Life after 15 concussions: learning to feel real again

My name is Dave Matthew Boddy, and I am a survivor of 15 concussions from the ages of four or five years old to twenty-five years old. When I inform people about how many concussions I have had, they always seem so surprised. However, in the past it was not really a big deal as there was not much known about concussions. Having concussions at such a young age came with a lot of struggles. I battled with depression, hallucinations, memory, focus, cognitive and emotional issues growing up. When I suffered my first concussion, I was between the ages of four and five.

Due to the lack of information at this time (1990/1991), my recovery plan was simple: rest. I had no idea how much concussions would become part of my life from here on in. I would suffer more from being bullied, playing high school football, professional wrestling, security and bodyguard work, slip and falls, and being assaulted with a shovel in 2006. My concussions would have similar side effects, and they became so common that I accepted them as normal.

I was also diagnosed with ADD in 1997 when I was in grade 7. Due to being bullied frequently and battling my concussion symptoms, being diagnosed with ADD was something I found relief with. I had no idea why I was the way I was. I was always forgetting, I was always losing focus, and I was battling with depression. The more concussions I received, the stronger and more present the symptoms became.

Before I knew it, I was in high school and suffered three more concussions. Each time I made the mistake of not reporting them. I then suffered three more concussions in one year of professional wrestling training. Two of these three occurred within minutes of each other. January 22nd, 2006 marks the day of my 12th concussion. I was hit on the head with a shovel three times during a robbery on my twentieth birthday. This concussion was when my life would turn for the worst.

My symptoms became so serious that I was struggling with suicidal ideation. When I had to walk away from professional wrestling, I felt I lost everything. I would tell one of my best friends I wanted to die as I felt I had no reason to live. From 2006 until 2011, I would suffer a total of four more concussions. My final and 15th concussion happened on March 12th, 2011. However, before this one, on January 13th, 2011, I tried to call 911 on myself. Why? I had no idea who I was.

I was having more emotional changes than before. I was unstable and I was highly unpredictable with my moods. I was scared of who I was.

When I suffered my 15th concussion, WCB (Workers Compensation Board) noticed a trend with my concussions and elected to send me to brain injury rehab. I was so emotional and excited to receive some support – up until that time I felt I had no support and I was lost. April 2011 was when I would begin brain injury rehab.

I had no idea what to expect or what I would be doing; however, I was just excited to get the help I had needed for many, many years. I went into brain injury rehab a total mess – I was battling hallucinations, depression, memory loss, focus, emotional and cognitive issues. I also struggled with balance and dizzy spells. I remember meeting with the two lead therapists and going over my history. The female lead looked at me and informed me to be prepared for a long journey. She mentioned that due to the damage and my history of concussions I could be facing permanent brain damage and that it could worsen as I age. This shook me to the core, and the reason is no one in the past ever informed me how serious concussions could be long-term when you have numerous ones.

When I began rehab, it was then when they realized just how much I was struggling. I was diagnosed with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) and I had to begin rehab to try and rid that issue. Due to my BPPV, I was unable to close my eyes for longer than a few seconds before I would become dizzy and want to collapse. I informed them I have had this issue since my earliest concussions but never had any help with it in the past. They also noticed I was struggling with depression at a very high level. I informed them I battled suicidal ideation in 1999 and 2006. However, I always had this belief that I was worthless and that I would never amount to anything. I told them that my battle with depression went back to kindergarten. She asked me what I did to help with overcoming the emotions at the time, and it was always professional wrestling or video games that would be my beacon.

At the time, they felt my limbic system had been the most affected. I would spend five months in rehab and during this time I had a psychologist and several therapists assisting me. One of my therapists would come to my home 2-3 times a week to evaluate my home routines and struggles. She realized I was unable to do a lot of regular routines. I was unable to hold or carry my son, clean the house, walk up and down the stairs, do laundry, or even cook and clean at the same time.

Due to being unable to do much of anything, struggling with a broken marriage, losing my career, and finances, I started to become extremely depressed again. Before I knew it in, July of 2011, I was very close to taking my own life. I remember grabbing the bottle of pills and a can of beer. I poured the pills into my palm and opened the beer. I remember I was crying and telling myself over and over that I could not handle the pain anymore, I did not want to die, but I wanted the worst and most painful parts of me to. I felt this was the only way to rid myself of the struggle and hurt. However, when I was about to put the pills in my mouth, I had a visual of my son laughing and smiling. This visual saved my life. Unknowingly, my son had just saved my life. I realize now that becoming a father in 2008 would save my life in 2011. When the visual of my son happened, I broke down and dumped all the pills and the beer. I then sat on the bathroom floor and cried. Soon enough after, I made myself a promise to fight this.

Rehab was not the same after this moment as I fought harder and worked harder. I dropped my weight from around 350 pounds down to around 270 pounds. I noticed some increases in my strength both mentally and physically. I asked for my discharge from rehab at five months, I thought I was ready. They tried to convince me to stay for nine or twelve months, however, I was adamant to leave.

I honestly thought I was ready; however, I would learn in a few years it was a bad mistake.

I had spent years ignoring symptoms that I have battled with since my younger years, and as a result of ignoring them for over nine years, I would receive some bad news on November 12th, 2019. I would meet with a neurologist due to some twitching issues in my face, arms, and legs. She told me that my brain damage is irreversible and will likely worsen as I age. This is the same thing I was told in rehab back in 2011, and here I am almost nine years later being told the same thing again. I remember sitting in the van when I got home, crying. I thought I was better, and I thought I was doing better, however, I learned that I only ignored the signs. I have been battling depression, memory, focus, dizziness, and emotional issues ever since 2006, and in 2018 and 2019 I was noticing that the symptoms were more frequent.

Now that I am aware that my brain damage is irreversible and it could worsen as I age, I have to make some life changes. I was a Life Coach from 2012 to 2019. I decided to walk away from Life Coaching youths and families as my energy levels could no longer handle it. I also decided to walk away from other projects I was working on as a means to preserve more energy. I realized that in the recent years my energy levels were sporadic: some days I would have lots, and then other days I had almost none. It all started to make sense to why I was losing jobs, money, and passion for a lot of areas of my life. I started to realize that I was struggling, and I was ignoring it. My doctor informed me that leaving rehab early in 2011 was likely a counterproductive decision, however, I told her the real reason I left early was finances.

I told her that I never allowed my concussions the time to heal. At that time, I was working roughly 60+ hours a week. We went through my history and we realized that the average time my concussions had to heal was between two and three weeks. My concussion in 2009 (which was my 14th one) took almost 9 months for me to feel the symptoms subside though they would never completely go away. My doctor then told me she felt I would be diagnosed with Permanent PCS (post-concussion syndrome) and Dysthymia. I am now scheduled to see a psychiatrist or psychologist and a neurologist to begin a plan. My doctor and my neurologist both believe that my damage is permanent, and now I need to design a game plan to try and cope with the damage I have.

My message that I am spreading globally is to always ensure to report any suspected concussions for yourself and for others. I spread this message on social media, television, radio, podcasts and live speaking appearances. I share my story to help bring awareness to concussions.

I have since created a social media movement known as “the FeelReal Journey” where I share strategies, stories, articles, photos, videos and more to bring awareness to depression, brain damage, anxiety and overall mental health. The intent with the FeelReal Journey is to help millions understand the importance of speaking up about mental health struggles and to unite and support one another to feel real. Here are a couple of my key quotes:

“You cannot heal until you feel real.”

“When you suppress you only increase the mess.”

My goal is to use my story as a way to help as many as I can globally. Speak up for yourself and others if you suspect a concussion, as the short-term and the long-term effects could be serious for your life. There is no weakness in speaking up, and believe me, your mental and physical health is always the main priority. No game, no sport, no dream, no passion is ever worth long-term health struggles. Please, never forget that your struggle does not mean you lose value or worth.