Judge, Jury & Executioner of my brain injury

When meeting new people I try to go in with an open mind. So do many people. But all humans are imperfect, and old habits die hard. We instinctively are always looking for clues to show us a persons true colours. Most likely it’s part of our survival instinct as we try to establish friend from foe. We are trying to predict, analyse, understand, judge (the word you use to describe it is irrelevant) how their behaviour will affect us.  Then we decide if that is something we think as good, nice, useful or bad, unattractive, disruptive to name a few.

You're not the judge of my brain injury

Pigeon holing people

In the western world we have developed one particular shortcut to this process. Ones’ career. For example you might be more trusting of a Nurse or Teacher than a Motor trader. We think of the Nurse and Teacher as people who work for the good of others. Where as the Motor trader we think of wanting to profit out of others. But someones career doesn’t really tell you much about the individual, it just gives you a chance to stereotype them. (I’m not suggesting that those in the motor trade can’t be trusted. Read about how I embarrassed myself in front of a mechanic, but he didn’t comment in Can’t think fast enough.)

I always struggled with this because there was no short and simple answer to this question in my last job. My role at a Hairdressing academy for apprentices could not be explained in a sentence. Being acutely aware that people do a whole range of subconscious calculations I did my best to keep it short. Essentially I recruited students to the programme, helped them find a job in a hairdressing salon  and maintained a working relationship with both the employer and student. It was a mix of business development, coaching, trouble shooting and agony aunt. So not so easy to judge, but perhaps I liked that. It was like a cliff hanger to a TV programme, you had to stay with it to find out what happens next.

Don't judge my brain injury

Feeling like I’m trying to appeal to the Jury

Following my car accident my career ended. So now how do I answer the question about my career? I haven’t got a career, and my last one takes more than a job title to explain it. (Even that was complicated – Student Liaison and Employer Engagement Manager.) Instead I’m unemployed. Well that’s a conversation killer in itself. I try to defend this by explaining I was in a bad car accident. As I look fine I feel the need to go on and explain about my brain injury. This is all in an effort to avoid the conclusion that they judge me as lazy or useless.

I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just trying to stop myself being written off. But now they have to decide how this new, and unexpected information makes them feel.

(A) Really, surely you could do something? Still judge you as lazy.

(B) Oh I thought you were intelligent? Well I better dumb everything down now I know that.

(C) Oh wow! I would never have guessed! Amazing!

(D) I was just trying to make polite conversation, now I’ve got to pretend I care. Wish I’d never asked.

When is it right to judge someone?

The only solution I can think of is to raise awareness

Brain injuries happen much more than many people would imagine. Most of us will at some point know someone who has suffered a brain injury. What we need to help people realise is that it doesn’t mean the end, but you can’t judge someone for it. Every person will have a unique experience and in most cases that means good days and bad days.  So trying to judge someone by their career doesn’t really help. Their bad days might make their career options limited. But their good days might leave you for dust.

Other articles you might like:

Do you feel we put too much weight on someones career/ Do you think people judge you badly after your brain injury?

How people form opinions on me based on my brain injury. It's not fair to judge my like that.

 


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11 Replies to “Judge, Jury & Executioner of my brain injury”

  1. Regardless of my Traumatic Brain Injury I am still the most smartest person in the room. Your job as a survivor is to recover and regardless of you having a career or not, you have chosed to write about being a survivor and what it takes to be a survivor, so obviously your career is a writer. It is simple minded people that cant see the big picture that wouldnt consider that a career, obviously they have never suffered a life altering event and havent gone to the school of humanity. This is your career make the best of it and you are doing one hell of a job as an advocate for TBI and ABI, thank you for the wonderful job you are doing Michelle! Welcome to your career, cherish it!

  2. It’s not always obvious what we have been through, an invisible disability, if I still had my head shaved and 40 stitches after my craniotomy on view, people would make a judgement that I had been some thing horrendous. That’s healed and my hair has grown again. So now I suppose people judge your identity by your job, I know with my job as an interpreter for the deaf, it was a massive part of my identity, I was good at it, I loved the communication and doing something that not a lot of others could do. I too have had to give it up for now, I can still use sign language but I haven’t got the confidence to stand in front of lots of people and interpret, I can’t process information quick enough at the moment to change the words into signs. Does this mean I am no longer good enough because I can no longer fill this role? No, we aren’t just good at one thing, maybe I can be good at another. As you have found Michelle with your writing, it’s not what career you had, but it is making a difference and a huge contribution to others, who need to hear your experiences and allow us to contribute too. Our identity isn’t what we do, that’s shallow. It’s that we are still going, we choose to try again though it’s difficult. I love the quote from the film ‘ my beautiful broken brain’ I am not defined by my limitations, I am defined by my endless possibilities! Unfortunately there’s not a lot of people who get this, so choose to look to the possibilities still out there. Thanks again Michelle!

    1. I can imagine how much you miss your job. It sounds like for you it was so much more than a job. I sincerely hope you can return one day or find something else which is equally important to you.

      Thanks for the support.

  3. I agree very much with what you have written. I also agree that tend to judge myself based on the fact that I no longer have a career, or even a job for that matter, since my brain injury. I like what Fred wrote, about writing now being the career, and bringing awareness. Since my head injury, this has been my mission, just as yours (I have a blog as well). Also, I chuckled at the a-d responses you wrote, as I have thought them several times when I go through the old job/head injury/no job explanation process. You are a great writer, and I thoroughly enjoy your blog and insight. I congratulate you on your ability to reach so many people and bring awareness.

    1. Thanks Raquel. I do want to raise awareness and give survivors a voice. So I should start saying this is my new career. I do appreciate the support from everyone and I will be checking out your blog too 🙂

  4. I completely relate to the problem of defining ourselves by our work or career. Once I lost that from the stroke, at age 33, I felt like I’d lost my identity.

    I also felt like people looked down on me and I hated that. Turned out that wasn’t true and that I was the only one who thought less of myself. It took a long time for me to BELIEVE people really didn’t see me as less than I ever had been. (I thought they were just being polite.)

    Fourteen years later, I know other people really did see past the disability and saw who I was regardless of being unable to work.

    Long story short, my identity is NOT based on what I do for work, or how much money I make, or societal status the world gives me. All those things can be taken away. And they were with the stroke. My TRUE identity is based on what will never change, namely being a child of God. That’s been the case for 40 years now and nothing will ever change it. That doesn’t make it EASY to live with a disability and all the losses I’ve incurred but it does make it possible. This perspective is critical to handling life every day.

    1. Yes others have said to me that I’m probably reading too much into things and people are not thinking the worst of me. I hope that’s true and I just need to have more confidence in myself.

  5. I understand you feelings I too had a job I loved, but was let go from it, the reason being that I would be a liability and their insurers would not cover me! Unfortunately in the state of mind I was at the time I just quietly went away. I work now in a labouring job, but I’ve proved to myself that I can earn a living, and got my self esteem back.

    I agree that we should raise awareness of brain injury because there are so many outdated opinions and conceptions. I once told a co worker who wondered why I kept asking him to repeat what he had said (this was in a noisy environment and I was new at the job) that I had a brain injury and his reply was “does that mean you’re a retard.” It’s this old fashioned thinking that raising awareness can change. I’ve since proved him wrong by just getting on with the job.

    1. I’m so pleased you showed your co-worker why his preconceived misconception was wrong. That doesn’t mean that they are a bad person, in fact we learn more from our mistakes. So they will probably help reeducate many more individuals 🙂

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