I Lost My Duck Feathers
Having lost my duck feathers I find it necessary to develop strategies so I don’t get caught in the rain. Many social situations require one to disregard hurtful comments or insinuations and let them slide off like water off a duck’s back. Having an ABI the social filters, just like the sensory input filters don’t work well. This can be annoying for someone with ABI and potentially annoying for anyone dealing with a person with ABI.
For many people with ABI, their circle of friends and in many cases the family members who will associate with them begin to shrink. People with ABI often have a difficult time with impulse control resulting in hurtful comments being made. The difficulty with emotional control, particularly if it results in violent bouts of anger can further alienate friends or family members. And so, for people with ABI find that it sometimes doesn’t take much for matters go into a downward spiral. This can be rather disconcerting and can in turn accelerate the downward spiral.
Being aware of this potential challenge with social interaction, I have been mindful of not getting myself into situations or saying things that increase the risk of alienating people. I have also been able to avoid the risk of the downward spiral largely because of several family members who are pro-actively supportive and being part of a caring community.
Living with an ABI condition, I have lost much of my ability to filter sensory impressions. This includes sensory impressions that add to my cognitive loading and sensory impressions that add to my emotional loading. I’m learning how to avoid places and situations that are likely to accelerate my sensory loading. Dealing with sensory overload is exhausting both physically and emotionally. If I know I will be entering an environment which has an increased risk of sensory loading, I will plan my strategies in such a way that I can make an inconspicuous exit.
The exit strategies do not work when it comes to dealing with urgent matters involving other people. Daily living presents situations in which matters need to be addressed and no exit is convenient till the matter is dealt with. Life doesn’t happen in a bubble. And living with ABI doesn’t mean I have the option of requesting a bubble. To address situations that are beyond my direct control, I have learned to be intentional about planning how and when I will bring up the matter to another person. I have the privilege of working with an occupational therapist to assist me in developing effective strategies.
- Is it important?: I first assess the situation to decide if it actually needs to be addressed. If the matter is something that will negatively affect my health or my ability to deal with ABI, creates a potential financial penalty, affects my safety or that of my family than I need to follow through.
- Find a delegate: I assess the situation to see whether I need to address the matter myself or whether I can delegate it. In some situations I might delegate part of it to someone else. At the same time I realize the need to take charge of matters myself and not hide behind someone else while they do the ‘dirty’ work.
- Buy time: I make a point of not charging directly into a situation. I will find ways to buy some time so I can be properly prepared. If I’m expecting a phone call about the matter and am not ready, I will let the call go to my answering service. That can buy me a day or several days.
- Know the facts: Before directly addressing a specific matter I make sure that I have collected the necessary information. Since my mental flexibility (see Case for back seat driving) is compromised it would be difficult to assimilate new information in the middle of discussing or debating a matter.
- Have a script: I prepare a script in which I outline the information that I need to convey. I rehearse the script till I am thoroughly familiar with the information. This minimizes the risk of tangential comments, a consequence that comes with my ABI. If there is an option of dealing with a matter by email then the process becomes much more manageable. I can wait with my response if I need to track down additional information. I can review what has been discussed before giving a response. If I’m dealing with sensory overload, I can let it wait for a day or so.
- Ignore ‘rabbit trails’: When I speak with the person I will only share the necessary information. I will not comment on or address diversion tactics. I try not to respond to emotional reactions thrown at me. I ignore any comment that I think doesn’t deal with the matter. An unscripted response from me will likely have me confuse the matter and have me going down unproductive ‘rabbit trails’.
Even with careful planning there is no guarantee that things will be resolved in a satisfactory manner. Sometimes the strategy doesn’t work out because I’m dealing with a person that is not aware of my ABI status. Other times the strategy doesn’t work because the person I am dealing with doesn’t understand how ABI affects me. It is difficult to explain how my ABI is affecting the situation when I’m negotiating a matter. Giving explanations in the middle of a discussion is difficult because it’s hard to point out aspects of ABI that have a direct bearing on the matter being discussed.
In situations where the person’s lack of understanding creates problems, I need to remind myself not to blame the person for their inability to grasp the challenges I’m dealing with. It has taken me a long time to understand the impact of ABI on my daily living, so I shouldn’t get too bent out of shape when someone else is left baffled.
I am heartened when I come across people who understand the challenges of living with ABI and are pro-active in helping me with accommodations that help me avoid sensory overload.