Someone Walks into a Bank – Brain Injury, Modern Technology and Isolation

This month I’d like to highlight isolation. To help, I’ve the story of Mike. Mike is not a real person, but he is inspired by several real people – people living with the social effects of brain injury as well as cognitive.

What is Isolation?

The state of being separated from someone and/or something else. A “something” might be our community, which means being separated from lots of people. “Community” also implies, by its own definition, that those lots of people are helpful to each other.

So isolation can also mean ending up without help.

Chains of Isolation
  • Invisible cognitive problems
  • Communication difficulties
  • Emotional difficulties
  • Poor access to work
  • Reduced daily living skills
  • Relationship strains
  • Feeling sidelined
Modern Life

On the theme of computers and social skills, here‘s a “Little Britain” sketch I thought you might like before reading about “Mike”. Enjoy!

(Mike’s Story)

One Saturday morning, Mike decided to visit his bank. He had to cancel a direct debit. Not feeling confident, he had it in his head that a staff member would help from across the counter or in one of the side offices.

A reminder on his mobile three hours before the bank closed prompted him why he needed to get up in good time. (Being a Saturday Mike’s bank closed early.)

He arrived at the bank and stood in line to be seen. As he waited, a member of staff approached him. She had an ipad in one hand and a cheerful greeting for him. Before he could answer she asked if Mike banked on line. She told him that if he did, he need not have made the journey into town.

Mike felt awkward. He heard himself say: “I’m not interested. I’m just here to cancel a direct debit. Sorry.”Bank2

She carried on regardless. Mike tried to concentrate, but panic rose and her words began to wash over his mind. Anger began to take over from panic. The level of his voice matched the level of his emotion. “Stop!” Embarrassed he apologised. He tried humouring her. “I’m a dinosaur. I don’t get on with technology. I prefer to speak face to face with someone.”

Eventually, Mike felt telling her he had a brain injury was the lesser of evils. He coped better when not having to think about PIN and customer reference numbers, and yet another password. Telling her was his only way out of this situation. He did not like doing it; he worried who else might be listening.

The lady accompanied him to a desk and another member of staff. And even though that member of staff tried to help, her computer would not allow her to authorise the cancellation. In the end, Mike was led into a cubicle with a phone and given a number to ring.

Eventually Mike and the voice at the other end cancelled the direct debit. It had taken the voice several ways to answer Mike’s one last question, but the voice did not mind. The voice belonged to a human whose relative had had a stroke.

Mike was grateful but eager to get home. He felt drained and in no hurry to talk to anyone else that day.

As the “Little Britain” sketch shows, you don’t need to have a brain injury to be frustrated with modern technology. But for those with ABI, the problems can double.

Take care for now.

Sean

 

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The Art of Conversation

Art of cinversationChristmas is nearly upon us again. Straight-away my heart goes out to lonely and isolated people. Those out of touch with their loved ones. Those who struggle with the cold, maybe a reduced immune system.

And let’s face it, not everyone enjoys Christmas anyway.

It can all get just that bit too noisy. Crowded shopping malls and streets with nowhere quiet to go. Even staying put indoors, the likelihood is the loud arrival of noisy visitors – all expecting you to be as caught up in the magic of the festivities as they are.

For those with an acquired brain injury, Christmas can equally spell feelings of entrapment, anxiety, confusion, irritation, dizziness, extra fatigue, anger. And then comes the fallout.

So in light of all that, I thought I’d share something of a book recommendation with you from a client. For the sake of confidentiality, let’s call our book reviewer Adam. Up until his brain injury, Adam dealt with negotiations and contracts as part of his job. Now he admits to being rigid in his thinking and unable to handle group conversations.

“How to Control a Conversation” (by Peter W. Murphy)

How to converse

Adam said to me: “I’m only up to page 14. I keep re-reading the same pages, and I am getting the idea. The book is making me stop and ask myself questions. I ask myself: ‘Am I communicating on the right level with the right person?'”

I was unsure what he meant by this. In my mind I had a picture of his mind’s eye stepping away from himself to watch his scene and hear what he himself was saying in it. Did this image make any sense to him? I asked. He told me it did.

He continued: “It gets complicated sometimes. There are words I know exist but they won’t come. It’s helpful to be able to predict what’s coming out of your mouth. This book is helping me to ask the right questions inwardly before I say anything.”

Something else that became more apparent as I listened to Adam (I don’t think he’ll mind me saying so) was an increasing empathy within him, or at least an attempt to imagine how he sounded to others. And a sense that somehow writer, Peter Murphy’s guidance was a mind opener Adam is finding exciting.

I haven’t read the book myself. But I’m thinking I might buy it as a Christmas present to myself. Thank you, Adam.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! All my best for 2019.

Sean

Writing Therapy (Part Two)

Hello everyone.

How many of you, I wonder, challenged yourselves to put something into words? If you did I hope it freed you and was a help to you in some way.

Last month I promised to show how story writing can help organisational skills. Here’s how:

Beginning, Middle and End

Diaries and journals have a “yesterday – today – tomorrow” flow to them. It’s natural. Stories, on the other hand, need to have their beginning chosen. Even if we want to retell something true as fiction, the question has to be asked: “Where did it all start?” Answering and getting our story going therefore requires memory (long-term, usually) and thought.

From then on the questions come in a mix-up that needs sorting: “What happened then?” “What led this person to behave that way?” “Could it have gone differently?” “If something had happened earlier, would it have changed the outcome?” Answering and sorting out the order of all the events and explanations forms the middle.

Endings almost write themselves in a way. Some plots within our stories will have a one way conclusion. And this can also be true of some of our characters. Those who we find reasons to change their minds, become tougher or more relaxed about things, may resolve their adventures in ways they (and we as writers) would not have thought of at the beginning.

All the above is about a true story, even if it’s told as though it’s fiction. What if it’s all a fiction and we are making it up from scratch? It can be as complicated and as much fun as you like.

Creative Writing (2)
Themes, Characters and Genres

By “theme”, I mean topic – an emotional or philosophical one. For example, our story might be our way of figuring out what makes people brave. Or exploring what the world might be like without money.

Obviously, we all know what characters are. But who do we want our characters to be? A few months ago, I introduced you to the Drama Triangle. The Perils of Penelope Pitstop is a good example of this. It has a persecutor (the Hooded Claw), victim (Penelope),  and rescuers (the Ant Hill Mob). And then there are our lesser characters playing their part.

Characters can represent things too. For example, in mythology, the Viking god of storms, Thor, is often shown as quick-tempered and sometimes moody and unpredictable – just like lightening and thunder.

“Genre” is just a posh word for story type – Romance, Comedy, Adventure… Genres can be helpful. If we are exploring bravery, Fantasy might be a really good choice. Think about it. Game of Thrones, The Hobbit, even The Wizzard of Oz all explore bravery. If we think of imagining a world with no money, how about making our story a futuristic Science Fiction story? Or maybe a satirical farce?

Conclusion

Having said all the above, it might be that all we really want to do is tell a good yarn. We have no need to write anything complicated. We just want to tell a simple joke with a few added descriptions about the places and people involved to make it more interesting, more memorable, perhaps.

Perfect. The joke becomes a story. But complicated or simple, there is always a structure and our thinking behind it. And on that note, I’ll leave you with a link to two of my comedy heroes. Haurel & Hardy in “County Hospital”.

Until next month. Take care,

Sean

Writing Therapy (PartOne)

Hello all.

I was talking to someone a couple of weeks ago who once felt they wanted to bring things to an end for themselves. But then he began to write. Not a novel, short story nor a poem; nothing complicated. Just free-flowing words about life with an injured brain.

He got out of his head and onto his computer screen, all his thoughts as they swirled to the front of his awareness again. That done, he read through it.

With all the “c**p” in front of him, he was able to put his thoughts into a kind of order – cutting and pasting, creating a beginning and a middle.

The middle is where he still is. It is a middle made of challenges and support, ups and downs, downs and ups.

He’d stopped after a while. Two weeks ago he began again.

“Writing is something you find really helpful, then,” I observed. “Any idea what it’s doing for you?”

“Do-gooders mean well. But no one else can understand what it’s like being me. It’s hard to explain in any case,” he answered.

Here’s how I see it: A way of stepping out of one’s experience.

How? By taking what’s on the inside, placing it outside, looking back at it all. Uncluttered, one’s mind is free to organise, re-read, check out if it looks/sounds right, re-organise and read again. When it does look/sound right, mixed emotions and confusion have become more understandable.

Dr. Gillie Bolton is a therapist heavilly influential in Writing Therapy circles. Click here to learn her thoughts on its benefits. It’s a publicity video for one of her books, but even so…

Typing is not for everyone. There are packages available out there that can turn speech to text. If the right words don’t come, so what? Comics / graphic novels tell it all in pictures and bubbles.

Writing Therapy

Keeping a diary can be great for compensating for poor memory too. As well as appointments, some people put descriptions of new faces as well as their names. Blessings can be counted, addresses and phone numbers, doodles – anything.

Next month, Part Two with how story writing can help organisational skills and more.

Take care.

Suicide Prevention

Hello everyone.

Monday, 10th Sept. 2018 was Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day. It’s a bit of a touchy subject for most people. It’s easier to give into the fear of giving people ideas andBlack hole of the soul not talk about it. Yet all too often it is the unheard voice that causes surprise. And pain.

With this in mind, let’s look at suicide in relation to acquired brain injury survivors.

Ordinarilly I address subjects with an even handedness: serious reflection on one hand, a bit of entertainment on the other. I cannot do it this month.

Instead, if you are questioning yourself in this way I urge you to reach out to someone you trust – someone who will neither discourage you nor encourage you, but will give you their caring attention.

Two helplines to turn to are Headway UK and The Samaritans.

HeadwayHelp
Samaritans

For one-to-one, face-to-face help in and around Norwich, Norfolk, my counselling sessions are available at these times:

Monday to Wednesday = 5pm to 8pm. Thursdays = 9am to 8pm.

Contact: sean@seanhindle.co.uk or on 0777 552 0302. If you cannot reach me immediately, please leave a message. I will get back to you after 4pm.

Spot the Signs

These are the most common signs. But let’s look again at them in respect of someone living with a brain injury. In this case, it’s helpful to keep in mind their new personality as you’ve come to recognise it.

  • Sudden calmness: Is this out of character? Following an ABI, some people’s body language becomes hard to interpret. Some people are left with a lack of emotion.
  • Excessive sadness or moodiness: Again, is this the new norm? With little or no short-term memory, there’s no dwelling on things for long; emotions change in stoccarto fashion. Social inhibition and emotional control may be a manifestation of brain injury alone.
  • Withdrawal: Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or social activities are possible symptoms of depression. Though just as true of brain injury sufferers, I’d weigh this with their motivation – as discussed last month.
  • Changes in personality and/or appearance: The “new” personality, that is. A person considering suicide might exhibit a change in attitude or behavior. Has (s)he become less bothered about their own safety and/or personal appearance?
  • Threatening suicide: For some people, “I wish I was dead” is as much a casual expression as “Sometimes I could…”; they say it without meaning it. Even so, every threat of suicide should be taken seriosly.
  • Dangerous or self-harmful behavior: A sensitive time for those with a brain injury (especially if recent) is when he or she begins to realise for themselves the extent of their cognitive difficulties. Bereavement, anger, addiction, recklessness or intentional self-harm – any can be triggered around this time. Another key time is when depression reduces and motivation increases.
  • Making preparations: Often, able people deeply considering suicide will begin to plan. The plan may include “For after I’m gone” behaviours – to take care of loved ones “left behind”, for example. Even if such organisation is impossible for an individual they may, over time, learn where and when oportunities present themselves.

It’s easy to get alarmed reading these kind of lists. Has the list prompted a memory of something you found odd at the time? Has something someone’s said struck you as odd? Talking openly as possible to those that matter about any of the above can reduce the intensity of such discomfort.

Okay. I’ve rambled again. I’m a bit late with my posting this month too. Sorry.

I shall be quicker next month..

Empathy v Sympathy

Hello everyone. This month’s post is in response to another recent email. A counsellor who, unlike myself, prefers to keep her brain injury under wraps from clients unless they ask.

There is no hard rule about it. I had my own discussions over it in supervision. For me too, how I share my experience was and is important. My most important question was: “Who really benefits from my openess?”

Answer: My therapeutic relationship with whoever my client is at the time.

Empathy
Seeing through the eyes and walking in the shoes of someone else

On the back of my business card, and on my website, I highlight that there is more to my work / life experience and skills than brain injury. It’s just that I have a more instantaneous empathy when it comes to the issues around having a brain injury than a non-brain injured counsellor.

Of course, not all clients arrive having read my website. My limp and poor co-ordination make themselves casually obvious. Together they make a warm, but brief ice-breaker. The briefer, the better. If brain injury is the issue, it is as unique for that client as mine is to me.

(Mirroring)

Speaking of “instantaneous empathy”, I feel inclined to share a conversation I had with my neurologist about it. But before I do, here’s something to whet your appetite. Click here for a cartoon on empathy. It is narrated by Brene Brown, a reasearcher-cum-storyteller.

Here’s my own story: During one of my regular appointmets with my neurologist a few years back, he did his usual thing of asking how life was going, how well I was managing my everyday work, and if I’d yet finished my training.

“Not yet,” I told him. “But I am doing some voluntary counselling on placement. In fact, the funniest thing happened last month and I wonder if you can shed some scentific light on what happened.”

I then went into a bit of a ramble about listening to and observing my client – and myself. I realised whenever my body mirrored his way of sitting. Or copied one of his gesticulations. Anyway, in the middle of doing all this, I began to get a deep sense of my client’s wider world. By that I meant my client’s hidden emotions and his unspoken distractions. It all felt so tangible, it was as if I was being him.

“Read this!” said my consultant excitedly. He quickly scribbled me a yellow post-it note. It read: “Mirror neurons”. My neurologist told me some studies had been carried out on elephants and had discovered that they too may very well have empathy. It was all down to mirror neurons located in the frontal lobe.empathic elephant

I could go on about how sympathy is often unhelpful. But I’m sure that’s a given to a lot of you out there. Above all you want people to understand what it is like to see through your eyes, walk in your shoes. Or not get up from a wheelchair for the most part of the day.

I’ll leave you with a hero of mine, Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, and his Ted Talk on “The Neurons that Shaped Civilisation”. Be warned, though. It runs over 7 mins.

No yawning at the back!

Enjoy.