Monday, June 9, 2014

It's Always A Balancing Act

   Don't see me as "different," but understand I have a brain injury.
   Treat me as you would anyone else; like me, even love me, I have the same basic needs, being human, as anyone else.
   Of course, people can't understand what it is like to have a brain injury. No, not even close. Brain injury has so many profound and different effects that it would take a long time and effort to come to some sort of appreciation and people do have other things to do, like eat, work, and sleep.
   So I have to make the effort, as unfair as it is, I am the one that is different. I must be the one to reach out. It is as if I were the only one who spoke my language, it is not everyone else's job to learn my language, but it is my job to learn speak to everyone else. After all, they have plenty of people to speak to without speaking to me. I however, need to speak to someone.
   I don't want people to associate with me just because they have to, that's what counselors and therapists are for. I want folks to be my friends because that's what they want most from me.
   I have to do what I can to be of value to them. People will be my friend if they like who they are when they are with me. They will like who they are around me if they feel like I like them for who they are, not just what they can do for me.
   This is sometimes hard to focus on. My primary goal is to find friends because I need them. However, if that is the attitude I hold foremost in my mind I will push good people away. People can easily detect needy grasping types of folks, and they will rightfully avoid them. I need to smile and ask them how they are doing, how their day is going.
   There are so many memes, quotes, and moral platitudes about how friendship is about being there, being strong for the other person, and offering them unconditional acceptance and love. Yes, that is all part of it.        But it is what comes after the first part of friendship, the part where people enjoy each other’s company and have an enjoyable time in their presence.
   It is enjoyable to be around people who genuinely like you.
   If I focus on liking people and taking real delight in their world, their comings and goings, their pet projects, their family and friends, then I find that they enjoy my company as well. If they are quality people they will respond in kind without being asked. If I find they are not quality people then I can simply move on. No big drama is needed, no final closure. I just let them slip away as I meet other people.
   Meeting people is a numbers game. Hang out in public spaces, be friendly warm and open. I say this like it is a simple prescription, but it is not. For most of us it is hard to open up to strangers. I may write well, but when it comes to extemporaneous speech, small talk to strangers, I find it very difficult and often I become tongue tied. Through all my pitfalls and hang ups I have managed to find good friends over the years in spite of myself.
   I am trying something new with this article. I am not weaving “because I am brain injured” into every sentence. Still, if it makes it seem more pertinent to you, go ahead and sprinkle the phrase liberally throughout. I find that as much as brain injury separates me from others, it doesn’t separate me as much as I feel it does. When I say I have a bad memory, everybody responds that they have a bad memory too.              Rather than snap back and tell them they have no idea what it really means to have a bad memory, I just smile and use the moment to build a bridge to another human. I commiserate, usually with a wry laugh. I look at them and say, “It sure adds a special quality to the day, doesn’t it?” I invite them in, I don’t push them away.

   I write this because it helps me to organize and focus my identity. It helps me formalize what it means to be me. I strongly recommend that others put their thoughts into written words. I often imagine myself doing or saying things, but when I write these things down they become much more real. Good behaviors and practices don’t just float around in my mind, dissipating with the next breeze of thought; by writing them down they gain structure and mass. If I think of my thoughts as a building I am constructing, the act of writing is the critical diagonal piece that forms the triangle that gives stability to the whole structure.

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