My Relationship with Depression

David and his wife smiling in a garden

With my brain injury in 2010 came many changes. Perhaps one of the most significant —one that still affects me to this day — is the loss of my emotional filter. Since my injury, I have become more open about my life and much less reserved. This has been a gift, allowing me to connect with others in ways I couldn't prior to my injury. Openly sharing my challenges and struggles has, I believe, made others feel less alone and has also, unexpectedly, contributed to my own healing.

My life will forever be marked by that day in November of 2010, a true "before and after" scenario. Before my brain injury, I was plagued by clinical depression. The often-used term is accurate – I suffered from depression, specifically seasonal depression. Here in New England, the days are already growing shorter. For practically my entire adult life, the first meanderings of fall signaled the approach of another challenging season.

As the days got shorter and the weather turned colder, my life was like The Wizard of Oz playing in reverse: my days transitioned from vivid Technicolor to monochromatic black and white instead of the other way around. Small tasks, such as doing laundry, demanded Herculean effort. Merely getting off the couch drained all the energy I had. Two failed suicide attempts starkly reveal the depth of my despair. Not one to suffer in silence, I sought professional help, including therapists, cognitive sessions, talk therapy, and various medications. Yet, nothing provided significant relief.

Then came my brain injury on that early November day. An unexpected consequence followed: my depression disappeared. I was as stunned as anyone. While many post-injury changes were unpleasant, the sudden departure of my depression was a welcome surprise. As anyone with depression can attest, it's not something you can simply think away. Comments like "Just think positive thoughts" or "You have so much going for you … you can't possibly be depressed," though well-intentioned, only highlight how misunderstood depression can be. It's believed to be a biological condition, not a matter of willpower.

I can only speculate that the damage I sustained from my bike crash was to the frontal lobe, right at the perfect spot to alleviate my depression. In the last century, intentional frontal lobe damage was a standard treatment for depression. Thankfully, lobotomies are now recognized as archaic and brutal.

The fact remains that autumn now arrives without sadness or the fear of enduring another depressive episode. I often tell my wife, Sarah, how novel it feels to be genuinely happy during our long, dark New England winters. We've revisited that conversation almost every year since my injury. The joy of feeling good on short days never fades.

But this fall feels different. We've faced an immense amount of life stressors recently. My 90-year-old father is in hospice care. As I write this, the fourth anniversary of my beloved mother's passing looms. Others in our close-knit community have experienced profound losses. It feels as though there is deep sadness at every turn, making life occasionally overwhelming.

I fear the return of my depression. Though it's unlikely, what if my brain somehow “heals” to its previous state? Would that include the return of my depression? This year, I'm more attuned to the triggers from my past, which signaled impending dark days — the cries of blue jays in the fall and earlier sunsets were always precursors of a challenging winter.

In trying to maintain an air of objectivity, I am supposed to experience sadness during this chapter of life. Things are difficult and I’m not supposed to live in the land of never-ending smiles. Just today, I had an epiphany of sorts. Maybe what I am experiencing are merely memories of depression, and not depression itself. It only makes sense that I would remember something that defined decades of my past. Only time will tell. But this I know — I will continue to live my best life and continue to try to share my own experiences for the benefit of the greater good. And if perhaps you’ve come away from reading my thoughts here with a bit of hope, then it’s mission accomplished.