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7 Tips to Tell If Someone Is a Good Friend After Traumatic Brain Injury

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Before my traumatic brain injury I had many friends and close relationships. After my TBI some relationships trickled into ghosted memories.

There was a period where in many ways I wasn’t the same person. They were connecting with my injury instead of the real person behind it. I know for many people it was too painful to see what I had become, or they just didn’t want to deal with it. My injury put up big walls and wedges between what we once had. If my brain was in bad shape or triggered that day, I could yell and be nasty without a memory of what I had done or said. Sometimes the pain was so bad I would have to lay on my laundry room floor in the dark for hours, unable to get up. I had very unpredictable symptoms like loss of eyesight, hearing, aphasia, short term memory loss, and even passing out at times. I was so scared I would expose the angry monster I felt like inside and one of my friends would get the wrath. Because of this I shielded myself from the world and many people. I would arrange times to meet when I could wear a facade best so everyone was clueless about what my life was really like. I would talk about it, but if I could feel a disaster coming I left faster than a professional dine and dasher.

However, as I began my process of recovery and rekindled friendships, I realized some were very genuine and others were as shallow as a blow up kiddie pool. I decided to compile a list of seven tips and things to look out for to make the process of finding genuine friendships easier.

1. How do they talk about other people?

This is a really important one. How do they talk about friends, family, loved ones and even their enemies? This can give you a clue to how they will talk about you when you aren’t around, or if there is ever a disagreement. If they are bad-mouthing a lot of people or are quick to make enemies, you may want to keep your guard up and see if it’s a good friendship for both of you.

2. Are they all in too quick?

In my experience people who are balanced and working towards something in life don’t have the time to be around 24/7 — and that is a good thing. More times than not, when I have been friends with someone who is available/around all the time it is short-lasting before something else intrigues them and they put all their energy towards that instead.  I have found that people like this often don’t have an authentic opinion. They can be in your corner agreeing and helping you with everything, and before you know it they can be on the opposing side.

3. What is the longevity of their other current friendships and why?

There are obviously many things that can come up in life — illness, death, moving far away, etc. However, everyone I have healthy friendships with has at least someone in their life who has stuck around for a while. I have heard the line a few times “I have never had a best friend or anyone around in my life.” I usually see that as a red flag. Another thing to watch out for is someone who says everyone is their “best friend.” I dated a guy who would constantly have “best friends.” He would hang out with them frequently and then they would leave faster than they came. I never knew why they had a falling out, but I should have taken it more seriously because it gave many clues about his true character. I eventually had to break it off with him, which overall was a very healthy decision.

4. Do they build you up or break you down?

This is a really important one and sometimes hard to recognize. If someone belittles you or talks negatively about you, it’s probably a sign they aren’t a good match for you. But you can also belittle someone by your actions, not just your words. I have had many people say they supported me, wanted me to follow my dreams and gave words of encouragement, but their actions didn’t always reflect those words. I would be told I could rely on them, but when the time came up I was left floundering on my own. Good friends set each other up for success, not failure.

5. Are they willing to hear about and support you with your TBI?

I have had so many “non-believers” with my TBI and quite frankly, I don’t want my friends to be one of them. During my journey I experienced many different symptoms and how I was in 2013 (when I was at my worst) is much different than I am now. I attribute this to the amount of massagecraniosacral therapy, acupuncture, essential oils, ionic foot bath and chiropractic work I went through — but it took a lot of work to get there.

I have a few friends and family members who have been by my side the whole time. They knew sometimes they would have to visit me in the dark because of my sensitivity to light. If I had to cancel last minute, they understood. They would pick me up because I was unable to drive. They knew I made life changes to accommodate my injury and they were willing to help in any way they could so I was comfortable and safe. Having friends who believe you about your TBI is extremely valuable and saves a lot of time and drama.

6. How do they make you feel?

I didn’t mean to say that so you felt like you were lying on a couch being analyzed. However, this is an important question. Often after TBI we don’t always have the best judgment or filters due to the injury. It took me a long time to learn all my triggers and what I need to do better in order to help my brain. When I was first going out in the world, I realized I was pouring a lot of energy into things or people that didn’t serve me. I kept trying to hang out with people who didn’t understand me and didn’t have my best interest at heart. I started checking in and seeing that they never made me feel good about myself or cared about how I was really doing. This was good confirmation they weren’t a good fit for my life, and it was time to invest in better friends.

7. What do you have in common?

This is a question I ask myself frequently with friends. Friendships are based on commonalities which can be expressed and experienced in many different ways. I like to ask myself, what are the things we have in common and are we supporting each other to be in a better place? For example, I have some friends who are very health-oriented and it has been great to catch a yoga class or go for a walk together. However, I also have friends who wanted to do things that pushed the limits of my injury and not in a good way (whether it was physical activity or trying to get me to party). I was able to check in with myself and see what activities we were doing and how it was affecting my brain health. I had to express my concerns; some of them totally understood and others weren’t very supportive. I didn’t want to be around a crowd that was driving me further from any hope of recovery, so I found it best to sever ties with the ones who couldn’t find ways to relate that were healthy for my brain and still fun for them.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping medication or alternative treatments.

Follow this journey on My Traumatic Brain Injury.

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Thinkstock photo by Wavebreak Media.

Originally published: August 4, 2017
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