I find that I am often misunderstood I can be a bit of a social nightmare and although I never mean any harm people so often seem to misunderstand me and take offence. I am always full of anxiety and thinking how I should have worded something differently.
Maybe you meant to say something uplifting but it was taken as an insult? You wanted to give that girl a on the treadmill a compliment but it comes out as “you’re nowhere near as big as you used to be”.
I’ve mentioned previously that I went on a date with a girl who didn’t have the freshest breath so I bought her a pack of chewing gum and said, “There, your breath isn’t minging anymore”. Although that sounds rude (and is!) I actually thought I was being a gentleman, I then wondered why she never called me! Unbelievably I thought I was doing her a favour and I didn’t understand why she didn’t thank me! I’ve got many such examples but these days I’m so much better than I used to be, whilst I may be more subtle these days it still happens. Like so many others after my TBI I have problems communicating and socialising. I say things that are really rude and shock people then have trouble understanding why they are shocked. I never ever intentionally upset someone, I have a problem in communicating. I just find the whole thing confusing!
In fact as long as I’ve had a brain injury I’ve been very confused but not in the way that I’ve always understood the word confused. How does a confused person explain the confusing way he has been confused for the last 9 confusing years? Confusing isn’t it? How do you think I feel, when I use my brain to understand things and my brain doesn’t work properly.
Having a brain injury has meant that reality has changed for me and the challenge since has always been to fit into this now alien world again. Sometimes it’s as if everyone else is speaking the same language but in a way too complex for me to understand; its English but I often don’t understand in a similar way a American may struggle to follow a conversation in broad Glaswegian. Its like my brain cannot handle it, a bit like trying to run the latest smartphone software on a ten year old phone. If you tried to play a film made for a High Definition TV on a TV from 1995. Just as the inferior technology cannot keep up neither can my brain.
My brain doesn’t work in the same way anymore, I’m not able to take in and process information like I used to. For me to understand something it has to be in black and white and made as simple as possible, I can be very easily confused and miss what someone is telling me. I have difficulties with attention and concentration, facial recognition, memory, cognitive fatigue and I have slow information processing so you can imagine how much of a nightmare I am to watch a film with! What I tend to have to do is have to watch a film more than once; the first time I don’t get much, the second time I get a lot more and by the time I’ve seen it a third time I wonder what was the problem in the first place? Each time I watch it then a little more knowledge is laid down so I can understand it better the next time. The penny totally drops usually the third time I view it.
If you’ve read any of the previous blogs I’ve written then you may have noticed that I use analogies a lot. That’s because I understand things better by simplifying them. I seem unable to take a hint, assume, or use my initiative. I’m sure that there are neurological reasons for this but lets just say that I find it difficult. Here are a couple of examples to explain what I mean:
It was my nana’s birthday once and despite my mum mentioning it on the phone about 5 times before I went shopping it didn’t register to buy her a card when I was in the supermarket. In my head I planned to do it when I was in town the next day. I didn’t want to make it hard for myself it just didn’t occur to me, I seem to have lost my initiative! Because nobody said ‘why don’t you buy a card when you’re at the supermarket’, I never did.
That was a little while ago but it still goes on, only last week I went shopping without my list to buy chicken, milk and some eggs. As there was only 3 items I didn’t write them down (breaking rule number1: If you have a TBI always write it down!). I got the chicken and the milk but I couldn’t remember the third thing. I walked round the shop hoping I would remember but despite looking at Easter eggs, Cadburys Crème Eggs, duck eggs, quails eggs and even eggs I didn’t remember that I needed eggs! It would have taken somebody to actually say “you need eggs” for me to remember, or of course to have remembered rule 1 and have written a list.
Jokes are a more complex form of communication and jokes go over my head too often. If it is a play on words I just don’t stand a chance, in fact first one I can remember is when I was in ward C2 in Hope Hospital (now called Salford Royal).
I nagged and nagged and nagged to have my mobile phone to text and make contact with the outside world and eventually got my way. One of my mates Graham sent me a joke, it was the old classic; ‘A mate of mine has been hunting and offered to sell me some venison steaks for £5 each, do you think that’s deer’? Now rather than seeing that venison is in fact deer and getting the joke (ha ha) I just saw the question. I put it to the others in ward C2 who also had head injuries, this meant that nobody got it! So some time in June\July 2007 the patients in ward C2 of Salford Royal Hospital held a serious debate whether or not £5 was deer for a venison steak. Rather than receiving the standard haha or some kind of acknowledgement of his humour, Graham received a text confirming that £5 was a more than reasonable price for a venison steak and that he should go ahead with the purchase. What a barrel of laughs I am!
Not long after I was discharged from hospital it was my mate Gaz’s birthday and determined to regain my social life and show that I was fine I was keen to attend. It was fancy dress and the theme was anything beginning with the letter G. This meant that there were boys dressed as Girls, Girls dressed as Grandmas, a German in lederhosen, the cricketer Graham Gooch and a Gangster Rapper to name a few. I love a bit of fancy dress and I went as a Gnome! I had big ears, a pointy hat, a beard, my mum painted my cheeks rosy red, shirt, waistcoat and my dad made me a fishing rod with a fish on the end. Needless to day I looked a right wally but that’s the point right, not to look cool! Right?!
I went round to a house where a few of the partygoers were waiting and having a few pre party drinks. When Brooke Trotter a 25 year old man walked in with crimson cheeks, giant ears, fake beard and holding a pretend fishing rod everyone fell about laughing. This was a success right? This is the reaction I wanted? Believe it or not it wasn’t and in fact I remember being quite hurt! I didn’t make the connection between their laughter my ridiculous attire. I felt bullied and that everyone was laughing at me in a nasty rather than humorous way! I think I was expecting a serious reception, perhaps a nod of approval and maybe even a couple of compliments?! Perhaps something along the lines of “I love your ridiculous ears and you really suit those bright red cheeks mate!” To which I would have replied “thanks!” Well how ridiculous that seems now!
As I have had a brain injury for ten years, I’ve been asked for advice on how best to get through to people following a head trauma. The trouble is I don’t know because I don’t understand how I was back then. I think that the brain is healing and will only be able to understand certain things when it is ready to. At the time of that party, my brain would still have been relatively in shock and would have been functioning on a much more simple level. You wouldn’t expect a toddler to understand irony because their brain isn’t that developed. If you put them in a room full of people and they all started pointing and laughing loudly at them then they would probably start crying! I didn’t cry, honest! Honestly I didn’t (maybe a bit inside!) Ha ha.
What I’m trying to say is that over time my brain has developed and I have improved as a result. I can’t relate to what my brain was like back then because it has got so much better than it was. There’s no magic wand, you just have to keep trying, stay positive and things will become easier! Don’t get hung up on one aspect like wanting your memory to sharpen. I’m not saying that things will return to the level they were before the injury but things will improve. I nearly said ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’ then before remembering I am not some sort of life coach, maybe I should have put some inspirational music as a backing track as well! I don’t know! What’s the answer? Keep your chin up! Is that a bit more Yorkshire for you?!
Have you experienced anything similar or am I on my own? Please leave me a message by writing it in the comments below. Thanks for reading and if you haven’t done so already please like my Facebook Page: Brain Injury Brooke.
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