The Benefits of Support Groups and Conferences

BIAU Conference

Photo from Brian Injury Alliance of Utah Newsletter BIAU 2013 Conference

I haven’t forgotten the first time I was encouraged to attend a class on understanding brain injury at the hospital. I thought, no way. I’m overwhelmed as it is and I don’t need one more thing to do. Besides I’m dealing with the effects of brain injury on a daily basis and this is not a class I want to sign up for.

I went to my first class kicking and screaming inside, I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to deal with this injury nor do I want my husband to have it. All the wishing it wasn’t so and disliking the situation didn’t change the fact that Mark had a traumatic brain injury and I had to learn to deal with it. I came to the conclusion I’d better learn all I could to help prepare me for the time he woke up from his coma. I wish I could say the things I learned in those classes made it less frightening, but I don’t think it did. However, I did find comfort in being in a room with others who were dealing with the same devastation I was and the information was helpful.

Over the past twenty-three years Mark and I have continued to go to support groups and the annual conferences. We haven’t gone every year, but when we do go we benefit from other peoples’ experiences and knowledge, as well as the resources that are shared. Now days it’s easy to look up information on the internet, but then you’re missing out on connecting with real people. Whatever health issue you or your loved one is dealing with, I hope there is a support group, classes and conferences that relate to the problem. The human experience plus the information and resources I’ve gained through these avenues has made the time invested worthwhile.

As an example, the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah had their annual family and professional conference on October 24, 2014. This year it was held at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center. The conference was full of information, with two sessions offering four classes to choose from. It began at 8 am with registration and a light breakfast. There was an hour to eat, look at exhibits from the sponsors and pick up information from the resource tables. Always a favorite is the silent auction. There were tables full of homemade items, books signed by the author and even airline tickets to bid on. The silent auction and resource tables last throughout the day and can be viewed and bid on between the sessions, with the final bidding after the second session.

This year’s conference theme was Life Will Go On. Every year the theme is different and after breakfast a keynote speaker bases their talk on the theme before breaking up into the first session of classes. After the first session there was a delicious lunch and recognition awards given to five individuals for their contribution to the brain injury community. The categories were: Survivor of Brain Injury, Family Member, Educator, Professional and Lifetime contribution.

After lunch and the awards, the second session begins. Afterwards, the final bids are collected for the silent auction. This is a favorite at the conference and all of the raised funds from the auction go to serving the Utah brain injured community.

Last, but not least, there is a panel discussion. Many people do not stay for this last hour, however, I have always found it to be very informative and I enjoy the interaction of the discussion. The panel usually consists of four to six people who sometimes are all professionals or family members to discuss the conference theme. I’m grateful for the knowledge shared by their experience and take away so much good information. I leave with renewed hope and support from the conference. On a daily basis I can be consumed with worry and overwhelmed with responsibility and my world can become inward and small. It’s helpful to get out and see others in a related situation and it always builds a desire within to reach out and help another. There is strength in numbers and encouragement that comes from being with others who are dealing with the same chronic illness or injury.

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