I sustained a mild traumatic brain injury in March of 2011, the result of a freak accident. I was swinging my then 6-year-old daughter upside down, and mistimed it and we crashed our heads together. She was fine. I suffered a moderate concussion, had two herniated discs in my neck, and a wicked case of whiplash. I was told in the ER to take Advil or Tylenol if my head hurt and to try and rest for a few days.
I tried to power through, and about two weeks in I crashed in a major way. I was on my way to take my daughter to a Spanish class across town and suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was and had no idea how to get where I was going. I was on the highway and couldn't remember my exit. So I told myself I would have to look for familiar landmarks. I looked around and didn't recognize a thing. I did finally reach my destination, after getting lost for a bit. That same day I suddenly had tons of little floaters in my eye and my vision got fuzzy. I'd been having really bad headaches since the accident, as well as dizziness and nausea, but that day everything got worse, and within a couple of days I was completely bedridden and in immense pain.
I don't remember all that much of the next few months, except the pain, confusion, dizziness and nausea. I do remember having a sense that something was very wrong with my brain. About a month after the accident, on Easter, I sent my family off to dinner without me, thinking that I would be fine. I started to cry as the pain, sadness and anxiety increased in intensity, and alarm bells went off in my head when I suddenly felt the urge to climb out the window, and this voice inside my head seemed to be telling me to "Just sit out on the roof for a while. You don't have to jump."
Metacognition is a fascinating thing. There was a part of my brain saying, "Whoa. Not normal. Where in the heck did that come from?" Yet I was terrified that voice of reason would disappear and I might descend fully into madness. I did not climb out the window that evening, but I did call my family and ended up yet again in the ER, this time with suicidal thoughts and ideation added to my long list of symptoms.
The system failed me that night. I won't go into lengthy details, but suffice it to say the psychiatrist on call that evening signed off on my paperwork stating she had evaluated me and decided that I was not a danger to myself or others, when in fact she had not. She only came in briefly to tell me that she was really backed up and it would be hours before she could see me. I remember leaving the hospital thinking, "What if I do kill myself tonight? Will she blame herself, or not even care?" I am grateful that the severe physical and neurological symptoms I had made it virtually impossible for me to actually carry out any plan I might have concocted, and also grateful that there were no guns in the house, because that was the one way I may have been able to follow through with.
While I have greatly recovered and redefined myself in the years since my injury, I struggle with bouts of suicidal depression still, and have had to come to terms with some remaining deficits in cognition. My partner is very supportive and has said that while he doesn't fully understand it, he wants to do everything he can to help me through it. I think that is the confounding thing about depression that is not situational, that just comes and goes with nary a reason -- I don't understand it either, and I always have this underlying feeling when it is happening that this just isn't me. I had experienced bouts of deep sadness in the past, generally due to stressful situations in life, but nothing like the feelings of hopelessness and despair that I experience now.
Sadly we have just experienced a major tragedy, the death of my partner's 22-year-old son, and some days the combination of depression and the trauma and intense grief of a sudden and unexpected loss feels like too much to bear. I know from past experience that the best thing I can do is reach out for help, and so I have, to my family and friends and also to organizations and individuals experienced in moving through grief. I am also starting therapy again to have professional support as well.
The photo attached to this piece is one I often get compliments on, but I remember that day as being a "bad" one. I was very sad, had a horrible headache (which is another of my permanent symptoms), and I was lying in the sun in my car while waiting for my daughter at her gymnastics class. The photo to me is an acknowledgment of my depression, but also a reminder to always turn my face toward the sun.
I am working on a book titled A Blow to the Soul: Emotional and Spiritual Recovery Following Traumatic Brain Injury, where I detail my journey and the things that have helped me heal. I have learned that I cannot control my depression, but I can be proactive in managing it, and reaching out for help when necessary. The vulnerability required to put this on a worldwide stage feels scary, but I hope that in sharing I can help others, and at the very least they will know they are not alone.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.