Isolation in a Crowd

Don recently felt isolated and sad in a gathering of people he did not know. A group of men stood and visited among themselves not far from where Don sat, but they did not engage with Don. Later Don told me, “They think I’m dumb.” That is what Don concluded, even though I doubt if people think that or realize how they may be ignoring him, He feels bad when he cannot follow fast conversations and cannot think or speak quickly enough to interject his ideas, so he often resists attending large social gatherings.

Don cannot easily stand for long or move around in a crowd to engage with people, so he finds a spot to sit, and people have to come to him. Years ago when Don used a wheelchair, he sometimes felt people literally and emotionally looked down at him. It is frustrating not to be able to interact with people the way he did before his stroke. That used to be one of his strengths.

Don still loves to listen to stimulating conversations, and he loves to think about deep matters. It is just more satisfying for him to interact one-to-one or in small groups of people.

What helps us cope and gives us hope:  Don cultivates many individual and small group relationships that are very satisfying to him. For Don’s sake, I need to try to remember not to talk too much when we are with friends and instead to turn conversation toward him. Don always feels so good when people ask for his opinion. He often expresses profound insights. He is not “dumb.”

Questions for our readers:  Do certain social situations make you feel “dumb?” What can the rest of us do to help you avoid or overcome those feelings?

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  1. Hi Rosella, as I read your blog – thanks for it – I became very aware of some other groups of people who feel isolated and often prefer to withdraw from large group gatherings, yet would enjoy one-to-one conversation with people. One such group is people with hearing disability. Yes, they have physical ability to move around, etc. but even with the most modern hearing aids, a conversation in a large noisy group is almost impossible. I’m just saying this, because I would like to become more tuned to needs of others in the social situations.

    • Hi, Thanks for your thoughts.

      You are so right. Loss of hearing leaves people isolated. That is part of Don’s challenge too. He can’t hear conversations in many settings. He can hear up to three or four people in a restaurant, but beyond that he mostly watches. That gets old.

      Many other losses also isolate people: loss of a family member or loved one through death, loss of a spouse through divorce, broken relationships, loss of mobility, loss of a job, loss of trust, loss of hopes and dreams, loss of physical or emotional health…

      We can so easily be oblivious to other people’s isolation, especially when they look and act fine. Like you say, I too want to become more tuned to the needs of others. People who feel isolated often conjure up negative messages about what people think of them – messages that may be untrue. I want to remember to affirm people of their value to help counter their negative thoughts.

  2. I know the feeling all too well. On September 29, 2010,I suffered a major ischemic stroke. I woke up days later to find out that my left side was paralyzed, and experience some functional damage to my brain. Some of my immediate family members treat me as though I’m dumb or stupid. My world is no longer a normal world for me. Sometimes, when my sister & I conversate,I can detect or hear the sighs in her voice when I’m not able to understand language. I can even feel or sense her eyes rolling to the top of her head like she’s crazy or something, and this cut or hurt me deeply. I often can tell when one of my sons talk about me behind my back such as “Mom is crazy” She’s tripping” or something. I can even see the sarcastic looks on their faces when I’m frustrated in understanding their language. It’s almost as if someone is speaking in a different language to me. This in turn make me very depressed to the point where I go off and silently cry or scream at the top of my lungs to myself to the point of isolation.Even some of my fellow congregation members treat me as such. I can see or sense that certain ones avoid me.I’m thinking that they think I’m off my rocker or something, or that I’m some type of class one dork. I wished that people would stop accessing my cognitive abilities by how quickly I can think for myself or filling in blanks or finishing my sentences to questions that my brain can’t find. One fellow stroke survivor once told me “What’s often in my thinker may not come out of my mouth as I would like for them.” I’m smarter than most people think or realize. I may not verbally express myself, but I’m studying and watching others behavior. In the end, I like to think as a stroke survivor that we are all winners. Life didn’t deal out the deck of cards we/ I wanted, but this is the real world. I must learn to accept that there are certain things that I cannot change, but whatever I can change is to make my life and that of other stroke survivors the best life possible.

    • Jean, I’m so sorry your comment slipped under my radar back in mid December.

      As I read your comment, I thought, “People! Sometimes it’s equally as difficult to live with them as to live without them.” Often the people we love the most hurt us the most, and they are often the people we hurt the most.

      Strokes make life frustrating. My husband and other stroke and TBI survivors have expressed what you wrote, that you feel you are still smart in your head, but you feel people treat you as if you are dumb.

      We all have times when we cycle round and round thoughts of our inadequacies or how hurt we feel when people outright reject us for our insufficiencies. However, I accept the fact that people with brain injury must experience this in a much more frequent and intense way.

      When we realize we have started down the path of those negative thoughts, we have to somehow stop in our tracks, recognize that many of those thoughts aren’t entirely true, and then replace the negative with what is true and positive.

      The truth is, you are a valuable person. You still have gifts and abilities. You still have potential. You still can do something each day that you can feel proud about or that people will appreciate. Even if you do one positive thing and start recycling that memory in your mind, you can begin to break the cycle of feeling so hurt. We can’t change the way people treat us, but we can change how we think about ourselves.

      As a care partner, I also need to apply this to my own lingering, frustrated thoughts when my husband and I have those frequent and exasperating situations caused by his stroke.

      I hope that today you can have at least a few affirming encounters with people you love.

      Thanks for your comments.


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