First of all, I want to thank everyone for their continued support and interest in my blog over the pact eight or nine months. I have had some wonderful responses and talked to some inspirational people, with amazing stories who have overcome many similar obstacles (and in some cases more) that I have. There are also those that are still struggling and I am glad that you have taken the time to read my words, whether they offer, hope, knowledge or even just a different way of looking at things, it is amazing just to have my work taken seriously.
I would also like to take a moment to offer an apology. Over the last few weeks, I have really struggled with issues of my own regarding depression, anxiety and just a general feeling of negativity. I have overworked myself over the past month, taken on too much and as a result my writing and commitment to you, the readers, has not been good enough.
Where I Failed
Over the past few weeks my linear narrative (which was focused on issues around depression, as will the posts over the next few weeks) has been disrupted by many events like ABI week, National Epilepsy Week and so forth. Over the past month I felt my mind and my thoughts sinking into the bog that is the negative thought process of depression: easy to get into, extremely difficult to get out of. My passion was waning and I produced content that was average at best and I knew was average but posted it anyway. There was a lack of enthusiasm, a lack of passion and to be honest, just a lack of care.
After I had pulled myself out of this funk of depression and negativity I went back over the content I had posted and saw that the quality was poor. Not just in terms of the content that was written but just as much in the content that was not written, particularly when I spoke of what we go through (Mental Health: What We’re Dealing With, Mental Health: What We’re Dealing With (Part 2), Post-ABI: Depression) with regards to our mental frailty and fragile mental health post-ABI. If there is anything I can say about the previous post on depression it is that it was written in very broad terms, talking only in a general way, about the issue and about things that people who have never experienced it generally presume to know anyway. What I didn’t write about is the feeling nobody other than someone who has suffered from depression will know: the dangerous period of time where people hit the bottom. When people feel as though they have no escape, no way out and that life is a game that they don’t want to play anymore. This is a serious discussion that is often avoided (I myself skipped ahead in my last post, Depression – The Positive Effects of Exercise, trying to provide methods of recovery when I had not fully explained the severity of depression.) At times in my recovery, I have felt that way and I will try my best to shed some light on why I felt the way I did and hopefully redeem myself for some pretty poor work over the past month.
Where the Depression Stems From
As I have stated in past posts, in the early stages of recovery is where the seed is sewn regarding depression. We are mourning the loss of our former selves, the loss of certain abilities, brain functions and physical function, talents and personality traits. However what I believe to be the water that gives this seed the nourishment to grow is the feeling of, as we become more aware of our situation in passing months, a feeling of uselessness. You begin to question what exactly is your function and whether this will be your condition forever. When you are in the situation where you are gradually adjusting to living life with an acquired brain injury, it is difficult to see past the present and look to the future. Only with the right support from the right people can you avoid this trap. If you slip into a state of mind where, seeing what others around you are doing to support you, you end up asking yourself, am I a burden? Am I useless?
You Are Not a Burden
As I say above, when you see what others are doing around you to help your recovery it can feel as though you are a burden. For a long time after my injury (the severity of which took complex brain surgery to save my life) I thought, “I wish I could just die!” Or I kept asking myself, “would it have been better if they had just let me die?”
The answer to that is a short and simple one, NO.
We all have something to contribute to this world everyone’s presence is vital. I firmly believe that. What we have to ask ourselves is that when parents and siblings, cousins, whoever do the things, do they do them out of obligation? Of course not, the reason that they do it is because they love us and have hope that things can get better for us. It is a hope that we need to find ourselves during recovery and it is a difficult thing to obtain. But as recovery slowly progresses we will find ourselves being able to do a certain thing that we weren’t able to do a few months ago (using examples from my own experience now, get up and walk down the stairs). That provides hope. We slowly improve on certain things and obtain other new skills that ease certain pressures on the people who are caring for us (being able to go to the bathroom and bathe without support). That provides hope.
There is also something to the notion that accepting that you need help is a big stage of conquering depression. Accepting that there will be setbacks and negative outcomes along the way is essential. It took me a long time to recognize and accept this notion. I think that is a result of that idea of mourning and that sense of loss that you feel after an ABI, that a thing that you used to be able to do so easily is now a real struggle. It makes you so angry that (in most cases) a situation that was not in your control has left you in this state. Getting over that resentment is the hardest part of ABI recovery in my opinion. It is only in the last year or two that the anger in me has subsided. In this particular situation it is a case of learning to control that anger and finding a suitable and constructive outlet.
It is my belief that the key to seeing through the mist that is that early stage of hopelessness, is to take the little victories that you achieve, hold on to them and keep them close. Because if you can achieve that, there are certainly other things you can do. I would also advise you to accept the help that is offered and listen to the positive words and the advice of those around you. Why not set yourself a larger goal for the long term?
Futures & Goals
I was barely aware of what a future might entail. It took a lot of verbal support and a carefully monitored recovery plan (that was always adaptable and in transition) and the help of a (very) small number of workers assigned to my post-discharge rehab for me to see that there might even be a future. Establishing the fact that enough people believed in me, that I still had the abilities and that I could achieve things if worked hard enough was what enabled me to set myself a target and work towards a future. Trust me when I say this, the people who love you have these hopes for you to. They know you can achieve the things you want with the right amount of determination and the right work ethic. As for me, that target (getting back into education) was the closest thing to a long-term target I had, what I would do after that? That was another target to be set when I had achieved the first one.
I was extremely fortunate to achieve my goal and that the outcome was the best I could hope for. During my time at university, having a spent a year at home to recover, I was forced to try and confront all the challenges that I had struggled with. The things I had had to learn at home (cooking, regular bathing, cleaning my room etc.) were now completely up to me and I didn’t have anyone immediately near by to fall back on. It was a long, hard and some points miserable time. For the most part though, it was good for me, not just in terms of improving my health and my skills but in helping me socialise and learn new things. It was a big gamble for me to go to university but it is one I am glad I took. That can be a big contributor to improving your state of mind; changing your surroundings and challenging yourself!
We Need To Look Forward
All people, whether fully abled people or people with a disability can contribute big things to the world. Everyday and throughout human existence you hear stories of great men and women achieving things, not just building a future for themselves but going down in history. Look at people such as Stephen Hawking, the greatest mind the world has ever known, confined to a wheelchair due to Motor-Neuron disease. Julius Caesar, according to studies of records and history, suffered from Epilepsy (or mini-strokes according to new findings) and he was the ruler of the Roman Empire and the reason that the empire was the size it was in the first place (that isn’t me advocating revolution and imperial dictatorship, but hey!). As a final example, David Weir (six time Paralympian gold medalist wheelchair racer) became the person in a wheelchair to complete a mile in less than three minutes.
My point being that we all have something within us that lead us onto greatness. After something like an ABI and while trapped in the quagmire of depression, anger and resentment that comes shortly afterwards, we need to find something to hold on to. Whether these are our own achievements, the love and support of family, friends or spouses or simply a determination to succeed in the pursuit of a long-term goal, they are the flames that keep burning and produce light in the dark, dank caves that are our minds during serious periods of depression. It is essential that, whatever you do, you do not let that light go out!