Written By:  Tiffany Verzal @ Stand with Faith

I have had this topic on hold for quite awhile, and for some reason it just feels like the right time to break it out. The first couple of months after Alexis was injured were difficult, but it was pretty easy for me to hold it together mentally. I think most of that was due to the fact that I was busy learning about brain injuries, rehabilitation and getting settled into a new life. Our life was also filled with tons of support from family and friends. Alexis was receiving cards and gifts at an incredible rate, so there were many ways to add cheer to our lives.

As I have said before, I don’t remember much of that first year. Looking back, it gives me a big clue about how I was really processing what was happening or should I say not processing it at all.

I know that over the first year and a half I had several times when I was furious and more angry than I had ever been. I took it out on Brandon with tears and yelling, but it always passed and I moved on. Luckily he did too.

I had thought many times about seeing a therapist, but I didn’t feel like I had an hour to give. Our insurance didn’t cover seeing a psychologist, and I didn’t want to pay that kind of money. I felt like I needed to be grateful for what I still had and strong for my daughter. I had told myself that I couldn’t be angry about what happened, because I  needed to forgive.

The other thing that really got to me is that Brandon and I experienced the exact same things, and it was not affecting him in the same way that it was me. I ended up telling myself that what I was feeling was wrong and that I was just being dramatic. I thought to myself that Alexis was the one going through the hard stuff, she had the brain injury, not me. She wasn’t going to get any relief, why should I? No matter what I was feeling, it would never equal the pain and difficulty that she would experience for the rest of her life.

When I looked up depression, I didn’t feel like I matched ALL of the criteria. After all, what did I have to be depressed about anyway? Alexis was alive and she was making progress in therapy. There were so many people who had it worse than we did.  I had enough excuses to make me not do anything about it.

And so I went on. Day by day I knew that things were not quite right, but I kept thinking that I needed to suck it up and move on. But it didn’t matter, I had this nagging feeling that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I would be doing normal things, and then suddenly I couldn’t breathe. My chest would get tight for no reason. I started getting horrible migraines. I chalked it up to lack of sleep and too much caffeine, or maybe not enough?

And then it all came to a head at one of Alexis’ therapy sessions. I had just got back from giving a speech about Alexis and my head was throbbing. I was supposed to trade with Brandon, stay with Alexis at therapy and drive her home. But I stopped Brandon on his way out the door, and told him I didn’t think I could drive. It was a good thing, because he ended up pulling over half way home so I could get sick.

This happened a few more times, and it was finally enough of a sign for me that I needed to get some help. I found someone online and sent an email explaining my situation, and it was fifteen minutes later that she called me. Did I sound that desperate, I wondered?

I won’t forget that phone call, because it was really difficult for me to admit that I needed to talk to someone. What freaked me out even more was the fact I had let it go on as long as I had.

I was nervous the first time I went to see the psychologist. I made sure that I was dressed nice to make sure she knew I wasn’t crazy. I didn’t know what to write as I filled out the questions. There were several times that I wanted to get up and leave. It was strange sitting on the couch, and of course the poor psychologist sitting across from me was pregnant with her first child. I think that I felt more sorry for her as I told the story. But the hour went fast, and I felt a little better by the time that I left.

When I went to my second appointment and we talked more about what had happened, she said that I was experiencing symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I thought it was a little strange, since I wasn’t physically there to witness the assault that hurt Alexis. But as she explained, I felt the effects of what happened and it would impact my life forever.

After a few more sessions, I wasn’t having the panic attacks and migraines anymore. I have done many speeches since those appointments, and while they still make me a little sad, I don’t physically get sick anymore. I call that progress!

So for two years I battled it out in my mind, by myself, never acknowledging those feelings. It was the wrong thing to do. All of those things that I “told” myself were wrong. As for the difference between Brandon & I…what I really needed to do is recognize  that everyone is different, so we are not going to have the same reactions to things. It doesn’t mean that one person is wrong or right.

And I wasn’t crazy.

I wish that I would have asked for help earlier. Alexis deserved to have a healthy mother, physically and mentally. Brandon deserved to have the same for a wife. I feel bad that I let it go on for so long. I am just glad that it didn’t have a detrimental, long term impact on my relationships with family and friends.

You don’t need a traumatic life event to happen. There are all sorts of things that can trigger many different types of mental health issues. The bottom line, get help as soon as you can. After experiencing what I did, I can see how someone’s life can spiral out of
control where turning to alcohol/drug abuse or even suicide can seem like the only option for relief from the pain. Fortunately, my situation never went that far, but I waited much too long to get help that I desperately needed.

I’m inspired by two people who are brilliant and that I am lucky enough to call friends. One just received a “Light a Fire” award for the work she does with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The other gave one of the most brave and incredible TEDxLincoln talks on her life with OCD.


Tiffany Verzal

Tiffany Verzal was raised in rural Nebraska, and now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband Brandon and daughter Alexis (9) and Abby (2). In 2008, Alexis (then 14-months-old) was the victim of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of her daycare provider in Texas. Alexis suffered severe brain damage and has spent over 2000 hours in rehabilitation since her injury. Tiffany continues to raise awareness for traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome and child abuse. Brandon and Tiffany serve as members on Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Board of Trustees. Brandon is currently the Chairman of the Nebraska Child Abuse Prevention Fund Board.