My mother's birthday is November 6th. She passed away in 2016 and for each and every birthday and anniversary, I try to do something that celebrates her honour.
Last year, I published my first website and, unknowingly, for the first time in my life found a direction that was unrelated to sports and had real meaning and purpose behind it. This year, part of my dedication to her is this post, as I continue to help others around their own traumatic experiences among other areas of the mind.
Let's begin with an understanding of what happens to the mind when emotional trauma incurs. As life unfolds, we will face adversities, setbacks and general traumas as we continue to experience life. When we lose a loved one, for example, our brain chemistry and function will change.
There are three specific areas the brain that see significant change- the Amygdala, which is where your emotional and instinctual function fire, the Hippocampus, which is where your memory is stored, and your Prefrontal Cortex, which regulates your emotions.
These three, when altered, create a new sense of reality that we live in. The Amygdala becomes extremely active, forcing us to feel like we are constantly reliving traumas for the first time. Our Prefrontal Cortex, in turn, becomes suppressed and we lose the ability to control the fear in our minds. By losing that control, you are stuck in a hyper-reactive state.
To use the loss of a loved one as the running example, our brains make us feel like not only have we lost someone near and dear to our hearts, we also relive that with every possible opportunity- a song that may remind you of them, a memory that was triggered by a specific location, a familiar smell- whatever the case may be. We then fear it will happen again, or maybe to another person we love and so our emotions get out of whack and we are unable to shake the pattern.
Or can we?
The great thing about our brains- they are exceptionally adaptable. There is a bunch of science as to why, but for now, just understand that your brain can rewrite itself at any time- we just need to understand how to do that.
Let's use the analogy of a scar for a moment. As an athlete, you will certainly face injuries throughout your career. Unfortunately, that is just part of competing and pushing your body to the limits.
We will use an ACL injury as an example. Whenever an ACL injury occurs in your knee, the most common treatment is opting for reconstructive surgery. Once upon a time, this was a major blow to an athletes career and the stigma was that individual would never be the same. In today's world, we know that not only to not be true, but we understand that recovering from an injury can result in us being better and stronger than we were before because we are not only recovering from the injury, we are addressing the cause in the first place and making that supportive area stronger as well.
Does this sound familiar? A negative stigma around trauma that is untrue? It's certainly starting to sound like the mental health stigma in society today if you ask me.
Let's say after surgery, an athlete rehabs their knee and they come back to their sport, playing well- maybe even better than before. The scar from the surgery, is only a reminder of what was, not what is. After Kobe Bryant tore his achilles, there was a stitch design on his shoes of the injured achilles, serving as a reminder of the price that was paid but not the reality of what was. The reality was he made the choice to move forward and not let that become part of his identity.
The truth about traumatic events, is they only affect us if we choose to let them. This does not mean we suppress our emotions or block them out, it means we must learn to accept them for what they are. The psyche of a person who suffers a trauma tends to lie in that of the victim. They begin to attach their identity to the traumatic event without realising what they are doing. They begin to let the scar define them. These scars become a "badge of honour" in a sense, and the new reality begins to grow.
However, as I said before, the brain has an exceptional ability to adapt, grow and rewrite its own beliefs. Like an athlete, the scar is only there to remind them of what happened, it is not a reflection of their ability to perform.
In my life, I have been lucky enough to have experienced both. Lucky because I know exactly how both emotional trauma and physical trauma feels. Lucky to understand that you can overcome both if you so choose. I have had multiple knee surgeries, of which I have found ways to come back stronger and a better athlete from. I also know what it is like to victimise yourself in an emotionally traumatic event, while battling depression, anxiety and suicide. I am also lucky to have experienced what it is like to reset my mind as well, coming through the other side significantly stronger and better versed because of it.
The next truth about scars, both emotionally and physically, is over time, they begin to fade. Some faster than others, but things undoubtedly get a little easier. This does not mean that you forget they are there all together, but they no longer rule your world and simply become an event of the past. We begin to create "new normals" with our new experiences, allowing the norms from the trauma to fade away.
There is not a day that I don't miss my mom or think about her. Every day I look at the pictures we have in our home and feel the love within them. The scar is still there and always will be, but the wound has healed, the hurt is gone and all that lies there are the lasting memories, the love, the lessons and the appreciation I will always have for my mother. I am no longer hindered in my day to day activities, but instead inspired to lead a life that she would be proud of.
There is one thing that I do hold on to surrounding my mother- I never knew what it was that she wanted to accomplish in her own life. That's what grief can bring us if we allow it to- the ability to see life how we wish to live it. So as the world begins to open up, I know travelling and the ability to expand and provide hope for people is at the forefront of my list. That motivation is deep-seated within me thanks to my unanswered question. If I can live a life to the fullest, I can do it in her honour.
We simply need to find a new understanding of how the mind works. Science is absolutely exploding in this area and the thought of what it can bring to the world, excites me more than a basketball ever has.
As science evolves, so does the need for an evolution in society. We are starting to talk about the importance of mental health, but now we need to deliver why it is important, how we can overcome it and make it more commonplace to have the difficult discussions with viable solutions to help propel ourselves forward.
Always remember, what has happened to you, is not who you are. Those events allowed you to grow. That growth has made you a better person. You are stronger because of the scar, not weaker. If you are reading this, then you overcame everything to this point, you can most certainly keep moving forward into the best version of yourself.
Stay strong and stay resilient. The best you is just ahead.