The power of connecting.

When I got injured, all I wanted to do was be alone to figure out what was going on. This idea of isolation became what I thought was the answer to my problems. Being by myself, I don’t have to answer anybody’s question, embarrass myself by trying to do 2 arm tasks with one arm or try to fake my happiness as if everything was okay.

It was almost impossible for me to be around football because I wanted to be out there so bad. I isolated myself from my teammates, the organization, everything. I didn’t feel like myself so all I wanted to do was be alone. This wasn’t my first time dealing with isolation. In the past, I reverted to being alone whenever I was dealing with something traumatic. When I was 10, I found out my mother’s kidney’s failed and she’d have to be on dialysis. Potentially losing my mother made me feel like the only person I can count on is myself. When my stepfather died, I didn’t tell anybody what I was going through. I remember I used to get splitting migraines because of all the stress I was holding in. When I didn’t get drafted and I thought my football career was over, I drove off and sat in the car all night by myself.

Isolation was a common theme throughout my life. But this one felt different. It was one thing when things around me were changing but the only thing that changed here was me. The answer wasn’t focus up and work harder; I didn’t have an answer to this problem. Being alone seemed like the right thing to do because nobody understood what I was going through. My injury was rare in itself and my career was cut abruptly, I felt like I was the only one in the world with my problems.

My isolation lasted 8 months until I started going to psychotherapy. I’ve heard about how therapy helps so many people but I did not think that it can help in my situation. At 1st I was reserved in therapy. I didn’t want to talk to a stranger about my problems. I didn’t even think she would even be able to understand what I was going through. But the more I talked, the more normal I felt. The less crazy I felt. All my therapist did was get me talking and suddenly my problems felt a little more solvable.

I went once a week for a while until she offered me an opportunity to do group therapy. At first, I didn’t think I needed it, I liked what individual therapy was doing for me. But I agreed and it was a decision that changed my life forever. On my 1st day of Group Therapy, nobody seemed like they had a thing in common with me. I had no idea how I was going to get anything from people who don’t have a similar lifestyle as me. When first the group session began, my therapist sat me in the middle of the room and had each group member sit in front of me and tell me why they were in therapy.

The stories I heard from these people changed my entire perspective. Everybody came from different backgrounds but was dealing with a pain I could relate to. At that moment I did not feel alone anymore. Yes, my problems were big but every single person in this world is dealing with something big. After that 1st day of group therapy, my outlook on life changed. I felt like my problems WILL be solved. The power of listening to others allowed me to see that there is another side.

6 months into the group, I decided to go to this rehab center for brain injuries in California. Since it was brain injuries, many former NFL players were there. One of the common themes that everyone was going through was feeling alone and misunderstood. Guys live in Oklahoma, Texas, San Fran, Kansas, and everybody felt alone in their respective cities. One of the things that did help us feel sane was talking about what we were going through as former professional athletes. Since I had some experience in group therapy, I decided to lead by example and tell these guys what I was going through. When I was done, all the guys had stories that related to mine and guys started talking bout their own individual experiences that we all related to.

That feeling of isolation haunted us all but as soon as we spoke about it, it was like a weight was lifted off of us. This taught me a valuable lesson. Talking about your problems is healing. I spent 8 months in isolation and the only thing that solved it was opening up to people. I’m not gonna say all my problems were solved through talking but it made my problems feel more manageable. It is scary being vulnerable but what’s on the other side of opening up can change your life for the better.

Isa Abdul-Quddus is a former NFL Athlete, playing 6 years at safety for the Saints, Lions and Dolphins. After suffering a career ending injury, he took his focus to sharing his story, emphasizing on mental health. Isa also loves music (Hip Hop and R&B), film and reading.