Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Looking Back

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I stuck my head in the sand after the first acute brain bleeds. It took me two months to raise my head and actively learn about my condition and search for a way to reclaim my life.
I don’t remember anger. Nor do I remember bargaining. But I do remember depression. Both situational and clinical. I still suffer from depression. I’m on antidepressants, and every time I try to lower the dose, I learn afresh why I need those meds.
What about acceptance? I certainly haven’t reached full acceptance. I believe I never will. I believe I continue making progress towards it.
As human beings, many of us are extremely uncomfortable with the natural progression of grief. We’d rather see a prolonged stage of denial than “too much” depression.
We are so quick to say, “She’s dealing with his death very well.” because she only cried once in public. I have also heard “It’s time to move on.” far too often, directed at others and at me.
I saw a post on Facebook “The only time you should look back is to see how far you’ve come.” It was on a page frequented by brain injury survivors and caregivers.
On my first anniversary after the surgeries, I was sobbing, grieving for my world that was, for the person I used to be. Ruth, a friend and a breast cancer survivor, said to me that I should try to think of it as a celebration. “See how far you’ve come.” I wasn’t able to at the time.
All I saw when I looked back was a nightmare—the debilitating headaches, the frequent vertigo and loss of balance, ongoing crippling fatigue, the cognitive issues. Everything had become so much more difficult, day to day living. Despair was a close companion.
Though my first anniversary was a horrific punch in the gut, I didn’t realize until a few days later that my second anniversary had come and gone. On my third anniversary, I was finally able to look back without grief. The third anniversary was indeed a celebration—I had come a long way.
One of the reasons I had come such a long way was that whenever I had looked back and needed to grieve, I allowed myself to cry. In order to move on, we need to grieve.
I realize that some people get stuck in one of the stages of grief for what is considered an unhealthy period of time. Some stay in denial for the rest of their lives. Others dwell on their anger. Too many sink into a depression and never resurface.
Many of us brain injury survivors go through the stages of grief and move on towards acceptance. But our losses are with us as constant reminders, often slamming us with new manifestations. It should come as no surprise that even as we move towards acceptance, the grief, the denial, the anger, the frustration, and, of course, the depression, continue to resurface.
I know that people mean well. They feel the need to say something to make us feel better, to help us move on. I’ve heard that I’m lucky to be alive. I’ve been told to try to think positively. During the rough patches, such statements are irritating at best, but when in the throes of depression, they can actually be harmful.
But of those feel good wannabe statements, “The only time you should look back is to see how far you’ve come.” is by far the worst. How could anyone believe that it was appropriate for brain injury survivors?
Certainly when aimed at those of us who grieve, such a statement exhibits ignorance. It implies that we should deny ourselves the tears, that we should be able to move on without them.
But to me, as a brain injury survivor, and I would imagine to many survivors, such a statement is worse than ignorant, it is condescending and hurtful. It implies that our grief is not appropriate, that we are not dealing with our hardships adequately.
Seeing that statement brought back memories that on a bad day probably would have triggered tears. Having a good day, it made me angry instead.