Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Act Happy to be Happy

            Depression is almost certain with TBI. In fact, I would say that if you suffer a traumatic brain injury and don’t get depressed, then you just don’t get it. I did not become clinically depressed until about two years after my accident. It took until then for the double vision, the dizziness, the confusion, and the fact that I never felt good, to finely overwhelm me. Like many people, I despised the idea of being dependent on any medication and the thought of what those drugs would be doing to the rest of my body was just as disturbing. However, when depression finally ran through me, I surrendered to my doctor’s advice and went on anti-depressant medication. I adhered strictly to the prescribed regimen so as to affect the greatest efficacy and speediest recovery. Ultimately, this took almost a year.

            I was determined to do everything that I could to avoid becoming depressed in the future. I have determined two ways that have kept me free of depression ever since. The first way is one that I believe will work for everyone. The second way is a path that is different for each person and I only relate mine as an example.

            About eight years ago I went to a seminar given by a doctor who had studied the effects of smiling and laughter on the health of the individual. We all know that depression is a chemical imbalance. Long after the original cause of the depression may be gone the imbalance remains and this is what we call clinical depression. We know that when somebody is depressed they look depressed, their posture is bad, their shoulders droop, their head sinks, they don’t smile, and so forth. According to medical research it is this physical state that induces the body to manufacture the chemical imbalance that makes one unhappy. This chemical change must be overcome to be happy again. But how? “Simple,” says the good doctor, “just smile.” If you change your face from a frown to a smile, if you sit up straight, your body will eventually change its chemistry. Look at yourself in the mirror with a big grin on your face, how could you stay unhappy? The dissonance is startling. You have the power to smile. If you are able to get over yourself and let the smile work its magic, you will find your mood improving. I can’t suggest you do this as a way of treating severe depression, but it can’t hurt. I believe quite strongly that it has helped me.

            Laughter is even stronger than smiling. We have all heard the adage that “laughter is the best medicine.” Well, it didn’t come out of nothingness. Laughter is the strongest prescription available for pain and depression. It releases endorphins from the body’s own pharmacy. Have you ever been carrying something heavy and started laughing at something funny? Laughing so hard you had to set down what you were carrying for fear of dropping it? That’s endorphins numbing your pain and relaxing those muscles. Watching a funny movie or joking around with friends is some of the most effective therapy I know of for treating pain or low spirits.

            The second method is spirituality. Almost without exception, I have found that most survivors have a deep and abiding faith that sustains them. As an Atheist, this didn’t really work for me. I know there are others out there that also share my lack of faith, and although my spirituality is very private, I would like to share the path that I have followed to happiness. I have turned to Bhuddism, I am not a Bhuddist per se, but I have found strength in the teachings of the Dalai Lama. There is a mystical side to Bhuddism that I do not embrace, but the teachings are very relevant. The book I recommend is called “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler. M.D.  This book combines the teachings of the Dalai Lama with the interpretation of a psychologist.

            These two techniques have been the cornerstone of my recovery that has allowed me to face the challenges and the heartbreaks of brain injury recovery.

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