Depression and apathy are symptoms of brain injury, and all too often overlooked and dismissed by the medical community.
Before my brain injury, I don’t recall suffering from depression or anxiety or sleeplessness. Except for the occasional butterflies in my stomach before a big presentation, or not being able to sleep the night before a big trip that I was excited about.
For the past two weeks I was in a deep, dark funk. I cried at the silliest things, I felt emotions swell up to the surface, and I had zero tolerance for others. I kept myself locked away in my house, not wanting to inflict my funk on anyone else. I avoided self-care and hygiene as it consumed too much energy and apathy kept me paralyzed in place with a lack of motivation to get things done.
Casual acquaintances tell me “oh that sounds like PMS” or “you must be peri-menopausal” or “it’s just the moon cycle, I get like that too”.
This drives me absolutely crazy!!!
I know ME better than anyone, and I can tell you that I have never experienced this prior to my brain injury. It’s an all-too-common side-affect from hitting my head — scrambling the motherboard so to speak.
I haven’t felt this dark since the first year after my accident. The first year was filled with more days in a funk than not, but has since leveled off. So this particular episode of funk caught me off guard. I would start feeling better after a few, and then slip back down into the hole of despair.
If you’ve never experienced it, it’s super complicated and hard to comprehend.
People assume one should be able to just “get yourself out of it” and shake it off, but it’s truly not that easy. I am a positive person and know the exact steps one ‘should’ take to bring yourself out of a funk, yet when I am in one it’s SO freaking hard to do. Apathy (a neurologic problem that causes one to lack motivation) gets the best of me in times like these.
I’m pretty sure I know what tipped it off … I had traveled to Washington DC to lobby for healthcare, followed by another trip to Columbus, OH for the Concussion Health Summit in which I spoke for 3 hours the first day, plus talked with a lot of other attendees and vendors.
I pushed myself too hard, and my body shut itself down to conserve energy.
In the early days after my injury, I wouldn’t shower for days. You have no idea how much energy taking a shower and getting dressed takes, until you have limited supplies of it. It was such a daunting task … and I would NOT say that this was depression — this was simply a lack of energy issue.
And that is exactly where I think medical professionals get it all wrong.
They write us off as depressed when in fact we are just exhausted or overstimulated. They don’t understand that apathy is vastly different from depression. They try to put us on anti-depressants which alter the chemicals in our brains — which are trying to heal at that exact moment. Now, I am not saying meds are bad as some people truly need them. But in my case I knew they weren’t what my body needed, and I knew they would hinder my recovery.
Now, I am three years out and for the most part I have more good days than bad. I am feeling pretty good, even though I still need to nap and have had to learn how to pace myself. However, when I have pushed myself, my body, and my brain too far the funk returns.
I’ll say this again because it bears repeating, the funk “depression” is a symptom of my brain injury. It doesn’t mean I have mental health problems or that i’m unstable. It doesn’t warrant medications that will make me feel worse. It requires rest, self love, compassion, and maybe a box of chocolate (or two).
When you notice a friend or loved one with a brain injury start to pull away and become disengaged, this is a sign that they’re in a funk.
DON’T tell them to “get over it” or that they’re being lazy. What they need is support and acceptance. Instead, give them a big hug and tell them how much you care about them. Ask how you can help, or better yet, jump in and help (laundry, cleaning, making meals, etc). When we are in a funk these tasks become way to much for us, and then they build up over time making it that much more daunting.
Listen to my recent podcast on apathy
Read more of my work on Huff Post