25th May, 2017
In recent years, I have found myself fascinated by the concept that one decision, one day, can change the prospect of your life forever. The empowerment of the victims of these decisions is both an interest and a passion. In 2010, I found myself as one of these victims. On a routine trip to catch the bus to college, I was hit by a car and suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. Brain injuries, of course, don’t necessarily have to be the result of a bad decision on the part of the victim. Sometimes, it can simply be out of their control and for me, this seems even more difficult to comprehend. Sustaining a brain injury is a unique and life changing experience. As no two brains are the same, no two brain injuries can be either. For this reason, describing what you experience as a victim is pretty impossible. The effects and consequences of an injury are entirely circumstantial. So in fact, injuries that might be medically quite similar can be entirely different.
“Welcome to the scariest rollercoaster of your life” were the words that welcomed my parents to the community of people that have lost a family member to brain injury. It is a day that, as for many stories that I’ve been told, I will never remember. It is also a day that my family will never forget. It is impossible to describe how difficult it is to accept that. I have very few memories of being in the hospital at all. In retrospect, it seems like my conscious brain wasn’t really working and I was totally reliant on instinct. I do, however, remember the utter frustration at not being able to complete the most basic of tasks, such as eating, walking or even speaking. In some ways, I consider myself lucky as my injury was mostly to my frontal lobes meaning I am now able to complete these tasks. However, it does mean that my injury is almost entirely hidden- unseen unless I speak about it. I struggle emotionally, socially and with my thinking patterns. In my time, people have misinterpreted my experiences as mental health issues.
Without realising it, despite my comatose state, I was welcomed to the rollercoaster along with my parents that day. Although our rides are very different, they are both as wild, unexpected and all-encompassing. When I started my ride, the carriage was full of friends, family and people I’d only met once or twice wanting to wish me well. As time went on, the ride simply became too much for most and in fact, I could probably count the people left on board on one hand. I only have one friend left who was there immediately before and immediately after my accident. Watching people simply leave and continue their lives without me as well as taking advantage of my post-hospital naivety were the hardest consequences of my accident.
I am writing this now in my new position working for Headway Cambridgeshire. I have chosen to share my experiences for a number of reasons. Firstly and most importantly, I see securing my newest position with Headway as a representation and celebration of coming full circle from my accident. I feel that experiencing all that I did and having my recovery surpass all of the expectations of the doctors happened for a reason. It has now put me in the position that allows me to share my experiences and what I have learnt with others. Secondly, it has allowed me to understand the truly inspirational work of Headway Cambridgeshire and I wish to use this opportunity to help other people understand the real impacts of a brain injury. Education is fundamental to combatting the stereotypes and assumptions that seem to follow a person with a brain injury and more support is needed to help Headway to do this. Finally, after all these years of hating what happened to me and the continuing refusal to accept what has happened, I feel my current environment is the correct one to show people that you can do it. With little steps and commitment, accepting the support can help you become more than the doctors ever predict you to be.
My parents were fundamental to my recovery. I still believe to this day that I would not be the person I am today without them. They fought for me every step of the way, even when I couldn’t fight for myself and for that, I will always be grateful. My mum, dad and sister will all admit that their experiences of my brain injury has changed them as people. I don’t feel that ‘A New Me’ can refer only to the victim. That fateful day changed all of us and out of it were births of four new people- better people with deeper levels of understanding, empathy and determination. I struggled for a long time with the image of the girl I used to be. I spent a long time envying her and thinking about how I could be more like her. Accepting that you are a new and different person with a changed understanding of life is an extremely difficult task of which, I will never be able to explain. I still have my issues and without a doubt, I will struggle for the rest of my life. Born out of my experiences though, is a stronger, kinder, more resilient young woman.
“ The Hospital Brain Injury Co-ordinator became someone who absolutely understood how I felt, I didn’t need to explain. I could talk about my fears and worries. She was such a great support through the difficult days, but could also celebrate the small step successes, which was important to me. ”