So four years after my accident, I set out to achieve a goal that had been consuming my mind since 2010. This goal wasn’t just an itch that I had but a well-established infection. This goal was to go backpacking to the other side of the world, an event deemed impossible, from within, soon after my accident. It was deemed impossible because I now live life as a guy with multiple disabilities who could never fulfill a dream to go backpacking solo around with world… could he? This was the influence the accident had on my mindset.
I’ll cut a long story short because I’ve spend the last two years writing about it in a book, (due to be released in 2018 so watch this space), but what I will talk about here is one problem I faced and how I dealt with it. The problem is all about social anxiety.
Before we talk about the fun and games I was playing with my injured brain, I’ll explain to you how social anxiety works… no, first I’ll explain how social anxiety works minus the anxiety part. All the way through our life we have interactions with many different people on many different occasions in many different circumstances. We hold ourselves quite well with the people that deserve our respect and we forget about the ones that don’t. Well most of us do anyway. This is where I come unstuck a little. I’ll give you an example: Lets say that you’re in a social setting and someone does something that makes you think, “I really don’t appreciate the way this person made me feel” and you make a decision to act on your thoughts, to either let it go or cross them off the Christmas list, no harm done. Well, this is where the anxiety parts falls over. It’s not as easy for someone with an injured brain to simply just get over it. Move on. Let it go. Act like nothing happened!
In my brain, that initial thought that pops up will create a certain emotion. That emotion will often be one of self-pity; “Why don’t they like me?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Do they hate me?” “Why’s everyone against me?” “Am I worthy of their respect?”
The emotion that starts to consume us, then feeds back into the thoughts we once had and creates more emotions, which create more thoughts. Once the train has taken off, it becomes very hard to pull up. What makes things harder with an injured brain is that I can’t seem to find that switch that’s labeled ‘STOP THE BLOODY TRAIN’.
Due to my insecurities, living with an injured brain, I came up against this problem on quite a number of occasions whilst living abroad. I had been experiencing this prior to my trip of course, but I never knew what it was and I kind of just accepted that this was my life with an injured brain. Now I was on my own, on the other side of the world, with no strategies to help myself climb over this wall. I didn’t have strategies because I didn’t even know that this problem had a name.
Social anxiety only came up earlier this year with my neuropsychologist. That’s right, over eight years had passed me by before I discovered yet another problem I was facing.
I found that when I was on the move, I didn’t feel this too often because before someone had the chance to rub me the wrong way, I had done a Houdini and hightailed it to another country. This problem was mainly prominent when I was in the one location with people for an extended period of time.
Ok, so I had this problem with no name and no real solution to fix it. I did however, have my Nikon D7000 DSLR camera that was just crying out to be used. I found my escape through the camera lens, which is why photography became such a large part of my trip. Photography was great because it pulled me out of the mainstream travelers life, with all of my negative thought processing, and had me on my own. Being on my own meant that I wouldn’t say something stupid, I wouldn’t offend anyone and I wouldn’t have to deal with the thoughts that were circling my brain like hungry crocodile-sharks. It was a hobby that I enjoyed thoroughly so it was both enjoying and a distracting.
Photography was the first thing that I found in life, after my accident, that I was good at. Just like most people in the world, I like to be good at things. This, I was good at and as lame and pathetic as this sounds, I used social media as proof to gauge my talent. With every Like on Facebook that came my way, came a little more validation of my worthiness as a human being.
By all means this was not a solution, but this was the mechanism I had in place at that specific time of my life that worked. This worked because before those thoughts became strong emotions, I could take myself out of the situation. I guess in a way it was running from the problem but here I didn’t even know what the situation was that I was running from. I just did it because it felt good.
Photography is just a metaphor for a distraction. If you’re battling an injured brain, you don’t have to go out and take photos on the other side of the world like me, just find something that will take your mind away and give it a break. Something that will give you a temporary escape.
Obviously, I needed to get to the root of this problem, which was done with my neuropsychologist years later, but this was a great band-aid technique I used in the interim. This is still something that I fight with, in life but the difference is that now I can understand what’s happening and as we all know, awareness is the key right?
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