A universal complaint for Brain Injury survivors is that other people don’t understand him or her, or that others don’t seem to listen, or that friends act like they don’t exist anymore. These reactions we often get from others only serves to make everything doubly worse, because they amplify everything we already seem to be telling ourselves. These reactions stop us from feeling better about ourselves and from moving on with our lives, even when we are making positive strides. Much of our existence; for example, socialization, activities and our self worth, are based on the human relationships we have, and it is hard to overstate their importance to our well being. Rightly or wrongly, the way we view ourselves is influenced by how we see others reacting and interacting with us.
What makes it even worse, is that sometimes the people we expect to be the most understanding and compassionate, our closest friends and relatives, are oft times the last to accept what is really going on with us, or to see us as we are now. This is very hard, for these are the people we expect to be there to understand and help.
We feel almost as though we aren’t being treated as a human being anymore. What happens is not only have we had our lives turned upside down by our brain injury, but also everyone, even old friends and relatives, treat us differently than they used to, and this only adds to the confusion and anger.
There are two ways we can deal with this. We can change our behaviors; a very difficult thing to do when we don’t have the presence of mind to realize what we are doing to make people react to us the way they do, and also because we’re still in the post TBI or ABI process, trying to rehab and muck our way through the world. Another thing we can do is change our expectations, meaning, we try and find a way to be more “realistic” and accepting, and act accordingly.
Let’s for a moment imagine that we are walking down the street and a friend is walking towards us. Now we’re going to make this a little more interesting by having you be in your friend’s shoes, so that in this scene, you are actually in your friend’s body and walking up to yourself. This way, maybe you can get some idea of what your friend is thinking as you approach.
What would he be thinking as you walk up?
He might be feeling uncomfortable, or have concern or pity for this friend who just doesn’t seem right since his injury; maybe there is a sense that he doesn’t know what to do, or that he doesn’t know how to be a friend in this situation, but he wishes he did because he knows he is letting you down. In the end, he just really wants to help, but he’s just not sure how. At the same time, he’s not really sure why things can’t be like they always were, and he feels a helplessness when you come face to face with him. This helplessness becomes awkwardness, and it may even look as though he doesn’t care, but he really just feels completely disconnected from this person he used to know.
From this experiment, it appears as though your friend is as confused as you are, but there is one point here that stands out for you: while you’ve been through a traumatic experience, a brain injury, and have changed in many ways, your friend is what he always used to be, and you have an expectation that your friend will be there for you and assist you with your transition back to a normal life. There are expectations and confusions on each side, and with such a murky playing field, both sides are bound to be disappointed, mostly because neither your nor your friend have any understanding of what the other is going through.
We would like things to be as they always were, and so would they, but this can’t be. Even if there was no Brain Injury in the equation, people change and circumstances change, and really, who knows what would have happened?, but the suddenness of the Brain Injury throws a monkey wrench into the relationship equation. It just so happens that this change due to a Brain Injury was dramatic and instantaneous, making it all the more difficult for both of you cope with in such a way that you are able to maintain the relationship you once had.
There is a battle going on here…one for survival…and nobody is right or wrong. The point is, the responsibility for a friendship or a relationship can’t be on all one person’s shoulders. We will deal with this more in part II.