We human beings are not jaguars, roaming life alone. We’re lions in our prides or elephants in our herds or ducks in our flocks. We become not normal when we’re left to be by ourselves, especially in times of crisis such as injury or acute ill health. Disability becomes less tolerable when endured alone without deep, stable relationships to carry us along when we can’t carry ourselves. Even hermits need one connection. I know a doctor who is the one and only friend of a man and sees him regularly but not too frequently. That man is mentally ill, afraid of people, yet even he needs a friend.
North Americans view Africans who’d rather contract Ebola than not hug and touch their dead loved ones as strange. Why would Africans want to risk contracting Ebola just for a hug or touch? But they are the normal ones, doing what even elephants understand is necessary to recover fully and well from the grief of losing an integral part of ourselves: our relationships. We are the abnormal ones who so fear our social biology that we have memorials not funerals; that we don’t want to “interfere” then wonder why people suicide; that we fear to be near suffering and so are blind to the quiet joys of being with another as they walk a difficult path through suffering and into a new life.
On top of the effect of being shunned and isolated, brain injury can also affect the emotional centres of the brain. It can rob you of affect, create leaky eyes and face-reddening sobbing, damage your ability to feel bonded to another — even while you crave human connection.
Neurophysiological injury leads to microglia attacking neurons and eating synapses in a way that researchers are beginning to realize creates “sickness behaviour,” an evolutionarily adaptive response to infection, as well as manifesting what psychiatrists diagnose as major depression. In addition, this injury also steals your ability to relate and communicate, and it takes away your skills and talents. You lose relationships, jobs, finances, and yourselves. Any one stressor arising out of brain injury is at the top of the stress list. People with brain injury suffer from several top stressors: ill health, marriage breakdown, moving, to name a few. Unlike those without brain injury going through a major life stressor, people with brain injury also lose their usual stress management techniques. For me, reading was my top stress management technique, and brain injury vanished it.
After injury, you experience both major stress, the kind that can kill, and loss of your prime management techniques. Add on fatigue, loss of motivation, initiation deficit, and confusion as you grapple with the rapid deterioration of your lives, and the superficial presentation mimics depression.
It’s not depression.
Medication won’t fix it. At best, it masks the spiritual, psychological, and neurophysiological damage that remains unhealed.
It’s why it persists for the rest of one’s life.