Sustaining a traumatic brain injury can be a challenging experience. You probably felt angry, demoralized, helpless, and even hopeless in the days following your injury. For some people, these feelings eventually subside and disappear — but that didn't happen for you.
The Cognitive FX Blog
Your source for everything you need to know about traumatic brain injury and concussions.
Mental Health Support After a Brain Injury
Post-concussion syndrome is an “invisible” illness.
Mild or severe traumatic brain injury (concussion and TBI) can cause upsetting changes to your mental health. Brain injury can worsen pre-existing mental illness or cause new symptoms — such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more. Don’t give up hope: There are good treatment programs that can help you recover.
“No one ever told me my concussion could cause depression.”
If you’ve had a concussion (or two, or three … ), there’s a good chance someone told you to rest in a dark room and do nothing until your symptoms go away. But research over the past few years has revealed that resting in a dark room (known as “cocooning”) is not the best way to treat a concussion.
Personality changes (or what feels like them) are common following a traumatic brain injury. Even a concussion can affect the brain long after it’s healed from the initial injury. The way we process and understand information can change as a result of the injury, so it’s not surprising that our emotions are affected too.
After a brain injury, survivors and family members often describe having difficulty adjusting to life’s changes and losses. Survivors oftentimes face post-injury challenges that make can recovery difficult. They may have trouble paying attention, communicating, or having the energy to complete day to day tasks. Going to doctor’s appointments, handling financial issues and coping with conflict within the family can seem to take up all of their time. To make matters worse, having trouble with handling stress and easily feeling overwhelmed are quite common for survivors.
A concussion and multiple concussions can cause symptoms like depression, trouble focusing, irritability and other symptoms that make your child feel like seem like they are not themselves. Brain damage from a concussion can cause emotional symptoms that do not resolve on their own.
As a parent, you may have noticed that your child did not to act out or have behavioral problems before the concussion. Understanding that the behavior or complaints you recognize in your child or teen are unusual for them, it is safe to assume it is due to the concussion. While some symptoms like moodiness, rudeness, or anxiety may come from other possible sources, it is possible that they’re coming from a concussion they sustained. Your child does not want to be grumpy or suddenly outburst over simple occurrences. It is not uncommon for children and teens to have behavior difficulties resulting from a concussion diagnosis, associated behavior symptoms/changes include:
Going to school can be tough for any child or teen during this phase in their lives. They’re discovering themselves and where they fit in a sea of opportunities. Attending school can be especially tough when they are experiencing concussion symptoms. These symptoms can make your child or teen feel socially isolated because other children or teens don’t understand why they can no longer participate in gym class or why their class schedule has changed. It can be tough for your child to explain why things have changed or they might feel embarrassed about the changes that happened at school.
If you're like most people whose mood is impacted by the winter season, chances are you've woken up on a gray, winter day and wanted to stay in bed. We understand a case of the winter blues is likely to develop like the common cold. We have come up with a couple of ways to overcome this season's case of the winter blues, and we hope you can find the sunshine even on the rough days.
Parents who support their children recovering from post-concussion syndrome or symptoms (PCS) are in challenging circumstances. Many times parents and their injured child, are not fully supported throughout recovery. Often they are left with unanswered questions, and they are left searching and seeking resources to help them to help their child. We have asked parents of our patients, and parents of those who take care of individuals with PCS for things that would help others in their journey and this is what we gathered.
The Recovery Rollercoaster
We know this process can be frustrating, overwhelming, and it is a roller coaster of emotions for all involved. Throughout this process, you may experience feelings of frustration, empathy, and in some cases even heartache, hopelessness, and fear. It’s hard to watch your child suffer and feel you can’t do anything about it.
When someone you love sustains a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion, your whole world can change. You are launched into a world of uncertainty about the injury, recovery, and, perhaps, even who your loved one is anymore. So much can change after a TBI.
Journaling is one of the greatest therapeutic techniques available. Journaling is free, confidential, and convenient. It offers you the opportunity to be your own therapist. You might think journaling must be done sitting down and writing in a diary-type book. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you may be excited to learn there are numerous types of journaling. You can find a style of journaling that is fun and stress relieving at the same time. Journaling offers you a way to process something and let it go.
It can be incredibly helpful after a brain injury! After a brain injury, it can feel hard to express yourself and journaling is one way that can empower you to share yourself in a creative way.
Discover some of the different types of journals below. Try several. If you find one you love, stick with it. If one doesn’t necessarily click for you, don’t force yourself into it. Keep experimenting until you find one that gives you emotional expression, release, or relief.
Types of Journaling
Write it Out
- Daily life and experiences: This is the type of journal many typically think of when discussing journals. Write about your day chronologically. The entries don’t have to be exhaustive. Try writing a little bit each day. Just put a pen to paper and write for a specified length of time or for a certain number of pages.
- Quick journal: Write one sentence a day.
- One word essence journaling: Write one word to summarize the day.
- Question a day: Answer your own questions or be guided by prompts or predetermined topics. I loved my “Q&A a Day: 5 Years Journal” I purchased on Amazon.
- Meditation or transition journal: After work, before you transition to home, write out all your thoughts to assist you in letting go of the stresses of the day and transition into a more relaxed state.
A Tool to Support You in Healing
After you have received treatment, or are feeling better, and are no longer feeling like your concussed/traumatic brain injury (TBI) self, you may find yourself still holding back or saying the words “I can’t.”
It was a traumatic injury, sometimes the recovery can feel traumatic as well. You may have had many months while healing from your TBI where you struggled with various aspects of your life, including but not limited to, calling in sick to work because of headaches, forgetting important events, not remembering a word during an important presentation, inability to run on your treadmill due to dizziness, and feeling too tired to take care of your kids. Subsequently, you learned to set limitations for yourself. For this reason, once you’re feeling like yourself again, it can be a difficult transition to the new you.
Acceptance is the ultimate goal with regard to the stages of grief, your TBI or concussion, and the new you.
Acceptance is accepting who you are, where you are, how you are. This is it. This is YOU. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And you are truly amazing. Struggles and all. You are a survivor. No one can do it better than you!
Acceptance may mean distancing from people who don’t understand, give you ultimatums, enforce deadlines for healing, or get upset with you when you aren’t who you once were. You are worthy. You are deserving. You are brave and amazing. You are different than you were before your injury, but different can be good.
Many believe the five stages of grief last weeks or months, but according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, the stages of grief are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. As a reminder, we do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may experience one, then another, and back again to the first one. Let each stage happen. Embrace it, learn from it, and then keep going.
What is bargaining?
Bargaining is a stage in the grief process that is helpful when you feel powerless over circumstances, especially after a brain injury. Bargaining is an attempt to regain control. Bargaining is frequently done with God, or a higher power, that you feel has some control over the situation.
Bargaining is similar to negotiation. “I promise I’ll do this, or be this, if I can just go back in time—or have five more minutes or have one more day.”
It’s interesting because you know all the bargaining in the world won’t help, but it doesn’t prevent you from trying, begging, “Please? I’ll do anything. I just want my brain back. I want me back! The way I was.” You want to go back in time—stop the accident from happening, put on protective gear, yield to that stop sign, put on your seatbelt. If only, if only, IF ONLY.
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.