What does “March Madness” have to do with Brain Injury Awareness Month?


Friends who know me know that I’m a fan of high school and college basketball and I love March Madness.  Although I don’t take governmental holidays as days off, I have been known to take a day off to watch college basketball.  I recall the excitement when I was a student at Eastern Michigan University in 1991 and our EMU Huron’s advanced to the Sweet Sixteen!  Living in Ypsilanti at EMU and working at a clinic at U of M – I have great memories of the Fab Five and UM Final Four. 


Twenty plus years of working, living, and playing in the Lansing area, and seasons of taking my son to MSU basketball certainly have me committed to MSU Spartans!  For me it’s a great year when Notre Dame is in “the dance”!  And who doesn’t love a Cinderella team that gets in the brackets, or a top seeded team defeated in the first round, as it comes down to one game at a time, 40 minutes at a time.



“March Madness” is Brain Injury Awareness Month


March is recognized as National Brain Injury Awareness Month as a campaign to increase awareness of incidence, and resources for support.


In his essay Michael Gillespie in “Examined Life” writes about the month of March, and the “madness” of college basketball playoffs.  I note a parallel to Brain Injury Awareness Month.


“What is it about March? The giddiness of spring when nature breaks forth in all its fecundity. Festivals like St. Patrick’s Day, Carnival, Mardi Gras, but also Caesar dead at the base of Pompey’s statue, the Crucifixion, as well as the death of Egypt’s firstborn before the exodus of the Israelites. Death in the midst of rebirth and renewal. The month itself was named by the Romans after Mars, their god of war, because it marked the time when they finished planting their crops and could go back to fighting their enemies. March as a time of incipient growth but also as a time to kill and die. Madness indeed.”  http://thepointmag.com/2011/examined-life/march-madness#sthash.XS3cyHS6.dpuf



Mr. Gillespie uses that as introduction on a narrative of the excitement and frenzy of NCAA basketball.  As I read, and re-read Gillespie’s essay, I can relate the competition, challenges, and the victories of basketball, to the competition, challenges, and the victories of those surviving with traumatic brain injury.



“In the midst of rebirth and renewal.”


I’ve had the honor to support those Survivors of brain injury in their rebirth and renewal. In twenty-plus of occupational therapy practice, the majority of it serving individuals and families in rehabilitation after a brain injury, I’ve observed some common characteristics of those who seem to cope and adapt more easily or more successfully. Although the list that follows started as a few bullet points, and morphed to loosely look like the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is NOT a sequence to these as “steps” to move through as a hierarchy. Rather I have recognized these all as important building blocks in the foundation of rehabilitation and resumption of roles.


Acknowledge diagnosis of the brain injury. In viewing brain injury as a disease process know that there are complicating factors, just as there are to disease processes such as diabetes, or heart disease. An athlete with an ankle injury doesn’t minimize how important the ankle is to smooth movement, jumping, pivoting, or speed.


Recognize that successful rehabilitation requires a strong foundation that includes proper rest, sleep, nutrition, physical exercise, and taking medications as prescribed. Athletes in March Madness do not compete, without establishing and maintaining a healthy foundation.


Take inventory of your strengths. Successful rehabilitation builds on strengths. Celebrate progress and accomplishments large and small. What are the “Most Valuable Players” of your strengths?


Be aware of your deficits ~ to be able to work on solutions. However do not dwell on errors – it increases anxiety, which can lead to more mistakes. The basketball player who misses a shot, or block or rebound, cannot dwell on it or as the game moves on. A “foul” alone does not result in a loss.



“…named by the Romans after Mars, their god of war, because it marked the time when they finished planting their crops and could go back to fighting their enemies.”


For Survivors of brain injury fighting the enemy as visualized by mythology, or by the opposing team in NCAA basketball, are symbolism in fighting and defeating the deficits of a brain injury, and building personal strengths.


Nurture relationships that mean the most to you. Be patient with those closest to you. Supportive family and close friends are indicators for a positive prognosis for recovery. Team. Teamwork. Those who do not work together will not win.


Commit to “Single Tasking.” “Multi-tasking” is over-rated, and can be largely ineffective, and distracting from accomplishing anything. Know what role, what Position you play, and stay focused.


Create structure. Recurring time for appointments and tasks (in the day, week, and month) creates predictability of routine to improve recall, and reduce stress / anxiety related to memory. Teams know each other and know where each other are on the court, have plays, and execute those plays effectively. Create intentional “plays” with structure to support your success.


Create quietness. Take a break from thoughts in your head or mental-to-do-lists through physical exercise, quiet rest, meditation, prayer, worship, deep breathing, yoga, etc. Take a Time-Out to re-group, to strategize, and then move on.



“March as a time of incipient growth but also as a time to kill and die. Madness indeed.”


For Survivors of brain injury, the “time to kill and die” fighting the opposing team, again is about a strong foundation to dominate and defeat the deficits of a brain injury, building strengths, for a structure that supports the survivor and family.


Disclosure of brain injury is a personal decision. Having a simple, “go-to” phrase that you have rehearsed for how to disclose your injury can reduce anxiety when it does come up. How you choose to discuss or disclose brain injury is a personal decision. Some coaches have a policy to not talk about player injuries, others discuss them openly. Plan your talking points.


Accept help from others. Prioritize what is important to complete yourself, and what you can accept help with. There is no weakness, no failure in accepting help from others. We all depend on help from each other to succeed. No ONE player and no ONE coach will win a game in NCAA March Madness. They will win as a Team.


Set goals for the future – but commit to one day at time. One game at a time. 40 minutes at a time. One shot clock at a time.


Accept that life has changed since the brain injury – and may be considerably different than before the injury. Life goes on, and can be meaningful, successful, and prosperous. Win or lose a game, you go on.


The excitement of March Madness is the opportunity to advance and the risk of “one and done.”




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The Celtic Maze pattern symbolizes the journey of life and the path of experience, & learning.  It symbolizes that there are twists, and turns, the challenges and obstacles in life, but that there are always open doors.

O’Connor Occupational Therapy Opens Doors to opportunities for individuals to live safely and independently in their community through RehabilitationEducation, and Adaptation.

517-881-1302 michael@oconnorot.com
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