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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