Depression. It’s a scary word. Immediately you think “suicide”– well I certainly did anyway. I thought of someone who was suffering alone. Someone who can’t, or won’t, share what it is they are feeling. Or, why they are feeling that way.
But that’s not like me. I have loads of friends and family who love me and who I love and I would always share how I am feeling with them. I always have.
So when Sinead, my Occupational Therapist, first broached the subject of depression with me, and perhaps taking something to help me with it, I was shocked. “I’m not depressed,” I thought. “What a silly thing to suggest! I’m one of the most positive people you could ever meet! But then again… I have been crying a lot. Almost everyday actually. Sometimes twice a day, or more….”
We sat and spoke about it for a while. I certainly didn’t want to take anything for depression. That much was for sure. I said I’d think about it and if I really felt the need then I would let her know. But I felt that if I started to medicate for depression then I would immediately be labeled not only with a ‘brain injury’, but also ‘depression’ and that was far too much for me to handle. Instead, I told her how I was feeling. I opened up to her.
[The suggestion of medication to help with my depression was broached a number of times throughout my journey, but each time I decided to go without. I’m not saying this was the right or wrong decision, but it was my decision. And I had continuous medical support and guidance throughout my entire journey to ensure that if I needed medication it would be prescribed.]
I told Sinead about how often I cried, which to be fair was no great surprise to her considering I cried every time I met her. In fact, the first time I met her I couldn’t get any words out. I just sat there crying for about 15 minutes. I didn’t know what to say. I was just so overwhelmed by it all. And that’s ok. I was living a whole new life. I was bound to be overwhelmed. And you are too if you are experiencing a brain injury of any severity!
I told her that although I had always told my family everything I found it hard to tell them about some of what I was experiencing now. They were already so upset and worried about me, I didn’t want to add to it by telling them about each and every ‘Episode‘ I had. Or every time I was upset, or scared or feeling alone. I already felt so guilty about how upset and worried they were, especially my mum – I didn’t want to make it any worse for her!
Some days it was easier to just tell her I was having a good day. If I was getting upset talking to her and pretending that everything was fine, I would just cut the conversation short, hang up the phone and cry. Sometimes they thought I was just busy and all was ok. Sometimes they thought I was annoyed at them. But it was easier to let them think that, than to let them know how upset I was. I didn’t want to tell them how much I was struggling, because at the end of the day what could they do about it? What could anybody do about it? It was happening to me and only I could deal with it, right? (WRONG!)
I told her I often cancelled plans with friends.
Sometimes I was feeling too unwell.
Sometimes because I just didn’t want to see anybody. I just wanted to be alone.
The guilt of cancelling would then add to my anguish and I would end up more upset.
I always spoke openly with Sinead (and Bernadette my Social Worker who I was later referred to). It was as though as soon as I walked into their offices all of my walls came down. There was no holding back. They just knew what they needed to say to me to get me to open up. Sometimes they would ask me something that seemed so insignificant but could end up pin-pointing exactly what it was that was making me feel so down at that stage of my journey.
I’ve mentioned guilt quite a bit now… I felt guilty over so many things, and I needed these sessions to help me overcome it all:
- I had to rely on my parents for financial support: GUILT
- I was ‘lazing’ about at home all day: GUILT
- My colleagues had to cover my workload: GUILT
- I was worrying my parents more and more with every day that passed without an improvement: GUILT
- I’m taking up all of these professionals time over something that isn’t even serious (in reality it was serious, but I would work myself into such a frenzy and convince myself I was over-reacting to everything!): GUILT
- I was cancelling on plans with friends more and more often: Guilt
All of this guilt was a huge contributor to my depression. It all upset me so much. However, once I spoke about it out loud, I would realise that I had nothing to feel guilty about. They were factors that I couldn’t control and I had to accept that. I would ask myself “If it was somebody else in my position, would I think of them as a burden, a free loader, a fake?” The answer was NO! Not even in the slightest. So why would I think that about myself? It would feel like such a weight off of my shoulders.
But, this feeling would only last a short period of time, and all of those thoughts and doubts and GUILT would start creeping back in again. And so we would repeat the process in the next session and that sense of relief would come again… And repeat… This was a slow and repetitive process. But, eventually, the guilt eased. And so too did my depression.
I accepted that I was sick, but also that I had nothing to feel guilty about. I had to remember the positive person I was before the accident. I had to be that positive person again. There was so much I could control and so much I could do to help with my recovery, but feeling guilty about the things I couldn’t control wasn’t going to help.
I had to be patient. I had to accept the fact that I needed time to recover. I needed to learn to talk about my feelings when I felt them weighing me down. Nobody was going to judge me or be annoyed with me. It was all part of my recovery. If I was going to get better I had to accept that. And I was determined to get better!
Depression is only one element of your mental health that can be affected by a brain injury. But remember that everyone’s journey is different, so some people may never encounter these issues, or some people may encounter issues far worse than I did. However, it is so important to look after your mental health regardless, especially when you have suffered a brain injury! Here’s a link to my Top Tips on Mental Health.
Disclaimer: It’s important to note that this was my experience with depression, but this isn’t the same for everyone. This is my journey and how I dealt with it. Everybody’s journey is different. What worked for me may not work for others. Some people may need medication. Some people won’t have the support I had to learn to manage it as quickly as I did. But talking openly and remaining positive and patient really helped me. Hopefully it will help you too!