TBI SoS – Speaking of the support of a caring community

Note: I am currently writing a full-length work on Restoring a Sense Of Self after TBI, and I am posting the sections here as I write them (click here to go there now).

I recently had occasion to listen to a tribute to an individual who had passed away recently, and one of the most notable things that was said about them was, “They had a clear sense of self.”

Needless to say, my ears perked up, and I paid very close attention. What I gathered from that tribute, as well as the other speakers at the memorial service, was that this person’s sense of self was central to their place in their community — church, school, and beyond. It was the thing that made them both part of the whole, and a distinct and separate individual.

When it comes to TBI recovery, there are very few elements more important than one’s connections with other people. We are by nature social creatures. Our brains are social organs. So much of what we do and are is geared towards interacting with other people, and when we’re denied or deprived of that interaction, disruptions and disorders can follow.

It’s my personal belief that much of the mental illness and logistical dysfunction that comes in the wake of TBI is rooted in social isolation, or a growing alienation from the world around us. TBI can make it next to impossible to work with others, or for others to work with us. Mood disruptions, unexpected outbursts, agitation, fatigue, difficulties paying attention and remembering what people are saying to us, all contribute to this, as do physical issues like light and noise sensitivities.

But we need to be around people to get better. We need feedback from others to understand how well our strategies are working. We need to have models and examples to follow. We need people. And when we pull (or are pushed) away from those situations because of our difficulties, we lose important opportunities to modify our behavior to become more functional, and recover from our injuries.

If you don’t have a clear sense of self, dealing with others can be very difficult. It puts you on edge, first of all, and that doesn’t help you interact productively with others. It also doesn’t give others much to work with. Interacting with someone who doesn’t know who they are is a little like climbing up an icy hill. If a person doesn’t have clearly distinguishable unique characteristics — opinions, beliefs, tastes, thoughts, etc. — there’s nothing for other people to “hang onto” socially, and the interactions can get slippery. And then there’s more agitation, more irritation, more difficulty. You’re like a ship with a broken rudder tossed about in the stormy seas. You don’t have anything to guide you, anything to steer yourself in the right direction.

Not having a clear sense of self is not much help at all.

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

One thought on “TBI SoS – Speaking of the support of a caring community”

  1. I appreciate your perspective of how isolation can have a negative impact on recovery for traumatic brain injury. While I do not have that background, I do believe that having health relationships are so important. I think that the fact that I have a lot of friends gives me perspective. It goes both ways and I think I help other people’s fuzzy thinking at times. For instance, a friend might feel slighted that someone didn’t get back with her in a timely manner regarding helping her with her resume. I tell how to try not to be that way and she knows the person is busy.

    I worry I am going to get all frumpy and crazy being isolated as I am. My parents are interesting to me and we keep each going. Please I have contact with people with my job who I took calls for all day, with friends by phone and sometimes face to face, and other family. I also have a lot of contact by phone with people from my Church. I had someone who is in the clergy of my Church say that he doesn’t think of me as mentally ill. I do think that is a huge compliment. I have an aunt and another good friend who says the same. However, I do want people to recognize my limits. That is not to say that I may not improve. In addition to ocd, it can be embarassing when I can be manic. I think I might be bipolar. I have only been really upset with myself a few times in several years. It is kind of amazing that I have as good as image of myself as I do rather than just seeing myself as a mentally ill person. I do define myself in a lot of ways. Although I say that I have a mentally ill person due to ocd and possible bipolar that doesn’t mean that I don’t think I have value or that I am normal in a lot of ways.

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