By Taylor Summers-Kenney
According to a study, written by Scott Patten of the University of Calgary and Heather Juby of the RDC Network, 1 in 50 Canadians are suffering from depression at any given time; for survivors of a Traumatic Brain Injury the risk of depression increases substantially. Both the College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and the University of Iowa have done studies outlining the problems associated with TBI. They found that depression affects more than 4 in 10 survivors. Many struggle with an even more serious form of depression classified as major depressive disorder. Survivors of a TBI have a tremendous range of physical,cognitive, emotional, and social issues to deal with and depressive syndromes often result in poorer outcomes and delayed recovery. Depression is probably the most important aspect of a TBI as it affects the ability to apply other coping strategies and seriously impedes recovery and acceptance.
My TBI occurred during a motor vehicle accident on January 22nd, 2006. Like most survivors, I have had to deal with physical, intellectual, emotional, social issues, and of course, my own struggles with depression. There are three basic treatments for depression: medications (anti-depressants), psychotherapy, and ECT (electro-shock therapy). I have been through the rollercoaster ride of medications (though mostly for pain management) and am still seeing a psychologist. I am grateful that I have managed to bring my depression under control before resorting to electro-shock therapy. I figure that my brain is messed up enough without sending electrical currents through it. Apparently, ECT it is quite effective and nothing like what the movies portray, though the very idea scares the crap out of me.
Anti-depressants can work wonders. The problem is having the patience to find the proper drug or drug combination to suit your biological and emotional makeup. The first time they put me on anti-depressants I sat on my couch for a week and felt nothing. No sadness, no anger, no happiness…nothing. It was terrible. It was the wrong drug for my body and left me with a fear of medications. Do not get me wrong; antidepressants can save peoples very lives, but I needed to try other options first and save medications as a last resort. Psychotherapy, here I come. My therapist, affectionately referred to as “the shrink,” was extremely helpful in my struggles with Post - Traumatic Stress, acceptance, and various emotional and social issues with which I was struggling and still do struggle. In good conscience, I cannot give my “shrink” the praise for combating my depression. That acknowledgement must go to Eleanor Porter and Walt Disney. These two people created a drug free system of managing my depression, allowing me to find my happiness on a daily basis, and thereby aiding in my recovery speed and outcome.
Eleanor Porter in 1913 wrote a novel entitled Pollyanna, which in 1960, Walt Disney adapted into an Oscar winning film. Eleanor has to get some of the praise since she wrote the book, but at 5 months post-accident, I was incapable of reading any kind of novel and in desperate need of some relief from depression. Walt Disney to the rescue! Like I mentioned, at this point I was not capable of reading, my speech was unintelligible, I was confused, frightened, in intense pain, and bed bound. I used to manage a large company, take care of the home, my husband, and my son, and led a very active lifestyle. Now, I felt like I was nothing and my life was over. Depressed? You bet!
I lay in bed and watched movie after movie (often not comprehending the story lines nor remembering the characters or plot after ten minutes of the movies ending). Then one day, someone brought over the movie Pollyanna. I lay in bed and watched this little girl explain her philosophy of life and show how it can be used in any situation. It is called “The Glad Game.” The rules of the game are simple. In any situation, you must find something to be glad about. Pollyanna’s game started one Christmas when she received crutches instead of a doll from the missionaries. Her father taught her to be happy about the crutches because “we don’t need ‘em!”
I must have watched that movie 5 times that day and began to play the game. I thought about the crutches. I needed a cane, crutches, and a chair in my bathtub at this point, but…I still had my legs and lovely legs they are. Ah hah! The Glad Game. This fictional little girl’s optomisim was contagious. I began to apply her attitude to everything I did and thought. It was not long before I was out of bed and on the road to recovery. I was still incapable of doing much of anything properly but I did not give up. I started to look at the bright side of everything which meant focusing on what I could do, however small. I was incapable of reading. The sentences made no sense to me, but I could read and understand most individual words. I started to read children's books. “Dick and Jane. See Spot run.” I am coming up on the 3 year anniversary of my TBI and can now read and write at a college level. I believe this is due to applying the “Pollyanna Principle” to all aspects of my life in recovery. Not all facets of my rehabilitation have been so dramatic but everything gets better or can be dealt with easier over time and with a positive attitude.
The repercussions of a TBI are life long in many cases. We, as survivors, need to accept that life will always be different than it was pre-injury. The movie Pollyanna and the optimistic attitude which is taught throughout, has shown me that life though different can still be full, happy, and productive. There is no better way for me to fight depression than by continuing to play the “Glad Game.” I admit that occasionally the Pollyanna Principle fails me. Sometimes the depression wins and the tears, frustration, and anger will surface, but those times are few and far between now. We (survivors) have been through a lot and struggle with many of the simple things that others take for granted. Every once in a while, we deserve a good cry, but can not allow depression to rule us or hinder our progress.
Rent the movie Pollyanna or if you are capable, read the book (and be glad that you can). Try playing the “Glad Game.” Once you get started it is hard to stop. Perhaps, like me, you will eventually sicken your friends and family with your constant cheerful and positive attitude. Fight depression with pure happiness and gratitude. You are alive and the roses still smell wonderful. The best thing about the Glad Game is that it works wonderfully in combination with any other medications or therapies you might be involved with…there will be no adverse side effects. I promise.
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