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What's your friendship recipe?

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

This blog has been a long time coming and it’s been quite hard to write actually. It’s been in draft for months and every now and then I feel brave enough to revisit it. I love analogies as they help me tell a story in a way that people can relate to. So after MONTHS of fiddling around with this blog, I think that I’m finally ready to reveal my latest analogy. I’ve called it my recipe analogy and it addresses friendships post encephalitis and acquired brain injury.

Dear friends, how could I best describe the new me in a way that would allow you to relate to my new inconsistent self?

Individuals each have a unique DNA, therefore their own and very unique recipe. It’s the same for me. The core ingredients that my recipe is comprised of pre and post encephalitis are still fundamentally the same, however “e” and the resulting brain injury have had the effect of scrambling things up a bit. While cooking up a storm, my Weird Wonderful Brain can decide, recipe book or not, to mix the quantities and/or alter the way that the ingredients are put together which makes for a different dish altogether. If an ingredient isn’t available on a given day, I may wish to substitute it for another one in my best effort to deliver a meal, but not all substitutes are made equal and the outcome of my “go to” dish may also differ.

As a result, you may end up with a dish that has too much spice, perhaps one that is more sour than it should be, too sweet, too dry or watery, but fingers crossed, it will never end up being bad enough of a meal to avoid trying it altogether. What I’m trying to say is that the core Véro is still very much the same (values, beliefs), but that by struggling to follow a recipe to the letter, I am far less inclined to deliver consistent dishes. It doesn’t always end up being such a bad thing though. Tweaking things can translate in nice surprises, generate some excitement around the table. However other times, it may also be better to soak the burnt pot and start all over again.

The impact of badly executed recipes

I accept that “I” first and foremost have a role to play in maintaining friendships since “e” and brain injury. I have to be honest enough to admit that I sometimes use quite a sharp knife to prep my food. Perhaps my new acquired bluntness and absence of a filter has resulted in cutting me off from a few friends. No one likes an angry cook, heck, I’m not sure that I like that cook myself when she storms through the kitchen. In my defense, the grumpy cook can often be explained by a variety of factors. When I walk into the kitchen and can’t find or remember where I put that special pan that I like, when I read a recipe and the words are all jumbled up, when I have forgotten to put the timer on and burn my dish, well I can get pretty confused, scared and even angry. Instead of leaving my emotions to gently simmer, they can quickly boil over unfortunately. I am very aware that I need to be better at keeping an eye on what’s cooking on the stove. Therefore, in spite of my additional challenges, I do my best to accept my part of responsibility in the friendship. I’m still experimenting with how my new recipe is put together which implies that I’ll make mistakes, but hopefully learn and grow from them.

Single serve meals

I don’t know about you but as much as we sometimes whine about having to prep and cook dinner for the whole family, I think that we always put way more time and care in cooking a nice family meal compared to putting together a single serve meal. Isolation is a feeling that is often felt by brain injury survivors. Sometimes isolation is self-inflicted in order for the brain to cope or recharge, other times, due to a fragile brain, we simply can’t join in and therefore have to decline an invitation. Sadly, we may also end up getting left off the invitation list...further feeding that feeling of isolation. So here we are, left to cook single serve meals. We then tend to be less adventurous and healthy with our food choices further impacting our overall health. For those who manage to maintain healthy eating habits, there is still a huge impact linked to eating by yourself. The lack of company, having no one to share a meal with and having no one to share the highlight/low light of your day with can soon take a toll on your mental well-being.

Unless you make the extra effort to socialise, you can quickly get stuck in an isolation pattern. Isolation absolutely sucks. I’ve found that the struggle with isolation is constant...even when you are amongst a crowd. Chances are you can’t interact like you used to and not everyone accommodates to your special set of circumstances. You may start feeling like that can in your pantry that is way past its best before date. You haven’t thrown it away yet, but you know it will keep sitting there untouched for a while longer. We all love to sit down around a table to share a nice meal with family and friends. However, when you find yourself struggling with that very simple task, it tends to act like a fly in your soup…it puts you off and wrecks an otherwise perfectly cooked meal. But see, the fly has only landed in your soup, not everyone else’s soup... What else can you do besides trying to put up a front to avoid wrecking everyone else’s meal? But deep down, the sad reality is that you are feeling alone and misunderstood being the only one around the table with that fly in your soup. It brings on a sadness and an emptiness that isn’t always easy to shake off. All I want is to be that fun, carefree person and have a great laugh with friends, but it’s not always easy to be that person when the promise of a payback hangs over your head like the promise of indigestion over food poisoning.

Becoming a great baker takes time

Some baking recipes can be very complex...particularly if you aren’t much of a baker. You may in the end deliver an awesome cake, but the amount of time and effort required to deliver your masterpiece is likely to match the number of steps included in the recipe. Friendship are a bit the same, in order to grow you need to be willing to invest time and energy. Investing a lot of time is ok if you have an unlimited amount of resources and energy, but when you are trying to execute a master chef worthy cake with a limited amount of ingredients and baking tools, it will soon become hard to match the picture that you are hoping to reproduce. You may need to ultimately let go of a few complex elements or you may even decide to settle for a cake that matches your baking abilities, both resulting in a compromise and potentially a loss too.

I’ve found that friendships post “e” and brain injury just need to be easy. I’ve discovered that true friendships shouldn’t be depleting me of all my energy. Expectations should be realistic from both ends and empathy and understanding have to hold a very special place. Some friendships may also be tested in ways that you would never thought possible. If a recipe surpasses your cooking abilities, you’ll have two choices, accept to try again if you make a mistake, or try a different recipe. If you settle on the latter, know that letting go isn’t always easy, but it can also open your world to new flavours and combinations that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

A wise and supportive friend of mine told me: “Friends come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. When you think about it, all those friends serve a very important purpose. If you’ve taken something from any of those friendships, you can’t really be or stay bitter once a new flavour comes into fashion. Just remember that it’s also ok for past flavours to come back into fashion...nothing like reviving grandma’s old recipe right? We all change over time, what once was may never be the same again, but it’s ok to accept the good things when they come about...just like my Weird Wonderful Brain allows me to make the most of a good day!

Teaching yourself how to cook

Cooking is a form of art. If you learn more about different cooking techniques and experiment lots, you’ll soon become a force to reckon with in the kitchen. The same probably applies with friendships. We are not always going to get things right, but the important thing is to learn from our errors, admit our part of responsibility and have those difficult chats when necessary. Unless you actively tweak something in your recipe, the flavour of your dish isn’t likely to change. Unless you’ve tasted a below par cooked meal, you don’t get to appreciate a well-executed one. I think that to some degree it’s the same with friendships. Holding ourselves accountable for our past mistakes and listening to what the other has to say says a lot about our desire to work hard on making things right. If that burning desire to try to patch things up isn’t there, well maybe that is an answer as well…

I’ve been thinking of the best ending for this blog for a while now. I’ve decided that there is no point in over complicating it. Be adventurous with your recipes as even the best recipes can be tweaked further and accept the fact that good meals take time, simple as that. Dear friends, if I have offended you or hurt you, please do accept my most sincere apology 💕 Talk to me about that bitter taste that I may have left in your mouth so I can tweak my recipe next time around. You are worth it, we are worth it!

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