Kelli Gary talks about the strategies she used to rebuild her social supports after her traumatic brain injury.
How would I build social supports that would be--that would help me to succeed after brain injury? Well, I think first, of course, your family. Because even though your family may not understand, 9 times out of 10 they will still stick by you. So you have to have--you have to have that. You gotta have somebody that may not understand a brain injury, but you know you can still rely on them. And that was my mother, and she was a nurse, but she was a cardiovascular nurse. She didn't understand brain injury. She got a little bit of what she needed from the doctors, but I knew my mother, regardless of what I did, and trust me, I've tried her nerve on many occasions, but I knew she would still stick by me. Now, the second thing that I did is that I aligned myself with people that knew about brain injury. So I tried to tap or get close to individuals that were successful, and they understood my plight from the fact that they understood a little bit about brain injury. So I reconnected with the therapist that--that I--you know--that was my therapist was in inpatient rehab. As a matter of fact, one is still my mentor to this very day. And I learned from her. I talked to her. What should I do? I want to go and be an occupational therapist, so what are the steps that I should take? And she just talked to me, and she understood--okay, she has a brain injury. She treated me, so she knew. She says, "So, well, Kelli, you know you have to look out for this, or think about this too. You know you're going to have to study more than this. You might have to take on some extra study classes," or what have you. So she gave me strategies and suggestions. I connected with people at--at school, in the program that I enrolled in, that understood a little bit about brain injury, other people in the disability office that might have known a little bit about catastrophic injury and how that might affect my educational ability. So that's how I started to build my social support. It was later, but this is very important to mention. Seven years after my injury, I went to my first brain injury support meeting, and by that time, I was an occupational therapist. I was working at the VA. I was still living at home with my mom, but I thought I had overcome. I was like--I don't need a support group. But my old therapist encouraged me to go, and I attended the session through her coercion, but I wasn't as much into it. I was--like--I really don't need this. It wasn't until I went to a few sessions that I saw that I still had a lot of internal issues that I still hadn't dealt with emotionally. I still had--you know-- problems with pushing myself, because I felt like--you know--I needed to do too much to prove myself, and just certain things that my support group members helped me with. Now, wherever I go--I've moved to three different cities since then-- but I don't care where I go. Even if I'm not as active, I connect with every brain injury support group in the city that I'm in. So I connected--when I moved to New York, I connected with the brain injury support group there and got involved and got to know people. I started to connect with friends that were positive. I mean--not individuals that had a hidden agenda, that wanted to be around you for a certain reason, and it took time to kind of shield those people--you know--kind of dig in and find out who those people were. But I started to pay more close attention to who my friends were based on what they were doing, where they were going, and what it is they would try to encourage me to do. I tried to stay positive. I connected with those people that were positive--in my church, in my school-- those people who were doing the things that I wanted to do or the things that I was trying to do. And that was very important. When I started to cut negative people out of my life, men included, friends--ex, old friends that I thought were my friends that really weren't--that's when I started to advance--advance further. I have friends now that have been my friends-- for quite a while now, that are PhDs--you know--that are--you know--MDs, that-- You know, those are the people that I tried to align myself with, people that were being successful, that were doing it positively, and that didn't want anything from me.
Posted on BrainLine December 2, 2009.
Produced by Vicky Youcha and Brian King, BrainLine.
Kelli Williams Gary, PhD, MPH, OTR/L is an assistant professor in the department of occupational therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She sustained a severe traumatic brain injury in 1991.