Living in a Funk | Depression & Apathy After Brain Injury |

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

 

 

8 thoughts on “Living in a Funk | Depression & Apathy After Brain Injury |

  1. I am glad you wrote this, I think I will print and post this on my front door. I never leave my house really. Everyone wonders why. NO ONE BOTHERS ME. I can have my owe world, with out all the questions, and being down graded. I am 4 years out I think now. But I have noticed , if I cook I for get to turn the stove off, I put cookies in the fridge. I get lost in Walmart. And in the middle of a conversation, I say what was I talking about. So I am glad I am alone with my dog. And I am posting your piece on my door. Thank you Amy

    • Hi Lee, my brain injury occurred in 2002 and I found online support groups were very helpful with lots of people discussing their issues and getting suggestions from others. If you don’t already belong to one perhaps you could join this one – https://www.facebook.com/groups/brain.injury.help.news.and.support.community/
      There’s no expectation that you join in the chat first off, I would suggest that initially you sit and watch the conversations until you find something that you can relate to. There are lots of us out there. Please be kind to yourself and take care.

  2. This is the closest I’ve read to how I feel. Thank you!

    It’s nearly 5 years for me and it’s still a constant, up and down daily battle to survive. I have a wonderful family who love and support me fully. I’m one of the lucky ones.

  3. Amy, I really enjoyed your post. It is s true about the amount of energy it takes to shower and get dressed. It wipes me out to. I swear the first thought by most doctors thoughts are we must be depressed because we sleep so much. Of course, immediately after injury we absolutely need to, but even after a year of or it could be more than just depression. Perhaps a sleep disorder, (narcolepsy/cataplexy) brought on by the fall from the head injury that is causing major need to sleep also during the day. For me, it was definitely that. I used to be the energenzier rabbit prior to my head injury. I’d sleep maybe 6 hours a night and work like crazy. Now I can’t do much of anything. Chronic headaches, tinnitus, neck pain, ear pain, sensitivity to light, sensitivity at times to sound, jaw pain, visual changes, previous balance issues, but remaining dizziness that comes and goes, my short term memory is shot, reading comprehension questionable and unable to use computer with multiple screens no more than 25 minutes at a time. I tend to now prefer to also prefer to be alone, because it’s just easier. Prior to my injury I was a complete extrovert, always talking to who ever I’d see, my teenagers would get so annoyed. Now they’ve been forced to drive their once energetic mom all around town. I just want my life somewhat back at least. I feel awful this injury has not only effected me but my entire
    Families life completely. Again, thank you, your article was spot on and I’ll follow you for sure. 😁

  4. Amy, kudos to you on this article. I Agree with Lee above that I should print out the article and place it to be seen daily. I too push myself far beyond reasonable limits and suffer with fatigue and yes apathy. I really don’t want to call it apathy even though by definition it is that. My intuition though has named it apathy and I’m beginning to see it as such. I feel largely powerless over it even in face of being raised a traditional ‘bootstrap’ person. Hearing your truth here lessens some of my self imposed guilt. Thank You.

  5. My brain injury in 2002 has left me with many cognitive issues including constant low mood and frequent lack of motivation. I have tried lots of different therapies and love having cranio-sacral massage and acupuncture. For the past year I have been taking Nature’s Way Perika St John’s Wort and although I have only been taking one tablet instead of 3 per day because of cost, I have found this has leveled out the ups and downs of my moods. Definitely improved “the funk”.
    Thank you for describing exactly how it is for many of us.
    Cheers

  6. Thanks for your openness. it is refreshing. My thoughts and prayers are for you tonight. I have struggled with being shutdown for the past several years and I have found some great resources recently from Irene Lyon (www.irenelyon.com). She focuses on how to get trauma out of your nervous system and has a lot of good vlogs on YouTube. I have felt more like myself in the past 6 weeks than I have in the past 5 years by learning and using these new skills. She has great free resources and paid programs. I highly recommend her information. I have not shut down since July even though panic and shutdown have been my auto-responses for many years now. Hang in there. To every season there is a beginning and an end. Grace & Peace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *