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. 🙂
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.