Menus, restaurants and dining out after TBI

Monday’s have been unusually slow around here.  Our weekends have been so jam-packed that when I wake up on Monday morning I feel like all I can do is recover before kicking off the week.  Once the big kids were off to camp this morning, I was able to sit down with the littlest and enjoy a cup of coffee, and I read the most interesting article about a neuroscientist who always orders the second special on a menu when he is at a restaurant…intrigued?  I was!

Going to a restaurant after a TBI used to be an anxiety ridden experience for me.  The background noise, engaging in conversation, overload of activity, and having to decide what to eat off of a menu, would seriously have me on the verge of tears and feeling broken.  I would be so overwhelmed with what used to be a fun activity, and would be so discouraged to do it again.  Every outing would result in me feeling like a failure, but I persisted and continue to challenge myself by dining out in public.  It’s especially challenging with three kids, but we do it (although right now I enjoy it much more when it’s just my husband and I, ha!).  The things I try and control when I’m dining in public are:

  • I would rather go to quieter restaurants during off peak times to limit noise.
  • If it’s noisy, I wear my ear plugs.
  • Dining outside helps because I don’t feel as confined and the noise dissipates.
  • I request a table that is on the outskirts of the room to limit background noise and distractions.
  • If I am with a group, I position myself so I am at the end of a table facing a wall.  This limits the number of conversations I have to participate in (or keep track of) and limits my visual stimulation by facing a wall.
  • If I am unfamiliar with the menu, I ask others around me what they are ordering and try and make a decision quick as to what I want.  I cut out the decision making process because I hate starting my meal by feeling discouraged and frustrated.

 

The last point is where this article comes in. The neuroscientist that orders the second thing on the menu, does so because of decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is the reason why our brains get so overwhelmed and tired when making a choice.  It explains why reading a menu and using all of that energy in a public uses an enormous amount of brain power and makes me so restless that I stop being able to function successfully. I have never heard of decision fatigue, but it makes SO much sense and explains why I’m the way I am.  It also went on to explain how you should reserve your decision making energy for more important choices, ones that matter.  I’m going to start paying more attention to this on a daily basis, so I can continue to reserve energy for caring for our kids.

I vividly remember going to a quiet dinner with my husband six months after my accident in Chicago.  We were at a small, quiet restaurant and I was telling him a story and started using my hands as I was talking.  He told me he was so happy to see that I was getting back to my old self and using my hands again while talking.  This moment still brings me such a sense of accomplishment- because I was in a public place, interacting over a meal and “back to my old self.”  At the time, I never knew that I wouldn’t get back there fully, but tidbits of the “old me” were shining through and gave me a sense of hope.  So wherever you are in your recovery, remember this- don’t lose hope, celebrate the milestones, and order the second thing off the menu!

The full article that I found fascinating can be found here.

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