No, I cannot spend more than two hours having lunch. No, you cannot talk to me endlessly about your problems. No, I cannot stand here, outside our cars, as you continue the conversation, and my dizziness gets out of control. Please do not ask me how I am, and then immediately tell me I look just fine before I can even answer. Don’t expect me to remember every detail of your life, since I sometimes cannot remember the details of my own. Do not make me squander the few moments of a social life I am allotted per day. Do not make me understand how much of me I have lost and how lonely-making this condition is. My friends. People do not reach out when you look fine, but when you are really broken.

Is this selfishness or self-care?

Avoiding social interaction after a brain injury occurs is a form of self-preservation, which limits the stimulation to the brain so it can rest and start the long road to recovery. Loneliness becomes a characteristic of this process, sometimes because friends just do not understand. If you cannot spend hours over lunch, you may still enjoy thirty minutes over coffee.

Is this selfishness or self care?

The impulse to protect the brain by secluding yourself from stimulation can be perceived as selfish. The best intentions of those in our social circle may hamper our progress. The kindness of strangers is sometimes more comforting. Old ways of being friendly, a long drive to a friend’s home, a trip to wine country for a tasting, all become impossible to execute when our brains are suffering. Lights, sounds, movement can turn an idyllic day to one of tears and frustration, with the effects lasting for days after. The fatigue of struggling with our brains starts as our feet hit the floor in the morning and ends as we struggle to fall asleep. With too much stimulation, our dreams can be neon coloured nightmares, not bringing a restorative sleep, but instead one we dread repeating.

Is this selfishness or self-care?

The no’s we speak to those wanting to be with us are not always received in the spirit they are meant. We are lonely, but you are too much. We are sad, but you do not help us be happy. We are not coping well, but you wear us out. Isolation is not our friend, but all encompassing social interaction is not our cure.

Is this selfishness or self-care?

We get to decide when we can see you, in what circumstance and for how long. You get to be patient. That is, if you care enough to hang in with us. And we hope that you do.

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this and trying to figure out how to support your friend with a brain injury, read this post, HERE.

Elizabeth MacGregor is a retired teacher/guidance counselor who enjoys being on a lifelong learning journey.