One of the painful realities after a brain injury which impacts on your personality, your ability to read and understand social queues and your mental and physical capacity is that some of your friends will not be able to cope with these changes. Even writing that sentence seems strange! After all, aren’t your friends meant to stick with you through the good times and the hard times? It can be easier said than done after a brain injury. To be fair, a person’s behaviour after brain injury can be very challenging, especially for those that do not have any training, experience or knowledge of what to expect after their friend or family member sustains a life altering brain injury. This person they knew and loved has been replaced by someone very different. Your friends and members are likely to be going through their own grieving process because they miss the old you too. It is challenging for everyone.
The person with the brain injury is trying to adapt to an altered reality, new disabilities, and the impact of dealing with loss of friends and/or family can cause you to feel depressed. This was certainly the case for me. I was only 16 years old when I sustained a severe traumatic brain injury which led to me dying three times and having to learn to walk, talk and gain control of all bodily functions all over again. I reverted to the age of a three-year-old and it was a steep learning curve to learn everything all over again. My friends were wonderful when I was in hospital, when my life hung in the balance and as I slowly awoke from my coma. The return to an altered reality meant the rude awakening and realisation, that life and the friend they knew, liked and enjoyed hanging out with, would never be the same again. Many friends could not cope with that. Maybe I wasn’t as likeable to those friends, maybe they just did not have the coping mechanisms, after all, they were only teenagers too. Maybe there wasn’t enough education to help them understand what was going on with their friend (me). There are lots of maybes, and maybes can get in the road of realities. The reality is, that many of us who go through a brain injury, experience similar experiences with rejection from friends and/or family. Time, experience and allied health training has given me a new perspective on this, and the following tips may help you navigate this pain process more positively than my 16-year-old self did:
- Brain injury websites and support agencies such as Synapse have some great resources for friends and families to help them understand the challenging behaviours associated with brain injury. Here are some examples:
- Listen to feedback from family and friends who take the time to advise you when something you have said may be offensive, or inappropriate…. It takes time to relearn social ques and skills again.
- Empower yourself! It may be worthwhile providing friends and family with education on understanding the changes that have occurred because of your brain injury, and some of them will try to understand and maybe even help with the some of the strategies outlined in the article links provided above, but for some, it may just be too hard, and they will move on. They will decide not to be a part of your life anymore. If we reframe this hurt, and disappointment to a positive mindset that will help us achieve the goal of expanding our friendship network, then this is an opportunity for you to make new friends. Friends that have nothing to compare to, because they did not know the old you! Try to surround yourself with positive people. When you seek out positive people, you will be around solution-focused thinking and can-do attitudes. Being in such company can influence your own thinking. There are positive thinking groups that advertise for members. Business networking groups are also often filled with positive, can-do thinkers. Groups such as Toastmasters teach people to be confident with public speaking. This can be a real challenge for a lot of people, but when you are surrounded by positive and supportive people, it is amazing how much more you can achieve.
If you can join a gym or any type of exercise class, such as yoga, you can meet people trying to improve their lives, well-being, and fitness through exercise. Any group that focuses on personal development and growth is likely to include positive people. There is significant evidence that exercise is also good for the mind.
- Try doing some research on different groups in your area which may provide you with an opportunity to make new friends. Perhaps there is a brain injury support group near you. Here are some other ideas for positive groups you might join:
- Local walking groups
· Pet friendly groups – for example there are Cavoodle Dog groups who meet up regularly.
- Group meditation classes
- Try doing a Facebook search on ‘Community Groups near me’ using the search bar.
- Try learning a new skill, hobby or interest by enrolling in a training course with other people also interested in the same thing.
There are lots of ways to enrich your life after brain injury, and the people who did not want to come on the journey as you recreate the ‘new you’ will have less power over your mental health when you empower yourself by creating new networks. It is never too late to start improving your situation! You deserve the best!