by Linda W. Arms
People with brain injuries often feel they are looked down upon, avoided, ignored and just not accepted by other people. We are probably right in feeling that way sometimes. I know that for several years after my injury I did not feel worthy or at the same level as other people. In fact, I never went back to the office I had worked at for over 18 years. I avoided contacts made by the few who tried to reach out to me. I was almost ashamed to show myself and interact with those people because I was not as capable as I was before. I expect many of you had similar experiences.
At about 18 months after my injury I started going to water aerobics due to a recommendation from my physical therapist. It was challenging at first between the loud music and trying to figure out how to keep up with the instructor and a pool full of mostly women aged 65 to 80-something. I immediately knew I had to wear ear plugs to tune out the music and the shouting of the instructor. The older ladies asked my name and talked to me a few times at the beginning, even in the locker room when I didn’t have my ear plugs in. I had problems communicating with them. Too many talking around me or at me, I couldn’t always respond. Often when I did respond they were already on to something else. I was too slow in gathering my thoughts and getting the words out of my mouth. Sometimes I misunderstood what they said and sometimes I said things that were kind of stupid because I did not understand what they were saying. After several visits I mentioned I had a brain injury. I think they just all gave up on me. I just started getting looks and getting ignored. They stopped talking to me. I think perhaps they also thought I was unfriendly. It was hard to listen to understand, say something useful, have a smile on my face, keep my balance, block out the distracting sounds and movements around me and do whatever else it was that I was trying to do, like get dressed, or open my locker.
After a while we just ignored each other. I didn’t have to try to keep up with the elderly ladies and they didn’t have to deal with me. I’m happy to say that the instructor was always very nice to me. I still see her at the pool and she always gives me a friendly “hi”. I’m doing better now; I don’t do the water aerobics and moved on to other things. I expect if I did I could interact with everyone quite well. I have much more confidence now to talk to others and most don’t realize I even have a brain injury. I’m lucky, I know there are many who never get back to the point of doing this well.