Dear Larry Johnson, (Part 2)

I know.

I know how you’re feeling because I have felt the way same.

I know what it feels like to feel like you’re losing your mind, your sense of self, your identity.

I’ve been there; at times I’m still there. I’ve been stuck in this molasses-like substance struggling  to find my way out for 11 years. Your recent decision to come forward your story and struggle with the psychological effects of head trauma, struck a chord with me.

It’s been nearly a decade since I stepped on a soccer field. In the years since I walked away from the field, I have also struggled with the effects of multiple concussions that I suffered during my career. The headaches, the emotional and physical outburst, the overwhelming sense that the world would be better off without me, and the constant fear of what my future would look like, were part of my daily experience.

I spent years bouncing from specialist to specialist trying to figure out what was wrong with me. My debilitating migraines began to worry my parents. The physical and emotional outbursts started to wreak havoc on my personal life. It felt like everything was spiraling out of control and I couldn’t stop it. It wasn’t until a doctor, who I had only seen twice, wrote CTE as a diagnosis on my discharge paperwork that I felt like I had an answer. Honestly, even though I had an answer, I felt completely hopeless. At the age of 28  I decided that I really didn’t have much to live for, because the way CTE is discussed in the media, I knew it was a death sentence.

I’m now 31 years old and I can honestly say that I have never felt better, emotionally and mentally. In late 2013, I saw world-renowned concussion specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher. He spent several hours with me, going over every hit I had taken, every symptom I experienced, and all I was dealing with that day. He told me that the effects of multiple concussions are very different for each person, but that there are general similarities and I was experiencing the emotional and psychological effects of a brain injury. My physical and emotional outbursts, depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety, were all things that I have come to accept as part of my story. Even with those, he encouraged me to continue and be active as long as I could do so without symptoms as it was a great way to improve my overall well-being. Ultimately, he told me with confidence that I did not have CTE.

It has taken nearly 5 years to finally reach a place where I can say that I am okay.  After my appointment with Dr. Kutcher, I decided to start seeing a psychologist. My time in therapy quickly evolved from  dealing with the psychological and emotional effects of multiple concussions to facing the  long and difficult road of grieving the loss of my identity as a soccer player. . I had lost more than my ability to control my emotions and to remember simple things, I had lost my one true love in this world and it was taking an incredible toll on my emotional and psychological well-being.

It’s been a long and sometimes hard journey from the day that doctor wrote “CTE,”, but it’s been in that journey that I’ve truly learned what it means to live “one day at a time.” I admit that it was a lot easier before I heard the term CTE because all I had to deal with were the effects of concussions without really thinking that it might possibly be a neurodegenerative disease. Thankfully, with the help of therapy, I have been able to cope with these effects and learn better ways to cope.  The biggest impact on me was crossing paths with Samantha when I did and it happened at just the right time. I’ve quickly learned how important it is to have support on this journey from someone who truly gets it.

I don’t know where you are on your journey and I don’t know what doctors have told you, but I want to encourage you to continue to fight and seek the help you need. It is out there and can have a tremendous impact.

I can’t say that I don’t still have my days when I wonder if I have CTE. That said, with the help of countless therapy hours I’ve realized that even if I do have CTE, I still have a life to live and I cannot continue to live in fear of the “what if.” I continue to have debilitating migraines and struggle with my anger and emotional outbursts, but I’ve learned better ways to cope with these moments. I recognize now that I can’t undo the damage that I’ve potentially done to my brain, but there are things that I can control and I am doing the best I can to move forward in my life after the game.

Samantha and I are reaching out to you in hopes of being there for you in any way that we can.  If we can help you with any resources to help you cope with the struggles you have, we are more than willing to do so. Ultimately, I, we, want you to know that you are not alone on this journey!

Wishing you all the best,

Lauren Long

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