Michael and I attended the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina’s (BIANC) Family Conference this past Friday in High Point, NC. I wasn’t looking forward to it because in my limited experience with BIANC, I have found them to be patronizing. I didn’t notice this about the Brain Injury Association in Georgia (BIAG) but the attitude here in Asheville drives me crazy. However, Michael is the brain injury point person for Smoky Mountain Center where he works and has said nice things about those he has met. I figured it was worth trying to get to know them and I’m so glad I did!
The conference was just what I needed and I even had an opportunity to share my feelings about BIANC with Shaun Chase who planned the conference. I told him how I felt every time a speaker got up and called us, “you guys.” I felt like the speaker thought I wasn’t as good as they were. Several speakers said this before speaking and I wanted to leap from my chair and yell, “We’re just like you! Our brain’s been injured but other than that we have a lot to offer. Stop treating us like lepers!” However, I refrained from doing this.
I found his response very enlightening. He said something to the effect of, “I see what you mean. We don’t want to sound like we know what you’re going through because we really don’t.” He thought this was why speakers often treated us like “the other.” Hearing his comment was all I needed. Hopefully, he’ll share my thoughts with others in leadership roles at BIANC but even if things don’t change, it’s okay with me for I have insight now into their response.
As usual, it was tough for me to attend this conference. I get overstimulated so easily and in these cases, I need to stop often and “rest my brain.” After the first presenter Dr. Dawn Neumann, I had to leave the room and find somewhere to put in my ear plugs and sit quietly to rest. This was a challenge because the hotel was playing music everywhere, even in the restroom. I tried to find a chair where I could sit quietly in the lobby, but the music bled through my ear plugs. The only thing I could do was go back to my room and rest there.
I didn’t realize how tired I was but I ended up resting for 45 minutes. I returned to the conference when I felt fresh again. The next session was followed by lunch. In situations like this, I often spend lunch by myself but I wanted to attend so I could talk to folks. I decided to deal with the noise. I’m glad I attended but I did have to leave early and return to my room so I could “rest my brain.”
After lunch I went back and attended until I could tell I was getting overstimulated again. When I felt I really needed to get out of the constant cognitive overload, I left and went to my room again. At events like this, I always sit in the front because I cannot filter out the little distractions – such as the rustling of papers, coughing, or the movement of other people – in order to hear the speaker. However when I sit in the front, everyone watches me as I get up to leave and come back in. I decided this issue was a small thing to consider due to the nature of the conference.
I’m not sure how many times I had to leave but it really helped. I thought back to the 90’s when I first attended brain injury conferences. I don’t think I retained much of the information and back then I wasn’t aware of my brain injury needs so I tended to push through without resting my brain. The problem with doing this is I was exhausted for the next few days. I think the way I’ve learned to handle this is much better now. I was even able to attend both of my churches today even though I didn’t sing in the choir this morning because it would have been too much for me.
If you are a brain injury survivor, how do you handle your challenges? Have you found ways to compensate for them or do you simply try to push through? When I lived in Atlanta, I often pushed through which meant spending days lying on the sofa resting. I don’t like doing this so now I’ve learned to compensate for them. Compensating is a real pain but it beats the alternative which is to break down for a few days.