Tag Archives: trauma

A Beautiful, Baffling Brain


Because of a shoulder I recklessly and relentlessly abused for the last 30 years, I’ve been forced to add another doctor to my Santa’s-length scroll. I tried to be affable, give it plenty of ice, practically cut the mph out of the heart of my serve, and even took additional rest days between matches.

Yet, there it stood, defiantly sulking in the corner like a toddler told he couldn’t have dessert. It wasn’t interested in what I wanted or how much I required constant, intense exercise to keep me sane. The decision was made to remain a dysfunctional nest of tears and impingements that screamed at me whenever I pushed it beyond its threshold. It was obvious I was going to need reinforcements.

I found a physical therapist who specialized in athletes and was fresh off a stint working with the Chinese Olympic team. He took a holistic approach and followed the theory that the interconnectedness of our anatomy makes isolating a specific injury area nothing more than a fool’s errand.

Fascia, which is the connective tissue throughout our bodies, functions as a kind of supportive wrapping for nerves and blood vessels as they pass through and between muscles. If the fascia is disrupted by surgery or injury (or loses its stiffness), a variety of issues can develop.

Since this shoulder has been a nagging problem I’ve had for years, I was more than willing to hear his suggestions, however unorthodox they seemed.

So we got to work, trying to reestablish broken or compromised connections in unanticipated places. For example, even though the right shoulder is sore, the problem could be originating in the left knee or hip.

But early on, some very basic exercises started to paint a wholly unexpected picture. There were certain movements that were effortless to perform on one side of my body and absolutely impossible on the other. He remarked that he primarily used these activities to help retrain stroke victims. The more we dug, the more we discovered.

Because I stroll around this life with a brain that has been poked, prodded, sliced, beaten, and traumatized more than most, there are fundamental connections and channels that have been severed.

I play tennis like a maniac, I routinely go on marathon walks and hikes, I practice daily yoga, and I generally feel like a highly functional intellect. I assumed I emerged from the wildfire of my neurological nightmare more or less intact. But apparently, the smoke at my back was more of a smoke screen.

It looks like my habitual athletic movements established a type of overcompensation for some very fundamental disconnections. Because I’ve hit millions of forehands, the brain has learned to ignore the fact that there isn’t a normal relationship between my left leg and right arm, and the repetition of the activity allows that mask to remain.

I unearthed even more about a body and brain that I’ve been exhaustingly studying and researching for decades—but lying on a yoga mat with zero ability to move my arm and knee in the exact same way I’d done just a minute earlier was a frightening wake-up call that there’s still so much left to learn.

We possess some incredibly complex and mysterious cranial mainframes. Sometimes even the slightest disruption can rattle that cage in ways we may not ever realize.

So take care of that body, protect that brain, and nurture that mind. You won’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone.

Adolescence Interrupted 

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Twelve Years

12years212 years. 144 months. 624 weeks. 4,380 days.

105,120 hours. 6,307,200 minutes.

These are much more than numbers. With each rotation around the sun, I’m reminded of my station. Every year is a bookmark in a story I never want to finish. These tallies are visual representations of the time spent away from risk, pain, and peril. They are universal stamps of approval, affirming that I made the right decision to carry on with this crazy experiment called life.

It would have been easy to wave that white flag during the downpour. When every ounce of optimism was depleted, when every cell screamed at me to stop, and when the self-inflicted psychological torture far exceeded any physical pain, I could have stepped off the train. I didn’t have to subject my body and brain to an uncertain future on a path laden with land mines.

The impetus to fight instinct came from those hidden recesses we haven’t quite been able to classify. It’s grit and gumption mixed with tireless tenacity, and the sum total of those efforts is twelve years of health, hope, and possibility.

Perspective is a funny thing. A life-or-death seesaw frames the simplest joys as monumental, celebratory occasions. Laughable moments of triumph—like walking unassisted in a hallway or finishing a full meal—demand a chorus of applause. Existence reverts to its most basic form. There is an appreciation for every waking second without pain.

The further we travel from that precarious road, the more comfortable we become taking everything for granted. Health becomes something expected, and pain takes its residence in layers of memory. Stress is assigned to daily worry, future projections, or mundane tasks on infinite checklists. The brain is designed to recover from previous trauma, so it feels easy to forget what is truly important…until we are reminded again.

I rode that boomerang for a long time. As difficult as things have been in this carnivorous city, and as much as my time is occupied by the weight of wonder, there is no comparison to the very real and immediate threat of losing everything.

So I am grateful for all twelve of those planetary revolutions, and I will continue my search for greater peace of mind inside that perspective.

Adolescence Interrupted

A Ghost at the Gate

gate1“We should not fret for what is past, nor should we be anxious about the future; men of discernment deal only with the present moment.”-Chanakya

I look at this quote and I’m shocked by how thoroughly misaligned my life is with this concept. It’s a popular notion, and philosophers and spiritual advisers have preached the benefits of “living in the now” for almost as long as we’ve been questioning the purpose of existence.

Fear is a funny thing. It’s hardwired into our survival brain, enabling us to avoid potentially life-threatening situations. But left unchecked, it can significantly hinder our growth, fulfillment, and sense of adventure. Factor in a dash of trauma, and we’re reduced to rats spinning circles in the corner of a cheeseless maze.

My car was hit two weeks ago by another vacuous LA burnout. There weren’t any injuries, but I was subjected to the thrilling roller coaster ride of insurance company phone calls, repair shop appointments, and rental car confirmations. There was also a hovering tension that the other driver would devise a nice piece of fiction to wiggle his way out of responsibility, and at the conclusion of the proceedings…there was the fear.

It’s typical to be jittery behind the wheel after a smash, but I’ve realized that this gun-shy, knee-jerk reaction never sits too deeply beneath the surface, regardless of my station, environment, or circumstances. I walk through the world with a wary eye, untrusting and cautious, nervous and neurotic. I want controllable variables in an uncontrollable game, and the desire to maintain that power puts me in uncomfortable positions. This recent situation falls under a much larger umbrella, and lands in line with a trend that appears to be growing only more potent with each passing year.

As an introvert, I gain energy from my own fuel cells, as opposed to needing someone else’s power pack. I’m self-reliant and feel most at peace when I know that nothing will disrupt my carefully-calculated balance. I’m more productive and relaxed when I’m not watching for curveballs in the batter’s box.

But how far will I go to maintain these systems?

Will fear and trauma always hold the pen, charting my course from point A to point B, or will I regain the sense of freedom I found as a younger man, chasing a future of hope and potential? Is it possible to uncover a layer of my psyche that’s willing to bend and morph to accommodate surprises and the hidden gems waiting in the wings?

These are questions not easily answered, and there’s no definitive proof that one lifestyle is necessarily more optimum than another. But fear is a sturdy beast, and it will take some strategy to murder a monster that retains residency in the mind.

Start the Presses

press2After the initial words were put on the page more than five years ago, I’m happy to report that my first book is finally in the publisher’s hands. It’s terrifying and exhilarating and the fact that something only alive in a cavernous bedroom’s computer will be shared with the world is surreal.

Because this is a work of nonfiction, I am figuratively walking into the literary cocktail party without clothes. My exposure and vulnerability will be put on full display, and I need to be okay with that. I signed up to be the monkey in the cage, so there’s no sense trying to give refunds now.

Taking the steps necessary to complete a survival story required more emotional investment and mental time traveling than I could have imagined, but the result is a piece that speaks to the center of my soul. That felt like something worth sharing.

My hope is that the pothole-covered path of my adolescence can serve as a road map for anyone faced with the prospect of insurmountable obstacles. Sometimes the only way to traverse 10 feet of solid granite is to put your head down and start to dig.

We can all find inspiration in the lines of someone else’s script. The human condition allows us to examine our own fortunes when we’re forced to see the hardships of others.

I am proud of my life. I am proud of the hurt and I am proud of the fight. Psychological sludge be damned. The residue is the reason I remember.

Perhaps this was the grand purpose behind the pain, and using personal trauma to help lighten someone else’s burden is the greatest gift I could hope to deliver.