on getting up again

Aaron Rodgers gets sacked

I’ve had some more thoughts about the Green Bay Packers since watching their game against the Chicago Bears this past Sunday. More specifically, I had insomnia again this morning, and that’s when my brain gets plenty active to fill the void left by lack of sleep; this time, my thoughts turned to football.

I was impressed by Aaron Rodgers’s performance in this game. Sure, he’s a heck of a player even on his off days, and it’s always a treat to watch this future Hall-of-Famer out on the field. But he’s been hurting lately. He’s been dealing with a left hamstring injury, and then word came down that he’d hurt his right calf, too. He had been visibly hobbling on the field the week before against the Seahawks, and I was honestly surprised to see him playing this past Sunday.

But the guy never quits. He’s not alone in that regard; many NFL players suit up despite the pain, and often (I would imagine) despite the risk of re-injury or worse. But watching Rodgers struggle with his limitations against the Bears felt very familiar.

Pretty much every morning, I wake up in pain. The daily migraine is consistent about reminding me first thing in the morning, before I’ve even opened my eyes, what my day might be like. There is always pain; it’s just a matter of how bad it’s going to be. Sunday was a particularly bad day. Honestly, I was barely able to watch that football game; I couldn’t keep my eyes open against any source of light (including a television screen), and within about 30 minutes of the end of the game, my migraine ramped up from a level 6 (on a 10-point scale) to about an 8. I had to hide in the bed, with my head buried to shut out the light. Tears streamed down my cheeks from the pain and the stress, but I couldn’t indulge in actually crying because that just increased the pressure in my head and made the pain worse. I wanted to go to the hospital, but I also knew that it was too bright outside for me to tolerate a car ride, and I couldn’t imagine trying to deal with emergency room paperwork, lights, noises, waiting, and having to answer a bunch of questions and explain my medical history.

That’s the second time within about the past two months that the migraine has gotten that bad. It’s scary, and I need to have a plan in place for what to do—and at what level on the 10-point scale to activate it—when that happens again.

Here’s what my chronic illness and chronic pain have to do with Aaron Rodgers and his injuries: he kept playing, just like I keep seeming to get up in the morning. He wasn’t able to move as well, and that meant he got sacked quite a few times. He simply didn’t have the mobility and the spring to get out of the way, and I doubt that the bitterly cold conditions at Soldier Field were helping. I have a keen sense of what that feels like, and I understand the natural inclination to just stay down when you get knocked flat. But Rodgers got back up again, every time. He played the entire game, and it was yet another one of his late-game Hail Mary passes that set up his team for victory.

I recently finished reading All in My Head, Paula Kamen’s heavily reported book on her experience with chronic daily headache/migraine. Her description of what’s it’s like to attempt to navigate the world with chronic pain was so simple and so apt that it just floored me: it’s like driving everywhere with your parking brake on. Everything you do is that much harder, takes more out of you, requires more focus and strength, and wears you out much more quickly.

Kind of like trying to play professional football with two injured legs.

I’m not throwing 60-yard passes to win any NFL games, but some rare days are intensely better than others and when I’m able to feel half-way like a normal person and make a more significant dent in my mountainous to-do lists of both work and personal tasks, it feels like a tremendous win. Watching Rodgers on Sunday, even in the midst of a really bad migraine day for me, reminded me of my own optimistic stubbornness in continuing to keep at it and of the days that aren’t so bad—and that there’s always the hope of a good day, right around the corner.

There’s another player who stood out on Sunday: Ty Montgomery. He’s pretty hot right now, and many are taking notice of this wide receiver who’s been playing running back. With all of the team injuries Green Bay has suffered this season, they’re pretty much out of running backs.

Compared to me, Montgomery is a big and powerful dude; but on the field, he’s kind of a little guy. And that, I believe, is a huge strength for him. He is lean and compact, and he is explosively fast and cunning. He races like a rabbit through a familiar warren, shrugging off attempted tackles and running through holes in the defense that only he can see. He proved time and again that there is pretty much always a way forward, if you can will yourself to see it.

I don’t think I have to point out the parallel there.

On a related note . . . After I wrote my “how I became a cheesehead” post Saturday night, I was surprised to get a message Monday morning from a Medium channel called SportsRaid, asking to add my “cheesehead” story to their publication. There’s no pay involved for me, but also no extra work. SportsRaid has ten times as many followers on Medium as I do as an individual, and it sounded like a fun idea to have something of mine appear on a sports page. It was doubly fun when I got the confirmation from Medium that I was now listed as a “sportswriter” on SportsRaid’s staff list.

And it was kind of a kick to send a text to my father—a jock himself—to let him know that his non-athletic daughter is now a sportswriter, at least in this single instance.

Jennifer Willis: coincidental cheesehead, accidental sportswriter.

Creative Commons photo: Aaron Rodgers gets sacked by Mike Morbeck.

Posted in thoughts from the spiral.

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