I was nervous. Hitting the “send” button on an e-mail to my teammates would have a powerful impact on me.
Flash back to the day I got hit: I was a freshman, one of the starting central midfielders for my college soccer team, and it was at the end of the first half when I took a ball to the face at point blank range. After being escorted off the field, evaluated, and declared “concussed” by a trainer, my coach wanted me back on the field. He demanded that the trainer reevaluate me. A firm “no, she is concussed” from the soccer trainer sealed the deal. He was instantly angry at me – he would not look at me, even when I told him that I could not think straight and therefore couldn’t host a recruit overnight. To him my concussion was just a frustrating inconvenience and another reason we lost the game.
I sat staring at the e-mail I was about to send. To this day, it still hurts that he could not understand that I was in a daze, my vision blurred, and I had a deep headache. These symptoms eventually acquired the label “Post-Concussion Syndrome.”
Before sitting down to compose this e-mail to my teammates, I told my coach I could not continue playing. My doctors and therapists had described the “unusual” way I was healing. Spring training was just around the corner. How could I run aggressively on the field when I was only allowed to walk for twenty minutes per day? I explained how I woke up with headaches, how I could not focus, how I had to train my eyes to learn to track objects again. My coach sat and listened. I started to cry, knowing that he could not possibly understand how I was feeling, because there was no way to for him to see how badly I was injured. He told me he supported me in my decision and that I would always be welcomed back, but I knew things had changed between us. I still felt the anger he had expressed the day I incurred my fourth and last concussion. He was no longer my coach and I was no longer one of his starting central midfielders. I left his office still in tears, disappointed in both myself for lacking a better explanation of my concussion, and my coach for making me feel like I was quitting for nothing.
I stopped thinking about it and clicked the “send” button.
The first reply came the following day. Though my teammates knew that I still couldn’t train with them, I hadn’t told them about the extent to which I had suffered; I didn’t think they would understand. My teammate said that she didn’t know I wasn’t completely recovered. She was oblivious to the fact that I was struggling.. I received my second and last response the day after that, in which another teammate stated that she supported my decision and hoped I recovered soon. She was also unaware of the severity of my condition – I hadn’t recovered in the eight months following my injury, whereas most people with concussions recover fully within a week to a month. The other 18 teammates never replied. Were they too angry, confused, or just not care enough to type a short e-mail acknowledging that I was leaving the team? Whatever the reason, I felt unimportant, abandoned, and alone. I couldn’t even make it for a few hours without a pounding headache, and my “second family” didn’t care at all to see me go or even sympathize with me. And on top of that, I couldn’t play the game I loved to help me get through it.
One of the many things that continue to bother me about traumatic brain injury is that there are no visible effects. Some days, I feel like I am an anomaly. I walk around campus feeling drastically different from the other college students who don’t have to worry about getting enough sleep, making sure my diet has a positive impact on my health, taking medications, seeing therapists, and planning my schedule so I have time to rest my brain. I don’t wear a cast or use crutches, so it can be easy for others to assume that I’m healthy because I look fine. I’ve even encountered people who think I’m making it up. However, I’ve decided that it’s okay for other people to feel that way. I’ve come to realize that being true to myself and trying the best I can with the resources I have is all I can do. It’s not worth wasting my energy worrying about what other people think. Strength has many different faces, and the one I put on every day is the will to face the hurt I feel living with Traumatic Brain Injury.
Arleigha Cook is a sophomore at Trinity College. Growing up, she ran track and also played soccer for programs such as the Olympic Development Program, MAPLE, and the Super Y Program. After her last concussion, collegiate soccer and track were no longer an option, so she turned her focus to speaking and writing with the intent to help and educate those around her about concussions and their effects. Read her blog here. Arleigha recently declared an English major, and she hopes to enter the legal field with the goal of helping people who have been affected by Traumatic Brain Injury.