Good Social Fences Make…

Wrought Iron Gate

Living with ABI has it’s unexpected challenges. I was in a situation recently that completely blindsided me. It was the physiological changes that took over my body informed me that something was amiss.

I had a neighbour approach me recently for a favour. On the face it I saw no issue with the request. I felt I could reasonably accommodate the request. I gave the request a generic approval.

A week later I picked up the conversation to ask what terms the neighbour wanted to work out. He told me it was up to me to set the terms. I suggested that since he made the request that he offer the terms as he knew what the scope of the request entailed  He was rather vague about the extent of the favour. After reiterating my point it became clear that the ball was definitely in my court.

I proceeded to outline my terms. In hindsight, the terms were not only reasonable but more importantly included some very clearly defined boundaries. I figured that was the end of the discussion and that everything was fine.

Split rail fence – Peters Woods

With my ABI it is important that I had time between the initial request and the followup discussion. I took a week to think through the implications of the request. When it came to discussing the terms I had a clear idea worked out. Because of my cognitive challenges I am too slow at processing during a discussion to recognize whether I’m agreeing to a  condition that is fair and reasonable.

Once I had set my terms, I found out that the discussion was not over. My terms were countered with an explanation that there were some difficulties and would I do it on his terms. Since I knew the risk of diverting from my plan, and the difficulty I have with mental flexibility, I chose to hold onto the key elements of my terms.

As the discussion proceeded the not so subtle message was that I had created an obstacle. During this ten minute discussion the tone of the agreement had in some crazy way gone from me being  helpful to creating a problem. I couldn’t see the benefit of backing out of the agreement. I also wasn’t ready to deal with the complication of backing away from the request. On the whole I thought we parted amicably.

Physiological repercussions

After the neighbour left I realized I had gone from feeling energetic to extreme fatigue. The change totally blindsided me. I had no idea that the neurological demands of a conversation could drain my energy so quickly. Shortly after that I came down with a moderate headache which persisted for the next day and a half. However, the after effects did not stop there.

I fell asleep quite easily that evening. Often I have difficulty getting to sleep so this seemed to bode well. However, at 3 am I woke up and found myself wide awake. That was strange because it usually takes me a bit of time to regain full consciousness after a night of sleep. Despite making different attempts to get back to sleep, three o’clock marked the end of my night’s sleep.

Page wire fence and Field Stone column

Searching for Clarity

It was my body that told me that the ten minute discussion had some deep flaws. My body informed me of what my conscious self chose to overlook. I could not argue with my body. Physiologically I was responding to the trouble that was brewing during the discussion. My neurological processing being too slow combined with the subtle and steady shift during the discussion created the deep flaws.

The discussion had taken several U-turns in short order. Despite having prepared myself for laying out the terms, I still lack the mental flexibility to deal with diversions that pushed me away from setting out clear boundaries. After a couple of U-turns my mind decide I had landed in a good spot. My body told me otherwise.

After the conversation I was in fact dealing with a double blow. The neural fatigue had drained me of all energy, at the same time I was troubled by what seemed to be amiss. This combination of challenges had my brain ‘spinning out of control’. Hence a persistent headache for the next day and a half.

Part way through the next day, once the ‘spinning’ slowed down I started to put the pieces of the discussion together. After it was very clear that I should set the terms of the discussion, a U-turn happened. No sooner did I set the terms, when it was countered with a very different set of conditions. Lacking the metal flexibility it was difficult to wrap my mind around this. Then the neighbour shared an anecdote that would suggest that my terms were reasonable and necessary. Another U-turn. Another neural acceleration and deceleration. When my terms were countered my brain started it’s crazy spin, trying to process whether I was being unreasonable. It didn’t help that I had already determined I had set realistic terms.

With ABI my brain can’t hold two opposing facts side by side. That’s because with ABI my ability to problem solve is very much hampered. As the discussion progressed it was very quickly becoming a major neural energy drain. The last part of the discussion I was told that maybe I hadn’t created an obstacle. Well, partially. Again, a conflicting message that my brain was left to resolve.

I above analysis took more than 24 hours before it came into focus. The neural fatigue as it gradually builds does not announce itself. How can I be mindful of it happening? My full attention is on dealing with the unexpected U-turns. The remaining attention I can muster is trying to resolve the conflicting messages. And so, it isn’t till I’ve moved into a different environment that I will actually be aware of the neural fatigue that has set in.

The most helpful insight in understanding what when wrong in the discussion is to see it from the perspective of boundaries. The purpose of the discussion was to set boundaries for carrying out the favour. Also, the first part of the discussion was to set boundaries for the purpose of the discussion. In the discussion boundaries failed to be honoured. My ABI makes me too slow to recognize that problem during the discussion.

After it was clearly understood that I should set the terms of the favour that should have made it a done deal. Simply a yes or a no would have been the only fair response. Asking for clarification would have been fine and even appreciated.

Respecting boundaries is important in all relationships. Failing to honour boundaries carries with it hurts and confusion. For people living with ABI it is even more important that boundaries are respected. Failure to do so results in much greater fallout and more extensive repercussions.

Living with an acquired disability brings with it a greater sense of honesty in dealing with people. I can no longer choose to overlook an other person’s indiscretion. I might rationalize a situation and decide it’s not worth creating a ‘fuss’. Just let the matter rest.

It’s helpful to learn that my body can’t let the matter rest. To have ongoing dealings with this person there needs to be an honest discussion about what went wrong and why the behaviour needs to change.

Another person’s inappropriate behaviour is too big a drain on me. Such behaviour can cost me a full day or more to recuperate.

My disability causes me to bump up against my limitations. Since I can’t make what previously would have been good will concession, the other person is obliged to change. Unfortunately this too easily brings an end to relationships. I can not deal with a person who does not respect some basic social rules and a considerate level of social empathy.

In a recent discussion with my daughter while sharing a leisurely supper she shared a perspective that is very helpful. This might look like an abnormal response to a normal situation, when in reality it was a normal response to an abnormal situation.

Author: Jasper Hoogendam

After 36 years as an educator my career ended due to a TBI. Renewable energy as part of 'walking lightly on this earth' has been and continues to be my interest since my teen years. Since early 2015 I have been learning to live with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). I don't want to let my ABI limit the goals I set for myself. I'm living with a different brain, not a lesser brain. In sharing my day to day successes and struggles, I am better able to understand how my life had changed and begin to accept the change. In sharing my experiences I'm hearing from caregivers and fellow ABI's. I'm encouraged when my experiences are helping others understand some of the complexity of living with ABI.

6 thoughts on “Good Social Fences Make…”

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