Schrödinger’s cat experiment suggests that denial to address a situation results in a paradoxical scenario of two realities simultaneously existing. Simplified, Schrödinger stipulates that if you know there is a cat in a box, that cat can be both alive and dead. Without peering into the box, theoretically either one of the scenarios is equally as possible under his experiment parameters. Theoretically, with a concussion, on the surface, everything appears to be normal. Just as the case with Schrödinger’s cat, the plausibility of you having a concussion and you not having a concussion are therefore equally plausible. At this point, we know concussions are not like the flu where you can lab test for its existence nor are they similar to bones and muscles where you can utilize technology to find definitive breaks and tears. As a result, concussions are largely self-diagnosed through surveys and reliance on honesty throughout the recovery process. Therefore, if you the diagnosis lies with yourself, theoretically should you not be able to apply Schrödinger’s logic to the scenario? If Schrödinger does not open the box he does not know if the cat exists or not. Therefore, if you don’t report your concussion then shouldn’t the possibility of you not having one remain existent?
The important distinction I learned the hard way is that to Schrödinger, both scenarios are equally plausible. However, to the cat, the one affected by the scenario, there is a known reality which is realized. Under the Schrödinger analogy, the individual concussed would be the cat, the only affected by the scenario. As such, denying a concussion’s existence will not result in you not having a concussion, it will not make the symptoms any less real similar to the cat claiming it is dead won’t change the reality that it is alive and vice versa. While to the outside world, the experimenter, you may not appear to have a concussion, to you, the cat, your reality is realized every day regardless of acknowledging it or not. Denial of your reality inevitably makes every day worse and worse until you reach a breaking point. Some breaking points manifest through acceptance of help, others result in life long depression and most severely some end in suicide to name a few outcomes. For me, I would consider myself ordinarily a happy person who lives a good quality life with many friends and family around me but the denial of my reality caused me to feel like the cat stuck in the box, alive but shut out.
During my third year playing CIS soccer I sustained a concussion in our quarterfinal match and refused to report it knowing it would remove me from the lineup to play in our semi-final match the next week. Seeing as this was my third concussion I knew the symptoms, the treatment so I thought I could manage myself and mask it. Unfortunately I was right. I went on all week appearing as if nothing was wrong despite immense pain; pounding headaches, blurred vision, nausea and other symptoms arose just about every minute of the day I was awake. Sleep was my only salvation from the pain but yet I continued to deny it, altering my perspective to think the joy of winning a championship was worth the current suffering. I used denial to help cope with the injury, assuring myself that nothing is wrong with me when my pain was at its worst, essentially telling myself I’m making it up. This got me through a week of practice and a semi-final game. After the game our therapist began the concussion protocol on her discretion as I had no intent on reporting it. In hindsight, I am very lucky to have such an incredible athletic therapist to step in when I fail to address the reality at hand.
As the next couple weeks rolled by I continued to deny the seriousness of the injury. I woke up every day with pounding headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and many other symptoms, yet still I continued to deny that maybe something was wrong. My girlfriend basically put me under house arrest, giving up her life to ensure my health. She would read to me, play cards, make sure I didn’t go on any technology, essentially she stayed with me only leaving for her classes and practices to ensure I was following proper protocol. I appreciated her efforts at the time but saw it as rather unnecessary given my denial. After a few weeks of not being back to sports, I began questioning if I will ever play again. Not because of my own state but because “they” won’t let me. I started quickly sliding down a dark path. Over the next few weeks I began to grow even more frustrated with the system that I felt was “holding me down.” I began to falsify my concussion SCAT test scores, only slightly at first but grew greater and greater, and eventually was able to return to practice after following the return to play protocol.
My first session back I lasted about 10 minutes of the opening fitness before I could no longer see straight. That was the end of my day and a hard reality check which I continued to deny. After being denied practice again, I went back to “house arrest” where once again, my girlfriend gave up her life to support me and ensure my health. I began to question more and more as to if I would ever play again but in my delusional state of denial figured “they” weren’t going to let me. I grew more and more frustrated and angry with the people around me who were denying me to participate in a sport that has been a huge part of my life for 15 years. I knew I could not express this frustration or anger without raising concern and drawing more attention to myself. I was happy to take advantage of the resources such as extended test times but I refused to accept any mental health assistance offered because I didn’t see a point. I eventually grew so emotionally distant from everyone around me that I felt alone and locked-out of the world as if everyone was against me. I slipped into such a feeling of isolation I couldn’t feel any emotions other than being perpetually frustrated and angry yet I denied any access because I thought everyone was out to get me as if there was a conspiracy.
I was moving farther and farther from reality and locking everyone out. I knew I was drifting away and tried to cut out everyone to not “drag” them with me to wherever that was. Illogical in hindsight, my mentality began to cut everyone that cared for me to remove them from my where my frustration and anger might take me and stop being a burden to them. In early January, about two months after my concussion, still in denial, I stopped interacting with my friends and tried to break up with my girlfriend, who had given up her life for my health. I recall the exact scenario in which I tried. I felt cold, distant and emotionless. I rationalized the decision as to not associate it with my state and claimed that talking with a friend which lent clarity to our situation and that it was the right decision. She was shaken by the news and that was that, at least for the night. She asked to meet up the next day, which we did, where everything started to change for me. In hindsight, that was the moment in which denial’s stronghold over my mental state began to loosen its grip. I had become so emotionally distant that she, nor anyone, knew of my mental state but it was during that conversation in which my emotional floodgates opened to allow me to feel again. Still in denial over my concussion, the first step out of isolation and ultimately recovery was taken.
We got back together and she continued to support me ahead of anything else in her life. As the week went on, I recall going out with my friends for the first time since the concussion. It was that night in which the proverbial box which contained the cat was open. My symptoms were still present, fluctuating in severity, which all came to rushing back at one moment that night. I became confused as to where we were so I turned to a familiar face of a long-time friend and asked him where we were. He laughed saying “how much did you drink?” I was surprised by the response as I remembered I had promised my girlfriend I wouldn’t drink much, which I held to. I looked around the bar frantically for an area with less people. After eventually finding the bathroom, I took out my phone and used my location services to figure out where exactly I was. I realized then, I could no longer fight the denial of my reality. I realized that I had been projecting two different realities as the cat did; I projected myself as being okay while the fact of the matter was that I was far from it, which only those closest to me could see. It was only then I became conscious that I was the cat the whole time, not the experimenter. I became conscious to the definitive reality of my state and that those outside can only perceive that which I project. Unlike Schrödinger, my perception of reality didn’t control what reality could exist, rather, like the cat, it was the fact of the matter that controlled it and I had a concussion. As long as I projected that I was okay, I learned I would never get out of my box.
The next few months encompassed a long road to recovery. I opened up more to my girlfriend who continued to be my rock during my recovery. We talked about different options and figured it was best I stop trying to force my way back into playing. I took the rest of the winter off and half of the summer in recovery, ultimately returning back healthy for our fall season in my fourth year. Reflecting on my experience, I have never experienced so much pain in anything I have ever done. I cannot image where I would have ended up without the support of my parents who supporting me in more ways than I could ask. I can’t imagine what would have happened to me without our athletic therapist “catching” the concussion during the semi-final match. Most significantly, I can’t imagine what would have happened to me without the support of my girlfriend who gave up her life to help me even when I resisted and who was so resilient through the whole process.
The notion that concussions can be denied or played through is constantly refuted by the medical world. However, as athletes like myself, we often overlook the logical and rational arguments against playing in order to win. We, as athletes, are not immune to volatility and we are not indestructible yet we are willing to believe we are. I have learned that my biggest fear in life is not an animal which can inflict external harm such as a shark nor is it a phobia such as claustrophobia, it is myself. Reflecting on my experience, I could never imagine being so delusional to think everyone was against me, cutting out my social life and falling into such a perpetual state of anger without consciously being aware of it. The harm which we are capable of inflicting to ourselves dwarfs any possible harm others can do. The harm we self-inflict can not only be self-destructive but can bring pain to others around you, in my case to those who love me the most. I know how lucky I was to be surrounded by so many exceptional individuals to see me through my concussion infused state of delusion and denial, but there are many people out there who are not as fortunate as I am, to be surrounded by so many incredible people and like myself, don’t realize they are the cat and deny the existence of their reality.
Fortunately for me, this concussion has not caused any noticeable long term effects, at least to this point and I’m lucky to say I don’t feel that the experience has changed me in any major way. My experience has not been lost on me as I have learned a great deal through it. Most, recently, I reported my concussion from my fifth year and am happy I did it. I can’t say I’m happy I have had to go through the experience I did, nor do I wish it upon anyone, but is has opened my eyes to the reality of sports today and the need for concussion prevention, detection and treatment measures.
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