The expression "fake it until you make it" does not serve brain injured people very well in my experience.
I can't count how many times I've been told not to believe what the specialists have told me about the prognosis of my injury. "Fake it until you make it", "mind over matter" and "be more positive" are words of encouragement I hear often from well-intentioned people. I have tried my best to live up to these expectations.
This advice can work against a person with a brain injury. Why?
Trying to live up to others' expectations can backfire because one cannot achieve this goal to meet acceptable standards. Acceptable in terms of what the level of functioning was before brain injury.
In my previous life, when I was asked a question, the response was immediate and grounded in reality. Now, what comes out of my mouth is far from accurate. I give the impression that I'm lying or changed my mind about something I previously said. The words come blasting out before I have a chance to contain them.
Once I've said something it's too late to take them back because people become annoyed and angry with me. I try my best to rectify the situation, but I make it worse because conflict resolution is no longer in my tool bag.
What tool bag? Right. The one I used to have.
I struggle between maintaining a positive attitude and being realistic about what my true abilities are. My speaking skills are generally quite good so when I'm communicating with people, they assume what I'm telling them is the real deal. And when people become upset with me, I may appear that I don't care. This is a survival strategy for me because I often don't remember what I said.
I recently babysat my friend's toddler for a week. During the first couple of days questions such as "what did he eat for lunch?" or "what time did he go down for his nap?" were met with a deer in the headlights look followed by "I don't remember.”
I quickly realized this would not suffice. I remedied this by texting my friend a play by play of her son's day. Sometimes I forgot to text her, but for the most part, I was able to report most things to her. And my measuring stick with him was when I came back the next day he would smile and ask to be picked up. I was happy that he didn't shriek and run in the opposite direction.
Next month will be the third year anniversary of my brain injury. Recent testing revealed my cognitive abilities have deteriorated since my last test two years ago. This may be due to aging and/or the natural progression of my brain injury. Despite what the reasons may be, I've had enough incidents now that I needed to set down some boundaries, like telling people their comments are not helpful. Instead of providing an answer right away I will say "Let me think about this and get back to you." The most annoying comment has been "You seem fine to me.” No one knows what goes on in my head except for me. And how it impacts my life.
So if I come off sounding like the biggest you know what on the planet, I'm pretty much at the end of my rope in regards to explaining my situation. I am no longer able to fake it to please people. Take me as I am with no criticism, judgment, or pity. This would be the best support any brain injured survivor could ask for.