I have no memory of the accident.
Inside my head I’ve made a picture from what others have told me, like something from a film, and not like anything I ever imagined would become part of my reality. I call it my out-of-body experience, I was floating above my bed, watching as if I’m in it yet completely unaware of my surroundings and what has happened.
The only way I can describe first waking up in the High Dependency Unit in Dublin was having a nurse either side of me talking in what seemed a different language to me. My first feeling I remember (I say feeling but at that moment it was complete confusion) was that I had been taken away to a different universe, not initially sure of where I was – which is ironic as my accident happened while I was on a long weekend away in Ireland.
I opened my eyes to these two nurses talking and they were, from what my memory tells me, giving me a bed bath. I remember the cold sensation, combined with the mixture of me not understanding what they were saying and desperately looking around trying to figure out where I was.
My next memory is having my loved ones close by and a consultant pointing and asking me questions. It is this moment that has been embedded into my memory, the first time I realised it wasn’t a different language, I just couldn’t understand or process the words people were saying.
The first time I was aware that something was wrong when I was handed a whiteboard and pen. I had lost the ability to talk and lost all my communication skills. In my mind I thought I was talking – I would think it was all a dream and that people were just not understanding me. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, tears falling down my face because I felt so trapped in a body that didn’t work.
I remember being frustrated and trying to talk, shout, at my mum after she handed me my phone, because I couldn’t read my contacts. I couldn’t remember the name of my place of work, yet I knew I had to be in work. In these moments everything was backwards, everything was terrifying. Every time I closed my eyes and open them to speak there were no words, just sounds which, looking back, was like listening to a baby talk.
I managed to write the word ‘home’ down on a piece of paper. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted to go home and believe that this was a nightmare I had woken up to, not my new reality.
It was nine long, terrifying days for my family, until I was finally allowed to go home in the air ambulance, it was a complete blur. It wasn’t until I arrived home that I was to learn what had happened.
I had sustained a fractured skull and a bleed on the brain after falling down seven steps. They say your body or mind protects you from such a trauma so you don’t remember. This so-called ‘protection’ is bittersweet – it’s allowed me to disconnect myself from what happened, but I have no memory of a moment that played such a huge part of my life.
The months of rehab, to be able to learn to talk, walk, read and write never prepared me for the transition from hospital to home. I thought learning everything again would be the hardest part, but there are no words to explain how hard leaving hospital and coming home was.
Life with a brain injury will never be the same again. Standing, looking in the mirror, seeing a girl staring back at me who I knew nothing about… I felt my whole world had been ripped from underneath me. My family struggled to understand and felt helpless watching me crumble in front of them. The shell remained but inside I was every kind of broken you can imagine.
Until the day I rang the charity Headway. My words to them were simple. Tears rolling down my face, I just said: “I need help with my head”.
Headway gave me a lifeline. They invited me in along with my family and offered us a great support system. They explained what I was going through was normal for someone with a brain injury and that everything was ok and that I was going to be ok – it’s just a matter of time and learning a new way of life.
For the first time I was made to realise that what had happened was real, and for the first time I wasn’t on my own. I realised that there are people that understand and can support you with a life with a brain injury.
I wouldn’t be the girl I am today if it wasn’t for them. They gave me the lifeline I needed, supported me through the biggest and hardest life-changing battle I’ve ever faced and continue to give me that support. The friends I’ve made within my recovery have given me even better chance of being the new me.
This journey has not been the easiest, it’s been the scariest for sure, but because of the help I received, I have the power to help other traumatic brain injury survivors and show them that they are not on their own, like I felt at my new beginning.
It’s been three long years since my accident and I’m still in recovery, but every day is one step forward. I have learned it’s about accepting, adjusting and understanding that there is no magic wand – time is the only healer with a brain injury, and that’s ok. I have Headway to thank for giving me the best chance possible within my recovery and for giving me a new second chance of life.