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.
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.