The Power of Social Interaction on My Recovery from Brain Injury

         ** This was written for the Brain Injury Association of Delaware‘s semi-annual newsletter. Please feel free to republish, tweet,  tumblr, email, etc! 

          In late May 2006, I was struck by a large pickup truck while riding my bicycle (wearing a helmet in the bike lane). I had been studying engineering at Drexel University and was in my second year, with plenty of friends and a very fulfilling life. Then, as we all are so familiar with, well, my life changed drastically. Having spent 6 weeks in hospitals following a severe diffuse (closed) TBI and subsequent coma gave me an understanding that I never ever wanted to realize: recovery is devastatingly lonesome. I’d love to compare a brain injury to that of being Bruce Wayne – after all, he can’t tell anyone he meets about his secret life as Batman; the real reason he comes home with bruises, or how he’s realized that there’s danger everywhere… TBI survivors unfortunately can’t all stop crime-committers, either.  We struggle with the simple fact that our remarkably unique and different struggles are often unseen and unrecognized by the uninjured or uninvolved. And when we speak about our deficits, a common reply is, “Oh, I have the same problems!”.

            But, there’s really much more hope for TBI survivors than there is for Batman. Most importantly, we have many more sidekicks than does our brave, spandex-clad compadre! I can’t even begin to count all the men, women and children I’ve met who are recovering from brain injury; each one of them has moved me a new step towards the skyscraper I’ve arrived at now.  I’ll never forget Barbara, my first real TBI friend. While in physical therapy as part of our inpatient rehabilitation, we competed with each other to find out who would become more capable of doing everyday tasks like walking and moving up steps. When I was being discharged, she made sure to tell me just how motivating I was to her; she never found out that she had motivated me as well. Competition is a wonderful avenue to support interaction and recovery.

Or there’s Brian, who I only met at the very end of my recent cross-country TBI bicycle tour. Brian is a victim of a hit and run just as I am, and he wears his new brain-injury knowledge and legal jargon like a badge of honor. He pushes me to overlook my own deficits and find ways to help others, as he has done. Brian is recovering brilliantly, and my being impressed by another survivor inspires me to imitate.

But we can’t leave out the social interaction that I have benefitted from having with those who haven’t had head injuries; lack of a detrimental experience or two is not always a bad thing. Family and friends make sure that I keep smiling or focused when I’m unable to break the phase by myself. A calm, independent friend can be an excellent source of logic and advice. After having had so many months of wishing I was normal, I can relax when my non-injured acquaintances treat me like any other human being. Because the truth is, I am just another person!

Social interaction is in itself a superhero for recovery from brain injury. It promotes inspiration, imitation, happiness, acceptance, competition, and amazingly, strength.  Without it, there’s no telling just where I’d have ended up. But, there’s a good chance I’d have had much more need for a superhero without it.

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