One More Thing TBI Takes from You, and How to Get It Back

One More Thing TBI Takes from You, and How to Get It Back

After Hugh’s traumatic brain injury, my family experienced a huge outpouring of friendship and help from our community. I remember finding it nearly impossible to put into words how much each small act of kindness meant. This incredible goodwill lasted for many weeks, but as the months dragged on, I noticed that TBI hung around while some of our friends did not.

TBI is all consuming. It takes over everything, until your family feels like a completely different family with a new set of emotions, new daily activities, and a new central focus. Friends don’t fall away without a reason after TBI. Here are a few reasons I think they sometimes do:

  • They have helped you a few times and need to get back to their own lives.
  • They find you and your situation alarming and back away.
  • Being with you is a downer.
  • They sense that the relationship is one-way with you always needing help.
  • They sense that the relationship has changed forever in ways they don’t like.
  • They feel guilty for their own good fortune, or helpless, and don’t know what to say anymore.
  • They can’t do the activities they used to do with you because of physical or time constraints (i.e. work, ride a bike, swim, etc.).
  • They don’t like to be reminded that life can change in an instant.

After Hugh’s injury, we didn’t hold on to all of our friends, but we did manage to stay in touch with quite a few and rebuild or restructure some friendships that lapsed over Hugh’s two years of intense therapy. Here are a few things that I believe helped:

Acknowledge the awkwardness

A few times I said to friends, “You are always asking about me and my life, but I want to hear about you and your family — even your troubles. Please don’t shield me. I feel like a friend when I can really listen to you. I miss that. So what’s new?”

Believe in your friends … and don’t resort to anger or bitterness

Thinking or saying, “You never call me anymore! You’re a rotten friend!” won’t help. Everyone needs an adjustment period after someone they love sustains a brain injury and that includes friends.

Ask for equal parts fun and help

If you do receive help from your friends, repay them in some small way with a note, phone call, or small act of kindness. Friendship is a two way street. Work to stay engaged if you want to keep friends.

Help your friends when they have a problem

Don’t let your friends fall off the radar for too long. They will have troubles in their lives too: work issues, relationship problems, and relatives that pass away. Be there to help. Being a good friend is the best way to keep good friends. Your help does not have to take a lot of time or be expensive. Be creative. Picking up one extra small item at the store and dropping it off on your friend’s front stoop with a note will tell that person you are thinking of him or her.

When all else fails, throw a party!

A year after Hugh’s injury, we threw a friendship party. There doesn’t have to be a holiday to throw a party. Here’s what our invitation said:

We intentionally made it clear on the invitation that this party was going to be upbeat and fun. More than a hundred people showed up, and they saw us in a different light, re-engaging in life, barbequing, playing volleyball, and socializing. From that point on, more people called on us.

Having friends with whom you share your joys and sorrows is key to remaining healthy and vibrant. After TBI, keeping friends may feel like work, but having genuine friends will always feel better than going it alone.

Comments (6)

All my friends ostracized me years ago probably because I can be difficult but it's a two way street if they need me for anything I'll remind them of their disrespect and decline their needs too.

Thank God, or your Higher Power, whom so ever that is, for friends. I would not have survived without them! Yes, my husband's tbi changed things...but the friends who stood by me are still there, one year on, and believe me when I say, it is more important to me now than when the accident first occured.
very beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us. :-)
Your story made me cry cause I too have my amazing father that suffered a DAI (Defussional Axnol Bran Injury). It\'s a struggle but very important everyday to be sure he continues to stay connected to the outside world. To be involved with much of what he was involved with before his accident, especially with his friends. We try to have many gatherings at home where his friends and our family can come join us. What you said is so true about how all the family and friends are around to help for the first while, but after awhile seem to fade once they see the long term prognosis are real. One thing people need to realize though is, we still want to feel that they need us just as much as we still need them. I love my Dad more than words can express, and if I could take his spot, I\'d do it in a heart beat, but I know I can\'t. One thing I do know though, is that he needs me, and I want to be there as much as I am able. I do wish you and your love one all the best. May God Bless you both. Melissa Beddow
Rosemary: Thanks for a great article. I'd like to expand on your thoughts about friends. After my accident, I saw friends move away from us and others rally around. I harbor no ill feelings for those who distanced themselves. We have since gotten close to several who felt uncomfortable being around me as I recovered. My sense is that, as you pointed out, it makes them face their own mortality; and the fact that a life can change in an instant. But the single-most barrier I have found is that when new acquaintances find out that I had a TBI, they really do not know how to respond, what to say, or how to treat me. I have to put them at ease and let them know that I don't need to be handled with kid gloves; I am OK. I can take it. I sometimes will make light of some of the side effects of my injury. There is a bright side, and humor sometimes takes the edge off. Let people know that you do not expect special treatment. One year after my injury, like you, we had a party with friends to celebrate the occasion. I am still the same person that went into this thing inasmuch as anyone can be the same one day, one month, or one year later. We all change. I just stopped attributing everything to the injury. Hey I am getting older. And my memory is still better than many people my age. Best to you and family. We enjoy your blog immensely! Randy
Not everyone with a TBI experiences negativity. I was as close to death as you can come but work hard DAILY to be as close as I can possibly be to the old me while being a better person. I wasn't BAD before but did things like the rest of us, wish I hadn't done. I want ONLY positive people around me while I progress back. I live everyday trying to correct things to what most people don't even think about. I don't mind. I'm stubborn and will be better for it.