Controlling Your Mental Health is Key
Adrian Arrington fell in love with football after being introduced to the game at age 10 and playing the game through college. However, the hits he suffered during games ended up changing his life forever. In 2009, Arrington began experiencing blackouts, memory loss, migraines, and seizures. He developed epilepsy, and the resulting effects jeopardized his ability to provide for his family, work, and function in society. A successful brain surgery has limited his seizures and he has since found supportive employers who created space for him despite his disability. In this story, Arrington shares how important it is to maintain control of his mental health.
By Adrian Arrington,
My whole life, all I wanted to do was to work with kids and help change their lives for the better. I played college football so I could get my degree and work in education to help kids. I wasn’t the best student, but I knew football could put me in a position where I could control my circumstances after college.
I played hard to earn and keep my scholarship. During my career I suffered multiple concussions that I wasn’t aware of. I was negligently put back into games, which only made things worse. I was playing through concussions that I didn’t remember or understand. At one point, my dad had to leave the stands and step in to tell trainers to keep me out of the game.
I’ve been through it all after my football career ended. I have experienced the lingering effects of multiple concussions. I’ve developed epilepsy, which induces grand mal seizures. These seizures are unpredictable, scary, and immensely painful. My shoulder would dislocate so often during these seizures that I had doctors drill a titanium screw in my shoulder to keep it in place. I’ve also had laser ablation surgery to get my seizures under control. Doctors have told me I’ll never be epilepsy-free, but my seizures are less severe and less frequent than they used to be.
I’m ecstatic with where I am now in my life and the control I’ve gained over my mental health, but it wasn’t always this way.
Football was supposed to be my gateway to the life and career I wanted. I always had the energy and passion to work with kids and help others. But suddenly, I didn’t want to be around anybody. All that passion was gone.
I had no sense of control. I couldn’t control my seizures, my memory, my anger, my depression, or any aspect of my mental health. As a result, I couldn’t accomplish any of the goals that used to be important to me. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t be the father I dreamed of being. I had lost control - and there is no scarier feeling.
Think about driving a car. If suddenly you lost control of where the car is going or how fast it’s going, something tragic would happen to you or to others. But if someone sees you driving a car towards them, they would be very scared. That’s exactly how I felt. I couldn’t control who I was, and the outside world couldn’t understand my reality.
My spiral out of control led me to the brink of homelessness. I had lost the people who could support and take care of me. I decided to take control of my life, my narrative, and the man I wanted to be.
The first thing I could control was getting medical care. I met doctors who believed they could help me. The surgery helped get my seizures in check, but there wasn’t a surgery to help my declining memory or my lack of emotional stability. To help navigate my new world, I learned the power of communicating what I was going through.
I couldn’t control my symptoms, but I could control how much people knew about them. It’s very hard to admit you have an invisible injury and open yourself up to the judgment that might come from that. But I learned that explaining my brain injury history allowed people to accept me in a different way. By explaining how I might have the occasional seizure or outburst or how I might struggle to remember things, people could meet me where I was.
Once I could communicate my situation, I found gracious employers who accepted me and the problems I face. My current employer, Rivian Electric Adventure Vehicles, allowed me to work. They respected my reality, valued me for who I am, and developed protocols for how to respond if I had a seizure so I could become a productive individual in society.
Having financial control of my life again is amazing. I don’t have to rely on others to provide for myself or for my daughters. I am reminding myself of what I am capable of. I can work. I can buy things. I can go on runs and work out again.
Rivian’s company slogan is “keep life adventurous forever.” Returning to normal life after what I’ve been through has been an adventure. I’ve had to brave the unknown and adjust to a new reality. But I am so grateful for the opportunity to do so. I hear other people complain about going to work every day and I will never be one of those people. I am humbled to get up and go to work every day and to be in control of how I feel at work every day.
I’ve lost a lot and know the journey ahead won’t be easy, but at least I’m in control again. I want the next generation of football players to be in better control of their mental health than I was.
Don’t get me wrong – I love football. I still watch the game. I played defensive back and I understand how difficult it is to keep your head out of tackles, so I get upset when I see players get ejected or penalized for targeting. We should try to limit the amount of head-to-head contact as much as possible, but I worry we are focusing too much on penalizing the big hits. We also need to focus on making sure players with concussions are comfortable speaking up about their symptoms. We need training staffs to give thorough concussion evaluations to players after big hits. And perhaps most importantly, we need to be looking after athletes’ mental health after they suffer concussions. Kids playing football, chasing their dreams, shouldn’t have their lives and their futures destroyed from playing the game. Our brain is the most important tool we have, and we shouldn’t sacrifice that for football.
That starts with us as players. People on the outside can’t tell if you’re struggling unless you let them know. I want players to be able to say, “I’m scared. I’m hurt. I’m in pain. I’m out of control.” We look like these big, strong people who are invincible. But we need to get away from being silent about what we’re feeling.
But we also need allies. So many people are in invisible battles with brain injury, mental health, and mental illness. If you see someone struggling and you don’t understand why, consider the root cause of their problems. They might not be in control of their situation.
I give CLF a pat on the back on behalf of people like me. Knowledge and understanding are essential. CLF and other organizations in the space are key to education the public and supporting the brain injury community to move forward. Thank you for the platform and allowing me to be an advocate for others.
October 2022 Update to Adrian’s Story
I was motivated to write another update on my story because the idea of control continues to be a constant in my life.
First, the death of former Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas in December and his CTE diagnosis this summer was very alarming to me. Demaryius Thomas died of a seizure. I have had hundreds of seizures due to my epilepsy. People in the epilepsy community live with a fear of sudden unexpected death. Demaryius’ death and diagnosis were reminders of the realities of what I’m up against and the lack of control I have.
Second, I’ve lost my job and my marriage in the past year. These losses have been painful and made me reflect on certain things.
I lost my job because I was having seizures at work. As I wrote in my last story, I underwent a surgery that helps to limit the severity and frequency of my seizures. That has been extremely helpful for my day-to-day life, but my job had me working around lithium batteries. Lithium exposure can trigger seizures, so my job became unsafe for me. There’s another example of control – my disabilities limit the amount of work I’m able to do and therefore hurt my ability to support myself and my family.
I came into a relationship sick and lost. While I was figuring out my health situation, my health put stress on those around me and made it difficult to being a man living in a no-excuses society. Ultimately, I don’t want others to be miserable trying to be there for me.
I know there are plenty of other people with brain injuries who have been separated from their families. My message to them is to continue doing the best with what you have.
Our brains control everything. And injuries to our brains can therefore change everything, too. It’s extremely hard for people like me who live with brain injuries. We are constantly fighting to be the people we once were. We are fighting against society to tell them we have these disabilities. We fight through physical and emotional pain we can’t control.
We can apologize for the pain our brain injuries have caused others. But we can’t apologize for getting up and trying our best to survive in a world that’s not equipped for our disabilities.
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