Let Your Symptoms Be Your Guide

If you’ve watched even a minute of football the past few seasons, you’ve undoubtedly heard discussion about head trauma, concussions and CTE.

Instead of entering any formal concussion protocol, back in the day (I sound like such an old man), we called it “getting your bell rung.”

I’m sure coaches didn’t know any better, but they’d tell us to shake it off, wait until the stars settled and get back in there.

I played soccer through 8th grade, then put on my first pair of football pads my freshman year of high school.

As I got to know the sport, I loved offense. But just tolerated defense.

In fact, I hated tackling people. It hurt too bad.

Here is my evidence about my hatred of tackling.

I’d much rather try and run a fly pattern down the sideline and hope our QB would launch it to me like it was real life Techmo Bowl.

Scoring was fun.

Tackling? Not so much.

Our senior year, we lost our final game to Columbia Hickman in Sectionals. They took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, and we were never really in the game.

On one offensive possession, our QB threw an interception intended for me. The defensive back jumped my route, picked it off and headed for the other end zone.

Naturally, I spun on a dime and started after him.

Well, right when I turned, one of their defensive lineman all of a sudden became an offensive blocker.

Seeing my bony 175-pound frame in the middle of turning around had to be what it feels like when a dog sees scraps of steak fall off the table.

He blasted me.

There was no helmet to helmet rule back then, but if there were, he would have been kicked out for the season.

He hit me so hard, I thought I died.

I laid flat on my back and thought the lights went out.

Until the stars started swirling, and I felt like I rose from the dead into the Twilight Zone.

I wasn’t ever diagnosed of course, but there’s no question I was concussed.

And certainly humiliated.

Our second daughter has actually been diagnosed with concussions twice already, while playing basketball.

It turns out hardwood floors and the back of skulls aren’t good matches.

As a parent on this side of the head injury thing now, holy smokes it’s scary.

Thankfully, she had incredible care both times and has fully recovered.

During one of her checkups, on her road to recovery, the Doc made a comment that felt very profound to me at the time.

He said, “Let your symptoms be your guide…”

Of course, he was talking to our daughter about taking it slow with her recovery, paying attention to her headaches, noticing if she was getting dizzy, telling her to say something if the light sensitivity started again, etc.

But for me, I was in the middle of learning what it felt like to feel.

Because for a long time, my feelings were more covered up, hidden, protected or even numbed, that this unhinging of my heart I was experiencing, was foreign to me.

The first few times into the counselor’s office, I’d almost scoff at the little diagram that sat behind his head on his bookshelf

These 1980’s looking emojis ranging from super happy to super pissed off that said, “What are you feeling today?” were mocking me while I reluctantly didn’t want to go there.

I feel fine.

I feel OK.

I feel like not telling you my feelings.

But as the till kept tilling in my soul, and these unidentified flying objects started emerging in my heart, I started to feel some feelings.

That concussion doctor’s advice was almost verbatim what our counselor told me in one of those sessions of my emotional infancy and development.

Let your symptoms be your guide. Let your feelings lead you deeper.

Pay attention to the anger. Pay attention to the sadness.

Don’t ignore your weariness.

Name your shame for the liar that it is.

To you emotionally connected giants out there, I applaud you.

For the rest of you that are much more in my boat, may we remind each other to let our symptoms guide the way.

Instead of telling our symptoms to shake it off and get back out there to get our bells rung again.




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