What do you call someone with a brain injury?
A survivor? Patient? Consumer? Most of the time we are called “a person living with brain injury.” Well, I don’t buy it. Clearly, if you have had a brain injury you are “living with brain injury,” but so are your family, friends, and caregivers. Everyone involved is struggling to keep their heads above water, and we all need to help each other.
But first, we need to learn how to communicate. It’s a tough nut to crack.
Often, we assume that those closest to us understand what we mean, not just what we say. Words matter. But communication also includes body language, innuendo, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Put it all together, and even a simple conversation can be hard. But no conversation is simple when you’re living with brain injury.
It’s complicated when one of us has trouble concentrating, keeping their cool, and processing information. And the other one is exhausted, on an emotional roller coaster, and constantly on edge.
We must learn to talk and listen to each other with clarity, patience, and respect. What works best for me is to take my pulse and make sure I am in a calm, thinking frame of mind. Only then, do I open my mouth. (I admit, that’s the strategy I should use, but don’t always remember to). Words matter, but how you say something is as important as what you’re saying.
To start, take a slow breath in and out. Relax. Then wait – delay – gather your thoughts. Once your head is clear, start the conversation. Remember to keep breathing and stay calm. Don’t plan to cover too much ground, discuss one thing at a time, and give each other a chance to absorb and consider what was said. And check in to be sure you were clear. Above all, be quiet and listen.
On the receiving end, be sure you fully understand what’s being said. You may think you do, but it’s worth verifying, anyway. Take your time; there’s no rush. What you heard might not be what was meant, so rephrase it before responding, or simply ask for it to be repeated. Then delay, gather your thoughts, and only then open your mouth.
Stay calm. Be patient. Listen.