I took a soccer ball to the
face in February. After the initial dizziness and the warm roar behind
my forehead came a wave of bottomless sadness unlike anything I'd ever
felt before. As my teammates kept playing, I sat groggily on the bench
and decided that the manner in which I'd been hurt, arriving late to a
defensive play in my team's own end, perfectly embodied all the
failings of my adult life: I had no discipline, no foresight; my life
goals were all pipe dreams that laziness had let slip away; I couldn't
ever truly love the people around me. I mentioned a bit of this to the
ER docs that night, and they said yes, that's one of the symptoms,
But I hadn't thrown up, my pupils were normal, and the
dizziness was already settling, so they diagnosed me with a mild
concussion and told me it would all clear up in "7 to 10 days."
That was early February. The waves of gloom lasted almost through the
end of the semester, and the headaches still hang at a background
level. Along the way there was a bit of the cognitive stuff --
fumbling for words, drawing a blank on a classmate's name, throwing
the crosswords down when they started spinning. But these felt
blessedly tangible (Look, Ma! I've got a concussion!) alongside the
creepy emotional fallout.
I was exhausted and unable to write. I drove
to school because walking made my head feel funny, and because solo
walks could suddenly bloom into spells of breathless doubt. I
apologized to my very patient girlfriend so often that it became
weirdly rote: 'Yes, I still have a headache.' And one spring night, my
head thumping, I sat on the couch at a party among friends and told
myself that I wanted to die.
We all have our lost moments, and I've skirmished with your standard
neurotic-writer depression over the years. I have, in long-gone dark
days, had a version of that couch conversation before. But the
concussion was new and terrifying on two fronts:
1) the basic symptoms
alone were, for me at least, a perfect physical manifestation of the
cloudiness and doom depression already traffics in, and
concussion makes you doubt, in a very visceral way, your ability to
govern your own head. Your thinker is broken. Am I really depressed,
or do I just have an endless headache? What's the difference anymore?
Or, like a movie plot, has the bump on the head revealed a purer,
darker, lonelier self, the person I always feared I was?
All this from one errant soccer ball in a game of clumsy, enthusiastic
amateurs. The doctors now tell me it could be months before I'm
totally clear. Junior Seau's supposed to have had multiple unreported
concussions during his two-decade career. Suicide's an icky thing to
talk about, or to justify in any way, and it's just a fan's
romanticism to assume that anyone who played with Seau's ferocity
already had his own peaks and valleys to cross. But my god, if I was
living with some giant, 1,526-career-tackles version of this desperate
fog in my head, I'm not sure all the love of San Diego could keep the
demons at bay.