I’M OKAY! My life with a BIG BAD BRAIN INJURY and how we got through it in the end! You’re okay. You’re just fine this morning. A little groggy, but you expect your ritualistic cup of coffee will soon kick-start your ambitions for the day. You do not have to go to work so your stress level has now receded to minimal. Stress is something all of us experience in different phases and different times of our lives. What are the differences in stress factors that someone with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) feels as opposed to someone without TBI? According to the “learned helplessness” theory, people become depressed when they think they have no control over the stresses in response to the test. Rats received occasional shocks and responded reasonably well if they were able to do something to avoid the shock. For instance, the rats could press on a lever. Pressing on the lever = no shock. Not pressing the lever = shock. If, however, the rats learn that nothing whatsoever, no matter what they do, will aid them in avoiding the shocks, they eventually give up. They feel helpless and develop the animal equivalent of depression. Similarly, head injury problems do not “go away.” You cannot avoid the shock by pressing a lever. You realize you can no longer do the things you USED to be able to do. You are now an official, 100% certified member of the “Brain Injury Survival Coalition!” Thanks, I guess. Nothing is the matter with you. You forget you’re making grilled cheese on the hot stove burner, but you don’t put your shoes in the refrigerator. That’s just plain silly! FORGETTING THINGS Forgetting things is a serious complication not to be ignored. Pre-brain injury you would NOT forget things. It can consume your whole day. I completely understand that we all forget. At least you remember THAT! A curious pang goes through your chest when this happens. Almost like a sinking feeling. You KNOW you’re forgetting something, you just can’t remember exactly WHAT it is that you forgot. In the never-ending task to prove your competency to others, and most of all to yourself, you are not even spared the luxury of “forgetting.” You will wind up just like those poor, shocked rats, and, in the end, just have to give up. THE BUS The bus is an interesting phenomenon. It is, after all, your ticket to freedom, but simultaneously shocking and petrifying. This is a necessary evil if you want to gain more independence. You are in Duluth, Minnesota at the moment. You want to get across the bridge over Lake Superior to get to the town of Superior, which is in the state of Wisconsin. Switching buses to get from A to B is tricky enough, but you can’t forget to add in the factors that there is a lot of construction in the Twin Ports area and, oh yeah, you have a Traumatic Brain Injury! Is it really fair that you are in this deplorable mess? You don’t think so, but you don’t really have a say in the matter after all, do you? SOCIAL COMMUNICATION Social communication is not easy. It can basically be broken down to the interacting process used to exchange experiences and information with others. The definition itself seems pretty cut and dried, but it is a lot more complicated than just that. It requires the use of many cognitive abilities simultaneously. (this is a good place to put in the definition and description of “cognition” and “cognitive abilities”) Many individuals with TBI can talk just fine, but listening is another thing. Being an “active listener” requires your brain to first of all, listen to the conversation. Then your brain must process what your ears have just ingested. It is sort of like ingesting food. Once you eat something, it takes a while for your body to digest the (difference between “digest” and “ingest”) contents of your meal. Different foods take longer to digest and process, just as social conversations and ideas take longer to process. (I will expand a LOT MORE on this topic, but this is the gist of it for right now!). In the meantime, here are some tricks and strategies you can use to close in the gap. Make eye contact and repeat back what is said to you. This is a positive, two-fold bonus. It shows the speaker that he or she has your full attention and helps you to fully absorb the conversation. If you can, planning ahead can be quite beneficial. Look at the newspaper, for example, to find topics of interest. If you are aware of some things of interest to the other person, do some research on these topics. For instance, if the individual is interested in literature, look into what books are popular at the time. You do not have to read all of “War and Peace,” but a synopsis of the story should do just fine. If their interests happen to be in sports, make sure you are aware of the basics of what is exciting to them and capitalize on that. People love talking about what they know and it is an excellent ice-breaker.