By Bill Herrin
Living with a TBI is a reality all its own, and as I reiterate in many posts – it’s different for everyone, including how people around you act, react, overact, act up, or don’t react to you at all. With the Holidays now “officially” here, and Thanksgiving already passed – it’s the time of year that many people dread, and for many good reasons.
The way some people celebrate seems so perfectly “normal” from the outside – the whole family gets together, they have dinner together, or they open gifts, or they have a wonderful party…and that can happen, but from the outside it seems much more “perfect” than anything that we experience in our life. Why is that? Well, living with TBI overshadows a lot of our being, and it’s no wonder…it’s changed who we are in some ways.
It can change us immensely and visibly, or it can change us in a less obvious way – and sometimes, people don’t see what it’s done to a survivor at all. Either scenario can be very frustrating for the survivor of TBI, stroke, concussion, mild TBI, acquired brain injuries, etc.
Making The Holidays More Positive
On one hand, getting together with family and friends during the Holidays after TBI can be an annual test of wills due to lack of patience or empathy for one another, misread intentions, disagreements, or just a lack of understanding for each other.
On the other hand, all families, no matter how perfect things appear on the surface, can have similar issues. Yes, some actual families do get along great, and the Holidays are a positive experience for them – but don’t be dismayed, because (at the end of the day) we’re all perfectly imperfect people. Brain injury or no brain injury!
The point being made is plain and simple – although TBI survivors bear a load of issues in situations with people around, many times they still are left to shoulder the weight of inconsideration, improper actions, comments and more. Being the bigger person is hard to do (especially under the circumstances) but it’s worth the effort!
A Little Empathy Goes A Long Way…
Whether you’re reading this as a TBI Survivor, a caregiver, or as a friend or family member – it’s important to always work toward being empathetic toward each other.
As a survivor, knowing that everyone hasn’t experienced what you have been through is a good rule of thumb for overlooking things that could easily get under your skin. As a friend or family member, remember that you have no clue what it’s like to have a TBI is a good starting point, and overlooking things (that are said) can keep things on an even keel.
The same goes for a TBI survivor that fields negative comments or verbal jabs…working to focus on being together is the point! Enjoying each other’s company is a rarity and should be treated that way – as perfectly imperfect as any of us are.
Here are some suggestions to help make the Holidays less frustrating, and hopefully a better experience for a TBI Survivor (and their friends & family):
• Avoid alcoholic drinks (especially when using medications)
• Noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to bring noise levels down to a manageable level
• Bring someone with you that understands your needs when you go shopping, to a party, or for dinner at home (or elsewhere) with others
• Be careful to avoid sensory overload, and act accordingly at an event if necessary (retreat for a bit, leave early if needed, etc.)
• Be rested before any Holiday party, gathering, parade, etc. – if you know that a Holiday parade or program is going to be overwhelming, you may be better off skipping it altogether
• Do your Holiday shopping (along with a friend or family member, etc.) when crowds are at a minimum
• If blinking or bright holiday lights bother you, plan (in advance) to have sunglasses handy, or even a place that you can retreat to if necessary
• Unless you’re certain that a fireworks display is ok to attend, it may be best to skip it (New Year’s Eve, etc.)
• Movies, concerts, outdoor events with lots of lights can all cause issues for Survivors…base your decisions to go on previous experience when possible. If not, do you best to plan in advance on how you (with a friend or loved one) will have an action plan to deal with it
• Try to avoid situations that may overstimulate your senses. Noise, crowds, lights, etc. can trigger anxieties (fear, panic, etc.) and even fatigue – when your brain is overloaded by too many things going on at once
• Another good thing to keep in mind is to ask for assistance if you need it – taking on too much by yourself is asking for trouble, and if you have someone willing and able to help you, let them!
In closing, if you’re a TBI Survivor – try to pace yourself during the holidays when there’s so much going on, and not get too overloaded with things to do, places to go, and people to see. As a friend, family member, or caregiver of a person with TBI – keep this in mind as well!
Helping advocate for a TBI Survivor is very important, and they will do much better with you as their “overload avoidance” point person (or team). Happy Holidays to all, and we’ll see you in 2020.