Any day now you – and your TBI – are going to find yourselves in a room full of smiling faces, loud music, and animated conversation – a holiday party. You need to make a plan before jumping into the fray. After all, a holiday party is for socializing, meeting new people, finding out about them, and telling them about you. But after TBI, any conversation can be a land mine, and is made worse when you need to decide what to say in the moment – an emotional, disorienting, and overwhelming moment.
What do you say to a distant uncle who loudly exclaims, “It’s great to see you back to your old self”? Or a stranger who asks you (the question I dread most): “What do you do?”
You can tell it like it is: “Actually, I don’t feel like my old self,” or “I was in an accident and can’t work.” Or you can keep it short and impersonal, as if nothing happened: “Thank you,” or “I’m between jobs right now.” But it may be embarrassing to give an honest answer, and painful pretending you’re fine. I’ve found that the best answers are the ones I come up with before I even get to the party. By planning ahead I can calmly decide what to say, how to say it, and how much to disclose.
So make a plan.
First, ask the 5 W’s:
WHO: family, friend, colleague, or stranger? Do I know them well? Is it any of their business or do they even care?
WHAT: as much or little as I am comfortable with in the situation.
WHEN: Do I blurt it out when we first say “hi,” when we’re making a date to meet again, or not at all?
WHERE: a holiday party, at the office, or a friend’s house? Is it formal, chaotic, intimate?
WHY: It has to benefit me. I may want to tell them about TBI, but not at my own expense, as an excuse, or out of embarrassment.
I do have a few rules.
- Tell the truth. Being vague is fine, but don’t make up a story – it’s too easy to forget!
- “LESS IS BEST.” If someone wants to know more, they’ll ask.
- Turn things around by asking a question – “What about you?”
- When in doubt… DON’T.
Once I’ve thought things through I get to work and make a plan. I come up with short, simple answers that I’m comfortable with.
Now all I have to do it practice those answers – over and over and over again, until they are stuck in my head. Then, I practice some more, and each day keep practicing until the day of the party.
Well, here goes…
Uncle: “It’s great to see you back to your old self.”
Laurie: “Thanks. It’s been hard work, but I feel so much better.”
Stranger: “What do you do?”
Laurie: “I volunteer for a non-profit advocacy organization.”
Stranger: “What kind of work is it?”
Laurie: “We advocate for people with brain injury. What do you do?”
Of course, “The best-laid plans… can go awry,”* and that’s okay too.