Tag Archives: getting help

Depressions, Anxiety, and Their Link to Head Trauma

This is getting to be an annual thing for me. It’s #BellLetsTalk day today, so once again I’ll roll out the mat for my battle with depression.

I’ve learned a lot more about head injuries in the last couple of years and I just wanted to drop in and make sure I tell you a little about it too.

Turns out that nearly 65% of people who suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI) are likely to suffer anxiety and depression in the SEVEN YEARS following their injury.

Think about that.

It takes the better part of a decade to get past just one major symptom of brain injury, like depression and possibly debilitating anxiety. Never mind all that cognitive function and language and stuff. That’s a whole other deal.

This is from MSKTC’s website:

Depression is a common problem after TBI. About half of all people with TBI are affected by depression within the first year after injury. Even more (nearly two-thirds) are affected within seven years after injury. In the general population, the rate of depression is much lower, affecting fewer than one person in 10 over a one-year period. More than half of the people with TBI who are depressed also have significant anxiety.

I’m not the only person to hit suicidal feelings a year or two after a head injury. I know personally at least five people who’ve had seriously suicidal tendencies within two to five years of their TBI.

It’s hard for someone who’s not had a head injury to understand the recovery experience. For me, I took a big spill off my scooter when I was still going 40km an hour, landed on my head with such force (even helmeted) that both my in-the-ear hearing aids exploded and blood spilled from my ears. I had a bruised swollen face for six weeks or more. I don’t remember more than about five events in the first six months after my injury, and my job performance continued to decline dramatically for two years.

I knew I was supposed to be tired, depressed, and that sort of thing, but I couldn’t realize what it was I was doing differently, or how weirdly changed I was in some ways. I couldn’t process how much harder some tasks were for me because I couldn’t remember how I used to do them.

My actual ability to understand myself was impaired. My objectivity was shot. My processing skills were badly diminished. Who was I? I was somebody far different than the girl I had become post-accident, but I couldn’t remember exactly how.

Life felt foggy, disjointed, and everyone kept saying “Oh, that’s understandable.”

No! Not inside my head! It’s not okay for it to feel so goddamned WEIRD and WRONG. I was crystal clear before. I didn’t lose focus. I didn’t get confused. And then the accident happened and I didn’t know how NOT to be all the things I once wasn’t — confused, unfocused, emotional.

And that’s what a head injury is.

Our brains aren’t just under dermis, they’re under thick skulls, buried deep in our head. When they’re bruised and rattled around, it can take YEARS to heal. Oxygen isn’t getting there. Sunlight isn’t getting there. It’s gonna heal by the grace of luck or not at all.

Me,  it took about four years to start feeling like myself.

But some things are different and likely always will be. Anxiety finds me more often. I get super-intimidated in learning new things when once I was cautious but confident. I’m more affected by the darkness and short days in the winter. I have many symptoms and challenges similar to ADHD. I get overwhelmed easily. I’m more introverted than I used to be.

Yeah. Without a doubt, I’m a changed person.

I’m still smart. I still write not only well but quickly. I process math and remember things a little better than I did five years ago (the accident was nine years ago). I’m quick-witted, funny, determined, able to conjure a quick plan of attack when I need one.

Today, I find I’m socially challenged at times because I get overwhelmed when details change. So now I know I need to give myself a few minutes to process the information, and even better, now I know to read the face of people I’m with and go “Hey, it’s not you, I just need a bit longer to mentally process this and then we can proceed” and I explain why. I don’t always remember to do that, but I usually do, and that’s good enough today. That’s the process. I remember to explain it and I’m guessing in a couple years I’ll instead be able to bypass the overwhelmed part and get straight to the “Let me think for a second–” pausing that won’t require me swallowing pride and saying “I’m different, wait for me.”

So there’s hope areas I see progress in will continue to improve. It’s head trauma — a lot of studies show it can improving indefinitely. But there are no guarantees, either. Science doesn’t know enough.

One of the gifts of wisdom and age is that we begin to know our weaknesses but also the reasons behind them. Ideally, we learn to work with our failings and help others do so too. We learn acceptance.

These are all true of traumatic head injuries. It’s hard not to be changed. The degree to which it will occur can depend on how hard the impact is, or how often the impact has happened before, and whether previous impacts had healed first. Coping ability depends on the injury itself. A strange and vicious cycle when often recovery’s greatest asset in getting well is the brain, but it’s the brain here that needs to get well. Catch-22.

We don’t know a lot about head injuries. This is true. But we’re learning. Just nine years ago when I had mine, the literature was dramatically reduced.

And now we know you’re likely to deal with depression and anxiety. It’s a part of the process. Knowing this is connected should help a lot of TBI victims deal with it. It’s a small but critical victory to be able to say “Hey, this is happening because of that. It’s not okay, and I have a lot of work to do, but it really does have a reason for happening.”

When you’re the guy with the biological depression, any little lifeline that explains why it’s happening can be a huge mental tool in doing the hanging on and hoping that a true battle with depression requires.

If that’s you I’m talking about? Hang in there. Talk to a pro. It’s survivable. I’m proof.

Food: The Battle That Never Ends

One of my weekly addictions now, pun intended, is Extreme Makeover: Weight Edition.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: A person is ideally supposed to go from morbidly obese to, well, much less.

The most “extreme” episode I’ve seen spent the year with a man named James who began at 651 pounds and lost 313 pounds in 12 months. The first three months, the trainer, Chris Powell, lives with the show’s focus person. After that, the “contestant” is on their own but for the equipment they’ve been left, quarterly check-ins, and emails/phonecalls.

[Spoiler ahead.]

This week’s episode had 9 months invested in one morbidly obese man, who began at 490 pounds, lost 110 in three months, then 21, then gained 60 in the third quarter.

His food addiction came back stronger than ever.

The end of the episode had him checking into rehab 70 pounds below where he started, but 60 pounds over where he was after 4 months — and emotionally broken.

This is something I wish would shut all the cynics up who see weight-loss success on TV and go “Oh, but they had professional help, of course they lost weight.”

You know what? I don’t buy that. It works for a while, sure, but a show like this, it conveys that, left to our own devices, even with all the tools and means at our disposal, failure can find us because we’re our own worst enemies. Every person goes to bed alone in their heads.

Many people regain all their weight back, and even more, when life gets hard, because we’re usually heavy through unhealthy eating addictions that involve masking emotions or failed communications.

Enough About Them, Let’s Talk About Me

I’ve always been food-addicted, but I’m considerably less so in my old age. It’s still a problem. It probably always will be.

That I’m a pretty fucking confident cook sure as hell doesn’t help, but my ability to research and learn the science, well, that does help — a lot. I educate myself from time to time as well. Being a good cook means I take control, and I do so in an often-satisfying way with foods that are ultimately less addictive than fast food and commercial preparations.

Luckily, I somewhat like being active. If I weren’t so goddamned injured so often, I’d be unstoppable, and I’d probably get to keep eating the way I love but would continually lose weight doing it. Fortunately, I eventually battle past my distractions and usually maintain.

That’s me. And I know it’ll be a lifelong struggle. Fortunately, every year I get a little smarter about it, and have done that recently in the face of times that might’ve taken me down a more personally-destructive path in the past.

An Environment Created for Failure

The thing is, food’s an incredible struggle. It’s the hardest addiction in the world to overcome. It’s everywhere. Even skinny people drool over pictures like it’s porn. We even talk about the sexual ways we satisfy our hunger, we have “food orgasms,” we celebrate every holiday around a table, we communicate over tables, we have a national bacon dependency, and now we have sharing apps for cellphones that are all pictures of high-falutin’ drool-inducing food, and everywhere we turn is advertising showing the most sinful burgers and cookies and pastas and pizza (but read this about the dirty tricks photographers use to make that food look so yummy).

In this highly food-pornified world, losing 10 pounds is a massive achievement for some. Losing 313 in a year, no matter who’s helping you, even on a TV show, that’s absolutely mind-boggling — if done through weight and healthy eating, that is.

Add In Being Affected by Life’s Demands…

And putting a few pounds on in any given month or year, well, that’s human. Failing utterly? Also sadly human.

For me of late, I’ve not really been worrying about food, exercise, or whatever. I’m rehabilitating a back injury that scared me more than anything has in years. I had a week in April that was the darkest of my life. All I care about is NOT BEING THAT, and paying my rent. I’m rehabbing, getting my life under control, and that’s all the achievement I require right now.

In saying that, the last 10 months has included enough chaos that all I want to do is get into a routine where being active truly IS my lifestyle, and eating reasonably IS my way. That’s it. I want something I can follow for the rest of my life. I lost 70 pounds in a year doing it that way, I know I can get back to it, too, once my routine’s back.

Anyone who says weight-loss is easy during unemployment isn’t a stress-eater.

During my year of being often under-employed, I had pneumonia followed by a cancer scare that turned into a “dunno what that was, but it ain’t cancer” dealio, followed by blowing out my back. That I only gained eight pounds in two years since my drastic loss is fucking awesome, given my history of overeating for emotional reasons.

It is an addiction, and this has been the hardest year for fighting it. Have I won? No, but if this were a fairytale and the Big Bad Wolf was trying to get into grandma’s house, then I’ve been fighting that fucker back with a big-ass stick. He hasn’t gotten in, but I haven’t gotten around to doing much else with my time, either, time-consuming as fighting wolves tends to be, and all.

It Doesn’t Need to Stay That Way: Ebb & Flow

I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks, as my stress has gone down, as my back injury has finally gotten to a livable place, that my tendency to eat excessively, and too often, has just naturally slowed down, as have my cravings. I’ve not been eating GREAT all the time, but I’ve really not had too much on the average day, either. I also find myself avoiding sweets or feeling compelled for pastries.

The effort now is to simply be more active in my food choices– making more effort in cooking it so I’m not just eating food but, if I overeat, I’m wasting my time and money. Instead of buying bread, the plan now is to make my own for a while instead of buying huge baguettes to indulge in. Every meal needs some kind of veggies with it, preferably more than half the meal being veggies. Using less fat again, I’ve cut back on cheeses, there’s no cheddar in my house (fact: “cheddar” is Canadian for “crack”). I had chocolate during my “girl time” but haven’t felt cravings outside of that.

I don’t care who might think I could’ve done more or I’ve somehow failed myself because I put a little weight back on instead of continually taking it off. I don’t think of it like that. I think of it as “success interrupted.”

What I know about myself today is, I can get through everything that’s happened in the last year (and that short “pneumonia-blah-blah” point there barely skims the surface, as we all know life’s more complicated than big talking points), and gain back only 12% of the weight I’d lost up till 2009, well, that’s not too shabby for an emotional-eating food addict when the odds are better that I should have gained it all back. I kept 88% off, yo!

I’ve been more aware, even in my failings. Now I need greater awareness. Thankfully, it seems to be rising in me, and the stressors seem to be falling.

That’s the ebb-and-flow of life. Like Rocky Balboa says, it’s about getting hit and knocked down, but keepin’ on moving forward.

When I see a man, in life or even a show like that, reduced to tears in his failures, knowing he’s let down his beautiful little girl and wife, checking into rehab and facing all those demons… well, for me, being knocked down but moving forward feels like it’s as good an accomplishment as I need.

We should all remember that. Setbacks are great, if we learn from them and treat them as practice against being defeated in the future. Welcome to life, where we don’t always get it right, but we almost always get a second shot.

Failure photo from Mindthis.ca.
Hand photo from Haley Bell Photography.