A little over a month ago, I made one stupid decision that would radically change my life for the following few months. I stepped on a board.
The kids and I were out exploring in Savannah, GA. It was the last day of our fall break trip; I wanted to get in one last thing before we headed home. While on a hiking trail, we came across a bridge. The bridge had been damaged by Hurricane Irma and was in the process of being rebuilt. I made sure all three of my children crossed safely. They all walked on the beams. Me? I walked on those two boards laid across the bridge. I tested the first one. Seemed sturdy. Didn’t test the second one.
Board went up, I went down. I walked off the trail and while my knee was tender, I was walking okay. Got to the car. Drove 4 hours home. Attempted to get out of the car. My husband had to carry me into the house that night and hoist me again into Urgent Care the next day. Expecting some hideous knee injury, I was surprised at the x-ray results. I was diagnosed with a tibial plateau fracture. I broke my leg, y’all. My knee also got banged around and suffered some collateral damage.
I’ve been on crutches for about five weeks now and while I certainly expected the physical challenges, I didn’t consider the mental ones at all. Depression after injury is a very real thing and I’ve battled it repeatedly since my accident.
Reasons For Depression After An Injury
The reasons for depression can be various, depending on the severity of your injury.
- If you’re bedridden, that one room is your whole world. It can make you a little squirrely.
- If you can’t drive, the loss of independence can be a sharp blow. Car services are available, but costly for every time you want to leave the house.
- The effort it takes to do every day things. The shower is fraught with peril for me. Staying safe in there is exhausting. I can drive, but I have to go down a flight of stairs to get to the car. I can’t carry anything while on crutches so I need to come up with all kinds of hacks to get what I need where I need it.
- The isolation. Sometimes you just can’t do the things that everyone else is doing. Either your body needs the rest or the event / location of a particular gathering is just not conducive to managing with your injury. I can’t get down to my child’s soccer fields. I can’t get up in the stands to watch my son’s marching band performance.
I’ve learned to recognize when I’m just stewing in my own juices and need to change my attitude. At those times, I try to use the following tips to get back to myself again and fight off this depression after injury.
Experience Natural Light and Fresh Air
If at all possible, get yourself outside. Even if it’s just to sit on your porch for 10 or 15 minutes, DO IT. This can be a game changer mentally. If you are bedridden, make sure someone will have some blinds up for a good portion of the day. If the weather allows, open a window and let a breeze come through and bring some outside scents along with it. I can’t tell you how many times this has changed my attitude, instantly.
Announce Visiting Hours
If you are feeling physically well, let people know you would welcome visits. I’m a busybody. All over the place, all the time. In the middle of the first week of being home bound (before I moved from a straight leg immobilizer to a knee brace that let me fit in the car) one of my besties messaged me to ask how I was doing. My reply? “Well, I cried this morning because I couldn’t figure out how to get my coffee from the kitchen to the family room without spilling it.” Her response was to immediately announce that she was coming over. Yes. Thank you. Even 15 minute visits to talk about anything or nothing can be helpful to blow off some depression after injury.
Enter Into The World Again As Soon As You Are Able
As I mentioned before, I’m a pretty active person. In addition to being a runner (I’ve already missed two 5K’s and a half marathon I was signed up for!) I’m a regular school volunteer and work at our church’s nursery. The loss of all that contact with other people was making me nutty. I’m the book fair chair at our elementary school and it would take a full body cast for me to miss volunteering that week. As luck would have it, as chairperson the majority of my job is to sit at the check out desk. I came in every day on my crutches, got situated with a chair under the table that I could prop my leg on and had a pretty amazing week of non-stop social interaction.
Let People Help You – No, Seriously
If you are battling depression after injury, you might need to give yourself some tough love. How much of your self-pity is self-induced? If your life can be made easier in any way by asking someone for help or accepting an offer of help, get over yourself and do it. At first, I was all kinds of faux-independent. I didn’t want to bother anyone. But here’s the thing. There are people in your life that WANT to help you. I guarantee that my husband would rather do something to help me than listen to me whine about my situation. He installed a handle in the shower so I wouldn’t be so scared about slipping. A friend offered a wheelchair loan. I turned that down, thinking that I was not that bad off. But after an outing where I covered far too much ground on crutches and my whole body was mad at me, I borrowed that wheelchair for some weekend plans that I had.
Hack, Hack, Hack
One of my personal favorite ways to fight depression after injury is to come up with clever lifestyle hacks. My coffee situation? I have one of those travel mugs that stays hot all day. My husband leaves for work before I get up with the kids, so he pours my coffee in that and sets it on a side table in the family room. I don’t have to carry anything and it’s still hot when I get up! I ordered a backpack purse online so I can still carry all my usual things while on crutches. There is now a chair in my bathroom so I can sit and blow dry my hair. I scootch down my stairs on my rear end because it’s just quicker that way. I order any personal items to be shipped from Target instead of asking my husband to walk around trying to find the exact moisturizer or hair conditioner that I use. Let people help you with things big or small. Remind yourself that you’ll pay it forward when you can. There’s no reason to make life harder on yourself.
If you are used to an active (physically, socially or both) lifestyle, an injury affecting your mobility can be a big mental challenge. Use the above tips and try to come up with more that work for you to stave off that depression after injury. A good mental attitude can be a big factor in your physical healing as well, so don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need!