One of the more stressful aspects of the injury experience is deciding how to answer questions about the injury experience. This can be particularly stressful as many survivors find themselves receiving a barrage of questions every time they return to familiar situations. Friends at work have questions, customers have questions, old high school classmates have questions, etc. For many survivors, it seems that they have been suddenly placed in an unfamiliar spotlight. Let’s go over some general ideas and some specific suggestions when talking about your injury.
First, let’s review some general ideas. Many survivors initially think that few people know about their injury. After all, if the survivors did not tell others, how would they know? The reality is usually different. Sometimes, the injury event was on the news. For instance, if a survivor was in a major car accident or shooting, it generally made the news. Also, following an injury, family members may make prayer requests through social media or religious institutions. In this case, everyone who is connected via social media or anyone is part of the religions institution is aware of the injury event. Moreover, a brain injury is a big piece of news. Once one person hears about it, they are likely to “share the news” with friends from work, school or other social environments. Overall, information often makes the rounds to people you know quite quickly. However, the information is often piecemeal and occasionally, inaccurate.
With this in mind, the guiding principle when talking to others about your injury should that you give honest information in a manner that will engender others to have appropriate confidence in you. In some cases, people may be truly confused or concerned how you are doing and are using questions as a sort of gauge of health. The better you handle the situation, the more likely the other person will walk away with confidence in you.
Here are a few pieces of advice regarding talking about your injury:
- Always keep in mind who the person is that you are speaking with. For instance, is this a friend or an acquaintance? Is this person trustworthy to keep information private or likely to share it with everyone? Do I have a personal relationship or a professional relationship with this person? These factors will influence what you will share (or not share) with the other person.
- Whenever possible, keep information short and with limited detail. Remember, once you have said something, you cannot take back the information and the person you are speaking with may share that information with many others. Also, the less details you give, the less opportunity you are giving the other person to ask probing, sometimes uncomfortable, questions.
- Be sure to have a good exit/”no thank you” line. Not everyone has a right to your information and there are times you will not want to talk about your injury. A good exit line usually involves saying something nice, making your request and ending with something nice. For example: “Thank you for your concern but I really don’t enjoy talking about my recent health issues. However, I really appreciate that you cared so much to check on me.”
- Always tell the truth. If you tell a lie, there are two possible unpleasant outcomes. One, if the other person finds out that you deliberately lied, this can ruin the relationship. Second, if you tell a lie and the other person realizes the information is wrong but falsely thinks that you actually believe the lie, the other person will assume that you are quite confused.
- Be aware that you know a lot of medical/health terms that other people will not know, will not understand or even misunderstand. The average person on the street does not know terms such as “hemiplegia” or ” homonymous hemianopsia .” Using terms that other people do not understand may overwhelm the other person. Also, there are some terms that others may misunderstand. For instance, if you say that you are in “rehabilitation”, other people may falsely assume that you have a substance abuse problem. It may be better to say, “I have been working on my recovery from my injury” or “I have been in injury rehabilitation” rather than saying “I have been in rehabilitation.”
- Do not exaggerate or embellish your injury experience. Your story is already powerful and does not need any help. Also, exaggerating or embellishing may make the experience seem worse and cause other people to lose confidence in you.
- Be careful about using humor. Many people will not find much humor in your injury experience and may take too much humor to mean that you do not appreciate the seriousness of your injury. Again this could lead to a loss in confidence in your skills.
- Always ask questions of the other person. If the other person gets to ask all of the questions and you have to give all of the answers, eventually the friendly conversation may feel like an interrogation. The best way to balance the power is to ask questions of the other person, such as how are things going for their spouse, children or job.
- Practice your responses. When you are asked questions, the way to engender confidence is to have great responses. The best method to ensure you have great responses is to practice, out loud, your responses. This way, you can hear how your answers actually sound when coming from your mouth (which often sound different than how you imagine them in your mind) and practice different potential responses. It is often helpful to practice with a trusted loved one and/or to record and review your responses. This will help you find the best and most natural responses to questions.
These were just a few ideas and suggestions when talking to other about your injury. Always remember the key principle of giving honest responses that engender confidence!
Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center! Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/