Communication…what did you say?

Communication is hard enough to figure when everyone around is normal. The story goes a set of parents and their young child were looking around in a pet shop. When they were browsing, they came across a cute puppy. The child got so excited that they asked the clerk if they look at and pet the puppy. While petting it, the child was getting excited and the parents were talking with the clerk. The clerk said that the puppy was $499. Once the store employee left, the parents were talking between themselves. The kid asked, “Can we get it?” The parents kindly said, “no we can’t,” to which the kid undaunted replied, “ but its only $4.99.” I would say that communication broke down rather quickly! FYI, yes that was a true story. I was the kid. 🙂

boy and puppy

Speaking with each other and understanding each other is important in daily life. From the time we get up to the time we go to bed we are sharing with everyone we come in contact with. There are some of us that are more skilled then others. However, once TBI becomes involved communication goes down hill quickly.

Once the injury occurs, the injured party becomes thrown into a world they have no idea how to cope. Let’s also not forget about the family members involved… they don’t have an idea how to connect with the individual whose been injured.

Early on after my injury we had one of these situations happen. I grew up in a conservative Christian home. One thing that expected of me was to listen the first time; if I didn’t I’d be in trouble. After the accident, my dad would tell me to do something, and I stare right at him not really hearing or understanding him. He took it as disobedience, but it was just part of the injuries.

Where does that leave us then? I’m glad you asked. The first thing to do is give the injured party time. If you ask them a question and they can’t answer right away or they stutter, don’t rush them. Remember that much of their brain pathways are interrupted and information doesn’t travel the same way it used to. I know in my eagerness to be back to “normal” I would answer as quickly as I could. That doesn’t say I was right in my answer. Sometimes it would make the answer sound worse than if I just didn’t answer. If you approach them with a question, give them the time they need to process what you asked and time to answer.

There maybe times when they seem flustered when you’re speaking to them. If this happens, pause again and give them some time. If that seems to make it worse, back off needing an answer or break the question to multiple parts or simpler terms. Should you have been in a conversation and a TBI survivor start getting agitated, allow them with politeness to leave the conversation and/or take a break and come back to it later.


What about all the anger!? Anger can come about for several reasons. The first is the inability to communicate. I know for me this can be an issue, not because I mad at anyone, but because I know in my mind what I need to say but am unable to communicate correctly. Now that I recognize that behavior, I do one of two things:

1) I take a deep breath a minute or two then continue the conversation.

2) If I feel really flustered I’ll go to another room and let myself calm down. Yes I just said I give myself a time out! As funny as that sounds it really works.

Anger also comes from overstimulation, as is in my case. I have always done better with one on one meetings that have a predetermined time. When it comes to groups of people in a crowded area, I can become flustered almost to the point of storming out in anger or looking like I don’t want to be there. Take a moment and imagine with me being in the desert of an Old Western town. Your crossing the street from the tavern to the sheriffs office right as you reach the middle of the road a whole bunch of wild buffalo are coming straight at you with no escape, no hero to save you, no where to run, or no gun to defend yourself. That is how groups of people can look like. When individuals dealing with TBI enter the “real” world, each person represents information needing to be processed by the brain. When you take that process and multiply it by 10-20 people or more it is information overload! Sometimes we just can’t handle it. Should you see someone with TBI with that look of “get me out of here,” take them to quieter part of the get together talk to them one on one. If they still look overwhelmed allow them to leave with grace.

This particular issue has been hard for me. Thankfully I have a wonderful wife who understands the cues I give if I just can’t take it anymore. If you are a family member of someone who suffers TBI, learn their tells of when they’ve had enough. Try not to push. If they are at the end of their rope, it is not the time for a life lesson.

Anger can also simply be from everything someone with TBI has lost. Medically speaking, there is still a lot we don’t know about TBI. Which means treatment and medication can be frustrating. Also with TBI you loose so much all at once and you’re left desperately trying to get your life back and trying to get back to where you were. That alone can leave you angry and frustrated.

There is quite a bit of information in this article. I wanted the goal of it to be for family and friends of TBI survivors to realize how to better communicate. Also to realize with anger there are reasons for it. That does not excuse violent out bursts, but please understand it may not be just for anger itself. The reason could be they are trying to communicate but don’t know how.



If you are in the Fredericksburg, V.A. area please check your news stands for of the Fredericksburg guidebook. The reason is I was fortunate enough to asked to provide an article, and I’m page 23! I’m very excited, I also hope it will allow the blog to reach more people, and hopefully they can find some encouragement through it. Thank you to everyone who reads and follows my blog. The next article will be up tomorrow.

The Fredericksburg Guide Book website will be updated with the new edition very soon.  I will post the link when it is available.

Thank you, Julie Jennings, for this opportunity to share my mission!

During the Storm

IMG_0208My mom is super talented when it comes to sewing and quilting. She has made a couple of quilts for me. She has also made Mandy (my wife) and Juliana (my daughter) clothes.

Sometimes when stories are conveyed the real emotions are lost. I wanted to share this quilt design of hers, it was never made, because this is a perfect picture of where we were as a family during the main part of my recovery. Her interpretation of it is the bottom is where we were as a family, as you travel up the quilt is God bringing the pieces back together.

Thank you Mom for sharing.

Where was I during all this?

First I want to give a shout out to my Dad who has been gracious enough to write a few articles to give a parent’s perspective on what happened. While we who are injured suffer we must be aware that those around us suffer in a different way. So, a thank you to him for his contribution and support. Also I should mention that while my mom wishes not to be involved on the public face of my endeavor; she has been kind enough to help with the editing of my blog. So thank you to both of them.

Also, thank you to those of you who follow my story is much appreciated. I could not be more blessed. The stories my wife and I hear and continue to hear are the whole reason I felt led to begin this journey with all of you.

With that said, let’s get back to the story. What I remember is being introduced to our first attorney Charles Purcell. They wanted my input on what had happened, and I was truthful that I couldn’t remember. What I did remember was working at TSI soccer that night, and even that’s a hard picture to hold in my head. Also during this post-accident time I was starting therapy. Maybe it was my lack of understanding, maybe it was youth, or maybe it was just being stubborn but I was completely clueless about what was happening around me. I just didn’t know it. In my mind my plans to go to college and continue my life goals were only suspended for, maybe, a year. I have to confess, I made peoples lives around me difficult. I don’t know who I made it worse for, therapists, parents, or other people. So, I think that should make it clear – I was out of it.

This was also about the time I started feeling disconnected with people and not just from the accident. What I mean is with the TBI one of the effects I suffered is feeling disconnected emotionally from people. I noticed that people were communicating and acting differently around me, and I truly did not understand why. After much therapy, researches, and conversations later, it comes back to the change in my personality from the accident. At this point in the story I didn’t understand the damage and changes that had occurred.

The good news was that the traffic court did find the driver guilty. The company that still wanted to come after us was not done. You’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village”, well, that’s what it takes to defeat a McCallum. (As previously stated, it was not our desire to proceed, it became a necessity). We were very fortunate to retain Mr. Charles Purcell and Mr. Irvin Cantor. Our family was fortunate to have them in our corner.

Mostly what I remember after the court date was my Dad being slightly relieved, but nervous about the future. Also he was working three full time jobs; yes three. He was a high school principal, youth pastor, and licensed real estate agent. My mother was working full time as a K-5 teacher. The other thing was while the therapy I was getting was top of the line; the office was about 1hr. away one-way. So, to say that it was tense at home was putting it lightly.

Therapy itself was intense. I’d start my day with speech therapy at 8 a.m. and end at noonish. Then after that it was occupational therapy. That was my week five days a week. All the time I was thinking I was fine and this was a big deal over nothing. I remember the one tactic they took to make it a point to mention when I failed an exercise to get it through my thick skull that, hey kid you need help!

Where was I during all this? Well, in my own head, and trying to ignore everything that happened. To put it in therapy dialogue, I was in denial. This is such a hard stage of recovery because until the injured person realizes they need help there is no healing. That’s why in an earlier article I suggested having a “bad” guy – someone to tell you like it is. Denial can last a while! I know for me it did, and hurt me in the long term. This is where “speaking the truth in love” comes into play. Sometimes you need to speak the truth kindly, but that may be interpreted as an attack, no matter how kindly you try to communicate it. Remember, though, it needs to be said.

If you have someone your helping please be kind but firm and help them find the direction they need to go to get better. Don’t advise them, unless you’re their M.D., to stop taking their medicine, or to stop seeing a doctor without finding a new one. The best thing to do sometimes is to let them talk and just listen. Don’t listen to reply -listen to hear.