The Bright Side's Shadow

The problem with "Pathological Positivity" and seeing everything from the bright side.

RIP Robin Williams 1951-2014

A little over 4 years ago, I was living my dream. After going undrafted during the NFL Lockout year and working my way from a special teams player, I finally got my chance to be a starting safety and contribute to a winning team. I helped lead the Dolphins to the playoffs for the 1st time since ‘08. But in that playoff-clinching game, my life changed drastically. I took a hit in the 3rd quarter which left my right arm paralyzed. The trainers had never seen anything like it before and it wasn’t until a month later that I found out my diagnosis.

In the meantime, the trainers and doctors are talking bout a 6-month recovery, something I can handle. So I remained optimistic that I’d be out on the field again living my dream, even though, in my body, I knew something wasn't right. When I went to the specialist, he broke the news to me I ruptured my Brachial Plexus, a network of nerves that allowed me to control my arm, very similar to Inky Johnson’s injury. He went on to say that I will not be able to play football again and if the surgery is successful, the most function I’d get back in my arm is about 70% of its normal capacity but the recovery takes years.

I still remember being in that doctor’s office. I was crushed but it took me a while to fathom what he just told me. I shut down from people for a while and went in my head. As I tried to get a grasp of my injury and football career-ending, a voice of rationale developed in my head.

“A chance at 70% is better than nothing”
“It is what it is”
“At least I got to live my dream”
“My career had to end eventually, at least I made the most of it”

This voice soon came out of my head and became my representative. When I started to talk to people, my representative would act like I had everything under control.

Even when I went to therapy, I still allowed my representative to talk for me. Meanwhile, deep inside I’m filled with pain but my representative is helping me ignore that. When my therapist met my representative, she called him "pathologically positive". I used to think that was a good thing. In every situation, I’d try to turn on its head. Anytime a bad situation happened, I would only see it from a positive perspective. I thought staying positive was the key to my healing but it was only adding to my depression.

It took me a couple years in therapy, both individual and group, to realize I had to see it from the real perspective to truly heal. As I started to let the pain speak for me, my representative became a little quieter. As the voice started to go away, I start to feel better. But before it got better, I had to go into the dark places and be vulnerable in my sadness, anger, and fears.

As uncomfortable as it is at first, I can say that the reward is worth it. Me being pathologically positive was putting too much pressure on myself to be happy. I realized it’s better to be real than to be happy because you can only be happy if you"re being real with yourself. My representative was never wrong, he was just missing the rest of the picture. As I continue on my journey of healing, I learned to accept everything that comes with it.

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.