How to enjoy a conversation after brain injury

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.

Conversation can be hard after brain injury

 

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.

  1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.

Having a conversation with a friend can be priceless. Don't let a brain injury change that.

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?

 


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6 Replies to “How to enjoy a conversation after brain injury”

  1. I always find I get caught up in the details. I then struggle to be pithy and to the point. So, I ften talk about what I’m watching, what film I’ve just seen……and often conversations with some others with brain injuries are the most painful. They have their agenda and they aren’t interested in mine. But they don’t tell you what their agenda is they just steer everything to cater to theirs. Do you spend any time with others with an ABI? It’s a real challenge.

    1. I used to attend a group with the charity Headway. They were all lovely people, but sometimes would get stuck in their own thoughts and issues. To begin with I found that hard, especially when I kept being told mine wasn’t as bad, like it’s a competition. But in time I realised that it was meant in a supportive way and they were trying to encourage me.
      In a way I found it useful for it not to be all about my struggles for a bit, and like how I write this blog, I made my time there more about supporting them than me. When you know something you said or did helped in some small way, and feeling you get is irreplaceable.

  2. Hello, I too can find conversations difficult, I find once I start to talk I can ramble on and on with so much detail that I can lose myself and don’t know what I am actually talking about. That can be embarrassing, ‘oh what was I talking about?’ I have been seeing a speech therapist, as I lost my speech at the beginning of my illness, seizure and brain surgery, its recovering now but still, stumbles over words and my voice can get stressed in conversations. The speech therapist has taught me to speak with less words, getting to the point, not rambling on, you can get your point across with less words. Learning to listen to others and responding correctly too, it’s quite a task at times and leaves you with ‘brain strain’ some anxiety and fatigue. It would be so much easier to just sit and say nothing, I have thought many times, ‘what’s the point, my speech is slurred, I have nothing to say, I am boring now’ but that is exactly the point, we are not boring ‘wow’ we have a lot going on, so what if it comes out laboured and rambled, we are giving it go. We will only get better by trying. So don’t give up, don’t be defeated by words, take advice. Prepare and practice, listen, keep your words to the point, you will get there. Some days you just have to be brave.

    1. Jo you are absolutely right, I agree with everything you said! We have had an experience which is unique, and we are learning things that others have no idea about.

  3. Oh, Michelle, where to start? I was never much of a talker anyway. Before my injury my job involved going to customers sites to repair or modify their plant or equipment, as I would see the same person on each visit I would build a relationship with that person and there would always be a period of catching up as we worked. I hadn’t realized but it’s those conversations that I miss, because of my ABI I lost my job. I got another job now, but it’s noisy and dusty, so we have to wear hearing protection and a respirator mask, this makes conversation impossible. At break times most of my co workers sit looking at their phones, so not much conversation there either.

    What I did enjoy was during my outpatient rehab, each therapy session would start with the therapist steering me into a conversation with no pressure to start the therapy session. They would listen to what I had to say and let the conversation flow naturally. I guess that was as much a part of the therapy as was the actual therapy. It also didn’t hurt in the way it was enjoyable to be able to converse without pressure.

    Family conversations tend to be carried on en mass and not one to one and therefore difficult to follow because of the overload of information. I often joke that I’ve been kept out of the loop over some situation and they will say that’s what we talked about last week at the restaurant when we all had lunch together.

    I have a couple of neighbors who I converse with on a regular basis, so this seems to satisfy that part of life when a little chat is what’s needed.

    Also there are my TBI, ABI pals on Twitter and their respective blogs, it’s those little tweets or reading their blogs that helps to make me feel like part of a community. Thanks Michelle, I’m sure your blogs are a comfort to many people with a brain injury, knowing that they are not alone

    1. David it’s so difficult isn’t it. I’m glad you found new work but I can completely understand how that environment makes it hard.

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