Recently, my friends have stopped asking me if I’m going to drink this weekend. I can’t tell if I like it. On the one hand, I now no longer have to explain, “no, I still can’t drink—yeah I’m still feeling the symptoms of my concussion—yeah it has been about 10 months now.” On the other hand, the fact that they have stopped asking also suggests that they, like me, see no time in the near future when I might be fully recovered. Though my symptoms have been subsiding over the last couple months, the thought that I will never fully recover still haunts me. And living in a hive of motivated students who overbook their schedules in attempts to take advantage of every opportunity that Bowdoin offers serves as a constant reminder that I still can’t keep up—that I’m always missing out on some opportunity.
It has been 10 months since I mis-headed a soccer ball and suffered my fourth concussion—yes, it was that lame. Determined to prove to myself that I was OK, and also to make sure that I didn’t miss out on any opportunities at Bowdoin—I finished out the school year as if nothing was wrong. I was so caught up in Bowdoin life that it wasn’t until the first week of summer that I started to notice the headaches. Almost every day that summer I got a headache. I woke up with a headache. Waited tables at the snack-bar with a headache. Talked to my friends with a headache. And everywhere I went I felt a haze, as if a fog had settled in over my gaze. But every night that I went to sleep insisting that the next day I would wake up and that haze would be gone. I tried to keep up my normal life and kept telling my friends, family and myself that I would be better next week … next week … next week. I stopped exercising, tried to stop staying up late and became the permanent designated driver for my friends. But I refused to let the concussion take over the few things that I was still doing in my life that still made me feel productive, useful, active—like a Bowdoin student.
I continued with that same mentality for the first half of the semester. I took fewer classes and continued to not exercise or drink alcohol, but I still went out with my friends and spent late nights philosophizing with my peers. Advil became my new best friend as it helped me cope with the headaches. I still don’t think anyone really knew how my concussion was affecting me—for a while I don’t think I even let myself reflect on how I was feeling. On the outside, I wanted to appear as if I was doing okay, as if I could keep up with my friends. I didn’t like telling people that I was only taking three classes and I always insisted that I would be at club practice next week … I’ll definitely be able to drink at Epicurea … definitely for Halloween … definitely after Thanksgiving.
On the inside, I was angry at myself for not being able to fully engage with my friends. I started creating distance between my friends and myself because when I was alone I could at least pretend that I was still as productive as I wanted to be. Then I would get doubly angry at myself for wasting my time at Bowdoin—not spending it with my amazing friends, not taking advantage of all the opportunities that were around me. I would then feel sorry myself, but that feeling sorry was quickly replaced by feeling guilty about feeling bad for myself when there were so many other people who were suffering more than me. And then as I realized what a great learning environment I was in, I would become angry again because I knew I wasn’t able to take advantage of this place.
I was able to break the cycle when I realized that this concussion was still an opportunity to learn. I was able to see it through a new lens—not as an ailment obscuring my vision in a haze and preventing myself from taking advantage of all the opportunities that seemed important to me but as an opportunity to learn about myself. To learn more about a different way of living that values time spent away from the activities that we are trained to think of as important, necessary to our development as students. I still get headaches every now and then, but they have greatly subsided and the mental fog is no longer there. In a lot of ways, I see myself more clearly now than I did before I became concussed. I have become more aware of the infectious mindset that drives Bowdoin students to constantly better themselves—and sometimes consumes those same students along the way. We might all benefit from reevaluating the ways in which we think of learning as valuable—the ways in which we consider our experiences, however much of a pain in the neck they might be, as opportunities to better ourselves.
Jon Luke Tittmann is a member of the Class of 2019.