To the 2017 Grads!

You just take one foot and you put it in front of the other. And then you do it again. And then again and again. And guess what? Yup, you might have guessed it; you’re walking. We’ve been doing it since we were two. That was probably the last time walking really had much significance. Taking your first steps is a big deal but then after that, it’s just walking. You walk to your car, you walk to classes, you walk from restaurants; you walk a lot, all the time, everyday. But what if I changed the scenery for you. What if you were walking on a stage, in a black gown, with a strange, square, black hat on in hopes of getting a rolled up piece of paper. Sounds kind of funny doesn’t it? But suddenly, walking becomes significant again. Crossing that stage, placing one foot in front of the other, is much more than just a walk. It signifies walking into a different part of your life.

A few months ago, one of my friends said something that stuck with me. She said; “we always think about going to university, but we never think about actually graduating.” Think about the time and effort we put into looking for the right university. The student council meetings you attended, the pamphlets you received and the tours that you went on. Your parents input helped guide you and you and your friends would calculate distances from different prospect universities. We put so much thought into going away to university that when we actually get there, we forget that one day we will have to leave.  

Most of you are probably in agreement. Some of you might be thinking hell no, I’ve been thinking about graduating since the moment I set foot on campus. Well, to those people, you might have been thinking about being done with university but not necessarily graduating. Graduating is an incredible accomplishment, a celebration. However, graduating means closing a chapter of your adolescence and stepping into the real world. Stepping into the world of adulting, of responsibility, of jobs and payments.  

Going to university is the first step in our lives where we truly receive our independence. This space helps us discover who we want to be.We find our passions, we set goals and we become a version of ourselves that we believe we are. We make friends that become our second family. We also learn our limits – in more than just one way. We change from who we were and what we wanted from when we were in high school and somewhere along the way, we forget that these university years have a time limit.

Graduation marks a time of celebration and recognizing accomplishments. It’s the time that all your hard work, the studying and homework assignments over the past four years gets rewarded. It’s also a time to reminisce over what you have been through over the past four years; the funny times and the sad or hard times that you can now laugh at. It signifies a transition of who we were coming into university and who we are now that we are leaving.

With all the celebration recognizing the grads themselves, it’s easy to forget the people that supported us along the way. Graduation not only celebrates the grads themselves but all the people that have allowed us to become successful in the position that we are fortunate enough to have. It wouldn’t have been possible for us to be the graduating students that we are today without the support from our family, friends and professors.   

It is a bittersweet feeling having to say goodbye to everything that we have built for ourselves over the past four years. It’s hard imagining our lives without the people we have gotten used to seeing everyday. To no longer finding the comfort of our routines that we created at our first homes away from home.

Although, at the same time, we get to start a whole new adventure. We can literally do whatever we want. That’s right, anything. There’s no right or wrong answers when we graduate because all that’s left is life. We aren’t held back by grades or classes we didn’t want to take. Whatever we do from here on out, is our decision. This is a time in our lives where we have no commitments. We can travel, we can take a fun job that has nothing to do with our major, go back to school or head into the working world right away. It doesn’t matter, there’s no wrong choice. As long as we are doing what we feel is best for us at the time, the rest will fall into place.

Just as we took those steps to cross the stage, we will begin to walk into our new lives. We will never forget the memories or friends we made but now we are free to test our own horizons.

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If You’re Looking to Get Lucky this is for You

I’m sure some of you clicked on this post because of what the title implies. Either from serious concern, interest or curiosity. Well, for all of you that are thinking that this post is about what this phrase generally means, you’re going to be let down. But only for a second because this post will still relate to you. And anyways.. You’ve already read this far so I bet you are at least slightly interested in the direction of this article.

This post, believe it or not, is about luck. Just luck, not any other metaphor. It’s about the four leaf clovers, the horse shoes, the rabbits foot and the pennies that are found heads up. Luck is something that we all hope to have in our lives. But, if you’re like me, you’re wondering if you have even 1% of good luck in your whole body. I can acknowledge that I am very fortunate but luck is not fortune. Luck is success or failure by chance rather than by one’s actions, while fortune is chance or luck as an external arbitrary force affecting us.

So, if you are like me, you are most likely stringing these thoughts together: broken mirrors, black cats and walking under ladders. You might be thinking of the last time that you encountered any of these things. Maybe to give you some clarity as to why you haven’t caught a break lately. Maybe to backtrack and see if you have some reason to deserve bad karma. Or, if you’re like me and you adopted a stray black cat a few years ago… well you’re just thinking you’re fat out of luck.

I have almost non-existent luck. I only say almost non-existent because if my luck gets any worse, I’m screwed. You may think I’m overreacting but I’ll back that up by recounting the 7 days of my spring break this past year, just as an example. It started when I went to a dentist appointment where I sporadically had to get dental surgery. I then tried to cheer myself up by baking muffins… only to have the oven break. So I decided to watch Netflix… but the router stopped working for 5 hours. I then tried to make a smoothie… only to find out the blender was broken. And then, 5 days later when I was finally feeling better, I went for a walk with my parents and asked to pet someone’s dog that was walking by. For the record, I live in a ghost town, so seeing someone out is a rare occasion. When I leaned over to pet the dog, she jumped up, we slammed heads and… I got a concussion. Yup. Sounds too unfortunate to be true. But when it’s my life? Anything is possible. My teachers probably thought it was the most creative “my dog ate my homework” excuse they’ve ever gotten.

It’s in these moments, despite the degree of anyone’s unluckiness, that it’s typical to think, “why do I deserve this?” or “what does the universe have against me?”. But maybe, we are focusing on the wrong thing, maybe, we are missing the big picture. That big picture being that luck is just a matter of perspective. I remember reading a fable once. It was about accepting even the unluckiest forms of luck as luck itself.

The story was about a farmer and his son. I don’t remember all the details but this is the gist of it: the farmer asked his son to pick apples off the tallest tree. His son fell and broke his arm. Everyone said this was very unlucky but the farmer just said that the world worked in mysterious ways. The next night, when his son would usually sheer the sheep, he wasn’t able to because of his broken arm. The next morning the sheep were killed by wolves. Everyone saw this as unlucky. The farmer, however, thought it was lucky. If his son hadn’t have broken his arm the day before, he could have been killed by the wolves as well. The story went on like that, except written much better. But still, kind of mind-blowing right?

This theory raises the ideal that maybe, luck is relevant to our situation. This story encourages the perspective that despite the unlucky, initial situation, there’s is something much more behind that one event. That maybe, in a strange way, unluckiness can be seen as luck if it saves you from even worse luck. The thing is.. we don’t know. And for the majority of us, we will never know. Maybe this is just the hopeful thinking of one incredibly unlucky individual. Or maybe, it’s just better to think of the world as wanting the best for us.

If we never know what the universe is doing, we might as well soak in the most positive version of it right?

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Concussions : What they are Like, not just What they are.

It’s an invisible injury. Something that’s not really there. Just a trick of the mind. That’s what you might have heard. But lately, more recently, you might have been told that it’s real. All those invisible injuries, the fake ones, they’ve been proven to really be there. So what is it like to live with an invisible injury? I’m sure some of you know the feeling. Hiding what is going on under the surface because it is impossible to explain. Because it is impossible for other people to understand. These invisible injuries are far from fake. But they are far from being understood. I have had an entire year of experience with an invisible injury. I can’t say it was the funnest thing I have ever dealt with. I had a concussion for year, last year. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t like looking back on my concussion until I started writing this. But I want this to help people. I want people to understand what it’s like to have a concussion, not just what it is. Maybe this will help someone understand what a teammate, a friend or family member is going through. Maybe this will help someone that has a concussion know that they are not alone and that one day, they will beat this. Maybe this will just raise more awareness about concussions. Either way, I hope that despite what I had to go through, this helps someone, some way, some how.

It all started October 2, 2015. It was the first game of the year, I was on the half wall on the power play and I faked a pass back to the point before cutting back sharply. That’s when my head got body checked and I dropped. After the game, people would tell me that it looked bad, really bad. That I dropped like a sac of potatoes. My trainer would tell me later that when she crouched down next to me on the ice, I said “I just got rocked.” But all I remember was that my sock was pushed half way down my shin pad and my leg was cold from the ice. I remember saying that I was fine to play the last 5 minutes, that I just felt a little out of it. I remember being told to undress. I remember doing memory and balance tests. And then, 30 minutes later I remember my first headache. The headache that would last me a year, little to my knowledge at the time. It hit me all at once, shooting pains through my head, aching across my forehead, all the while my head felt like someone had tried to inflate it with air.

I have a high pain tolerance for headaches. I have always had them growing up. Perks of not knowing you’re gluten intolerant until you’re 19. But since I was so used to headaches I brushed it off a first. I really thought it would be gone in a week. I stayed out of most of my classes and away from hockey the first week. I stayed in a dark room. And then it was another week and another. It felt like someone had physically removed me from my own life. Like I was a petal that someone plucked and left drifting in the wind. I went from a full day of classes, practice, seeing my teammates, making meals, working or volunteering and doing homework all in one day to maybe going to a class or two. I remember trying to write a one page paper review that would normally take me less than an hour take me an entire day. I remember holding back my nausea when I would drive the 5 minute distance to school. I remember feeling like the projector screens were going to burn holes in the back of my eyes. And I remember dreading having to read labels and look through items at the grocery store because I would feel so dizzy. All the while I remember the sharp pains shooting across my forehead and the ever increasing pressure pushing against my skull.

Three months later I was getting impatient. I was going to vision therapy, I still couldn’t play hockey, I still couldn’t do anything but go on the bike and I was still getting headaches. I remember starting to feel frustrated that I couldn’t go to parties, go on road trips, or participate in the life that I once took for granted. I remember starting to feel lonely but I still remained hopeful. Because it was only three months. People usually get better around three months. But I didn’t. So I stayed at home over intercession to see a specialist. It was helpful to be at home because I could make sure I didn’t try to push myself too hard to get better quicker. That’s the other thing. When you’re an athlete, you think the hardest thing in training is pushing yourself beyond your breaking point. Mentally forcing your body to work even when it feels like it weighs 500 pounds. It wasn’t until I got my concussion that I realized the hardest thing was not to push yourself. The hardest thing was to bike for 50 minutes without your heart rising above 80 beat/min. Yes that is a walking pace. The hardest thing was to think about all the training you put in for the season that you wont get to play in. Never knowing if you would feel normal again, let alone play.

It was around this point in my concussion that I was getting scared I wouldn’t get better. The worst part is; no one can tell you it will. Because no one actually knows. They can’t give you a time frame like any other injury. There’s just, “if you keep doing the right things for your brain, one day it will be better.” As a doctor, it’s easy to say. But when it’s your life? It not easy to hear. It feels endless. It makes you feel anxious, helpless and hopeless. But you can’t do anything about it so you just have to keep trying. At the end up of January I was doing better. Keep in mind though, that all I was doing was gradually progressing my work outs and maybe watching a half hour of TV a day or hanging out with a friend for an hour. Yup, that’s it. Concussions make you tired. Really, really tired. I would sleep for 15 hours every day. The rest of the time, everything hurt me so much I would just lie in a dark room. Trust me, it gets old fast.

At the start of February, I came back to school. The headaches came back full fledge right away. Classes were too much for my head. My doctors all told me to lower my class load but I was stubborn. I had my own agenda of graduating on time. I probably would have gotten better sooner if I did. Instead, my life revolved around surviving my days. I could only do so many things in my day without my head feeling like it would actually break. So I had to pick and choose what I did each day. I picked only the essentials, rehab and school. I would go to class, I would take hours on homework assignments because I had to take breaks every ten minutes my head hurt so badly. I would take naps. I would do rehab. I would go to bed early. And repeat. I was a zombie. I was starting to lose all sense of reality. I still couldn’t travel with my team so I was alone every weekend. It felt like my old life no longer existed. I almost couldn’t believe a time where I could even listen to music in my car higher than at one bar.

I remember one weekend, my parents drove me to my teams playoff game in Penn State because I couldn’t be on the bus, or in restaurants, or have a scheduled day because my head would hurt so bad. I remember watching the game with the loud music in the rink. I remember throwing up because it was hard for my eyes to follow the game and the game horn was so damn loud. I remember moments like these scaring me not just because, well that’s just so beyond normal, but because I was scared they would set me back even more. That since it got so bad that day, I would have to live an extra week with a concussion.

When playoffs finished I was around 6 months deep into my concussion and it was getting scary. Dark rooms were really starting to wear me out at this point. I wanted to be able to have fun and go out with my teammates but my head hurt so badly it wasn’t even worth it. It was around this time that I started to feel like I was losing it. Like actually going crazy. Because it was at this point, that I forgot what it felt like to live a normal life. I remember I would tell myself I could only cry for ten minutes a day. I would set a timer. I was scared I wouldn’t stop if I didn’t. Sometimes, on really bad days I would let myself cry twice. Some nights when I couldn’t sleep because it felt like someone was hitting my head with a hammer, I would just drive. I would drive an hour away at 1 am and then when I felt a little better I would drive back.

It was never that people weren’t there for me or tried to understand. It was that no one could really understand, even if they tried. It was in these months that I realized how truly alone I was. Medically, there was no cure. Emotionally, as much as people tried to make me feel better, they couldn’t. The only thing that would have made me feel better was to be better. Concussions don’t just sideline you from your sport, they sideline you from your life. They take your ability to live. I mean really, what can you do if you don’t have a brain? I couldn’t really work, I couldn’t really burry my head in school work, I couldn’t be around groups of people, I couldn’t be in loud or busy settings, heck I couldn’t even watch Netflix. You are just left alone, day in day out, sitting in a dark room with your thoughts and killer headaches. Your crazy, scary thoughts start to consume you and it’s hard not to think about how you don’t even know who you are anymore. If you will ever really be happy again.  If you will ever be a functional person in the world. I missed living. You start to realize that there is no reason to cry for help. That there really isn’t a point in crying.  Because no one can really understand and no one can make you better. You start to accept the loneliness.

When school ended, things started looking up. I went home for the summer. I went to a vestibular therapist and they helped. I went to a concussion optometrist and they helped too. Turns out my whole perception was off, I saw the whole world a little too much to the left. I couldn’t even walk straight. I had to wear prism lenses. I wish someone could have told me that 9 months earlier. Over the course of summer without school, I started to feel better. I started ramping up to doing my teams work outs and I had my eyes set on getting cleared in the fall. Funny thing is, I did get cleared. I remember thinking that when I got cleared, this nightmare would be over. I would be like my old self again. I don’t know why I was so naive. Being back playing hockey again was amazing. Waking up without a headache was amazing. Reading a chapter of a book without a pounding headache was amazing. All of these little things we take for granted everyday, that’s what I loved the most about feeling better. And although all these things were amazing, I felt like I had stepped out of a time machine. Like a year of my life was fast-forwarded. I could play hockey again but I hadn’t touched the ice for a year. I was back with my team again but I missed a whole year of inside jokes. I missed a whole year of my life. I was in the same house, played the same sport, went to the same school but everything was different. I was different.

I wasn’t as carefree and I was structured. I was scared that if I started to do everything again I would get headaches. I was right. They came back a little. But they were tolerable. I could deal with tolerable. I couldn’t deal with another year in a dark room. Looking back at my years at RIT, it’s hard to say that I was really here for four. To me, my third year doesn’t even count. It’s hard to count it as existing because really, I think of my third year as a dark room. But just like any scar, they heal. Just like my head did. But scars, they stick with you. I would get panic attacks if my teammates went hard into the boards. Even if they were fine, the initial moment would send me into sheer panic. The last thing I would ever want for anyone was to go through what I went through. When I got cleared to play, I was scared too. I never got back to playing like I used to. Partially because I missed a whole year of hockey. Partially because I couldn’t get past my subconscious fear. The thing is, I didn’t want to get past it. I wasn’t scared of getting hit in the head and dying, I was scared of getting hit in the head and having to live with another concussion. Of having to watch everyone live their lives while I stayed in a dark room, counting down an undefined number of days until I would be better again. It sounds twisted, dark and morbid but it’s the truth. It’s my story. These are concussions.

Even now, 7 months from when I got cleared, I can’t say I’m the same as I was before. Just being in the same place, the same school is a constant reminder of what I had to live with. I feel like I am living a never ending loop of my concussion. I have to use a special blue light screen on my laptop. If I do too much school work in a day, I will feel it. I can’t cram before tests or I will get a migraine. Maybe it will be better when I take time off school and really let my body rest but then again, no one can guarantee that for me. I can’t say that I personally will ever be the same person that I was before my concussion either. I’m still not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. I think it’s just different.

It’s easy to say my concussion wrecked a year of my life. In some ways it definitely did. But bad things happen. Bad things happen to people everywhere, all the time, whether they deserve it or not. It’s life. It happens. In all reality, life is just what we do with what we are given. My concussion sucked. No better word to describe it. And yes, it changed my life. But maybe, in some strange way, my concussion changed my life for the better. My concussion made me appreciate everything. It made me fall back in love with all the little things. The things we take for granted so regularly in our busy lives. My concussion forced me to see the world in a light that was so different from how I normally saw it. It forced me to see the truth behind some friendships. It made me recognize the amazing support system that I have. It showed me what was truly, at the most basic levels life, important to me. It allowed me to understand a situation that most people will not ever, despite their best efforts, fully understand. I believe there’s reasons for everything in life. Sometimes, it’s harder to find meanings behind some reasons. But I do believe that if we want to look for them, we can find them.  Maybe we don’t have all the answers, but I think we need to find a way to make peace with them ourselves.

It Will Change Your Life

At one point in everyone’s life, we have all met that person that tries to shove volunteering down your throat. And in that moment, we have all wanted to punch that person in the face. I promise I’m not a super aggressive person, I’m just saying it like it is. But today, I am going to be that person. Not the one that wants to punch someone in the face, but the person that people want to punch in the face. Because I truly and sincerely believe that volunteering is an opportunity that everyone should engage in. The thing is, I’m not going to shove volunteering down your throat. I just want you to consider the idea of it. I’m not going to tell you to dedicate your whole life to volunteering or to drop everything you enjoy to volunteer. I’m just saying that in some point in your life, if the opportunity to volunteer arises, you should take it. It will in some way, shape, or form change your life.

For the past two years, I have been volunteering at the hospital local to my university. There were many different reasons why I started volunteering. One of these reasons being that I have always wanted to volunteer. I like to help people. But I would be lying if I said that was the only reason. As a Biomedical Sciences major I wanted to immerse myself in a hospital environment. Considering I am wildly indecisive, I thought the experience would give me a better idea of what career I may want to pursue in my future. Another part of me, as much as I hate to admit it, knows that volunteering looks good on applications. I would be lying if I said that those thoughts never crossed my mind. I also just so happen to love working with kids. I didn’t realize how much I even liked to work with kids until I started volunteering. For the past two years I have been volunteering in the paediatric wings at the hospital. And as cheesy as it sounds, no matter how good or bad my day is, it always cheers me up to try to cheer them up.

So maybe, in a way, I was largely influenced to volunteer by the career aspect of my brain. Not that I never wanted to help or be a volunteer but those reasons may not have been the only, initial, driving factor. For people that want to check out an opportunity, volunteering is a great way to know if you will enjoy the environment you are looking into.  I may have initially been interested in volunteering to expose myself to a new environment but that’s not the reason why I continue to go back. The funny thing is, those previous initial driving factors have been completely replaced by other reasons. I truly look forward to volunteering every week. And I am truly disappointed if I can’t make my three and a half hour commitment if I am sick or for any other emergent reasons. Volunteering, as typical as it sounds, has made me a better person. It has forced me to see the practice of empathy and gratitude to a greater extent. It has forced me to see that no matter how bad something is, a smile and laugh can take anyone a long way. And I am sure, that if you were to try volunteering as well, you would find the same thing.

Volunteering has emphasized that being there for someone, giving someone company to lessen their burdens, is the greatest gift you can give to anyone. The patients I work with have taught me so much. And yes, maybe the majority of the patients I work with are less than half my age, but they have a refreshingly different perspective on life. The thing is, there’s lessons all around us, sometimes we just need to open our eyes a little wider to see them.  It’s hard not to be grateful for anything in your life when you see a 4 year-old with a central line attached, smiling, chatting and playing happily. They are incredibly strong. Maybe some of the strongest people I have ever met. They inspire me. And I can only hope that I can lighten their pain even to the slightest extent. 

It’s not only the strength of the patients that I find incredible; it’s the strength of the families as well. In the wings that I have volunteered in, we are fortunate enough to see that most families regularly come to visit their kids. To many of you, this might be expected, to visit your kids regularly. But you also have to consider that these parents are jumping through hoops to visit their kids. For extended periods of time they are juggling and rearranging work schedules, matching schedules with their spouse, arranging care for their other kids while they aren’t home and for most families, the hospital isn’t exactly just a walk down the street. All the while, they are keeping a brave face for their kids even though it is breaking their hearts to see their baby in pain. These are all the things the volunteer form doesn’t tell you. And these are all the reasons why you should volunteer. These are the things that can’t be told. They have to be felt. They have to be witnessed.

Maybe not everyone is comfortable with hospitals and that’s ok. There’s lots of places to volunteer. Heck, my brother volunteers at a brewery! Not all types of volunteering are for everyone either. We all have our own interests and passions. It’s important to volunteer for something you are passionate about. That’s how you can truly indulge yourself in the experience. If you engage yourself as a volunteer, I promise you will learn something new about yourself, of the people around you or you will find a different perspective. Maybe you will even find all three of these things.

So if you were considering volunteering before you read this, I hope you do. If you never thought about volunteering until now, I hope you consider it. If you are already a volunteer, I hope you are having an amazing experience. And if you take anything from this post at all, I hope that you remember that the greatest gift of all is to lessen the burden of another. 

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