Communicating through the Lens of ABI

Brain injury changed so many things in my life, but I’m starting to understand that there is one thing that’s changed life itself.

Communication. Don’t shrug your shoulders. Please. For me, it’s a biggie.

It comes in two flavors: Incoming – what comes at me and gets into my head (or not), and Outgoing – what’s in my head (whether I know it or not) and comes out my mouth. Sometimes I get them backwards, and sometimes I don’t get them at all.

For example, Incoming (with an ABI)

Say you tell me, “It was a beautiful day today, and I saw a frog in the pond!” I may hear the words, but don’t get why you’re saying them. So, a minute later I say, “Yuck. Frogs are slimy.”

Is that going to start a conversation? I doubt it. Or, maybe, I think you’re bragging, so I reply, “Oh yeah? When it rained last week, I saw a snake in my pond!” (Not the friendly chat you hoped for?)

Another example: I was at Target to buy a broom and I asked a guy where they were. “No problem,” he said. “Go down Aisle D (finger pointing). See the socks? Take Row 5 then left at jeans towards the back wall, but just before, turn right at shampoo and on the left, at the bottom right shelf are mops and brooms.” (He lost me at Row 6)

Incoming information is confusing. But Outgoing communication really sucks – for me, anyway: what I say and how I say it. Almost every time I open my mouth.

I know you’re supposed to “Think before you speak,” but in my hurry to say something before I lose it, I forget to think. It’s my downfall (maybe that’s why I have so few friends?)

Often (too often) I start talking before I start thinking. Sometimes what I say is not what I meant and other times I say what I meant but in the wrong way. But most of the time, I start (and keep) talking so much and for so long it’s like I’m not saying anything at all because all those words stop meaning anything, and even I don’t know what I’m saying.

The trouble with communicating is that unless you do it well, you’re screwed. It’s like my TBI affecting every part of my life, although blaming it doesn’t help, does it?

But I do think brain injury makes conversations difficult. First, you have to understand what’s being said (incoming), and then you have to reply appropriately (outgoing). Put them together and what do you get? Exhausted.

Imagine: I’m talking to someone I’m interested in. I’m tired, but have something to say and forget what it is. My brain stops thinking but I keep talking, trying to make sense, but now I’m getting exhausted. That makes me talk more. The more I talk the more tired I get. The more tired I get the more I talk. And on and on.

But why?

  • I forget to listen.
  • I start something and lose track.
  • I don’t know where I started.
  • I have no idea where I was going.
  • I want to impress them.
  • It’s an endless loop.
  • I’m just not that interested in what I have to say.

(boy, is this ever boring)

Communication is hard for me to do and hard for others to do with me. By now you can see for yourself why even people who wanted to talk to me start looking for ear plugs after a while. 

Honestly, though, I’m the one who wanted to talk to them – to learn something, discover someone, make a friend. I really didn’t mean it to be all about me, but I missed my chance. And that’s my loss.


Credit for image above:

Commemorative Head, Akan artist, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Gift of Walt Disney World Co., a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company