So this is the post I’ve been having the bloggers block about and is something I’ve been avoiding writing for months now. It’s very personal and I shed a few tears in the writing of it, so I hope it somehow helps someone out there, either with a brain injury or supporting someone with one.
On the 24th of May 2008 my life changed almost completely when I was crashed into by a black Audi Stationwagon on an off ramp from the Northern Motorway in Auckland. On the 24th of May I was invited up to an old work colleague’s place for lunch so I set off to a part of Auckland I wasn’t that familiar with. Somehow I took a wrong exit from the motorway and pretty much the next thing I was aware of was the full force something slamming into me from behind.
Somehow (in my embarrassment i think) I managed to get the car started and drove over to swap details with the other driver. I remember feeling dazed and my shoulder hurting, which I commented on to the other driver, but as you can’t sue in NZ he didn’t seem to care too much and drove off and left. I burst into tears and called my boyfriend, who was unable to help from so far away and then I tried to drive myself to my friend’s place, thinking they’d be able to take me to the doctor. I’m not really sure why it didn’t occur to me to call an ambulance, but I guess I didn’t think it was a big deal.
I do know it took me about 45 minutes to drive to their place, I kept getting lost and confused. The lunch passed in a daze, I skulled down diet coke (I never drink coke) and had a blur of faces around me. When I asked if they could drive me to the Dr, they said they didn’t have time, so I got myself in the car and drove back over the Harbour bridge to a medical centre near my place, but this stage I could hardly move my neck as the whiplash had kicked in and it was pretty frightening as you can’t really drive safely without neck mobility. At the clinic I had x-rays and was asked the day of the week a few times (I’m still not convinced that is the best concussion test) and then banned from driving, but not diagnosed with concussion. I had to then scramble around to try to find someone to pick me up – actually not easy as no one really seemed to care or really get that I was in a lot of pain and I also remember hitting my head getting into the car as I left A&E so I probably did some more damage to my already bruised brain.
I felt atrocious, of course, for the next few days, but I wasn’t told to take time off work so I was back on the Monday morning, trekking on the horrible Auckland public transport to work to get my laptop so I could work from my bed. The next few weeks are a bit of a blur of pain, going to physio and being told that it was normal I was feeling so bad and crashing energy wise at about 11am morning from the effort of getting myself around. After about 2 and 1/2 weeks of this I realised that there was a pattern to the fatigue I was experiencing and I thought I should go to my GP and get checked out, and of course, I had concussion. Turns out you can get it without hitting your head and blacking out.
Please remember this.
I still tried to work though, felt terrible and I needed days off exhausted and couldn’t cope with any kind of minor noise, let alone supermarket shopping or church. No one told me I could or should stop, no one offered support, no one said I could just stay in bed and that would be the best thing for me.
I finally got assessed about six weeks after the accident and scored in the 30th percentile for my visual memory (which explains why I was having panic attacks at work about clients names and faces and was basically avoiding answering the phone) and told I had a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. This was one of the most devastating moments of my life and I still remember that feeling of driving away from the clinic wondering if I’d ever beat anyone at a board game again – funny what my priorities were right.
The next five or six weeks were a blur of sleep disturbances and the worst headache ever that just sat on top of my head. But I was still trying to work half days at work – basically I was just clearing emails and that was about it, no one figured that out for a while though and I think if I’d had an open plan office things would have been quite different as I am sure I would have thrown something at a noisy person and faced disciplinary action! I was tucked away in a private office so no one really noticed I wasn’t coping.
Most of the friends I thought I had, dropped out of my life at that point and my own family just ignored me and the fact that anything was wrong (that is a complex issue in itself). My faith also suffered as I was unable to read my bible, listen to music or attend church. Luckily I found an online church community which was quite literally a life saver – I could watch online and turn the volume right down if needed. I also hit my head again cleaning my house and literally saw stars and had to go to bed for the rest of the weekend, which I think probably really impacted on my recovery more than I realised at the time. This time was a sad, lonely time that I spent mostly in denial that anything was really wrong with me.
Finally two months after the accident, I got some Occupational Therapist support at work and through them I got to take the month of September off and that is where my rehab truly began. I had someone who cared and who helped me curb my natural tendencies to do too much. However, I was terminated at work within a few months though, as they simply couldn’t wait any longer for me to get better, this is perfectly fine in NZ employment law, in case you’re wondering. And I was very, very much alone. More alone that I’ve ever been in my life and in such a hard season. Invisible illnesses and disabilities can be a bit that way, but nothing quite prepares you for facing such a huge battle with absolutely no support.
I had a long road of slowly building up my capacity, which involved planning around my energy levels and gradually increasingly my ability to sit at a computer and concentrate – one hour would kill me at the start. I was incredibly lonely and it was very strange to be at home all the time, I didn’t have hobbies really to keep me busy as I’d sort of thought they were a waste of time, or, for introverted people with no friends.
I think I coped the best I could and found a way to be happy with the small things, but it really wasn’t easy and I was painfully aware I was no longer the person I used to be. I was also very, very alone in the whole experience so without the OT support and my poor boyfriend on the other end of the phone (it was long distance, not a great thing in itself) I don’t know what I would have done.
The next two years or so were a blur of me trying to get better, trying to get back to working and feeling like my life was on hold and I would never be the person I used to be. I was a nobody to most people I met socially and completely written off by people I thought cared about me. There were some amazing angels in my life though – the friends who drove up on their honeymoon after fasting all day to pray for me, the others who put up with me crying and depressed and my wonderful friend Karyn who accepted me and helped me beyond what I could ever tell her when I meet her about 18 months after my accident. Without her I know I wouldn’t be where I am today and I’m forever grateful to her – she was quite literally an answer to prayer.
I started paper crafting and got a small business (very small) which meant I was out with people socially, earning a bit of money and I had a creative outlet, which switched on a side of my brain I’d shut down since school. I fought a big battle with my insurance company and won in Tribunal. Though, following this I never got the support to return to work with OT help so I took matters in my own hand and starting working part time. This was the way harder option, but it got me back to full time employment, which was always so important to me.
It’s amazing how much I beat myself up during that season, thought I wasn’t good enough and that I was wasting my life away, when I look back now I realise so much of it was preparation for what was ahead. I learned about social media, which I use all the time in my career now. I learned to be creative again and that is something I am absolutely so grateful for as it’s been such a joy in my life. I also got to find out who my true friends are, which, while a much smaller list that I thought it might have been, is full of gold. And that is so worth it.
I then made the big move back to London in 2011 – I’ll tell you all about this in the next post.