Making Connections over a Cuppa
We know that for many living with brain injury, it can be difficult to find and connect with others who have similar experiences. Realising this was becoming more difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, our team wanted to do more to connect with our community and address the increasing sense of isolation.
Synapse Peer Project Lead Nadine Holliday speaks with Jayden Alexanderson, Synapse Family Liaison Officer, who has been holding an online peer group called “Coffee with Jay” every Monday for people living with brain injury. These video chats held over Zoom have been hugely impactful to our community over the past year and continue to be an important way to connect.
Tell us a little about yourself Jay.
I’m the Family Liaison Officer for the Illawarra region and I’ve been working for Synapse for over a year now. I was in a motorcycle accident back in 2017 where I suffered a traumatic brain injury and now I get to help individuals with brain injury who are in a similar situation.
So how did the coffee chats come about, I know they’ve been running weekly for a while.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the team and I were brainstorming ideas about how to connect with people in the Synapse Reconnections Facebook group. We started out recording videos that we’d post to the group page or the Synapse website, and we experimented with Facebook live video where I’d go live and answer questions that group members would send in.
We then thought that instead of people writing in with questions, we start an online social catch up over Zoom video so people could connect and discuss things more directly. That’s when I started the regular ‘Coffee with Jay’ catch ups on Mondays. That was a year ago now.
It’s such a great idea Jay. So, what would you say is the intention of these catch ups?
It’s really to provide a safe place where people can come to talk about things that they’re going through and feel in a place of support. People who are in a similar situation can share advice and be in a social environment while also being in the comfort of their own home. You don’t have to go anywhere and we’re happy for people to join or leave as they like.
It was really great particularly at the peak of the COVID pandemic because people weren’t able to go out and socialise – the catch ups became a good alternative for people during that isolating time. As restrictions have eased now and we find ourselves in this new normal, people are still attending and look forward to attending each week, which is great.
“I joined because I was lonely – not because I didn’t have people around me, but you don’t always want to start a conversation where someone asks ‘Oh, why are you so different now?’ I just wanted some people who are similar to me, accept you for who you are, and I’m grateful to have found that”.
– Group Member
And what do you think people learn from each other?
They learn all sorts of things – people will talk about therapies that they haven’t done or treatments that they haven’t tried and so they want to investigate all that kind of stuff and follow up with their rehab team. We’ve even spoken about scooters as a way to get around!
People can hear about what’s going on with the NDIS as well and get ideas about service providers and dealing with brain injuries and their physical impairments
Having it in a group chat like this we can all hear these new ideas and brainstorm together. For certain questions I may follow up with people directly over email or post in the Reconnections Facebook group – because when one person asks something, it’s probably on a lot of other people’s minds too.
What do people enjoy most about the chats?
There’s many reasons why people enjoy the group chat – some enjoy being there to help others, you know, maybe answering some questions, sharing their experiences and how they might be able to help. Some of the others look forward to it as it gives them something to do – some people get really bored and want to be able to chat and talk.
During the chat people will bring up things that they’ve achieved – that could be getting their driver’s license or finding a new hobby, it could be learning a new instrument. So we talk about a lot of things and they really enjoy it.
“There’s no judgement by the people here and it’s really good to get all the suggestions – the different funding everyone gets – the hurdles we have to jump – it’s good to get that input from everyone, it’s all different”.
– Group Member
It seems like with some people attending regularly, it has become a safe and supportive community with a lot of people developing friendships.
Yeah, I try to promote that it is such a safe environment and it’s very supportive – I hope I’m speaking on behalf of everybody that that do attend that they feel safe and supported because it’s certainly the environment that we’ve tried to achieve.