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Series 1: Episode 8

Comparing yourself to others after a brain injury

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In this day and age, it's easy to go online, look at what other people are posting, immediately compare yourself, and think about what you might be missing out on.

In this episode, we will be talking about not comparing yourself to other people. This topic ties back to one of our earlier episodes discussing socialising and the overwhelming feeling you need to fit in. 


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Ashwini 00:00:23 - 00:01:05

So in this episode, we're going to be talking about the importance of not comparing yourself to other people, and this ties back a little bit to what we were discussing around socialising and the overall idea of love and belonging; feeling like you want to, you need to fit in. But equally, it's important not to compare yourself to others. 

Brooke, I'd like to talk to you about some of your experiences, particularly around social media. I think it's fair to say that, especially in this day and age, it's so easy to go online, look at what other people are posting and immediately compare yourself and think about what you might be missing out on.

Brooke 00:01:05 - 00:01:33

So I had my injury in 2007, and that was about the time when social media was kicking off, really. I remember it was all like starting up; everyone was getting accounts. There was Facebook, there was something called Bebo if people remember that. It was something when I got discharged home from hospital, I come back to Scarborough, I had a laptop and an internet connection.

Ashwini 00:01:33 - 00:01:34

And lots of free time probably.

Brooke 00:01:34 - 00:03:34

A hell of a lot of free time, yeah. And it wasn't structured free time; I was in and out of bed, I was always exhausted, and it was quite depressing, really. But the one thing that I kept going back to, besides Jeremy Kyle in the morning, which I said I wouldn't do, but you end up doing! One thing I kept going back to was on this laptop and looking on Facebook, on Bebo. And the idea is not to compare yourself but try telling that to somebody who's got a week of free time. A week of free time, it's a long time, and so you tell yourself you're not going to, but you always do, and you look. 

To be honest, it was my window to the outside world and my only real way of communicating. And I found at the time I had quite a bad speech impediment and I used to stutter and stammer a lot, and I wasn't very articulate. My speech didn't flow very well and I found if I met somebody, I would obviously get or could get that pent up with anxiety that I couldn't really get my words out. But on social media, I found it's not free-flowing conversations; it takes you as long as it takes a type an answer, so you've got a few extra seconds at least to think about everything you're going to say, and I found that on that I could become, I don't want to say quite witty, but I was alright, I could communicate again with people. 

And then it was something that I got confidence in and I think people would maybe think I was quite witty or whatever, and then they'd meet me in real life, and I was a stammering, stuttering mess, but on Facebook, I was able to be someone else.

Ashwini 00:03:34 - 00:03:44

Yeah, I suppose it's easy to kind of curate a persona almost and you've got the opportunity to delete and start again, which you wouldn't have when you're face to face with somebody. And I think that's the thing about social media is that people don't realise what might go into putting a post together or putting a response together.

Brooke 00:03:44 - 00:03:57

Exactly, yeah yeah.

Ashwini 00:03:57 - 00:04:22

But even now, we see how people, with social media being as prolific as it is, it's not actually that instantaneous. People might spend hours curating the personas that they want to put across, the information that they want other people to see. But you will see it as an instantaneous thing.

Brooke 00:04:22 - 00:04:41

Exactly, yeah.  And for anything, people could go back.  I was a stickler for having perfect English on my posts and stuff, so I come across really well. You get the choice, and you get the option to edit what you want to put out and how are you going to come across.

Ashwini 00:04:41 - 00:05:20

Yeah, and I suppose it's an important point though, the fact that you could spend time communicating, I suppose from an anxiety management point of view, there were some benefits there because rather than get anxious about speaking to somebody face to face, you could take your time, breathe, you didn't have to post something straight away. If you wanted to go back and delete it and start again, you could. And even if after the event you can post something and then delete it, so it can help, I suppose to build up confidence in social interactions.

Brooke 00:05:20 - 00:05:39

Yeah, you don't get the opportunity to see, if you've had a conversation with someone whatever you say, you say it there and then, whereas if you've had it on social media, you get the chance to look at it, you get to analyse it, whatever people might think about it, and then you can go back and you can edit it, and you don't get to do that in real life.

Ashwini 00:05:39 - 00:06:01

No, but I suppose picking up on that point of analysis, there's also a danger that it can become something of an obsession, and that you can over analyse and spend a lot of time, you know, obsessing over tiny details and that could also be quite bad from a mental health point of view.

Brooke 00:06:01 - 00:06:03

Be very bad, yeah.

Ashwini 00:06:03 - 00:07:00

I suppose thinking about nowadays as well with things like Instagram, which wouldn't have been around when you were first recovering. And there, you know, it's all very visual. The point of Instagram is that it's visual, so people do try to put their best self forward and really curate images that are very far from reality. It's not about seeing the warts and all kind of picture; it's everything on the best day with all the filters applied. But for someone who's looking at those posts, you don't necessarily think about the many filters and airbrushing and the perfect hashtags that have been put together - you just see an image, and it's very easy to kind of go, 'Oh, that's not me, I want to be like that.'

Brooke 00:07:00 - 00:07:46

Absolutely yeah, I'm guilty of it of myself. If there's ten photos and eight of them look quite bad, I'm going to put the two on that look pretty good – sometimes photos look really good, and they don't necessarily even look like me! But they are and they make you look good, so you put them on. I think it's easy to forget that's what everybody does; everybody puts their best self forward. 

I remember, it's got to have been 2007/2008, I was looking and there were all these people's best photographs and I didn't think they would be the best photographs. I just thought they were their normal lives, and I thought everybody was just so good looking and everybody had these perfect lives.

Ashwini 00:07:46 - 00:07:48

Did it make you feel inferior?

Brooke 00:07:49 - 00:08:52

Absolutely yeah, yeah. I mean, I guess my mental health wasn't very good at the time. I was just, sort of, very low in mood - whether I was actually depressed or not, I don't know, but it was coming to the time when I was just getting used to this fatigue. I was just exhausted all the time and all I could think about was how exhausted I was, how it was never going to get any better, and I was considering being like this for the rest of my life. 

Of course, you see photographs of people, you know, starting families, doing these things, going on holiday. All I ever saw was people having a great time and I was having such a bad time, so you didn't really think about it logically, you didn't think about it that these people were having bad times as well, and these were only the few seconds highlights of their week. You just saw all these happy faces looking at you, and all I could think about was how miserable my life was. It was just not good for me.

Ashwini 00:08:52 - 00:09:05

Yeah, and I suppose yeah, comparing yourself, your situation to other people's and perhaps also that feeling of missing out that you weren't there having those good times with other people as well.

Brooke 00:09:05 - 00:09:09

FOMO - fear of missing out, I still get that now!

Ashwini 00:09:09 - 00:09:18

So what did you do then to try and distract yourself from spending all your time on social media and comparing yourself to others?

Brooke 00:09:18 - 00:10:11

I remember there was one particular moment. I've read this thing online that brain injury heals for three years; after that, the only improvements that you can make are techniques you can use to manage it. I was hoping for this miracle, really, and it went right up to the last night of the three-year mark, and I was just hoping that the next day I was going to be better. And obviously, when I wasn't, I slipped into a bit of better depression. 

I went out one night and I went for a little run, just like a mile circuit in Scarborough near where I lived and it wasn't particularly far, but it was something I did it every night at the same time, and honestly, after a few weeks I just felt so much better.

Ashwini 00:10:11 - 00:10:27

So you threw yourself into your fitness, and did you find that that was a good way of distracting yourself? Or did you find that that was another way of comparing yourself to other people?

Brooke 00:10:23 - 00:10:29

I suppose a bit of both, really, but on the whole, it was a good thing.

Ashwini 00:10:29 - 00:11:02

Just moving away from the theme of social media and comparing yourself and just flipping the comparisons to other people. I hear it quite often that someone may be suffering with the effects of fatigue, for example, and people around them will kind of, I don't know whether it's a misguided way of trying to empathise, will sort of say, 'Oh yes, you know, I also get really tired' or 'I also have problems with my memory.'

Brooke 00:11:02 - 00:12:03

I think that's a classic thing that people with brain injury go through. To be honest, I don't think anybody is trying to make you feel bad, it's just quite often, you know, I didn't know what brain injury was myself, and in some ways, I still don't, but people, I think they're trying to empathise with you saying I feel tired too. But it is a tiredness that I'd never known before; it's like an absolute exhaustion.

It's something I've been trying to explain to myself really for a while, but I sort of equate it to, you know, if your brain just runs out of energy. It's not being a bit tired, and it's not the case that you can man up and you can get over it. I always say that you can't drive to say London on a fivers worth of petrol because you don't have enough petrol in your tank, it's the same sort of thing with your mind, you don't have enough energy to get through the day, so you just you kind of breakdown. But yeah, it's not a case of just being a bit tired.

Ashwini 00:12:03 - 00:12:11

It's not the same as, yeah, you know a few hours extra sleep will sort it out. It's changes to your brain. 

Brooke 00:12:22 - 00:12:32

But you can spend time getting annoyed. I mean, I spent loads of time getting annoyed thinking of replies to them, but to be honest, it's just something that they say, and they'll have forgotten about a few seconds later, and it's something that you ruminate on and it's definitely not worth…

Ashwini 00:12:32 - 00:12:33

Wasting your energy on.

Brooke 00:12:33 - 00:12:52

Yeah, so you'll find that there are some people in life, some people will want to learn about your condition and want, I don't say be sympathetic, you don't want sympathy, but people will be more understanding, and then there are people that just don't and you can't really change that.

Ashwini 00:12:52 - 00:13:30

No, those that want to learn and be educated will, but those that don't, don't. And you're right; it's not worth wasting energy; move on.

So, thinking about some help and advice that we can give then to our listeners. I guess just summing up what we were discussing, it's important to remember that what you see on social media is other people putting their best sides forward, so don't try to get hung up and compare yourself to the images that people spend probably hours curating.

Brooke 00:13:30 - 00:13:36

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It's like a final product of that day.

Ashwini 00:13:36 - 00:13:41

Yeah, it's definitely not real – a bit like the fake environment that you were in in hospital.

Brooke 00:13:41 - 00:13:42

Yeah, yeah, it's not real.

Ashwini 00:13:42 - 00:13:53

It's not real, and a lot of people that you see on social media won't have a brain injury. So it is unrealistic to compare yourself anyway to them.

Brooke 00:13:53 - 00:14:13

That's the thing, isn't it? Yeah, I guess you do just compare yourself. Often if you compare yourself to others with brain injuries, you know, you find you're not doing that bad. But I've been one to try and compare myself to people that are; I'm trying to say something better than normal, but normal people.

Ashwini 00:14:13 - 00:14:13

Not brain-injured people!

Brooke 00:14:13 - 00:14:17

Yeah, neurotypical, I think is it!

Ashwini 00:14:17 - 00:14:39

Yeah, I like that - it's neurotypical.

And we talked about other ways of distracting yourself. Whether it's getting into something like fitness, I know people that have used the fitness to get into fundraising for various charities. You've, of course, done your public speaking as well.

Brooke 00:14:39 - 00:15:59

Yeah, I've done public speaking, but I've done a lot of fundraising as well. The first thing I did, I think it was a 10K race, something like that, and I did a sponsorship for it, and then I eventually did the first Great North Run. 

Having a brain injury made me feel useless; I didn't have a job and everybody else had a purpose in life. I remember there was one quite depressing day that I was thinking if I wasn't here apart from my family and friends obviously being upset, I'd have made no difference in this world. But I think the first time I raised some money for a charity, I felt like I had a purpose, and that gave me like a reason to get out of bed in the morning; it brought all that back. 

So I think anything you can do for somebody else, because obviously, like all throughout your time in hospital, all throughout your time recovery, it's all about you, you and you think how can I make things better for myself. The whole thing is geared towards you becoming quite selfish, but if you then do some fundraising for charity or if you just do something for somebody else, just help with whatever, help anybody out, and you really feel, well from my experience, felt so much better and I felt like I had a purpose in life.

Ashwini 00:15:59 - 00:16:10

I think that's important. And distracting yourself with something that gives you purpose. Whether it's for yourself, whether it's for other people, feeling value in what you do.

Brooke 00:16:10 - 00:16:13

Yeah, a reason to get up in the morning.

Ashwini 00:16:13 - 00:16:15

But at the same time, in moderation.

Brooke 00:16:15 - 00:16:16

In moderation, yeah.

Ashwini 00:16:16 - 00:16:34

Yeah, definitely, and not replacing one obsession with another. And I think the final point is, you know, don't waste energy getting annoyed with people who don't understand and don't have any interest in understanding.

Brooke 00:16:34 - 00:16:59

There'll be good people in your life, and that's not to say that everybody who doesn't take an interest is a bad person, but it's just it's what you want to waste your energy on, isn't it? There will be people you know, your family and friends people care about you, they will make an effort to understand your condition and people who don't then you know, it's not really worth worrying about.

Ashwini 00:16:59 - 00:16:59

There are better things to focus on.


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