I was never comfortable with being labelled with the term disability, nobody viewed me as being disabled and to be honest neither did I. Disability was never something I knew anything about or that I had any experience in. My view of disability was in fact mobility impairment, i.e. someone who used an aid to move around; whether it be a wheelchair, crutches, walking frame, etc. To me, somebody disabled was obvious and applying that term to myself was never something that I even would have considered! The meaning of the word disability is the inability to perform a certain task due to a handicap, the handicap of brain injury is a cognitive impairment, i.e. your brain doesn’t work as well anymore, and the brain is the most important organ in the human body, so of course, it is a disability. The thing is, you can’t always see it.
I never accepted that I had a condition that prevented me from getting on in life. I always put it down to me being lazy and not putting enough effort into anything I tried to do. From the night that I had my traumatic brain injury my life seemed to stand still. Even when I was discharged from hospital and returned home to my parent’s in Scarborough, I was too tired to leave the house for anything more than an hour. Again, this was something I didn’t attribute to my brain injury but to my laziness. In the very early day's post TBI I was I only ever focused on myself, spending a lot of time alone or with immediate family, friends or medical professionals. I lived in a small bubble in which the sole focus was myself. I started to become curious about what was happening outside this circle, and soon I developed an obsession with Facebook. It became my link to the outside world. All of a sudden my slow thought process did not hinder me like it did in live conversation. I could join in with banter again like I used to; communicating in text gives you ten seconds to think about your response. I loved Facebook. In fact, I was on it so much I earned myself the nickname ‘Facebrooke’!
My fatigue prevented me from socialising and interacting with my friends. The reality I did get a view of was through the lens of Facebook which of course was a false view of reality. Jealousy is the wrong word, but I did feel very inferior to most of the people I saw on social media. I didn’t know about photo filters, I thought everyone was just really good looking! It never occurred to me that people only post aspects of their lives that are interesting and because you see the interesting aspects, I never figured out that I was only looking at the interesting parts of lots of different lives. All I could see was that everybody was so much better looking and having more fun than me! I can remember thinking I didn’t have much to say to anyone and that I was boring, I saw myself as being a burden to people, and I had very low self-esteem. Looking back now, I only ever focused on the extremes, looking at people that appeared to be extremely happy, having a great time, were on holiday etc., and just assumed that this was what their lives were like all of the time and my own by comparison was so dull!
This is obviously a stupid thing to do, it was a result of having too much time on my hands and obsessing over things that I didn’t have. I managed to get away from this way of thinking by distracting myself and adding new things to my life. I started running and getting fit, and I started a gym instructor course at my local college. It gave me a new interest in my life, and instead of scrolling through Facebook, I would look at fitness websites and magazines. I also started going along to this Buddhist Meditation group. Meditation is excellent for improving your concentration and focus because it is just basically seeing how long you can focus for, then when your mind drifts off, you do it again. I was terrible at meditation at first! I am a big advocate of exercise especially aerobic exercise and would wholeheartedly recommend becoming active as a way to fill your time. But anything would work, the idea is to distract yourself.
Comparing yourself is a natural thing, but really it is a stupid thing to do. If you compare yourself to people on social media, you need to acknowledge that you are seeing what is essentially a snapshot of their life and not a good representation of how their life is full time. If they say that their life is so fantastic full time, then you have to think about why they are telling people that? If they want people to think that their life is so fantastic then is it really that great? Are you comparing yourself to people without a head injury? Then they do not face the disadvantages that you have in life!
Don’t compare yourself to other people, compare yourself only to how you were yesterday and try to be better!