Guess what? June is Canada’s Brain Injury Awareness month which is what lead to this blog’s creation last year. According to Brain Injury Canada “160,000 Canadians sustain brain injuries each year”, clearly an incredible number to consider when we look at the cost to individuals and our health care. In the last week and a half, literally 10 days, I have learned of 3 friends being affected by brain injuries. They each have different stories, and different prognosis’ but at the end of the day they have all been launched into a very hard season of their lives.
Jason’s two year anniversary of his injury is fast approaching so I’ve found myself replaying so much of that summer in my head. The friends that showed up, the ones that disappeared, the loneliness that seemed so pervasive and the shocking little joys that we experienced on good days. And so, thinking of each of these people, I wanted to write out a short list of how to help after a brain injury. This is based solely on our experience and stories I’ve heard from others we’ve met in this journey.
- Show up, and bring food. It’s funny how ridiculous it seems to spend time cooking when you’ve been launched into a life with brain injury. There are articles to read, calls to make, and a loved one to watch over – or if you live alone and have a brain injury all your energy is going to basic survival. The really basic stuff, like breathing. Bring ingredients or even better, simple meals to be reheated. The friends that showed up with food were literally the best that week. If possible, and it seems comfortable, stay to eat with your friends. I can not over state how scary and stressful the first few days are and if I was left alone with my brain (remember, I’m the non injured one!) I would become nauseous and unable to eat. I needed to have people around me to keep me from fixating on how scared I was.
- Show up, and stay. As the support person caring for Jason I had prescriptions to fill, calls to make, and a heck of a lot of wedding errands to sort out. Jason was still at risk of having seizures or deteriorating and so I had to ask friends and family to come and babysit. It was awkward, and I felt the need to entertain or put out a spread (to be fair, the spread was more of a “here’s all the types of tea, have fun” kind of thing). If you can offer to come over and sit that would make things so much easier. Also, if you choose to sit, listen to the recommendations from the doctor and support people. Don’t force your patient to get up and get moving, or carry out a conversation.
- Show up, and help. Cut the grass, drive the patient to doctors appointments, walk the dog, take the kids to the park. Similar to suggestion #1, the daily activities seem unimportant compared to learning about Traumatic Brain Injury and self care so these are great ways to help.
- Show up, and watch your words. This is a funny one. While desperate for friendship and kindness throughout this journey, some times we have ended up more hurt than anything when trying for connection. Don’t tell your friend you are glad it’s them and not you, if they were in a car accident avoid saying they look like they were “hit by a truck” (or even worse – that you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck!). The sentence that always upset me was “roll with the punches”. It just always seemed so insensitive. This is a also a great time to learn about the ring theory for grief – explained best in this article from the L.A. Times. Do not complain about how hard this is on YOU to the person with the brain injury. And if you are reading this and you have a brain injury – I think it is completely acceptable to print this off, label the circles and post it on your door. God knows I nearly did!
- Show up, and hold space. This one veers slightly off practical and into the emotional, it’s going to require you to act like an adult even if it’s super uncomfortable. According to Heather Plett holding space is: “It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.” Not easy, very helpful. And this one is possible even if you are across the country. Reach out, call, send a message and just be okay with the response. I encourage you to read the whole article on holding space here.
I hope these ideas help you reach out to those around you with traumatic brain injuries. I have linked to other articles in these posts if none of my recommendations resonate for you.