The Paradox of Being Alone

Wilderness cabin

So often I prefer to be alone but I don’t want to feel left out. This conundrum is one of the challenges of living with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury), though probably not limited to those who live with ABI.

Living with ABI can become a very isolating way to live. By that I mean, saying no, or passing on opportunities to participate in activities with others when I realize my sensory loading is reaching a point where I add to it at my peril.

The Paradox is real

When I engage in prolonged physical activities, such as cycling for a three to five hour block I  know I am committing to a recovery routine that I should not ignore. That means that as much I want to join in I will have to forego activities immediately following my vigorous activity.

When I am engaged in a discussion with a half dozen people I know my internal timer is counting down. As I am busy listening, reading body language, assessing people’s tone of voice, formulating responses to what I’m hearing, finding a socially appropriate way to interject, my neural fatigue is rapidly building. Even if I find the discussion very engaging at a certain point the internal timer runs out. I want to stay with the discussion but at the same time I want a quiet place to regroup.

When I’m at a music concert it’s does my heart good to take in the music, the lyrics and the energy of the venue. The music can be totally captivating, bringing back wonderful memories or creating a memorable experience. At the same time I know that at some point, maybe 30 or 45 minutes, and sometimes much sooner I will reach a tipping point. The captivating music will suddenly become a memorable failure, a start of a slow recovery in which I crave solitude while missing the company of family and friends.

When I volunteer at the nature center close to home I need to remain self aware. The last time I was there I had only worked for about three hours but was totally exhausted. Being introduced to the project on my arrival was neurologically challenging because of my lack of mental flexibility. Sizing up the project for the day, coordinating with two other people, and doing something unfamiliar all contributed significantly to my sensory loading. While I enjoyed doing the project and wanted to see it completed, after three hours I was longing to get out of there and find a quiet place.

Planning Ahead

This week I have the opportunity to address a room full of teachers. I have offered to  share my own experiences of living with ABI, living as a neurologically atypical person in order to advocate for neurologically diverse students hoping that more teachers will develop a sensitivity for their needs.

The paradox of wanting my own space yet feeling compelled to share is staring me in the face. I am not sure how to prepare, to avoid sensory overload while doing an hour and a half presentation in a room full of people.

I know I need to ensure that my sensory loading is at a low level at the start of the presentation. That means I need to watch what types of activities I choose to do in the two days leading up to the presentation. Taking in an extra bike ride or two would be helpful. Engaging in socially or cognitively demanding activities of any kind needs to be kept to a minimum.

I know I need to ensure that my sensory loading is at a low level. I hope that booking a motel and arriving a day ahead of time will give me time to shed the sensory loading of driving in a car. Or maybe I should take the extra day to cycle the 160 km to the event.


In order to manage my sensory loading while addressing a room full of teachers I need to be mindful of the structure of the presentation. While I would normally consider it conducive to allow for questions during the presentation, I am aware of the extra demands that will place on me. With my problem solving skills being severely compromised, fielding questions would be counter productive.

In order to manage my sensory loading it’s important to manage my level of stress and anxiety. Most people experience a measure of anxiety when addressing a room full of professionals, or non-professionals for that matter. I have conscripted a co-presenter who is scheduled to do part of the presentation. In addition to giving me a break when she presents she will be available to back fill what I am not able to complete.


The paradox of being alone colours much of what I do. At the same time I make a point of pushing forward, setting goals so that I don’t end up feeling that I’m living in isolation.

To resolve the paradox of being alone, my aim is to avoid isolation, by seeking solitude. Finding activities and finding places that refresh my being, that helps me manage my neural fatigue, that is my idea of a place of solitude.

When I am able to experience a measure of solitude on a regular basis, that gives me the energy and endurance to reach out, to share and not slip into a place of isolation. It’s not an easy balance to achieve. It requires increased self awareness, an understanding of my limitations and setting worthy goals for how I want to participate in my community.


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.

8 thoughts on “The Paradox of Being Alone”

  1. I worry about being alone too but it is a different kind. Father will be 94 next month and has lived with me last 15 years (mother passed 5 years ago). His time will come. The only family I have in Greensboro is my son. The only family in Miami is my daughter and her children she has abandoned so to give 100% of her life to drug addiction. No other family , no brothers or sisters, no people with whom I am close enough to call friends or just call for a hello phone conversation. I have fear – if I become incapacitated there is no network to help me. I do take some comfort in a promise of Jesus though. “Obey my commandments, preach my Gospel and have no fear for I will be with you even till the end of the age.”

    By the way Jasper, if you can give 2 1/2 hours of quality time to a task you are doing better than most people that have no measurable disability. And I do appreciate the funny insightful comments you post on my blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Having a caring family, who are sensitive to my limitations, who are productively employed and in stable relationships, who have given us the joy of 3 wonderful grand children, is a far cry from the real fear of debilitating isolation.
      I love your cartoon postings. That’s one of about 10 blogs I follow. That puts you in my top ten!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing my reflections.
      There are a few reasons why I’m able to remain positive.
      – I’m usually able to see beyond the immediate challenge.
      – As one person reminded me, having a car accident with a brain injury is like having an extra chapter added to your life.
      – Having a family that looks out for me and a supportive community around me.
      – I believe that God has a purpose for me beyond my 36 year career in education.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Jasper, this is a wonderfully written post, (yet again!). Thank you so much for what you are planning with the presentation.
    You do not say if this is something you have done before so I’m going to mention a couple of things that would bother my autistic brain… People talking while I’m talking, phones beeping and people coughing or shuffling. Nothing can be done about the coughing and shuffling but I would ask for all phones to be on silent and explain right at the beginning that talking/whispering would lead me to reach overwhelm very quickly. Maybe these things wouldn’t bother you but I felt I should mention them. I’d also check out any artificial lighting…
    I wish you every success with your presentation 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on yarn and pencil and commented:
    The paradox of being alone is something I struggle with. I want to be alone but I also sometimes need company, especially female company and it can’t just be anyone. Some people are just too loud or too shrill or to whatever else.
    I’m reblogging this because I relate very much to what Jasper has to say. Also I’m in awe of what he’s endeavoring to do. Jasper has a big heart.


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