I commented on the death by suicide of 23-year-old is Stanford graduate student and Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin earlier this month.
Reader Robert VB pointed me at an article in Bicycling.com: Pro Cyclists Open Up About Depression. There is of course nothing “pro” about anxiety and depression*, but pro cyclists presumably are going to get more attention than my concussion log —I applaud their sharing of their experiences and that Bicycling.com thought to publish the article.
* I suffered from depression for many years, but being the “strong silent type” (my high-school guidance counselor’s words), I suffered through it in college and beyond. At first I did not understand it, then I was ashamed to admit to it. Needless years of drained life. Only later in life have I mastered the skills to beat it off when (highs require lows but not too low!), but it requires energy.
Carmen Small’s experience
The account that resonated powerfully for me was that of zzzzzzzzz. It mirrors my experience (an OMG moment when I read it), differing only in that her trauma was more severe than mine and more than I care to contemplate, and the impacts on her have lasted longer, with less good resolution of symptoms.
And I’m different now. I have anxiety about everything, I cannot deal with stress, I am overly emotional, I am sad all the time, I am irritable, I have trouble with noise, driving makes all this worse (not the best in my profession), and the part that is the hardest is I have a fucking headache every day.
I'm screaming on the inside and looking fine on the outside. I get comments all the time, “Oh, you look great. How are you?” I just normally say, “Yeah, doing well thanks. You?” mostly because I am sick of explaining two years later that I still have problems with this damn concussion. I am frustrated, I get depressed, and I hate my life most days, but I put on a smile and head out to do my job and act "normal." I
My sense is that few people (not even trained psychiatrists) can begin to understand the complex set of feelings she has expressed in any 'gut' way—but having gone through it myself, I feel qualified to say her description is spot-on as far as words can go. I am glad to see it in print since just knowing one is not alone in the world is some comfort, and it might at least help non-victims to have some degree of understanding when no physical issue is visible. That last point cannot be emphasized strongly enough: brain injuries are invisible and yet most everyone sees only the physical body. No blame to them, but my own family could not understand, so how would any stranger?
No one can foresee the benefits of trying to help (for either party), but that can’t happen without communication, so in spite of being a very private person, I feel compelled to reach out: readers are welcome to contact me if they have had a concussion along these lines that they would like to discuss.
My experience, particularly after my concussion, is that out there for the finding exists a precious thing: minds that can operate on the same wavelength effortlessly, be it a shared experience like a concussion, or otherwise. If you’ve had a concussion, reach out and don’t give up because if you find the right person, it could be a breakthrough. Ditto for regular life. I meant that both intellectually and romantically and for the lucky few, both.
I consider my concussion very lucky in multiple ways. All of my symptoms have receded into the background, though I have some impairment in terms of workload, sleep needs and similar a year later, and maybe forever. The benefits have lingered: not a day goes by in which a positive perspective on life is not of some use, sometimes things of minor importance, sometimes more. Still, there are days (or series of days) where fighting the Anxiety Beast consumes nearly all my energy, problematic for a self-employed person. Yet that weakness has made me stronger and wiser and I am not sure I would trade it back for an “undo”. I have little idea how my own experience tracks, hence my interest in talking with others.
With full respect for medical professionals: I don’t think that doctors of any kind are really of much service post-concussion beyond some basics, and only in the most primitive sense (how to recover quickly and well is a empty book for the medical profession). Plus, not having any skin in the game (with rare exceptions not having experienced a concussion), what doctor of any kind can really relate, particularly those pressed to spend 5.87 minutes per patient on a rigorous schedule? Thus a dry clinical approach as with the physical body. Which is not to say that counseling* is without merit; it surely is in terms of tools and guidance in dealing with challenges. But it is cold comfort compared to a shared experience and very hard to access mental health services*, which are rendered in medical setting that is clinical and formalized and thus itself a source of stress—and stress is intolerable after a concussion, or it was for me—nature/outdoors was and is free and was my solution.
* A scandalous health care problem these days is claimed availability of mental health services that are not actually available due to excessive cost and/or distance and/or months-long waiting periods (in my experience with myelf and my family, all of those). Insurance company executives ought to be held criminally responsible for fraudulent claims about benefits.