Social Distancing & Isolation — A Survivor’s Perspective

David and his wife smiling at the camera

Normally, I use this space to talk about life as a brain injury survivor. But that won’t entirely be the case today. Though all I see, I see through the eyes of a brain injury survivor, today I come to you as a fellow member of humanity – just another person on the life bus.

It feels like there’s been a veritable lifetime of stress packed into a few short weeks. These are scary times. I’ll not candy-coat it. I fall into the high-risk category as one who has a chronic medical condition: “Hi, I’m David, and I’m a diabetic!” As I am nearing sixty, I am a stone’s throw away from having two COVID-19 risk factors.

Rest assured, I’m not going to talk about washing your hands. You are no doubt hearing that everywhere. Nor am I going to make any social distancing recommendations. That drum is beating everywhere, as well. But let’s talk about social isolation, shall we?

Over the last few weeks, the world has gotten a lot smaller for just about everyone. There is no seemingly “normal” left to life. Those who once commuted to work now work at home. Those who spent their days in the company of coworkers are now faced with hours of isolation. How about time spent with friends? Unless you’ve mastered Zoom or Google Hangouts, your social life is all but gone. It’s like that for you; it’s like that for me.

But here’s what may come as a surprise: these are all familiar and daily occurrences for many of us within the brain injury community. For so many of us, we’ve been living like this for years.

Spending less time around people these days? That’s been a way of life for many brain injury survivors. With a TBI, it’s easy to get overstimulated in crowds. Following conversations with a lot of distractions can also be a challenge. For many, the solution is isolation.

How about those precious times spent socializing with friends? Those moments go a long way to define our humanness, to satisfy the need to be part of something bigger than we are as individuals. As humans, we are hard-wired to be social creatures. Brain injury has abruptly taken that from many of us. Personalities change. Those close to us no longer know us as they did and fade to the background of our lives.

For those suddenly thrust into a life without daily contact with friends, this can be devastating. For so many of us with brain injuries, we are quite experienced at going it alone as old friends jump on life-rafts and row away from our lives. It’s more common than those outside the brain injury sphere will ever know.

I can only speak for myself, but there is an uncomfortable element of familiarity as humanity withdraws from itself. It is eerily reminiscent of the early years after my own traumatic brain injury back in 2010. But there is hope for all of us.

Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Whether you are part of the brain injury family or not, there has never been such an abundance of ways to connect with others. And if you find some of the newer technologies used to connect with others a bit daunting, there remains an old-fashioned standby that has stood the test of time – you can pick up your phone and call someone. Sometimes it’s hard, but I hope you’ll try.

If you are comfortable online, I invite you to visit a brain injury Facebook community that I founded back in 2013. You can connect with others who share our fate. There are over 30,000 of us there now. It’s become a great source of comfort and inspiration for survivors and those who love them.

There are times, times like right now, that we need to look at life from a bigger picture perspective. Humanity has been around for thousands of years. We’re still here. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen our country at two wars, witnessed the horror of September 11, survived the catastrophic economic collapse of 2008, and sustained a life-changing traumatic brain injury. Collectively, we are now living through the biggest societal and health challenge of our time.

But like I’ve come through things on a personal level, so will we all. I am able to look at TBI isolation in the rearview mirror of my life. Taking the current pandemic out of the equation, I have a rich and fulfilling life, one with a landscape dotted with friends who love me unconditionally.

Whether your current isolation is COVID induced or the result of a brain injury, I can offer you hope. As time passes, isolation will be replaced by a slow re-emergence back into society. There will be a resuming to normalcy. Social sparks will again fire, and families will again spend time with each other.

And there will come a time that we will look back on 2020 as one unbelievably tough year. It’s brought out a lot of goodness in people. Everyday heroes abound. Daily, I make a conscious choice to see the good in the world, to view things through the eyes of an optimistic realist. It’s my hope that you can find it within yourself to do the same.