This is a letter I started to write to myself on April 18th. I have added stuff and corrected most of the incoherent sentences, now months later. For some reason I chose to narrate the text in the style of me talking to myself. Although, some stuff has been added, the basic idea of the letter is the same. The letter is long, get some coffee.
A letter to my new self
It’s the 18th of April 2016 and exactly 8 weeks after you got checked in a hockey game, on February the 18th. The check was clean, hard and shoulder to shoulder. A hit that should be applauded in any hockey game, pro or amateur. At least, that’s what your team mates will tell you, because still today you cant remember the hit, not really the game either or the following three days. The last thing you clearly remember is going out on the ice, looking up at the scoreboard thinking: “it’s 2-2, if the entire team gives it all we’ve got, we can win this. I’m going to make a difference during this shift”.
The next clear memory is very short but vivid. I’m in an ambulance and cannot understand why I’m strapped down from head to toe. In a haze but in clear panic I try to unbuckle myself, I have no idea what is going on. I hate having no idea what is going on. Next memory, I’m at a hospital with a neck brace and the guy next to me asks why I’ve been brought in. I reply with: “I got checked in a hockey game and now I’m here.” What happens next is very fuzzy but I remember getting a lecture in how dangerous ice hockey can be and it should be banned by law. For how long this went on, you don’t know to this day. All you remember is that you’ve never rolled your eyes that hard, not even at your mother.
To clarify things you’re not a professional hockey player or pro athlete of any kind. You are a regular 30 year old guy that works in sales, for an e-commerce company in Helsinki, Finland. And the same night you get hit, you’re also cleared from the hospital to go home. You’ve done the MRI’s and the radiologist will look at your scans in the morning. Now you’re free to leave the hospital but not allowed to sleep alone. Because, as your entire family knows all too well, due to previous experience, you aren’t allowed sleep alone the night after a concussion. You need to be woken up at least once during the night and asked the following questions: what’s your name, what year is it and who is the president?
A team mate and very good friend of the family has called your mom and updated her. Your mom is very familiar with the drill, so she shows up at the hospital. You can’t exactly remember the look she gives you, but you’ve seen it so many times. The last time you saw it was after you crossed the finish line of your first Ironman. On the finish line you collapsed and got carried to the medical tent, you had missed the goal you set for yourself: an Ironman in under 10 hours. You missed that goal by 14 min, you were dehydrated, cramping from head to toe every 30 seconds for 30 seconds. The only thought you had was where in the hell could I have shaved off that 14min? The answer was easy, the run, I had just completed my first marathon in 3hours and 54 minutes and my legs cramped the last 20 kilometres out of the 42.2.
Back to my mom, she came into the medical tent. She gave you that look, where she was bursting with pride but crying and hating your guts for putting yourself through what she thought was pure insanity. You remember smiling at her and then bursting into tears, something the doctor said could go on for a while because you were so dehydrated. And then she asked the question you knew she was going to ask, you could see it in her eyes: “promise me to never do this again?”. Your answer was the answer she was expecting and it came from the bottom of your heart, with no hesitation: “Mom, this is only the beginning, I love triathlon”. You knew there was a small chance she would never speak to you again but, God forbid, you’d lie to your mother.
Anyway, back to the hospital where your mom had arrived. You don’t remember her giving you that same look, but you do remember having experienced that same feeling that night. And home we went. During the next days, your mom will look at you countless times in total disbelief. She will look at her 30-year old son that can’t drink water from a glass, or eat breakfast with spoon, or even know whether he is left or right handed. The last part you chose to cover up, like the fact that you don’t remember the nurse at the hospital when you are called back in the day after hit. Apparently there was some dot of blood on the scans. You don’t know exactly what it means and it will only be explained, to you, exactly what happened a month later.
However, the following two weeks after the hit, you live like a normal person. You got to London on a business trip. You go for your runs in order to prepare for the upcoming triathlon season. The longest run is 20k and you’ve just come back from your business trip. You leave at 10am and come home at noon. You take a shower and small nap. You wake up on Monday morning.
The following is very well explained to you a month later. On the night of the hit, you suffered a concussion. Which was very obvious, you have had them before. But apparently your post concussion amnesia, of four days, determines that you’ve suffered not only mild brain damage (which a concussion always is) but you have brain damage that is classified as moderately severe. On top of this, not only has your brain moved inside your skull but your brain lobes have also moved independently. This has created the small bleeding between your brain lobes. The doctor types up a plan he recommends the brain damage clinic follow. Yes, that is where all the patients with my types of injuries in Finland go.
At this point two months later, what you do know, is that you are having trouble with your balance. You feel like you have never actually woken up. You can’t fall asleep without medicin, a stark contrast to how it was before where you could fall asleep in the tram, standing up. The world keeps spinning like crazy, no matter what you do. You try to act like everything is normal but it isn’t and you know it. You have to lean against the wall when you take a piss, because if you don’t you will fall over. While walking outside, everything happens so fast, too fast. You just can’t seem to process the information, you have to slow down your walking pace. You have to pause every five minutes. And you cannot believe how tired you are. All you do is sleep, up to 20 hours a day and you never seem to wake up feeling rested. According to the doctor it is normal.
Additionally, you have a hard time finding words. You just can’t seem to say the words of simple things, it’s like it is right on your tongue but you just cannot get them out of your mouth. Since you can remember, every time you have gone somewhere in a car, it has been a competition of who can say out loud the quickest route. Now, you have trouble even explaining the way to your corner grocery store. It is like the map just won’t open up in you head. It is black. Like those old computer games. You are extremely light sensitive and noise sensitive. You get so tired after having to participate in a discussion for more than ten minutes. And God help you if there is more than one person you have to discuss with. You cannot stand speaking on the phone for more than 2 minutes and you find yourself apologising to your closest family members a lot. You cannot help that you are constantly irritated.
During Easter, your family usually does the same things and you have decided to join them. After countless hours of pondering, the choice is clear and Easter with the family will do you only good. However, what you notice during Easter is how bad the situation you are in is. During Easter a lot of our time is spent around a dinner table eating and discussing, anything and everything very very loudly and passionately. Except this year, you were a mere shadow of what you had been before. After ten minutes of discussion you were mentally not there, physically present but mentally as far away as one could be. You were quietly suffering, like you have never suffered before and you had nowhere to escape. You were surrounded by family but you had never felt so alone. You hated yourself. There was no place you would rather be but you were also dying to be anywhere else. Didn’t make any sense and still doesn’t.
What you weren’t ready for was the mental meltdown you experienced when you came home. Since you got injured, you had wanted to live at home. You had wanted to be able to make it on your own. You had wanted to be normal. You were far from it. Far, far from it. Each night you would come home during Easter, you would mentally breakdown. The breakdown, was on a level that you had never had before. It also involved issues you had never had to deal with before. It also involved issues you had dealt with before. All in all, you were in a new situation and you were in total free fall, mentally. With no end in sight. During the first evening of Easter you started mentally unravelling as you walked in through your front door. After a while you found yourself in the shower. Sitting. Crying. Wondering what the fuck had happened to you. And where the skills you had honed for 30 years had disappeared.
The first night was all about being scared, scared as fuck to be honest. The doctors had all said the same thing: “You have all the prerequisites to fully recover. However, the symptoms that don’t disappear within three years become permanent. Most patients learn to live with them.” The main thought was what happens if all the symptoms I have now become permanent? How do I live with chronic nausea, dizziness, lack of balance, head aches, fatigue. You are on five different types of medication. How long will you have to take the meds? Forever? How about the impaired speech? What if you never can explain the way anywhere? What happens if you are only able to recover to become a shell of what you used to be. What happens if you can never lace up your skates, race yachts or even worse never do a triathlon again. You see I had set a goal of qualifying for Kona, the holy grail, the Stanley Cup finals, the Super Bowl, the America’s Cup of Ironman and triathlon. The toughest one day race in the world.
The situation became almost unbearable, because you have always tied sports, a smile, wits, sarcasm and at least according to yourself a sharp tongue to your own identity. Furthermore, you had always aimed to be easy going. Something you have become very very distant from being. What you were going through was a clear case of identity crisis. Something some doctor had probably mentioned at some point, but you have seen so many doctors in the past two months that you can’t keep track. It is in the paperwork somewhere.
For three straight evenings I cried my eyes out in the shower. Sometimes with the light on, sometimes in the dark. And when my bathroom wasn’t dark enough, I wore sunglasses (Oakley’s of course). This was the only way I could cope, my eyes were so sensitive to light. Occasionally, you would jam your fingers in your ears because of all of the noise. The funny thing was that the noise was in your head. It was Easter, no one was around, your neighbours quiet as mice, you don’t own a TV and you weren’t playing anything on YouTube from your computer. Still, all the noise was deafening. The thoughts in your head became so loud, they were screaming at you. Screaming at you to finally fucking deal with the thoughts. Deal with what has happened. Deal with what might happen. Deal with what might become permanent. Deal with what Robson 2.0 might look like. Shut down those voices, noises and questions in your head.
So, without knowing why or how, you found yourself in the same spot in your bathroom under the shower like you had done the previous three nights. But now you had suddenly stopped crying for ever so just a moment. And in that moment you found yourself asking: “Robson, honestly what is your current situation?” In that moment you experienced a feeling that now only sounds insane but somehow very sane. You started a dialogue with yourself. A dialogue, between Robson 1.0 that had existed up to the 18th of February and Robson 2.0 that was born as your head violently hit the ice that same evening:
Robson 2.0: What is your situation?
Robson 1.0: I am fine, it’s just a slump. I am a triathlete and captain of the hockey team. I will be back at work in no time. Honestly, this is no biggie. Up and at them!
Robson 2.0: BULLSHIT!
Robson 1.0: Okay, well at least my personality hasn’t changed, I’m still sharp tongued and I can participate in any conversation.
Robson 2.0: Again. BULLSHIT! You can’t even look someone in the eyes and talk at the same time without having to pause, look away and gather your thoughts.
Robson 1.0: Okay, well at least I have my basic motor skills and coordination intact.
Robson 2.0: Again. BULLSHIT! You can’t even walk your normal speed without getting dizzy. Your right leg keeps dragging while you walk, you hit your toes on the previous step while walking up stairs and your reaction time behind the wheel is. Well, you should seriously consider not driving.
Robson 1.0: Dude! Seriously, I’ve got this! I’ve been doing these things for 30 years.
Robson 2.0: Yes, that maybe true. But you have never been brain damaged.
Robson 1.0: Holy shit, I haven’t.
Robson 2.0: So, what is your new reality?
Robson 1.0: Holy fuck. Here goes, I’m gonna say this. This is by far the scariest sentence in my entire life. But here goes: I’m 30 years old, I’m brain damaged. I’m a former triathlete, a former hockey player, former sailor. I used to be able to hold down a day job. I used to be able to workout as much as I wanted. I used to be able to listen to music constantly. I used to be able to see but now my eyes feel like they aren’t a pair and my vision is blurred. I used to fall asleep within minutes. I used to be easy going. I used to be normal, goofy but normal.
Robson 2.0: Good! First step done. What hasn’t changed?
Robson 1.0: Well, I’m still Robson Lindberg and 30 years old. I don’t know how to give up. I want to be normal, I want to recover and become better than I was before February 18th. I want to be the best in the world at something. I might be borderline depressed, or at least I’ve never felt this sad and low before. But I’m never going to give up. I am damn sure going to try.
Robson 2.0: And what might be the outcomes of your efforts to never give up and keep on trying?
Robson 1.0: Well, I might never recover fully. I might never become the same person I was. I might never race anything again. I might never be able to take a piss without supporting myself against the wall. I might never be able to stand anything else than terra firma, let alone sail or surf. I might never be able to do all those things I love to do. The things that keep me sane, the things that everyone else think are insane. The things that you have experienced up to this point, have shaped you into the type of person you are today. I might never fully recover. I might never be the same. I might have to learn a lot of stuff I’ve always taken for granted. Things I still think I know how to do. I have lost so much.
Robson 2.0: So fucking what? Dude, you are not in a wheelchair and you certainly haven’t lost the ability and drive to fight. Or at least you just said so. The only question that remains is: What are yuo going to do about your situation?
Robson 1.0: Well you’ve always needed goals. Tangible goals you can work towards. To be honest, you’ve always had this innate need to be the best at something.
Robson 2.0: Good, we have gotten that out of the way. What is your new goal?
Robson 1.0: I want to recover, I want to be better. I want to
Robson 2.0: Blah blah we’ve already established that. What is your new goal? What goal will you get you out of bed every morning? What goal will you attack with every cell in your body? What goal can give you the sense of direction?
Robson 1.0: I have to become the best brain damage patient in the world. My new goal is to become the best brain damage patient in the world! (Please laugh with no feelings of guilt. I do.)
Robson 2.0: Good. How does that sound?
Robson 1.0: In all honesty, it sounds just about as fucked up as my situation is right now. But then again, I’ve never been in a situation like this before.
Robson 2.0: But if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done before. Now get up and be the best brain damage patient in the world.
In that moment, you felt something you hadn’t felt since the 18th of February. You felt at peace with yourself. You had a new goal. A goal, so unreal yet so familiar. A goal, you thought you’d never have to set. Yet, a goal so necessary. A goal that for some reason made you smile. A goal that was so simple. A goal, you had no idea what it would involve to achieve. A goal that allowed you to build your new you, on the steadiest foundation you’ve ever stood on. A goal that was brutally honest. A goal that matched your situation. A goal, that needed nothing but your full attention. A goal, that had lifted the weight off your shoulders when you woke up the next morning. A goal that you alone had set. A goal, that you had reached by talking to yourself.
And as you got up from that bathroom floor, you noticed the bathroom light was on.