WASHINGTON, May 3, 2012 - The death of Junior Seau might be the ultimate consequence of brain concussions received while playing in the NFL, but there are other significant factors to consider as well. Without speculating which factors, if any, played a part in Seau’s death, they are relevant to the mental health of all athletes, even amateur ones (even everyone).
It is almost universal that we think our roles in life are a lion’s share of our identity. Who am I? I am a writer, a mother, businessman, gardener, or professional athlete. Although many people suspect identity is much like the clothing we wear, and not the essence of humanity, we feel uncomfortable walking around unclothed.
Any time we let go of, or are forced to let go of, a familiar outfit, an identity transition occurs. We may miss the old uniform, though even if we don’t, it is hard to know what else to put on. This transition sometimes goes smoothly but can also become a rough sea, or a perfect storm.
The Trouble with Transparency
Most of us tremble at the thought of complete transparency, people knowing our uncensored thoughts and fickle feelings. Though some folks are more transparent than others, all of us remain a mystery to some degree.
We fear one another, and give ourselves good reason to. We grow up learning what aspects of our self to hide, and what we feel safe sharing. This is why a true friend is such a treasure. We know we can blurt out a blunder and will be accepted without, or with mild, judgment.
The current human condition is that people have difficulty knowing their feelings and expressing them. We do not want to appear weak. We act in habitual ways that can purposely, or unconsciously, mask our mental and emotional pain. It is particularly hard for people who are considered strong to let others down by exposing their problems.
Symptoms and Weakness
Most of us find it difficult to reveal performance inhibiting symptoms to our boss or co-workers. Even though a dent has been put in the belief that weakness is related to mental symptoms, people do not want to lose their job or profession by admitting theirs.
Several symptoms of concussions are the same as those for depression. Headache, fatigue, sleeping difficulties, irritability, sensitivity to light, sadness, feeling emotional, problems concentrating, fogginess, and nervousness are symptoms of both conditions.
If a person thinks they are depressed, not realizing the true issue is brain injury, are they less likely to report symptoms?
What We Weren’t Thinking
So many things become unacceptable after decades of being acceptable. People over the age of 40 or 45 have memories of flying down steep hills on bikes, sometimes with arms spread like airplane wings, the air whipping their hair, and whistling by their ears. For a few seconds, they were flying free.
No one ever thought to put helmets on their kids then. Most pedal-bike riders arrived home safely, or with scraped knees and elbows. There were, of course, bikers who died of head injuries. Still, no one thought to put on head gear before hopping on a two-wheeler. Now, it is rare to see someone on a bike sans helmet.
No one used to talk about athletes getting concussions, unless it happened on TV, and the player was carried off on a stretcher. Now, brain trauma in sports is a hot topic and “should” have been for decades, but it wasn’t. It was not something people generally thought about.
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