A Traumatic Brain Injury Made Me Love Writing

My concussion inspired my writing journey and improved my ability to think critically and introspectively

I love writing. Writing helps me contextualize, organize my thoughts, and understand and process my emotions. And most importantly, writing has given me a creative outlet to bring joy to my life.

But I would have never started if I hadn’t gotten a traumatic brain injury.

Before I go any further, you should know that I grew up playing football. From elementary school until my junior year of college, football was one of the biggest parts of my life. Between practice, strength training, meetings, and games, it was a massive time commitment and was my primary source of friends and community.

And I’m not sure how familiar you are with the football community, but it’s not one that’s known for healthy expressions of emotion.

Football teams often foster an environment that glorifies ignoring physical and emotional pain. Whether it be the legendary stories of Emmitt Smith playing with a separated shoulder (Bleacher Report), or Brett Favre slinging footballs the day after his dad died (NFL.com), the reason these stories live in infamy is because of how good these men were at ignoring their pain.

And as you can imagine, being brought up in this type of environment didn’t exactly inspire me to be open with my emotions. And it certainly didn’t inspire me to publish introspective blog posts.

But this was the world I was immersed in. And for years, whether it was physical or emotional, I learned to ignore all my pain. I ignored all of the pain that would get in the way of competitive glory.

But that all changed after a seemingly normal practice my junior year of college.

To this day, nobody who was at that practice actually knows what actually happened, myself included. The only thing I know for sure is that, at some point, I couldn’t run in a straight line.

I ran off the field, and even though I was trying my best, I was still running in a slight zig-zag. At that point the training staff diagnosed me with a concussion. And little did I know that would be the last time I’d ever play football.

And that was because this wasn’t any ordinary concussion. No, mine was a special concussion. My concussion developed into post-concussion syndrome.

You can think of post-concussion syndrome as a pseudo concussion. Basically, when I had my concussion, at some point I didn’t technically have a concussion anymore, but it felt just like I had a concussion.

I know, it’s confusing. I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to make sense of it. The only thing you need to know is it lingered for six months and ended my football career. And maybe more importantly, my concussion forced me into isolation.

For months, I was holed up in my studio apartment with very limited social interactions of any kind. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

To recover from the injury, I was instructed to try to limit external stimuli as much as I could. So I spent the better part of those six months holed up in my studio apartment. Through my 21st birthday and the months leading up to the Covid pandemic, I was a forced recluse.

I had almost no contact with the outside world, so the only thing to keep me company was my thoughts. The way for me to feel like I was having a conversation with anyone, and the way for me to entertain myself, was to express my thoughts in an engaging way. And that’s how I started writing.

It started out very simply. At first, it was simply me trying to structure my ideas as jokes to give my lonely ass a giggle. And as I started writing what were, admittedly, very bad jokes, I became fascinated with the structure of a joke.

What makes something funny? What makes something engaging?

So, to improve the caliber of entertainment I was receiving in my concussion induced hibernation, I began to look into what actually makes something funny.

But unfortunately, I found most people who tell you how to be funny are, to put it kindly, not very funny.

However, I started to see patterns in the way words and ideas connect, and I started to understand what could make something, at the very least, less bad.

And as I got better at connecting ideas, my writing elevated to another level. Little thoughts and musings were no longer hacky one liners, but full length monologues with humor tastefully interspersed. And the more I wrote those monologues, I began to learn how to write in my voice.

That’s when I really started to find joy in my writing.

As you would expect, spending the majority of my time alone in that studio apartment could be a very lonely existence at times. And over time, it really started to wear heavily on me. My google search history suddenly became populated with things like “Symptoms of depression,” “Do I have depression quiz,” and “Am I depressed or just tired?”

So clearly, everything at the time wasn’t hunky dory. But I had my writing.

And when I was writing, I suddenly didn’t feel so alone. When I was watching the words spill out of my head and onto my screen, it felt like I was having a conversation with my thoughts.

And the more I had these conversations with my thoughts, the more I finally started to understand them. For the first time in my life, I was beginning to understand my emotions. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was beginning to understand myself.

Being able to see my thoughts in writing and organize them in a way that’s easy to understand has changed my life. I can now better process my emotions in real time, and I can now think more deeply and critically about the world around me.

And as I continued to expand my mind and my ability to connect ideas, I was suddenly able to turn my ideas into short stories.

And these short stories only intensified my love of writing.

Writing these stories created a whole world for me to escape into. Even if I was totally alone at the time, writing these stories felt like I was narrating something that was happening right in front of me.

It felt like I wasn’t alone.

Writing has brought me laughs and the feeling that I wasn't alone.
Just like this merry group of fellas overlooking some random mountains, these stories made it feel like I was having a giggle with old friends. Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

When I escaped into this world, I was consumed with this absurdist, over-the-top, occasionally crass, and often pun based silliness. It was simple and joyful.

Eventually, I had enough of these stories to publish the collection as a book. And it was really awesome seeing that book develop from a word document all the way to a finished product. Everything from the cover to the interior formatting was even better than I ever hoped it would be.

The only problem was that I had no way to market it.

Sure, I could use the built-in marketing tools on Amazon, but that was only going to get me so far. I knew I needed to be proactive in my marketing efforts. But my social media presence is almost completely nonexistent, so the only way I could think to market my writing was by showcasing my writing skills.

That’s when I started blogging on Medium.

Now, when I started blogging, my expectations were very low. Based on all the bloggers who bought homes on House Hunters, I knew there were people who somehow made a lot of money from blogging. But I didn’t expect to make anything. All I hoped for was a small handful of book sales.

But blogging has already brought me more than I could have ever imagined.

Blogging has become the ultimate creative outlet for me. Blogging has provided me with a platform to share the many thoughts permeating through my brain with you. And blogging has even shown me how much money I could make from writing. It showed me that I could earn an actual living from writing.

And I don’t think any of this would have happened if I didn’t get that monster of a concussion.

Sometimes I can’t help but think about how different things could’ve been. What if I hadn’t gotten that concussion? How much more entrenched in football culture could I have become? Would I have even started writing? Would I still be the same, emotionally repressed rube I had been my whole life?

These are questions I can’t answer, and they’re questions I’m honestly relieved I don’t need to answer.

My brain may be a tad perma-fucked, but I don’t know that I’d be who I am if it hadn’t happened. I feel like I’ve come out the other side of that traumatic brain injury as a better version of myself.

That concussion that made me an emotionally available writer.

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