On the surface, everything in my life was going incredibly well. My surgery and recovery couldn’t have gone better (no infections!). I was a superstar at work. I bought a beautiful house the year prior. I completed my master’s degree five months after surgery. I could support myself, I had food to eat and clothes to wear, and I didn’t wake up in horrendous pain every day. So, why the hell was I upset all the time?
I couldn’t tie these feelings to anything tangible, which was incredibly frustrating. There was nothing in my life that was making me unhappy. There was nothing for me to fix. It was just this innate pain that I couldn’t shake. And I was afraid to tell anyone, frankly, because if anyone knew how chaotic and intense my feelings were, they would surely shuffle me off to the psych ward.
I went on crying jags seemingly out of the blue. I no longer suffered from migraines, but I still felt awful. I couldn’t figure out how to tell anyone that I was consumed by darkness every second of every day. Or how I hadn’t been sleeping because I still had nightmares (more on this in a moment). Or how I had three more double shifts to work in the next three days and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I just cried.
My boyfriend at the time tried to help. “Don’t cry,” he’d tell me. “Why are you crying? There’s nothing to cry about.” That made me cry even harder. He was right—there wasn’t anything to cry about. My life was better! He got frustrated with me and distanced himself, because he just didn’t understand. How could he? He’d never been through anything like this, and I wasn’t explaining myself at all. But I simply couldn’t find the words.
I did try, though. I knew when I was being irrational, and I would tell him I was just having a rough day. The best I could do was to explain that my mood swings weren’t logical, but they were intense and out of my control. “You’ll recover,” he reassured me. “Life is good. I don’t understand why you’re upset.”
I wasn’t just upset; I was clinically depressed, but unless you’ve gone through that, you don’t understand what it’s like. I had no idea how debilitating depression could be until it happened to me, so I couldn’t expect him to understand. I used to be one of those people who thought the answer to depression was taking better care of yourself, and all of those negative feelings would magically go away. Needless to say, after experiencing the sheer magnitude of severe depression, my perspective changed.
If someone is in crutches or in a cast, people can visually see that they are physically injured. They automatically know they will struggle with various daily life activities; they will struggle simply trying to take care of themselves. The various associative traumas that stem from head injuries, on the other hand, are not visible. You can’t see depression, or sadness, or grief. When someone looked at me, they didn’t see any injuries, so they’d assume I was okay, or normal. In reality, I was suffering from an invisible injury. No one could see that I woke up exhausted and drained every day. No one could see the frustration I felt internally about losing control over my emotions. No one could see how I was triggered by something that shouldn’t have been a big deal. Because they couldn’t visibly see my injury, they didn’t understand why I reacted the way I did. And because they didn’t understand, I started to hide my true feelings. I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to appear a certain way, which only made things worse.
For more about my story, please pick up my book, You’ve Got Some Nerve: The Battle Back from an Invisible Injury.