Brain injury and mental illness – two separate, but equally horrific medical conditions. That’s what I thought this time last year when I was sitting with my GP discussing my symptoms of depression. I was referred to Oxfordshires brilliant mental health service Talking Space and started cognitive behavioural therapy within days of my referral.
Six weeks later, I was back with my GP making the decision to start taking antidepressants. My therapy with Talking Space hadn’t improved the situation and I was in such a dark place that I was willing to try anything.
Fast forward a few months to the beginning of November and things have improved to the point where I have the occasional good moment. On a good day, I was vaguely happy. On a bad day, I was so down that I couldn’t make myself a cup of tea without breaking down into tears. Those who know me well will know that I’m somewhat of a tea fiend, so the concept of not wanting to make a cuppa really was out of character!
Looking back on that time, my symptoms really weren’t typical of ‘normal’ depression. I’d go from being on top of the world, to being on the verge of tears in a matter of seconds.
I first realised just how bad depression could get when I was staying with my brother and sister in law one weekend. I don’t really remember what made my mood change, but a while after I’d gone to bed, my brother walked into his spare room to find me curled up in a ball under the duvet, crying so much that I was physically shaking. I’m not sure either of us knew what to do in that moment. So, like any person who knows me well would do, he made me a cup of tea!
I continued like this for most of the last few months of 2018. I stopped seeing my friends, I stopped talking to my family, I stopped going to work. I stopped living.
I realise now that brain injury and mental illness are so interlinked that all of my experiences last autumn were the initial signs of just how ill I was going to be. Any illness that can alter how you think and feel to that extent isn’t going to be good.
Research has shown that depression after traumatic brain injury is entirely possible. I’m no scientist, but as far as I can understand, it’s to do with the injury changing the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain and therefore changing your emotions. Doctors tell me that this is what caused my depression, and I’d be inclined to agree with them. From the day I started taking antibiotics back in January my mood started improving. I was lying in a hospital bed quite literally dying, yet I was the happiest I’d been in months!
Believe it or not, I am actually going somewhere with this post. My goal with writing 26 Miles from Brain Injury and running the marathon is not just to fundraise for Headway, but to increase awareness of both the charity and brain injury and it’s related symptoms. I’m hoping that my readers can learn something from me.
So, what can we learn from my experiences?
First, there needs to be far more discussion and education around mental illness. We’re all familiar with the symptoms of a cold, the flu and a huge variety of other illnesses that present physical symptoms, so why aren’t we familiar with the symptoms of mental illnesses? I strongly believe that had I been more aware of depression and what to expect, I would have seen that my depression was not ‘normal’. Maybe, just maybe, if I’d known that something was out of the ordinary, I could have had the all important MRI scan a couple of months earlier and avoided the bit of my experience where I nearly died!
Secondly, if you are struggling with a mental health issue, talk to someone. Whether that person be your GP, a family member, a colleague or a stranger you see on the street. There is so much fantastic help available for people with mental illness, but you can’t access any of that help unless you ask for it. Always remember that you are not alone.
We all need support from time to time. Right now, I’m getting mine from Headway. It’s no exaggeration when I say that clicking the donate button at the top of the page will change a brain injury survivors life for the better. If you aren’t in a position to donate, that’s okay. You can still support me by clicking one of the pretty blue buttons just under this post and sharing 26 Miles from Brain Injury on your social media profiles.
Thanks for reading!