the game. But left the bar afterwards after five minutes. Didn’t quite feel right the next two days. Not bad. Just not quite 100%
Thing was, I had the NYC marathon that Sunday. I went to the gym on Thursday and rode the elliptical pretty hard for 30-45 and felt ok. Even for a rec athlete, there’s that stubbornness: you train hard for months for a marathon. It’s a big, in comic, expensive event that takes planning basically a year or so ahead of time to get into.
I’d run another one a few weeks before as sort of a warm up. I’d been registered the year before and had to defer before my roommate passed some nasty cold to me the week of. I wasn’t going to cancel again. And I got through it. Hardly my best time but I was prepared and it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.

Nothing like Tre’s story - not within a million miles. But it shows how even weekend warriors can want to deny the acute and cumulative dangers. It shows what a mystery the human brain still is. Why are some people more susceptible? How can some seemingly relatively innocuous concussions be so much worse and others that look bad end up relatively less damaging?

Regardless when someone takes a hard blow to the head, it’s serious: full stop.
No one should be dismissed for expressing concerns. No one should have their symptoms minimized by a doctor or HR department or teammates, just because n one can see your symptoms. The last thing we need is for people who have suffered serious injuries and are suffering additional symptoms like depression, feel they should be ashamed and be better off withdrawing and staying silent.

Posted by lefty.30 on 10/19/21 at 12:07 AM ET

Avatar

I really appreciate you sharing this. My last concussion was about 35 years ago, but up until a couple years ago I know I would have tried to power through if I’d had another. My sister has been off work since January after falling on the ice; her third concussion, and while not as bad a blow as the previous ones, now the cumulative effect is taking it’s toll. She’s worried that she’ll have to retire, which would have serious financial implications. She at least has had some support and protection as a union member, but for many, keeping silent and trying to carry on must feel like the only option.

Posted by Moose Moss on 10/19/21 at 02:16 AM ET

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Tre, thank you for your candor and openness at sharing this struggle from your concussions. You will be in my daily prayers for nothing less than a complete and total healing.

Posted by exor54 on 10/19/21 at 06:42 AM ET

dougie's avatar

Tre, thanks for your post! These days, it is harder and harder to find well written “thought ” pieces on the Interwebs. You knocked it out of the park. Good Job!

Posted by dougie on 10/19/21 at 06:54 AM ET

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Nice article. I feel for what you are having to go through. Although not likely concussion related, I too have experienced a medical issue that has made concentration difficult and generally kept it to myself. It took 4 years of pestering doctors before I finally found something that helps.

Sometimes with the rate of medical “breakthroughs” people get the impression that doctors know everything when that’s far from the actual truth. The is still a ton about the brain they don’t understand particularly when it comes to memory, pain and depression. Don’t ignore the signs, seek help and don’t let anyone trivialize your pain.

Posted by evileye on 10/19/21 at 08:52 AM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

Great post. I always felt lucky that I never “crab clawed” while playing sports and working construction but I have experienced my share of wonkiness. I’ve had memory loss so long that I’ve been able to work through it (thank you technology and smart phones). I never really thought it was from getting my bell rung but looking back the last couple years I can pinpoint the first one and when my memory and school performance began to suffer.
Here’s to better understanding in the future and hopefully we’ll learn how to recognize these events and treat them so our children and grandchildren can avoid these often times debilitating results.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 10/19/21 at 09:28 AM ET

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Quick note on memory loss is that the stress of this just magnifies the problem.  When this happens it hard not to worry about it though.  I have had too many concussions in my life and gave up hockey because of it.  Best to all of you suffering from this.

Posted by MABO on 10/19/21 at 09:44 AM ET

Kate from PA now in SC-made in Detroit's avatar

Thank you Tre for your courage to speak out. As a parent, I have watched as one of my own sons has long battled the serious effects of post concussion from childhood into adulthood. We do everything we can to help and support him. All to often this is something that many doctors have just outright dismissed, or fail to understand as this affects everyone differently. This is a serious whole body, and mental health issue, and the fact that it cannot be seen does not mean it is not real, because behavior afterwards is altered. Sometimes forever.

I truly wish you all the best, and thank you once again for revealing this very personal, and, emotional struggle.

Posted by Kate from PA now in SC-made in Detroit on 10/19/21 at 10:20 AM ET

Avatar

Even in a medical setting, screening for concussion can be fairly haphazard. About 6 years ago, I fell and hit my head, suffering a serious eye injury. The only concussion screening that I’m aware of is that I was repeatedly asked if I’d lost consciousness. I had a CT scan to check the extent of the eye damage and to determine whether I might have fractured the occipital bone (I hadn’t). I had surgery overnight, and was sent home around noon the following day, with no guidance about what to look out for, or what kinds of symptoms should have me call 911.

Posted by aqf on 10/19/21 at 02:05 PM ET

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