Why I stopped asking ‘what if’ – Brain Injury Blog TORONTO
BY: STEVEN EDELMAN I imagine Bill Buckner must have repeatedly asked the "What if?" question to himself for years after the Boston Red Sox lost the 1986 MLB World Series. What if he, the Red Sox first baseman who made a mistake in the ninth inning that cost the match and the series to his […]

BY: STEVEN EDELMAN

I imagine Bill Buckner must have repeatedly asked the "What if?" question to himself for years after the Boston Red Sox lost the 1986 MLB World Series. What if he, the Red Sox first baseman who made a mistake in the ninth inning that cost the match and the series to his team, perfectly recovered the ball for a withdrawal and the Sox became champions?

Bill Buckner misses the ball
BILL BUCKNER MISSES THE BALL IN THE 1986 WORLD SERIES; PHOTO VIA REDDIT

What if his teammates stayed in Boston and the team played with winning results for the next decade? What if they became a heirloom that will be remembered for generations?

“What if this never happened” is a question that goes beyond sport. It is a self-examination we all ask ourselves after major mistakes we have made or tragedy we have experienced.

The answer we tell ourselves, most of the time, is something more positive than we would have liked. It leaves us unhappy with the life we ​​are living now. It's a counterfactual thought and it's a way to avoid facing uncomfortable truths from our experiences.

About 12 years ago, I was a sports reporter in San Diego. A decision I made one night changed my life and those of my loved ones forever. I had too much to drink at a party and thought it would be a good idea to get other people's attention by pulling a risky trick on the third floor deck. Unfortunately, during my attempt I fell 25 feet into the concrete below.

I was unconscious and an ambulance took me to the emergency room where the doctors diagnosed me with a traumatic brain injury. There was severe damage to parts of my brain and I didn't know what could be cured.

Man sitting alone

After waking up from a three month coma, my recovery began. In a rehabilitation hospital, I had to relearn how to walk, talk, understand information by listening to others, and understand how I ended up in the hospital. The process was difficult and demanding. Nonetheless, over the course of several years, I gained most of what I had lost.

It seems like the usual positive ending to this story, but it wasn't that simple. I was angry. I was angry with God for why I, a drunk man, was being given another chance when others were not. I was angry with friends who didn't understand why I was different from the person I was before the accident. I was angry with myself for putting all the people I loved in stress and pain. Most of the time, I was mad at myself for not appreciating what I had until it was gone.

It was then that my "What if?" the self-talk has started. What if this accident never happened? What if I continued my career as a sports journalist and didn't have to stop to recover? What if my relationship with my friends and family continues to grow?

What if I don't waste all that time and go on a trip? What if there were other opportunities that I missed during my healing time? The questions never ended and I fell back into a dark place with no idea how to get out.

The way I finally got out of this depression was to stop denying my past by creating a made-up “what if” story that was unrealistic. I had found a way to get to the present.

It was about changing my model to a new one where I was in control. In many cases, injuries are beyond our control, but how we absorb them is within our control.

Since the accident, I easily forget people's names, it's not so easy to learn new information. I am not exactly who I was before my brain injury. Yet this is a new chapter in my life where I have different expectations and new priorities. I have a supportive wife and a newborn son who only receives my love and attention. I'm not denying my past and what happened, however, I am part of something bigger than a "mistake" that I made and overcome.

The truth is, Bill Buckner never played the "What if?" self-talk game with himself despite being threatened after his mistake and his family. He took responsibility for the mistake and found a way to ignore the anger that Red Sox fans and the media had long created. Buckner only cared about his family, and he understood that a misstep doesn't describe a person's character.


I am Steve Edelman, a TBI survivor who has never lost who I am. I entered a new chapter in my life with a caring wife and a healthy one year old son.


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