Depression and Traumatic Brain Injuries

depression and TBI

Are you struggling with depression as a result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Do you feel as if you are emotionally drowning, as if your existence is meaningless? Or maybe you don’t have a TBI, but also feel saturated with hopelessness. Depression is as real as a broken bone, a slipped disc, a migraine. It is more than feeling blue. Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It can impact every day life: work, sleep, relationships.

About fifty percent of those who have sustained a TBI suffer from depression within the first year of injury, and two-thirds are affected within seven years. More than half of all TBI survivors who are depressed also experience significant symptoms of anxiety. In the general population, the rate of depression is much lower, affecting one in ten people.

TBI survivors may suffer from depression as a result of changes in the level of chemicals in the brain, and injury to the area of the brain that regulates emotions. Depression also stems from an emotional response to the struggles of adjusting to life after a TBI. Some people have a family history of depression, placing them at greater risk.

On October 4, I joined Donna O’Donnell Figurski, the host of “Another Fork in the Road,” and Juliet Madsen, a TBI survivor, on the Brain Injury Radio Network for a discussion about TBIs and depression. If you missed the show, here’s your chance to listen to the archived version.

*If you, or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, here are a few resources.

Suicide prevention

Crisis text line

Vermont Department of Health

If you are suffering from depression, please know: You are not alone.

* The information provided in this post is intended as a suggestion, and not my endorsement of any or all of the resources listed.  Nor am I providing medical or professional advice of any kind.

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Under The Gum Tree


Under the Gum Tree is celebrating its fourth anniversary this month. An independent literary arts micro-magazine, the mission of the publisher and staff is to “strive for authentic connections through vulnerability.” To that end, they publish creative nonfiction and works of visual art.

I’m pumped-up with excitement that the editors connected with my personal story, “Right Foot, Left Foot,” and featured it in the  the October issue. The piece is adapted from my memoir in progress, which follows my literal, and metaphorical, walk toward recovery after an elderly driver confused the gas pedal for the brake and ran me down. As can be said for much of my work, the piece reaches beyond my solitary existence and addresses elusive, brain-draining themes like the body, identity, independence, loss, and grief.

Under the Gum Tree is a one-of-a-kind literary magazine: full-color, glossy pages flush with visual art and stories told without shame. To purchase either a digital or hard copy, visit Under the Gum Tree here. Make room on your coffee table!

As part of the celebration, on October 21, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Under the Gum Tree will host Gum Tree Live, a quarterly web reading series, where you can hear writers published in the October issue read live on Google Hangouts and YouTube.

Hope you can make it!

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On The Air with Melissa: Depression and Suicide


As a result of a traumatic brain injury, do you suffer from Depression? Do you have thoughts of suicide? Or maybe you know someone with a TBI who is struggling with depression. Either way, I invite you to join me, a TBI survivor, in a discussion about depression and suicide on the “Another Fork in the Road,” a broadcast of the Brain Injury Radio Network. Juliet Madsen, also a TBI survivor, will be joining me, along with the host of the show, Donna O’Donnell Figurski.

I will be speaking live, on the air, on October 4, 2015 at  8:30pm Eastern Time (5:30pm PT,6:30 MT, 7:30 CT).

Please don’t be shy! Call in with any questions or comments at:(424) 243-9540.


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Art as Advocacy


Vermont College of Fine Arts will be holding its inaugural Hi-Residency conference – a cross-disciplinary alumni reunion – from September 24 through September 27.  The themes is “Art as Advocacy.” As part of a panel titled “The Personal is the Political,” I will discuss how writers advocate for those who are disabled.

Here is the abstract for the panel: The personal is political” has been a rallying cry for decades by various advocacy groups who have used the phrase to call attention to the idea that even our most personal actions have political implications. For authors who do not consider themselves to be advocacy artists, it is often difficult for them to see their works as political.

In literature, is there such a thing as art for art’s sake? What is the responsibility of authors in considering the political implications of their work? Do we need to preface our work with disclaimers in hopes of not triggering readership discomfort? Or is that the purpose of literature – to make one uncomfortable? How can we use our art as a way to uncover, as Claudia Rankine says, “the small moments that carve gaps of misunderstanding between Americans that lead to big, national moments of misunderstanding, like events in Ferguson and New York?

For me information about other panels and events taking place at he conference click here.

Hope you can join me for an intellectually stimulating and fall-fun weekend!


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Not Just a Reading: Melissa at Westwinds Bookshop in Duxbury, Massachusetts

When it’s a cold, rainy day what better place is there to be than in a bookstore, slouching back in a cushy couch, nibbling on delicate pastries, and letting someone read to you? That’s how fifteen individuals, who were mutually interested in learning more about traumatic brain injuries, spent their Saturday afternoon this past weekend. As the hard rain tapped against the windows of Westwinds Bookshop in Duxbury, Massachusetts I spoke to them about TBIs, then read from my essay, “Invisible Bruise,” published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries. Though I relayed a dump truck full of statistics, and read my story, my wish was to engage the audience in an honest discussion of the broader issues related to TBIs, inspiring them to pass on to others their new knowledge of this often misunderstood injury. And that’s exactly what evolved from my talk and reading: a couple, whose daughter sustained a TBI in a car accident last spring, shared their concerns about her suffering from depression. Another woman, with a granddaughter who is recovering from a TBI, asked about how one qualifies for disability insurance. The actor Chris Cooper, and his wife Marianne Leone, who has written a memoir about their disabled son Jesse who suffered a brain hemorrhage related to prematurity, spoke about the roadblocks they encountered when advocating for him to be included in classrooms with able-bodied students. The discussion continued for several more minutes, some vocalizing their thoughts about we view individuals with disabilities, even in the context of those who have not suffered a TBI, followed by others asking how TBI survivors cope with the loss of their careers.

And so my wish was granted: the event was not only to acknowledge my writing, and my TBI; it was for everyone in that room, and for those beyond the room who could not make it.

I came away from the reading with more than the sunny feeling that others benefited from it. Most of the people who attended I had never met before, but by the end of the event, I sensed each individual’s unique energy. As one after another thanked me, they reached out to shake my hand, but I refused. Instead, I reached out and hugged each one of them. They hugged me back.


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