Although I cannot specifically remember the first time I came in contact with the one thing that would grab a hold of my heart and consume most of my young adolescent life, I can remember anxiously awaiting the end of 5th grade. I had been waiting so long, and all I wanted to do was lace up a new pair of cleats and run out on the field like a mad woman, scoring goal after goal. Finally the wait ended and I was as ready as I could be. What I didn’t know was that my role on the team would transition very quickly from scoring goals to stopping opponents from scoring. If I couldn’t outscore the other team, I could certainly stop them from scoring. So I put on my first pair of goalie gloves. Nike. Blue and white. Size 5. I was in LOVE, not with a boy, but with a game. A feeling. A crave to be the best goal keeper I could possibly be.
High school opened my eyes to a whole new level of competition. Thanks to my parents and their wonderfully combined DNA, being athletic was not something I had to think twice about. It just came naturally, as did the cat-like reflexes I was born with. These instinctive characteristics are what earned me a 4-year varsity starting position on my high school team. Over the years, I accumulated recognition and awards for my outstanding performances in goal. Most-improved player, most-valuable player, athlete of the year, all valley, all conference, class B all state, among others.
Senior year came quickly, as did the decision everyone in my class had to make. College. I had always planned on furthering my education, but of course my academics would come second to my love for soccer. First I decided where I wanted to play soccer, and then I chose a program of study from the selection the University had to offer. I had been recruited by a few schools in Maine, but growing up in a small town I wanted something bigger. Therefore, without much hesitation, I decided I would attend University of Southern Maine (USM). My goal was to dominate tryouts and earn the starting keeper position as an incoming freshman. For those of you who know me, you know that I did just that. I received "Rookie of the Year" for our conference and went on to be selected as the goalie for the All Little East 2nd team. In 2009, I transferred home to northern Maine, where my intent was to finish my program of studies. Biology. Soccer had had its place in my life for a while, and I thought it was time to move on to the next chapter of my life.
When the coach for University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK) heard of my returning, he immediately seized the opportunity and called me up with a proposal. He needed a goal keeper, and I was the one he wanted. Clearly my love for soccer was still in the forefront, because I was unable to turn him down. Without much hesitation, I made the decision to finish my soccer career in front of the same crowd who had spent endless hours cheering me on throughout high school.
My first year at UMFK was a very successful one for my team. We qualified for the NAIA National Tournament, after clinching the Sunrise Conference Championship. Although we went on to be eliminated during the first round of playoffs in California, I did manage to set a National Record on most saves in a single game. 24 saves. This was by far the most intense game I have ever played, earning me an All-American honorable mention.
So now, you are probably wondering why I am sharing all this with you. No, it's certainly not to "toot my own horn" (I hate loud noises :) ); I wasn't the kind of athlete who would flaunt my abilities. It was never about me, but about my team, and I was going to be the best for them, which in turn would only strengthen the bond between my field players and me. But I share all this with you to paint a picture, allowing you to really understand how much soccer was a part of who I was. Soccer was a consuming desire, the center of my life, which held me captive for nearly 20 years.
Finally came my senior year of college, 2010. I always wanted to have a collegiate senior game (one of the main reasons I decided to return to soccer when transferring); to be recognized for my dedication to a sport, one that I excelled at, and to say thanks to everyone who supported me along the way. Ironically, we make plans for ourselves, but then life happens, resulting in a new plan, a new journey, an unexpected journey.
My Final Game
Sunday, September 12, 2010 was the day my new life began. On this day I was blindly introduced to the fact that traumatic brain injuries do not discriminate.
I was knocked unconscious by a girl from the opposing team (no they did not score, and YES I did get to the ball first). She was on a full sprint from half field and let’s just say my head stopped her dead in her tracts. I received an intense blow to my head. Her shoulder met my left temporal area, with lots of speed and momentum. To this day my final memory of the "old Mindy" was standing in goal, waiting for the referee to blow the whistle to start the game, 25 minutes before my injury. I had absolutely no idea that on this very day, my life would drastically change forever.
It's not a change I would have wished upon myself. (Especially since the past three years of my life I have experienced more sadness, pain, loneliness and feelings of disconnect, then I would ever wish upon any human being.) It's a change that produced a low in my life. A low I didn't know existed. A low I may never have emerged from without the help of my loving family, a brain injury support group family and a few very dedicated friends. A low called suicide. (This is an outcome that many individuals who suffer from TBIs choose for themselves, because they have no support, and no one reassuring them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.)
Living with a brain injury is very unpredictable. Like when you enter a haunted house. A place so dark and bizarre you never know what to expect. The only thing you know is that there will likely be scary, unbelievable and sometimes seemingly unbearable obstacles jumping out at you throughout the journey. Otherwise known as monsters.
There were plenty of obstacles jumping out at me from around every bend on my road to recovery, a road that to this day I am still travelling. They came in all different areas of my life. Physically, cognitively and emotionally.
I was plagued with constant headaches, day in and day out, later to be diagnosed with Post-concussive vision syndrome. (This requires me to wear glasses containing special prisms, in attempt to correct the midline shift. ) These headaches worsened when I was exposed to extreme light and noise. Extreme noise also worsened my tinnitus, or continuous ringing of the ears. My jaw was displaced, which left me with severe TMJ, which also increased the intensity of my headaches.
The biggest obstacle physically, developed about a year after my accident. I started having seizures. Since then, my life has revolved around these seizures (they look like grand-mal seizures but are non-epileptic, sometimes accompanied with vomiting and foaming at the mouth). My physical and mental endurance has become significantly impacted and limited by my seizures.
I could no longer focus long enough to have a conversation with anyone. I no longer had an attention span, nor was I capable on concentrating on anything, for any amount of time without giving myself a headache. My memory sucked. I couldn't remember what I ate for breakfast, or if I had even eaten. Did I take my meds? Why did I come into the room? This made my college studies close to pretty near impossible. Thankfully I had understanding professors. They allowed me to complete my courses on my own time, ultimately providing a way for me to finish my degree in 3 extra semesters.
I do not remember much of this junction in my life. I just remember being very mentally unstable, making it nearly impossible for me to attend graduation. Which was ok with me because I was simply happy to be done.
Personally, these seem to be the scariest obstacles of all. The ones that make you feel as though you may be going crazy. As if my physical and cognitive deficits weren’t enough, I also had to adjust to a lack of emotional control, or in other words, tears day in and day out. Scary. The "old Mindy" didn't cry, nor did she know how to. (Now I look for the softest tissues.)
Prior to my accident I had never experienced a panic attack, nor did I know what it was like to experience anxiety, but now I have experienced such anxiety that it causes me to hyperventilate. I was never an angry person, unless I needed to be while playing soccer, but now I have reached new levels of anger that I didn't know any individual could experience. Levels of anger that have caused me to have breakdowns, resulting with emergency room visits, where security guards were there to keep me from hurting myself and anyone around me. (So now I buy clothes too big for me, so when I turn into the Incredible Hulk, they don't always tear off!) I became very depressed, withdrawn and had to deal with pretty intense, bi polar like mood swings.
My Road to Recovery
So combine all these deficits and what do you get? An individual that needs intense therapeutic intervention, in order to once again function in everyday society. And so we have done just that. My personal assistant, Mom, and I began spending countless hours en route to one doctor or another. On one of those trips downstate we talked about how we could make a difference in the lives of those around us who had similar physical and financial hardships. Thus was born the idea of All Things Become New, a nonprofit corporation, for charitable and benevolent fundraising, to provide housing and financial support for individuals with medical and financial needs.
On days when I struggle with my physical limitations, I am reminded that out of trials can come triumphs. The weight I often carry then shifts into a smile, and I know that one day I will help another person through this organization.