In 2008 I suffered a head injury, when a security light fell off the side of a building in high winds, swung on its cord, and hit me in the face. Medically speaking, it was a minor head injury (I was lucky – it hit me on the strongest part of my face). Psychologically speaking, it sparked the beginning of a long journey to recovery.
When I told people about it, some people laughed. Some people told me I was using it as an excuse for not fulfilling some of my obligations at university (it happened the day before my last term of my Bachelor’s degree). Because they belittled the experience, I did too, and I squashed it down inside myself for the few months until graduation. But after that, with little to do except sit at home and apply for jobs, the emotions began to come out, and I found myself in a state of raw despair, trauma, and deep depression and anxiety.
I went to the Doctor because I was having memory problems – I’d be talking and then forget what I was saying in the middle of a conversation. My brain had seemingly stopped working and I was terrified I would lose my mental capabilities. I was worried I’d sustained damage to the brain from the impact itself, but the GP decided I was ‘simply’ depressed and prescribed me SSRIs, which had very little effect on me. Fortunately, fresh out of my psychology degree, I knew that people who were depressed showed the best recovery with a combination of drugs and therapy, so I pushed for a referral to a psychologist.
Although my psychologist was reluctant to label people with their problems, it was at this point I realised that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress. Flashbacks were triggered when I walked down the street (the accident happened on a shopping street), during high winds, and when anything approached me quickly from the left side. My body was on high alert, and anything could set me off: a sudden noise, someone touching me unexpectedly, anything that surprised me and could be considered a threat. This period of hyperarousal lasted for about 6 months, during which I also suffered from depression. Living in a world of fear is incredibly lonely, especially when the fear is so intense that nothing and no one can make it better.
They say time is a healer, and for me time helped the memory fade and began to bring my mind and body back to the new normal.
I am not the person I was before the accident.
I have since alternated between periods of intense anxiety and depression. The injury also triggered gastrointestinal symptoms that would eventually lead to me being diagnosed with coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease that is often triggered by a stress on the body. But after everything that I’d been through, each time I became anxious or depressed, I found myself a little bit more equipped to deal with it.
My new normal is a constant battle to keep my mood and motivation up, it’s having freak out codes with my boyfriend (yellow is “I’m freaking out and I need your support”, red is “get me out of here immediately”). Normal to me is feeling overwhelmed in large groups, and noisy situations, it’s dealing everyday with slightly scary things – a large dog jumping up at me, a near miss on my driving test – and working out how to deal with these without developing a whole new fear or phobia.
The accident certainly had a profound effect on who I am as a person, and even 6 years later I feel there are parts of me that aren’t really “me”, that have been constructed in order to help me cope. I don’t like these parts of me, but I have learned to tolerate them, and more importantly accept their existence. The hardest thing for me to do was acknowledge that I was “allowed” to feel what I was feeling, and that this accident wasn’t trivial; it wasn’t some petty incident that I should just get over– it was a traumatic event that provoked serious mental health problems and deeply affected my life afterwards.