I am now 8 years along the road of progression from a brain injury. As other brain injury survivors will understand it has been a journey of frustration, confusion, loneliness and immense learning.
I was 32 when I had my brain injury, I went surfing one morning and woke up a few weeks later! I was very fortunate to survive a brain haemorrhage and come out of it without serious physical or neurological deficits.
According to some witnesses I spent over 10 minutes face down in the water, the lack of oxygen caused further swelling and brain damage and I am sure had a deep impact on my psyche. I don't remember any of it but below is an excert of an email the family who saw my accident sent to my family afterwards:
Happy to report that things are far better now, its been 8 years, I started a family four years ago and in the last couple of years things have really come together. The brain and its capacity to rewire and recover is just beyond incredible.
I am in a far better place now but it hasn’t been without a lot of work and learning along the way. Time is a healer to some extent but there are specific things I have learned, and things I have introduced to my life, that have really contributed to finding some peace and contentment and calming my muddled head. I have shared these things with you on this site.
I really hope that Finding the Positives will be some use to you on your road to recovery and would love to hear from you if you would like to get in touch via the comments page.
Wishing you all the best,
Finding the Positives Founder
My Life Before Brain Injury
At the time of my brain injury I was fit and health and living a good lifestyle. I had a job I enjoyed, lived in a nice part of the world and had a range of sports and activities to keep me busy. I had never suffered with any mental health issues and was a fairly self assured and confident individual.
''We were getting towards the cliff at the end when we saw a couple on the steep grassy bit, I commented that they must be stupid as that looked quite dangerous. When we reached the end, they shouted to us that there was a surfer not moving – they were obviously trying to get closer to see if he was in trouble. They didn’t have a phone. At that time we could not see Neil, but I called 999 and explained what I had been told. After a minute or two we saw his board, and then realised that Neil was attached and floating. The coastguard kept telling me to stay put and not put myself in danger and to keep talking to tell him what was happening. In the event, Neil came in close enough to be pulled out, and at that same time my daughters shouting alerted the only other person on the beach! The GP! She got to him before I did. It was a huge effort with the tide pulling out, my older daughter had to pull his board in as it was still attached and was hindering. Then the doc did her magic.
I reckon that it would have been at least 10 minutes that he was out of it in the water, thinking about how long the people on the cliff top were looking, and how long it took to spot him, and get to him and then get him out.''
Despite being signed off work for a year after three months I was back in the same job and the same lifestyle, so I was hoping everything would fall back into place and I would feel like 'me' again. Sadly it wasn't this simple! And there began 3-4 years of immense difficulty and challenges that at times I didn't think I was able to carry on with.
When I was out of the coma and the fog had started to clear and it was explained what had happened I presumed I could recover as I had done with injuries in the past, by understanding what the problem is, finding out what exercises and actions I need to take to make it better, develop a rehab plan, stick to it and get better. As anyone in my position knows this approach doesn't work with the emotional and psychological fall out of a brain injury. The stoical, confident and determined approach that had got me through life's ups and downs so well in the past was suddenly woefully inadequate.
Summer 2008 Spending time surfing, my pre-brain injury self.
Looking For Help to Understand
When it was clear that this was outside of anything I had experienced before and it wasn’t getting better on its own I started doing as much research as I could and spoke with some clinical professionals. A lot of what I was hearing was that I could expect to experience a range of emotions like anger and frustration and I might suffer from depression and there were reasons given for this.
However nothing seemed to give me a sense of the bigger picture, I did suffer from all these things in isolation but it was the overall impact that I couldn’t deal with. What it meant to just not feel right in my own skin, to have no sense of being an individual, my own person. I couldn’t explain it to other people and when I tried it always came out sounding like I was just having ‘an off day’, leaving others thinking that it would pass and that I needed to realise that we all suffer from stress, anger, confusion etc and I needed to realise that its part of life and not worry about it.
''We, like you all, look for the good signs in all this, but the fact remains that the prognosis this time last week was extremely poor and , even though he has exceeded most expectations, he will not come out of this without physical/psychological impairment. We won't know the extent for some weeks/months.''
Looking for some peace in the early years
of recovery November 2011.
I can't remember from my accident until a few days after waking up, the early days and weeks of concisousness are a blur. I know little about what was said and what happened,here is an email from my dad to family on day 9 of being in intensive care.
- he has a calm night and his breathing this morning was much easier and held up all day.
- he is now largely off oxygen and self breathing
- his chest X-rays are looking good
- the physio gave him the once over today and had him sitting up ( with the help of a couple of nurses) and moving his head around the room. She also got him to make his first attempts at speech ( limited, but a start ).
- his key readings ( heart rate, blood pressure, brain pressure ) have all been good.
- he has slept loads
- we think he has tried to smile, mainly in response to the offer of grandmother's carrot cake.
- Dr D has described his progress as 'remarkable'
Areas of concern today are:
- he is not yet processing food which has been placed in his gut
- he cannot identify people around him yet
- he has another 10 days or so of high risk to vascular spasm ( ie, stroke) which could still be fatal.
June 2009 (9 Days after my SAH)
Excerpt of email from my Dad to family members, 4th June 2009. ( 1 Week after my haemorrhage)