I’m not going to sugar coat discussions like this one or the previous one about how a brain injury often leaves you a different person. I’ve gotten some comments off-line about how much of a downer this project is so far. Oh well. So be it. You see, I’m not really saying anything new to a person with a brain injury, however they got one. I’ve noticed it is the people who haven’t been injured who have made those comments. If they’re likely to not understand what you’re working through you shouldn’t be surprised that they think you’re being a bit sour. I certainly didn’t expect it and I was bitter about feeling abandoned by so many people I thought were my friends. Very bitter. And the people who did stick around got to hear and read my thoughts on the matter. Probably over and over again because I had significant memory problems in these first 5 months.
This video from Liz Marks captures what I’m talking about here towards the end at the 2:45 mark. In short, she sustained significant head trauma in a car accident because she was reading a text while driving.
She went from a young woman with a vibrant social life to someone left behind. Admittedly her isolation was probably accelerated by the young age and college attendance of her cohorts but maturity doesn’t fix the problem. You can rest comfortably in the assurance that people are going to get tired of you and your injury, too, no matter what their age.
So many people I thought were friends were not there for me. My wife says several people visited me in the hospital and the rehab facility but once I was discharged I felt like I was on an island. I got an occasional email or Facebook message but those were few and far between. And the visits were hard to come by unless my wife and I contacted people when I needed rides. This summer had a dramatic effect on how I viewed the people in my life. I quickly learned who actually should have been in the acquaintance category and not considered friends. I will also emphatically say that many people I knew before my crash but didn’t consider close friends seemed to come from out of nowhere. Those people are now treasures in my life and I hope that I’ll be able to answer the call if they should need help.
This is complicated for me to talk about, especially since one day some of these people may read this post, but I’m going to speak as plainly and diplomatically as I can. I can just hear you thinking that they must have kept in touch, right? Emails, texts, FB posts. Of course. It’s easy to do that and besides, you’ve said you could still type well, right? Well, no. And what made it particularly difficult for me was how the club actively rallied around another member who collided with an oncoming car on a training ride about a month after my accident.
I got to see the club’s email list and Facebook continually lit up with tributes to this person. This guy has an incredible list of accomplishments to his name and the club is rightfully very proud of him. The club also worked hard organizing some fundraisers and tributes in his honor and many continue to proudly say they’re racing with him in their hearts. But me? Frankly, I was at best a good age-grouper triathlete, but I thought I meant something to the club. I wasn’t active in any official capacity but I helped many people over the years in lots of ways. Didn’t matter. And being forgotten hurt. I did what I could to get out for walks and see people I knew. Sure, they’d say hello and wish me well when they happened to see me – but I was the one that had to reach out in some way. If I didn’t make the effort I could just forget about seeing them because they sure weren’t coming to me.
There is a big difference between my injuries and this other person’s. He suffered significant facial trauma and a spinal lesion that has him unable to use his legs. His crash was also the fault of the driver who made an illegal U-turn in front of him. His facial damage is now hidden from what I can see (but I haven’t seen him in person lately, only FB pics) but his paralysis is quite visible and understandable. It makes sense that people are keeping him in their thoughts. He was absolutely done wrong by a car driver and now he has the challenge of his life ahead of him. Our life circumstances are also quite different but we both needed a lot of support from our social group. Only one of us got it from the club.
Why was that? For one, there was my apparent bad attitude and being told about it, too. Well, I have this brain injury see and … oh, nevermind. I actually didn’t have any family close by and my wife couldn’t stay at home and do her job so that was another reason. People also have lives of their own that they can’t just put on hold for some guy in the club. People get tired of listening to your strange problems and your stammering speech. There are many more reasons that could be on this list.
Paradoxically, there was another big reason why I was left alone. Since I could still think well enough to write coherently (before I forgot what I wanted to say, which was often since I could only write with my cell phone and that took a long time) it didn’t seem like there was any problem at all. When you can write well, telling people about your cognitive problems doesn’t do much but make you sound kinda whiny. I found later that many people thought I had just bumped my head or had a concussion. Nothing to be concerned about – and so they weren’t.
The small core of people from the club that did keep in touch (and listened to my complaints) were absolutely key to my not cracking up or harming myself. They along with some neighbors and people from our church have been priceless this year. Now that I can get out on my own occasionally I’ll meet up with someone I haven’t had contact with for a while. Most often they’ll say hello and ask how I’ve been and I usually have to check myself and be nice to them. And if they mention that they felt bad that I was being ignored while the club was doing so much for someone else I so so so want to ask why they didn’t say a single thing to me all summer long.
This will be the topic of an upcoming post but what it boils down to for me is that I have to forgive them if I ever want to be friendly with them again. Yeah, I have to forgive them and let it go. And remember that being different after a brain injury thing? I may also have to figure out if they’re accepting who I am now and if not, if I can’t get back to the person they knew before, when do I stop trying for something that just may not be worth it.
This is a great, great essay, Peter.
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That’s so nice of you to say, Drew. Anything you could add? I’m hoping to get more than just my opinions in here as a resource for folks also in my boat.
It does happen. But, in my case, I chose to look at it as the people who disappeared were either busy with their own lives, and had always been that way, or my need had never been as great,before,and my new found hypersensitivity (let’s call it what it is :emotional lability) intensified my feelings of isolation. I was not easy to deal with, always slow to anger, before, I was brittle and scathingly sarcastic. I cried at the drop of a hat. And I needed acceptance, something that a never gave a thought to before the accident.
Perhaps the most difficult part of my MTBI,was that I didn’t think like I did before, and the frustrating part was I recognized the difference,but was unable to recapture it. I think the coalescing moment for me came when I was speaking with my attorney at the time (I fired him that day) and I was displeased with his actions, and how he was valuing my case. He said:”Really what’s the difference between being smart, and being VERY smart?” I was taken aback for a moment,and then said “You wouldn’t even answer that question, Jon, if you were sitting on my side of the table.” I mourned for my uninjured brain,after that conversation. But I went on to feel empowered, to force myself not to wallow, find a new attorney who could appreciate the damage,and do a great job for me.
Ten years post accident,there are a lot of people in my life who did not know the pre-accident me. And, as time goes on, I am able to assess the things that I have gained, not lost, as a result of the MTBI. Perhaps the most valuable thing I have gained is an ability to recognize my own weaknesses,and a willingness to ask for help. Most people are innately kind, and once aware,are more than willing to help,in whatever way they can.
You will get there, Peter. I know you will.
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You know? This comment is a remarkable example of that closing statement in my very first post here. You just told a story about yourself that sounds so much like what I’m going through right now.
I should also add that the way you presented those ideas was to me eloquent and concise. Not just another take on the same theme. Something I’ve noticed is that even though I have thought about something and prepared a post on it, someone else’s explanation sounds so familiar and yet it’s as if it is a completely new concept.
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