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.
You may feel alone, like no one understands what you’re going through. Sometimes you may not understand what you’re going through. You feel like you’ve lost a part of you. Maybe even all of you.
Dealing with all of those symptoms and changes, who wouldn’t struggle with feelings of depression?
Depression, in regard to grief, is not a diagnosis of mental illness. It is an appropriate and healthy response to a traumatic event or loss, including a brain injury. This is depression you are expected to experience. Still, remember that just because this depression is not a diagnosis of mental illness does not mean it is insignificant or minor. Don’t be hard on yourself when you experience this stage. It does not mean you’re weak. It does not mean you’re broken.
When someone breaks up with you or when you don’t get accepted into the college you’ve dreamed of attending all your life, you’re expected to feel extreme sadness. If you weren’t affected by it, your loved ones would probably be concerned about you.
Now apply that understanding of appropriate sadness to life after the auto accident, sports injury, or other incident that caused your TBI. It’s expected you’ll experience sadness and depression. Be kind to yourself and take comfort in knowing that it will pass.
How to Work Through Depression Due to TBI
Over time, you will leave this stage of grief and move on to another one, and it will get better. However, before you can reach another stage, you must go through this one. Again, that was through it, not around it. One of the best ways to move through the depression stage is to journal about it. Document it. Share it. Your story is powerful. If you feel comfortable, you may choose to document your journey of recovery on social media. Social media has become an amazing platform for finding support from others all over the world.
Find and connect withsupportive people. It is validating and empowering when you find someone who truly understands what you’re going through. There are numerous support groups available online and through Facebook. (Cognitive FX is not affiliated with any of these support groups but they may be a place to find others with post-concussion symptoms.)
Exercise can also be a powerful tool to manage feelings of depression. Exercise can be stress relieving and endorphin releasing. It may seem difficult to get started, but, once you are exercising, you will appreciate the benefits. Exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be cardio and weights at the gym, though it can be. Find exercise that you enjoy doing. Some examples include hiking, swimming, walking, or playing a sport.
Exercise and journaling can go a long way in helping you ride out the depression. Nevertheless, it’s OK to seek out extra help. You can meet with a therapist, especially one with experience in treating individuals with TBI. A therapist can help you understand the grief stages and suggest additional, personalized tools to empower you and your recovery journey.
There is Always Hope
When you start to think you’re never going to stop crying, remember this statement: It will stop. You are not opening the floodgates to a never ending dam. You are not hopeless. The situation is not hopeless.
Recognize feelings of depression, experience them, work them, and move on when you can.
Once you’ve gone through this stage, you can look back and see how far you’ve come, all you’ve accomplished, the strength you’ve gained, and the amazing new friends and supports you’ve made. Most of all, you will see that you survived.
You never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have. And you are STRONG!