Those of you who have been following my blog will have seen a post I wrote The gamble of socialising after brain injury. In it I explained the reasons why I struggle to cope with large groups of people. But today I wanted to talk about the effort that goes into holding any conversation following a brain injury.
Trying to talk about something other than having a brain injury
Having a brain injury is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me. For some people it’s having their first child, or their recent wedding, or swimming with sharks. As I have never done any of these things it’s definitely sustaining a brain injury rate’s the highest on my personal experiences list. I know it isn’t a positive thing, and actually a very personal subject, so people don’t always know what to say. But in the same way a new parent will have any mundane occurrence remind them of their child and tell you how, I’m like that with my brain injury. I know parents are doing it through sheer love and enthusiasm, where as I suppose mine is driven more through my regret that this ever happened to me.
People can easily relate to the new parent, not least because their topic is a positive one. Even when they are explaining how they can only get 2 hours of sleep at a time between night feeds, you know that despite it’s difficulties, they wouldn’t be without their new bundle of joy. But you can’t say the same thing about my brain injury, I definitely would be without it. So even though it’s always there and on my mind, I have to try to find something else to talk about.
Thinking of conversation subjects when your life is much more pedestrian than it used to be
In my job I used to be in and out of the office going to meetings and meeting new people every day. That meant I was having new experiences all the time, which in turn inspired lots of different things for me to talk about with others. I could easily start a conversation based on something that I had recently done. But now that I don’t work and I see few people, I find myself hoping the other person will be happy to lead the conversation because I have no inspiration. I even struggle to think of questions to get them talking about something, apart from “How are you?” and “How’s work?” Meh, how vanilla!
Hurry up and finish talking, I’ve thought of something to add! Oh, no it’s gone.
There will be times that my companion will have hit a subject that has sparked an idea or comment I have to add. And seeing as I struggle to start conversations, I really love these moments. But they are still relaying their story so I must still listen and try not to interrupt. My short attention span means if I’m not careful I can quickly lose the thread of what they are saying all together. So I have to put in extra effort to stay with them. However that extra concentration can mean to can’t hold on to my thought. When they finish, that little gem I was all excited about has gone. I’m left saying something vanilla again like “It’s amazing, isn’t it.” They are left feeling like they have been talking to themselves. So much for 2 way conversation.
My tips on trying to keep the conversation following
There are 3 main things I do to try to keep the conversation following more naturally. I know if I’m being boring, they’ll be bored, so this is now I try to fill the gaps.
Ask open ended questions
I try to avoid questions that could be answered with one word like yes or no. If you use ones that require an explanation, by them going deeper into the subject you will both find more avenues to explore. So if they have recently moved house, try not to say “Are you settling well in your new house?” as they might just say- “Yes thanks”. Try something like “Was there any things on your requirement list that you overlooked for that house because you loved it so much?” Bingo! So not only are they going to be able to tell you that they relented on the double garage in favour of a bigger garden, you can talk about what you would like the garden for. Play space or the children, that vegetable patch you’ve always wanted, or somewhere for the dog to run around.
Draw from your surroundings
I know what your thinking, she’s British, they always talk about the weather. Yes we do, but it can be difficult for the conversation to naturally drift into another subject. So instead comment on something like a piece of jewellery. They might be wearing a nice necklace. When you ask where they came from, they could have an exciting story. If the story is just “Thanks I bought it in Top Shop” , you can then tell them the story behind the necklace you are wearing. How your Mum brought it back from her holiday for you as it has your birthstone in it. And so you can start talking about your Mum’s taste, or start talking about holidays in general.
Let them teach you something
So the conversation has drifted onto something you don’t know that much about. Instead of panicking and thinking “I’m going to look stupid”, ask them about it. People enjoy making an impact and teaching someone something. It gives the teacher a great feeling. We don’t have to pretend we know something about everything, so just listen and you might find a new interest.
Conversations can cause anxiety if they keep falling into awkward silences. And it is frustrating when you keep forgetting what you were going to say, but these tips could help generate new subjects for you both to enjoy.
Do you struggle to maintain a conversation? What good tips do you have?