Avoid Social Isolation

What is social isolation? After a brain injury, many people struggle to maintain daily tasks and social relationships, as daily activities and social interaction become challenging. These problems can differ from person to person, and can be harder to manage when feeling all sorts of physical and emotional symptoms, including brain fog, anxiety, headaches, over-excitement, etc. Socialization is incredibly important for a person’s overall health and well-being. Brain injuries can rob individuals of physical, communicative, emotional and behavioral skills. When these skills are impaired, individuals are challenged with the difficulty of reintegrating into their pre-injury lifestyle. No longer providing the same level of support for their family and friends, their role shifts to receiving care and support. Self-worth is largely derived from social interaction with others. A life redefined by brain injury is a monumental shift, and in that transition, social isolation often awaits. A lack of socialization leads to feelings like loneliness and low self-esteem. Negative effects on mental health from lack of socialization can lead to more problems, such as paying less attention to physical health, rehabilitation, and self care, and, ultimately, may lead to social isolation.

Two years after my accident, and at age 19, I noticed my unusual struggle with relationships, especially with my parents. My parents are loving, kind and generous, but the changes that I was going through and their disappointment was obvious. My decisions and academic performance were not up to my usual or their expectations, but brain injury was an unknown subject to any of us after my accident. That’s when I decided to move away and start a new life alone in Atlanta, Georgia. In the following two years, I was unable to go back to college, barely making a living, did little to no activities, and did not make a single friend. Looking back now, this forced self isolation was necessary, to preserve the energy that I did not have, and to stop dealing with the things that I could not comprehend. I had no landline and used a coin phone to call parents and others, only when I wanted to. Thankfully, in the following years, I was able to power through this difficult time that was unbeknown to me.

After my daughter Sarah’s brain injury at age 12, she started showing signs of struggle with relationships, including ours. My baby girl just started her teen years with major bleeding in her brain and a couple of gamma-knife surgeries, all of which contributed to her brain injury and a host of symptoms. I was not sure whether some of her struggles could be blamed on the typical teen hormonal and emotional changes. But whatever the reason, I was going to do what I could to help her work through it all. Unbeknown to me yet again, while all those reasons played a part, the primary reason was her brain injury. While Sarah and I had a relationship dance until we became close, she continued to struggle with unkind friends who did not understand what she was going through, which added difficulties to her younger and fragile years. But I honestly cannot complain, because in the end, Sarah won the battle, as she eventually bounced out of these social issues and later became a subject matter expert on social isolation, the subject of her thesis and dissertation.

“Please click here to view Sarah’s recent Social Isolation Project”

Changing the Trajectory

After brain injury, and as you begin to adjust to your new normal, it is important to remember that any distressing event can leave you feeling isolated, overwhelmed, or helpless. This can disrupt your normal level of functioning, can be traumatic, and may have long-term effects on your mental health. Socializing after a brain injury can be challenging, but it is possible. There are ways to interact with others that can create a rich and fulfilling social life while still being mindful of your challenges and abilities. You can start by attending one or more brain injury support groups. This will allow you to meet people with similar issues and will facilitate socialization and knowledge sharing. You can also join local adaptive activities, indoors and outdoors. This will help boost positive moods and good feelings. Whatever you do, do not fall victim to social isolation, it will impact your mental and emotional health, which will slow down your healing and recovery.