Gray matter and questions and searching for answers

I walk in to the dimly lit room where SBIF (Southwestern Brain Injury Foundation) holds its monthly support groups, and I survey my surroundings. A group of people sit together in folding chairs near the front of the room, while a small table in the corner boasts sparse refreshments: a coffee pot, Styrofoam cups, a humble container of pastries.

Unsure of what to expect from the support groups with this first visit, I am immediately welcomed by an elderly man sitting at the check-in table by the door. His round, thick glasses sit atop his wrinkly nose and tell me that he must have vision problems similar to mine.

I assume he has survived a brain injury as well, and within minutes, my suspicion is confirmed. Bob enthusiastically shakes my hand and begins to tell me, unabridged, about his journey with brain injury. The sudden stroke, the hospital stays, the challenging recovery. I wonder if all the participants at SBIF will be as willing as Bob to share their stories with me. How do individuals with brain injury describe social support? How do they and I use stories to make sense of our experiences of social support? What identities do individuals construct in their stories?

I began my research with these questions in order to familiarize my audience with the multiplicities of plotlines and contexts that individuals face in reconstructing their lives after a brain injury. As my findings emerge, I interweave observations of the interviews and participants‟ stories with my own narrative.The challenge of dividing narratives into separate codes (findings) reveals the complex, interconnected nature of identity and the convoluted space of identity reconstruction.

I examine the multifaceted communicative interactions of identity reconstruction that develop within the contextual framework of social support. Excerpts from narratives unfold from and within my findings to reveal the intricacies of reconstructing and maintaining the self after brain injury. As my fellow participants and I continue to negotiate the role of brain injury in our lives, the excerpts from our stories and narratives show the process of identity reconstruction and the communicative interactions of social support inherently involved in narrative (Clandinin, 2013).

I structure the findings by first introducing participants‟ communication of a liminal identity, which sets the tone of the data: not black and white, but in shifting, varying tones of gray. I then open my findings with the first pattern that appeared in my data: grieving the loss of the former self. Next, I present our experiences searching for social support, and the role they have played in shaping our identity; these include negative experiences in which we lack social support. I then move to finding social support, which involves positive experiences in which we have strong social support from other brain injury survivors and others who offer empathy. Next, I focus on the labels of disability and injury, which we communicate as brain injury survivors. Finally, I conclude my findings – and the trajectory of identity reconstruction – with the shifting identities in brain injury survivors, including the uncertainty we experience with unexpected changes in our lives.

I begin with the first category, which launches the identity reconstruction trajectory as well as conveys my participants‟ and my experiences with liminal identity.

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