On May 3, 2012, I was in a near-fatal car accident and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury as a result. God miraculously saved my life that day, and also went on to orchestrate a recovery only He is capable of.
My journey to recovery began at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, where I was discharged after a month and continued to have regular and frequent follow-up appointments with my doctors. One thing I remember about these appointments is being asked a number of times about having symptoms of depression or anxiety:
Was I feeling down?
Was I starting to isolate myself from others?
Was I feeling hopeless?
I now understand why they were so persistent in their questioning. Statistics show that one year after a brain injury, more than 50 percent of survivors are affected by these conditions. After seven years, that number jumps to more than 66 percent, compared to the general population where the rate is less than 10 percent.
But at the time, I was naive and believed these statistics wouldn’t apply to me. I had never dealt with any mental health issues. And why would I start now? I had so many things to be happy about and thankful for. I had just survived a near-fatal car accident and my recovery was going better than any of my doctors expected. I had great friends and a wonderful family. I was back to working as a family doctor, a job I knew and loved. And most importantly, I was a Christian, and Christians aren’t supposed to be depressed or anxious, right?
But none of these things seemed to matter. I had a hard time accepting my new life and the new me. I felt like I had become a completely different person. After the brain injury, some of my strengths became my weaknesses, and some of my weaknesses were now my strengths.
I had become very rigid in my daily routines and wanted to stick to the plans I had made for each day or week. I had an extremely hard time multitasking and tended to just focus on one thing at a time. My memory had suddenly become poor, and this was something I had once been proud of. It was something I had depended on to make it to my career as a doctor. Unlike anything remotely related to my “previous” life, I had somehow become a reader, a writer, and a deep thinker. I wasn’t sure how to act or how I was supposed to function as the person I had suddenly become. I wasn’t even sure I liked who I had turned into!
All of this confusion and questioning resulted in the arrival of a battle with depression and anxiety. I became more withdrawn. I felt down about all the new struggles I had developed from my brain injury. I was having a hard time finding joy in this “new” life. I finally admitted I was having these thoughts and knew I needed to seek help.
Now, I had been treating these conditions for years as a family doctor, but after experiencing them myself, I became shamefully aware of how poorly I understood them. I had always struggled with understanding and explaining to patients why they should use the medications I prescribed or the counseling I suggested. But now, even though no two persons’ experience with mental disease is the same, I was getting a glimpse of how some of my patients felt.
My treatment for the past four years has included both medication and psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT). The combination of the two has helped me accept the things I really had no control over and given me the motivation to work on the things I do. In addition to these, regular exercise, the proper amount of sleep, and a healthy diet have also been important in improving my mental health.
Following my brain injury, mental illness has become a part of my story. And it is something I have chosen to openly accept and courageously fight. Besides what I mentioned above, another vital part of my acceptance came from reading the Bible and understanding it in ways I never had before.
I have learned that the Bible is filled with people suffering from all sorts of issues. Though I grew up in church, I wasn’t aware of this. The churches I went to just didn’t talk about it much, or maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention. So, because of my ignorance, I was under the impression that the people who wrote or who were written about in the Bible didn’t deal with any of these kind of issues. And if I was living a proper life and the way God wanted, I shouldn’t either. I have learned this is simply not true.
For example, the authors of Psalms and Lamentations both write about the struggles they faced. These godly men openly confess their feelings of despair and anxious thoughts. David, for example, cries out to God, “My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Psalm 31:10). This is an honest cry of someone suffering emotionally.
But after telling God about his despair and anxiety, David then makes the choice of the other writers of the Bible—to stop carrying the burdens himself, and chose to let God carry them through whatever he was struggling with. Just a few verses later, David says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands. . .”(Psalm 31:14) David realizes that he cannot carry his burden on his own, and chooses instead to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and leave his struggles at the foot of the cross. And that is what I am learning to do as well.
Illness of all kinds, both physical and mental, was not part of God’s original plan. But because of our sin, it came into our lives. Thankfully, we have a God who loves us so much He came to rescue us from this mess. God sent Jesus, who lived a spotless life and died for our sins so that one day we can live forever in a perfect world free of all disease. This is one of God’s promises, and it’s in this promise that I place my hope and my trust (Revelation 12:4).
But until that glorious day, there will be trials. There will be sickness. It is during these difficult times I find my hope, strength, and courage in another one of God’s promises. The promise that in my weakness, He will be the strength that carries me (2 Corinthians 12:9).