Most brain injury survivors find the change in their cognitive abilities the most frustrating. I have noticed a significant improvement in mine. However I’m still surprised when the bad days strike. I can go from being on the money, to being that member of the quiz team who insists they have the answer. And then it turns out what you were going to put down would have won you the point. (Actually that’s not accurate because I’m not arrogant enough to be as forceful as that. ) In the moment I am confident of what I’m saying, but when it’s too late I can see where I went wrong.
Getting the details a bit skew-whiff.
Like many I don’t automatically tell everyone I meet that I have a brain injury affecting my cognitive abilities. So I imagine they might find my attention to the details are lacking.
One day I met a friends Mum who I had only spoken to briefly once before. I jovially commented on her lovely Northern Irish accent, and she happily told me of her proud heritage. I told her my Mum was also from the Emerald isle, in an attempt to find some common ground. She was delighted to hear this and enquired where my Mum was originally from.
At this point I should tell you my Mum was from county Kerry, firmly in the south-west of the Republic of Ireland. Whilst Ireland is a much calmer and peaceful place now, the generation both these ladies are from would clearly remember the unrest the country went through. Even I do as the devastating affects the IRA and The Real IRA had are even within my lifetime.
The punchline goes horribly wrong….
Suddenly I realised I couldn’t remember, which I was surprised and embarrassed by. Under pressure I tried to think of what the words sound like. And I stumbled on something that had a familiar ring to it, and blurted out “Derry“. Instantly I knew I had said the wrong name, but I thought it wouldn’t matter as the conversation would move on and she wouldn’t need to know my error. I mean it’s not like we where talking about a distant relative, what daughter doesn’t know where her Mum is from? Particularly one who brought the subject up.
Her eyes lit up and she said “Oh not far from me, which part?” Oh dear, now I was snookered. Derry, or better known as Londonderry, is the second largest city in Northern Ireland. So her question was perfectly reasonable. As the word “Kerry” lazily made an appearance in my head I knew I had to admit my mistake.
“I’m sorry I meant Tralee in county Kerry” I said sheepishly. She gave me a stern look. “They are very different you know” she replied. In that moment I felt my cognitive slip up hadn’t just made me look stupid, I had insulted the Irish nation. Of course I understood the political history and how it still can be difficult both sides of the boarder. But what I had said was as upsetting as when foreigners think England is Great Britain, not just one of 4 nations.
Trying not to beat myself up.
Whilst I’m sure she wasn’t as worried by my mistake as I thought, I knew my Mum would have been. As she is sadly no longer with us, I could see her scolding me for misquoting her story. Yes she moved to London as a child and lost her accent, but she was still deeply proud of living on a farm in Ireland when she was young. I didn’t mention in this short conversation that my Mum had passed away and the lady moved on to speak to others. The situation was completely my fault, and she did nothing wrong. But I still felt stupid and that I had disrespected my Mum.
If there are times someone with a brain injury says something wrong, but can’t see their mistake, it could be a confabulation. Read more in Confabulation is not lying. False memories due to brain injury.
So my advice to others is, give yourself some breathing space. On those days when go feel your brain is struggling to get out of neutral, don’t put pressure on yourself. I should have taken a little longer to reply, or even said what my problem was. Then I could have avoided the awkwardness I created.