Sports Girl Soccer Player

When Life Throws You a Curveball, Don't Catch it With Your Face

SMACK!  

 

At least, that’s the sound I think the soccer ball that came flying at my face, from not even five feet away and meant for halfway down the field, made. The trigonometry involved was too perfect. 

 

This was the spring of my junior year, at the end of April 2016. My life was honestly going pretty great, in hindsight; I was killing my classes, I was back with my then-boyfriend, my mom was cancer-free for over a year, and I had literally just gotten my results of the ACT I actually studied for, realizing my dreams (and desperate need) of not having to pay for college were within the palms of my hands. Hell, I had already picked out a gorgeous prom dress at that point, too. 

 

But life or fate (or God, as I would have put it then) has a funny way of letting you know when you’re doing too well; it knocks you flat on your ass.  

 

This particular spring Thursday was like any other: scheduled around that afternoon’s soccer game. But this day, we were playing Litchfield High School, my team’s rival since, like, the seventh grade (when we barely knew what we were doing), and one of our toughest competitors.  

 

Right now, I can’t tell you much about the game, let alone whether or not we won. I know the grass was either too long or WAY too short – Litchfield’s field was always the worst. Not as bad as the biased refs were, but at least they didn’t try to throw out any of the parents like they did two years prior. I think. 

 

If you know me at all, things never go as they should and “normal” isn’t a thing that seems to apply to me. This blow to the head was no different. Once the ball collided with my thankfully brace-free mouth, jolting my head, and brain, up and backwards, I landed on the ground. I remember holding my head in my hands and hearing the referee on my side of the field ask if I was alright. As a former youth referee, this is not only a common courtesy, but also protocol. My bizarre, immediate reaction was one of anger; “Do I look okay to you?!” I screamed, as I stood up, beginning to march myself off the field towards my team. 

 

The athletic trainer present gave me the basic sideline test, which I apparently passed, and I was cleared to reenter the game. But I was so angry and frustrated, and honestly probably scared, that I refused to do so. I remember not even being hungry after the game, but also not quite nauseous, just wanting to be home and checked out and adjusted by my dad, who is a chiropractor and has received 8 concussions himself.  

 

I guess I passed that test as well, because I was allowed to continue my plans for the following day: to go to a leadership conference in the next town over for student council and make-up the pre-calc quiz I would miss during the day in study hall. The stipulation was to meet with my hometown athletic trainer after school at the hospital.  

 

That following Friday was horrible. I had the worst headache, couldn’t focus on anything that any of the presenters or my friends were saying, and was really tired. I remember taking the pre-calc quiz, which went over the ONE topic we had learned the previous day, and I simply couldn’t remember how to do the problem. I knew how it was supposed to look, but the skills were nonexistent. I remember what that quiz looked like to this day. This was when I realized something was really, really wrong. 

 

I met with the athletic trainer, who performed more physical tests, such as following a popsicle stick with my eyes and testing my balance, before setting me up on the computer to complete my post-head-trauma test. I remember trying SO hard to get 100% on all the games and really struggling to focus, even feeling sick or dizzy at times. When the athletic trainer came back, he was shocked: I improved my score from my baseline (that’s ~really~ not normal) to that perfect I so desperately wanted. There was one problem (well, several): I was so symptomatic according to the test, that there was no reason I should have been able to score so high, and I was nearing almost hospitalization level pain. I was officially concussed, to say the least. 

 

The plan of action was to only do what I felt up to doing, to stop if symptoms reappeared or worsened, and to discontinue soccer until further notice. I was to meet with the AT weekly when he came to the school to see how I was progressing. I was pretty devastated. 

 

Me being me, I can’t sit still for very long, especially when I had homework to complete. So, I spent that weekend trying to articulate sentences to my mom for a paper on a job shadowing project I completed earlier in the month. My mom knew how bad it was when I wasn’t able to string together enough words to complete a sentence for her to write and saw how frustrated I was getting. 

 

I spent the next six weeks ever-so-slowly getting better. School was horrible: the lights were far too bright, the sounds were far too loud, and focusing was SO much more difficult. And my pride definitely didn’t help anything – I refused to stay home, refused to go to the nurse’s office when everything became too much, refused to wear sunglasses inside so I could try to participate. Prom was a nightmare, as the mixture of the lights and physical movements made me nauseous and dizzy, and I develop the worst headache, but you should bet your bottom dollar that I was there and dancing, trying to have a good time. Now, it all makes me wonder if I made everything that much worse for my future self by continuing to push myself beyond my limits. 

 

During one of the first of my weekly meetings I had with the AT, he discussed growing research that showed that girls were more likely to develop anxiety up to 6 months after receiving a concussion. This made me even more anxious to get better and return to my normal.  

 

But, it turns out he was right. Not even 4 months later, I was diagnosed with my first mental health disorder: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I mean, I was in a total of 12 dual credit/college credit hours during my senior year of high school, while also being class president, student council president, varsity soccer co-captain, and in two plays. Oh, and two jobs. The mental break that broke the camel’s back, though? Trying to just start my first comp paper. My parents were baffled, as this wasn’t like me at all to not just write the paper, but mental health issues also run in my family, so it wasn’t a complete blindside.  

 

I was later also diagnosed with depression. I tried several different medications that year until one combination finally didn’t make me worse. But senior year came with other struggles too: my mom was diagnosed with a different, more aggressive cancer, my boyfriend and I broke up, and oh, this thing called college and leaving home was coming up.  

 

What made things worse (yes, it gets worse) was the lack of support and understanding from my peers. Growing up in a small, rural community, I knew everyone, and everyone knew me, my dad, my grandma, my grandpa, or some combination of that – and I had gone to school with the same group of people my entire life. I don’t know if it was a lack of education on mental health and head trauma or the impending high school graduation and all the emotions and feelings that come with that, but I had little to no social support during this time. Granted, the friends I did have then, I still talk to on a daily basis to this day.  

 

When soccer season rolled around again, I was apprehensive to play again. Trying to explain it now, I recognize that I had become a different person, player, and leader after my concussion. But then? I was so confused and frustrated and hurt. And I was not performing my best, nor was I being the best leader my team needed at times. This was hard for me to experience and for everyone around me to watch. And that lack of social support? Yeah, I felt completely isolated on that soccer team – no one had any idea what I was going through, and quite frankly, neither did I. 

 

I did in fact graduate high school as a valedictorian, after spending more hours studying calculus in the last week than I had all year. I did in fact enjoy my summer, my family, and my friends before I went to college. The battle was over, but the war was far from over: this was the start of my mental health journey.