by Linda W. Arms, January 29, 2014
After a brain injury our relationships with others change. Very often in the first years we are too overwhelmed with daily living to give much thought to anyone else. We devote our brain energy to getting ourselves through the day. The little energy we have to interact with others is usually reserved for those very close to us, like our immediate families and perhaps very close friends. As a good friend of mine told me after her brain injury, she put people away in drawers to get back to in the future when things were better for her. I know I did this myself. Some people are still in drawers or, without sounding rude, they have been discarded.
After my brain injury, other than my husband taking me to my office to gather my personal things, I didn’t reach out to anyone I had worked with, even those I knew for over 15 years. I didn’t reach out to most of my extended family, friends or acquaintances. I declined most invitations to anything. I felt best, safe and most functional at home in my cocoon of quietness.
I put most everyone I knew away for many reasons. Most of all I did not have the energy to interact with others. Everything was overwhelming. Just doing a little to get myself ready such as showering, drying my hair, and choosing my clothes were often more than I could deal with. My body was weak and my brain was not working well. Having to ride in a car was awful. Trying to understand a conversation was challenging – people talking too fast, too complex, too loud, using facial expressions, gesturing with their hands, walking about as they talk, noise in the background…. It was hard, hard work for a long time. Our brains have to process everything that is going on during that interaction and many of us just can’t do it until our brains have healed more. When we try to take part, we quickly fade and lose more of our ability to comprehend and speak. We become very fatigued and overloaded. As someone once told me, your brain is then like a glass that you are pouring water into. Someone keeps pouring in the water until it overflows. That is what happens when we receive too much mental stimulation or input after a brain injury. We just can’t hold everything that is coming into our brain to process.
My immediate family received most of the brain energy I had to spare in those early years. I wanted to participate in their lives. I wanted to take part in what they wanted to do as best I could even when it was not what I really wanted to do. It was just too difficult. My parents saw much less of me during the early years because I just didn’t have enough brain energy to spare. Slowly I spent more time with them, helping them the best I could given my own limitations.
Next I started taking people out of those drawers that I stashed them in. I started seeing or talking to people who I had relationships with that didn’t include me as a professional who had many business skills and knowledge. I couldn’t find those skills and knowledge in the early years, they went into hiding in my brain. I wasn’t the same person. I wanted to be with people who knew me outside of my profession. I started with just a couple people who could relate with what I was going through, had compassion or understood enough about how to interact with me. There were a few people taken out of the drawers for my family’s sake but often those people were challenging to be around – they were a brain energy drain.
Slowly in the last years, I have taken more people out of those drawers and I can say I enjoy my time with them. There are some who still are overwhelming for me and cause me to be exhausted for a day after being around them but I really like them. There are some who I decided I would no longer include in my life because they just weren’t worth the energy I was spending on them. They didn’t have nice things to say or our lives just took different directions.
I find I am much more selective in who I spend my time with. I prefer being around people who are nice, have compassion and have values I can support. After a brain injury, many of us cannot afford to use up our energy for toxic relationships or uncaring people. We have to reserve our energy for those most important in our lives with ourselves being the first in line. I’m still working on getting more people out of the drawers who I’ll reach out to when the time is right. I’m working on expanding my world and the people I interact with. I expect many of you are doing the same thing also. We just need to remember that we have to leave enough brain energy for ourselves to stay healthy and functional.
“I don’t know what it is but I don’t find myself vibing with a lot of people these days. I realized that I’ve slowly and subconsciously filtered people out of my life who bring nothing to it.
I no longer have the energy for meaningless friendships, forced interactions or unnecessary conversations. If we don’t vibrate on the same frequency there’s just no reason for us to waste our time…” — Joquesse Eugenia