Depression, one of the five stages of grief, may be the most familiar, and frustrating, feeling experienced after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion. And it’s not a fun one. Depression is a feeling of loss, emptiness, sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, and/or confusion. Depression as Part of the Five Stages of Grief After a TBI, typically you’re told to rest for days, weeks, maybe even months. A forced withdrawal from society, family, friends, work, school, everything. Then, once the rest period is over, you still may not instantly go back to the activities you’ve done in the past. You may find yourself getting lost driving to familiar places. You put food that belongs in the refrigerator in the pantry. You leave things in a very specific place to prevent losing them—only to forget where that place was! You read the same sentence seven times and still don’t understand what you read. You find yourself yelling at your spouse/children/friends for no apparent reason. You get a headache just walking across the room. The activities you used to enjoy may now cause you pain. You get dizzy running on your treadmill, and staring at your computer screen feels like torture. You may find yourself questioning your faith, your choices, your mindset, your abilities, questioning everything. Your TBI has changed your life. All of it.
After a traumatic brain injury or concussion, relationships can become strained. Communication can be difficult. Let’s be honest, thinking can be difficult. Sorting out your feelings and sharing them in a healthy way may feel impossible. After a TBI, the areas of your brain that affect processing, language, and word retrieval, can be affected. It takes extra energy and effort to communicate after a TBI. It may feel overwhelming or exhausting. The good news is it is possible to have healthy communication after a brain injury. It may take more effort and practice, but it is a real possibility. My memory struggles didn’t make communicating more difficult, but it did require me to come up with some simple tools to remember how to communicate effectively.
Anger is a stage in the grief process. Many times when we experience loss, or trauma, we experience anger, irritability, frustration, or even frequent annoyance. Anger is a healthy emotion, one we don’t necessarily like, but it’s not wrong to feel angry. Experiencing anger doesn’t say anything negative about us. We feel like just about anything could be the “straw that breaks the camel's back”. Anger is a common emotion most of us are familiar with, prior to injury. We frequently pretend we have control over it. After the injury, we recognize we may not be able to control it. Why do we have anger? Anger can cause us to do, or say, things we don’t mean, we later regret, and can’t take back. Anger isn’t the problem, it’s what we do with those feelings that matters. Anger can cause us problems, but anger is also beneficial.
What is Denial? Denial is a stage in the grief process. Many times it just doesn’t feel real. We may believe we’re imagining the pain or trauma we’re currently experiencing. It’s a bad dream, a nightmare. We’re in shock and we’re anxious to wake up and go back to our normal reality.
If you have had a recent brain injury and are unsure how to deal with the symptoms and changes you are experiencing, then this post is for you! To begin with, we encourage you to find a doctor and work with them throughout your recovery. Finding the right doctor to be on your team is very important to a successful recovery. Typically, you will follow the return to play protocol, starting with rest and self-care. Then you can use the following suggestions to help you adjust to the changes after a concussion or TBI. I wish I had a list things to do to support me in my mntal health when I experienced my TBI.
Grief and loss are a part of life, but they are the least talked about part of life. Have you ever wondered why that is? It is because grief is HARD. Going through it is difficult. We seem to feel if we avoid talking about it, we will avoid feeling grief entirely. Wrong. Maybe you have heard of the Stages of Grief, and maybe you haven’t. Either way, you are experiencing grief, due to a recent brain injury, concussion, TBI, or trauma. Learning about the stages of grief gives validation and understanding. But, know that there is no wrong way to grieve. There is only your way. Grief is unique. You may experience all of the stages, or you may not. In what order, for what length of time, or how severe it will be is unpredictable. Stages may last minutes, or months. Not knowing is the irritating part! Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler developed the Five Stages of Grief as a framework to deal with death, dying, and loss of a loved one. More information can be found at grief.com. I believe these stages apply to all loss, including brain injury.