After a brain injury, it is very easy to fall into depression. The more you learn about the effect that this could have on your life, the more likely this will cause you to discard plans that you have made for the future. It is a very uncertain time when all you want is a straight answer of when you will be back to normal. Nobody can answer that question because plain and simply, nobody knows!
I recall going through a stage of self-pity when I was always exhausted. I stopped looking after myself, my hair was untidy, I put weight on and I stopped looking after my skin so that it became spotty. These are signs of depression. I remember thinking of myself as a social outcast, I was convinced that people would find me boring. I had no job and nothing to talk about and I hid away; I didn’t want to inflict myself on them. I had no structure in my life and no reason to get up in a morning. I dealt with these problems by isolating myself. Now to look at this logically with hindsight seems crazy, but depression is an easy route to take and it’s something you should stay away from at all costs!
What saved me from this state of mind was exercise. I started with 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every afternoon at the same time, this is something that raises your heart rate. I ran, but whilst I appreciate that not everybody can run you should be able to find a form of exercise that raises your heart rate. If you have a local gym, then ask the gym instructor. Make visiting the gym a routine. Try to do it on a particular night - this will give you something to start to plan your day around and the start of bringing structure back into your life. I started going for a mile run every night. If you cannot run then doing something every day to increase your heart rate is infinitely better than doing nothing at all. It is so easy to say ‘I can’t’, but that attitude won’t change anything in your life. If you want things to change in your life then you need to adopt an ‘I can’ attitude and you’ll be surprised what you can do! YOU CAN!
Something that I have found particularly challenging post head injury is social isolation and I now take any opportunity to be social. This is particularly useful when exercising because exercising with someone else increases the chance of doing it. To train for the York marathon in October, I joined a local running club. Running can be a very isolating way of exercising and I found the club to be a perfect solution for me.
I appreciate that it can be nerve-racking going into a club or gym where everybody already knows each other. It was hard for me to walk into both for the first time, but I was surprised at how helpful people were and how many members were anxious about similar things before they joined.
The benefits of exercise
The benefits of exercise are well documented: you will lose weight, have a stronger heart, your veins become clearer, strengthens your bones, it takes more to get out of breath and you start to look a lot healthier. A neuro-physiotherapist explained that cardiovascular exercise is more beneficial than resistance exercise (lifting weights) for brain injury because it transports oxygenated blood to the brain. But what I found to be great about it was the increased confidence it gave me. I had my hair cut and I started wearing smarter clothes. I bought a 2-litre water bottle which I used to fill in the morning and drink throughout the day and it eventually cleared up my skin. I had gone from someone that was overweight with no confidence to someone who looked and most importantly felt so much better.
I used to spend a lot of my time feeling down. This tends to attract sympathy and people feeling sorry for me and saying “awww”. I found this was about the most efficient way of losing my pride! I quickly realised if you do nothing then nothing will change. If you want something to change then you have to change it. Your enthusiasm can certainly decrease and many people find it difficult to self-motivate, but it’s not impossible. Remember that if you do nothing, then things will stay the same. Exercise is a great place to start and a fitter body leads to a fitter mind which gives you more energy to do other things. So try it make that first step and you’ll find that people are more willing to help you than you think!