Dear Larry Johnson, (Part 1)

You are not alone.

After my last concussion, that’s what I learned when I met Lauren before we started Concussion Connection. Now, I desperately want you to hear, know, and believe that the same is true for you.

You are not alone.

As I read about your experience, my heart went out to you. Each new detail of your daily life brought me anguish. Not only are your circumstances, your feelings, and your thinking tough to manage, but the depth of hopelessness that was woven throughout the article was overwhelming. If I can feel that based off reading a clip of your life, I can only imagine what it must be like for you and all you must wrestle with on a daily basis. I know that when I was told I couldn’t play my senior season in college, it never felt real. I kind of just went through my life feeling numb and confused. When I finally understood the conclusiveness of the situation, I was hurt, angry, upset, and, most of all, devastated. It’s taken a lot of work, but 10 years later, I can tell you that it gets better.

There is hope.

I can’t say that I know exactly how you feel. I can say that I know what it feels like to lose the one thing that is consistent in life, the best friend no one can replace… the sport you love. At the same time you are dealing with the transition from this part of your life to a new chapter, you are also thinking about the possible lasting effects. It must be so confusing and kind of scary. Although I’ve never played a professional sport and I don’t think about having CTE, I was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At the age of 30, I know I have a demyelinating disease that will likely cause future disability both cognitive and physical. Could this be related to having multiple concussions? It could be, but I can’t worry about that because nothing will change the past. What I can do is use my experience and be there for others.

You are not alone.

As an athlete, you have learned more about life than you may even realize. When you were playing football, you stepped on the field with a team and together you took on any challenges thrown at you. It didn’t matter if it seemed impossible, you stared that challenge in the face and dared it to come after you. This can be the same type of thing, but you have to find your team. You should not and do not have to do this on your own. After I accepted my retirement from soccer, it took me a bit to assemble my team. At times the personnel may change, but I have a core support that is always there. My teammates are both professionals and people close to me, including my neurologist, psychologist, family physician, acupuncturist, a few close friends, and my husband.

There is hope.

Cognitive changes are scary and easy to focus on because, well, who wouldn’t be worried?? Yes, there are some treatments for cognitive changes, but many are still developing. What we do know is that the emotional symptoms do impact cognitive abilities and we have treatment for emotional symptoms. Even though going to a psychologist and/or psychiatrist, engaging in therapy, and discussing taking medication aren’t what most of us want to do, the help is well worth the initial discomfort. After I went through a few cognitive assessments, I was told that my anxiety was elevated and impacting my daily functioning. I was hell-bent that the guy who tested me was wrong and that it was my concussion that was the issue because that is where my anxiety was stemming from, my brain injury. A very close friend, who happens to be a neuropsychologist, asked me if it mattered more to me where my anxiety came from or that it was impacting my ability to function the way I wanted. Of course I said the impact was more important and he helped me move past worrying where it came from and focus on what we could do about it. For me it was medication and therapy. For others it might be something else. Either way…

There is hope.

Whether or not mood issues (anxiety, depression, mania, irritability, etc.) exist before a brain injury, as the result of brain injury, or are exacerbated by a brain injury, there are treatments, interventions, and resources. At first I was convinced that I didn’t need anyone else and that I could deal with it on my own because that’s how I handled most things. That’s how I was successful in my soccer career. Needless to say it took me a while to come to the realization that even though I could fight on my own, I didn’t need to. I realized that I was wasting precious, and often limited, energy on battling my anxiety and depression instead of accepting help from others that would free up some of my resources for other things I wanted to do, like finish school, work out, and spend quality time with friends. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. As they say, “work smarter, not harder.”

You are not alone.

Mr. Johnson, I don’t know you and I only know a snippet of your journey that was printed in the Washington Post. I hope that I haven’t been too presumptuous in writing this letter. My intent is to be supportive, open, and honest. My journey with concussions started 10 years ago and I know it will always be part of my experience. Is it what I planned? Not in the slightest, but it has gotten better over time and my life has evolved into something I could have never imagined in some of the best ways possible.

There is hope.

While our journeys have some similarities, as most concussion stories do, they are also very different and I don’t pretend to understand everything that you are going through. In your story, I heard you reaching out hoping to touch someone’s life. Well, you touched my life and I hope I have touched yours. I am here for you and others are here, too. The concussion community is strong and none of us want you, or anyone else, to face this journey alone. It’s not that you can’t do it on your own or we doubt your ability, it’s just that you don’t have to and, perhaps most importantly, you don’t need to anymore.

You are not alone.

There is hope.

Life will get better.

Believe

Sincerely,

Samantha Sanderson Brown

Samantha@concussionconnection.com

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