Socializing, Solitude, Silence

Some people are good at socializing and love it. They thrive on the energy of crowds, the swirl of conversation, new faces. Others are happiest hanging out with close friends, sharing meals, warmth, and support – being part of each other’s lives. But for many people with brain injury a social life, public or private, may seem out of reach. It can be isolating, lonely when there’s no one there to listen, laugh with, or comfort. Well, I’m not really the one, the two, or the three.

white-curtainsceiling-nizza-horizI don’t do well socializing, and thrive on solitude. I’ve never been particularly outgoing. My inner life was always as real as the outside world. Now, afloat in the world of brain injury, there’s a disconnect between the two and I find myself by myself on the inside – literally and emotionally.

My home is my nest, my silent space. I relish it. Alone, I can breathe, focus, create.

What I don’t do

I don’t think to myself: “I’ve got free time this afternoon. Wouldn’t it be nice to have coffee with someone?”

I don’t reach out. Never the first to call, write, text. I don’t even like going to the movies.

But I also don’t want to squander the friendships I cherish, or hurt others by my silence.

Sometimes I don’t answer important or personal email. Maybe you don’t either. Meaningful responses take time and quiet to find the words to use, strike the right tone, say enough not too much. I rarely stop long enough to give myself the time to focus. So I put it off. I mark the emails “unread,” they slip down the Inbox or get lost in the Drafts folder. I forget I haven’t replied – distracted again.

I don’t think I’m lonely, just reluctant. Socializing doesn’t come naturally, so I hold back. I know it’s healthier, warmer to have someone in your life – to touch to see to love to share. No surprise that I don’t know how to find that someone.

What’s hard to do

I’ve been told I should go out, take a class, join a group. How to do this? My life already feels over-scheduled. To add one more weekly monthly meeting group engagement is just too much. I am tired. Motivation lacking.

And the world outside is often intolerably loud and chaotic

Personal relationships take an almost physical energy that drains me – knowing when to stop, what’s too much, when I push myself too far. I direct that cognitive effort elsewhere, to a different kind of conversation like writing this blog. Maybe it’s self-preservation, or self-conservation­.

It’s funny that when I’m out in the world no one sees how I struggle. I don’t act anti-social. And I’m not. If anything, I’m over-social, but at an arm’s length. I don’t know why.

I’ll be on a roll until moments before going over the edge. My head hears the WAHWAHWAH continuous background sound that just a few minutes before had been distinguishable voices and words. Suddenly, insistent: “I have to leave. Now.”

But what if, before I slip away, you talk to me, ask a question, tell a story? I jump in, talk back to you, but more. Once started, there’s no stopping myself. I’ve gone too far, exhausted. I need air.

The world outside can be gentle and soothing too.
screen-shot-2017-02-21-2-dancers-crop
Alone with no voices, walking not talking, not socializing. Patiently waiting on each corner for the green light, letting the night wash over my head. The absence calms my mind. Once I’m at home, my nest, quietly healing, ideas start dancing in my head. How odd – just when it’s time to sleep.

What I can do

Fatigue sets the rules. It hovers, muddles my vision, words, awareness of time and space. Can I see it coming? I know the signs and when I remember, I stop for a nap.

Next on the list: step out of myself. Make an effort, a plan. Walk with Achilles International, mingle with athletes and guides, ask about their lives, listen to their stories.

Practice saying “yes.” When someone asks if we can get together, “Yes, I’d like that.”

Work with something bigger than me – BIANYS, Rusk, TBI to LIFE. Follow someone else’s schedule, collaborate, learn. But be vigilant. Can I delay to think before speaking? I know only too well that language, tone, actions can sabotage my intent.

I can consciously engage, reach out and care for my own wellbeing – what helps, what hurts – to have the wherewithal to be present for others.

Solitude gives me strength to get through the day. Still. Safe. Restorative.

For now I’m tired. Is that anti-social? I don’t think so, but maybe. If it is, so be it.


Special thanks to Phil Vanaria for his wonderful photos of me dancing.

Packing is a Real Trip with a Brain Injury

[Hello again. I said I’d be back, and here I am.]

Ahh… traveling. The mere thought of going on a trip somewhere (anywhere) always felt like a great adventure but now, not so much. Picturing myself lazing on a beautiful beach or wandering around a new city seems like heaven – irresistible. But my traumatic brain injury has no problem resisting, and no intention of letting me get off easy. Traveling is a pain in the you-know-what. And the worst part? Packing. Just the thought of a suitcase gives me a stomachache.

I just got back from a trip to Mexico City. I was completely psyched about going, found a flight and bought my ticket. Each document I got (like the flight confirmation, destination information, boarding pass, etc.) I’d carefully put down… somewhere (ok, usually on top of a pile of paper).

folderAfter searching for my flight number once too often, a light bulb went off in my head. Bingo! I needed a “TRIP” folder – one place for every important document. But obviously, I needed more than just a folder. I needed to have a Packing Plan. With help, I managed to do just that.

How does someone who’s casual about day-to-day problems turn into an indecisive, anxiety-ridden mess when faced with preparing for a trip? Packing is a killer, but there’s no way around it. Eventually I had to bite the bullet and start.

Basically, my Packing Plan was a step-by-step guide that raised my confidence and lowered my stress. I admit I’m never exactly relaxed setting out on trip, but this time with my plan, when it was time to go I was ready to grab my bags and walk out the door. Making your own plan isn’t easy, but oh man what a difference it makes. So, roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work.

A Packing Plan

First things first – Make a List.
One more time, say it LOUD –

list-angled-first-mentionMake a List!

(and don’t leave home without it

Bottom line: the more time you spend on your list, the less time you’ll spend packing. “So,” you might ask, “What’s the big deal?” or “How do I make a list?” You can copy mine (download it here) or stick around for the nitty gritty how-to. If you do, you’ll have a custom-made list that’s a perfect fit. You’ve got nothing to lose but the time it takes to read this.

Before you can make a list, you need to answer these questions about your trip. It will help you figure out what to bring and how much to pack.

  1. How many days and nights will you be gone?
  2. What’s the weather forecast for your destination?
  3. What clothes will you need for the activities you have planned – the beach, business, fancy dinners, sightseeing, etc?
  4. What do you use daily? Medication, mobility aid (e.g. a cane), phone, baby wipes (huh? Well, only if you’re traveling with a baby, and that’s a whole other blog!)

Once that’s sorted out, we’re on to the List. Use your answers about weather and activities to fine-tune it. If you’re flying, you’ll probably have a checked bag and a carry-on. Here are the basic items you should pack.

SUITCASE

suitcase

Clothes

  • Underwear
  • Socks/tights: at least one a day
  • Shoes: two pairs. No fewer, no more
    unless you must. One pair should be comfy,
    but both should be multi-purpose: not too shoddy, not too fancy
    (unless you’re going to a ball one night!)
  • Tops (shirts, blouses, tees, sweaters)2-shoes
  • Bottoms (pants, skirts
  • Outerwear (jacket, coat)
  • Innerwear (exercise clothes, PJ’s)

Personal Care
toothbrushtoothpaste

  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Soap, shampoo
  • Hair brush
  • Hand cream
  • Prescriptions or other medicine (Advil, decongestant, etc.)

CARRY-ON BAG

  • Check airline rules for allowable size and weight, and for items not allowed on board
  • Meds for the whole trip (it’s safer if they stay with you)pills
  • Photo ID & passport (if needed)
  • Personal care items to use in transit
    • Liquids & gels: maximum 3 oz. each
  • Any electronic devices you want with you
    • Phone, computer, earbuds, etc.
    • Don’t forget chargers!

Traveling clothes & shoes

  • Dress for comfort (pockets are good, too)
  • Sweater or jacket
  • Music, puzzles, a book (something fun to do)
  • Snacks

It’s helpful to make a single sheet with all the information you need in transit: reservation number, terminal, departure & arrival times, flight number, destination address & phone number, etc.

From the List – to a box – to the Suitcase

Packing does not have to be your worst nightmare. The trick is to be methodical and check your list at every step. Start early, go slowly, and above all, don’t panic!

First, put a big box on the floor with your list and a pen close by. As you decide what you’re taking, put it in the box and immediately check it off the list. When most items are accounted for (i.e. in the box), pull out your suitcase, organize the items (checking one more time with your list) and you’re ready to pack. Start at least 2-3 days before leaving. box-to-suitcase-with-shirts
Once the suitcase is ready (or almost), you’re ready to pack the carry-on. Follow the same process: from List and box to Carry-On bag. Put all liquids and gels in a a quart-size plastic bag, and don’t forget to set aside the clothes you plan to wear while traveling.

Every bag should be clearly marked with your name and contact info – inside and out.

Keep these items easily accessible for security checks:

  • The bag of liquids & gels
  • All electronics
  • Your “TRIP” folder with ticket, boarding pass, destination, and packing list.

Arrange your transportation to the airport.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t schlep a suitcase up and down subway steps if you can take a bus, and don’t worry about getting a seat on the bus if you can spring for a cab. Whatever makes you less stressed will also make your trip go more smoothly.

It’s the big day. Are you ready to go?

Stop. Take a breath. Make sure you don’t leave home without these:

  • Meds
  • Photo ID/passport
  • Ticket
  • Wallet 
  • Phone & charger
  • Mobility aid (e.g. cane)
  • Last-minute items
  • Your “TRIP” folder

keysGot something to nosh on? a sweater just in case?  is your transportation to the airport all set? Check that you have all your bags in hand and walk out the door – confident and ready to go.

Travel safely, enjoy your trip, and don’t worry – you can always buy anything if you forgot to pack it!

– Laurie