Ok I will finish my brain injury story but I have been asked to give a talk on employment after brain injury in September and it’s something I’m thinking about so I thought I’d write about that.
I’d like to stress how lucky I am as someone who has survived a serious brain injury to be in a position where many forms of work are now an option to me. The after effects of traumatic brain injury can be so severe that the person may never recover to that level. If they are lucky however there will come a time where they want to stop taking from life in the form of rehabilitation and want to give something back, if for nothing else to make themselves feel worthwhile. This is just my version of events:
All I’ve wanted to do since 2007 is get back to work, I’ve found it difficult to fit in and always seen work as my key to socializing with other ‘normal people’. That’s because work is something everyone has in common; everyone has a job. It’s the safe question that you can ask anyone to make conversation on meeting someone for the first time, “What do you do?” It’s a safe question to ask except if you’re talking to Brooke Trotter of course as it’s a question that I’ve lived in fear of for a long time! My response is always a long-winded answer beginning with “Errrm..” along with going bright red! ☺ its something I’ve been very uncomfortable about for years now.
I’ve always been so ashamed of the fact I was unemployed and it remains something that I battle with even now 9 years on. Although when I write a page of this blog, concentrating for a 45 minutes and I have to sleep for an hour, I am reminded why I don’t work 40 hours a week! I’m still constantly going through the cycle of doing something involving using my brain, becoming exhausted, getting stressed that I can’t do it which tires me even more, falling asleep then forgetting the whole thing entirely! Not exactly the skills needed for a successful career working in air traffic control at Heathrow or doing anything at all responsible are they!
In terms of recovery there’s no doubt that it has got infinitely better since those days before I had any support. Back then my time consisted of watching half an hour of of TV then shuffling to bed exhausted to sleep for the next hour before doing it all again. Facebook was just kicking off at that time I would sit on my laptop scrolling through the pictures of people enjoying themselves and thinking about how much better everyone else’s life was than mine (admit it, people never advertise anything mundane in their life!). Everyone seemed to be succeeding in life, meanwhile all I succeeded in was predicting the outcome of one of Jeremy Kyle’s Lie Detector Tests! Although in my defence I was bloody good at it!
After you have had a serious brain injury one of the first things to happen is that all responsibility is taken away from you, which is definitely the right thing to do! I couldn’t handle any amount of stress and even 9 years on it is something I massively struggle with. I was not fit for any type of responsibility for a long time but as my brain healed I started to gain awareness of my situation.
For so long my only responsibility in life was to get myself well again. I was always convinced that one day I would make a full recovery but in the meantime my lack of responsibility really bothered me. How could I fit back in with society if I had no job let alone any responsibility in my life? It seemed like such a massive mountain to climb! I was aware that I could not manage to work a full day but I wanted to do something. During my recovery I had seen different friends get married, have kids, buy a home, get promoted in their work. I had learned to speak better and to write things down so I wouldn’t forget them. I was single with double vision, couldn’t get through a day without at least two power naps and I had a traumatic brain injury. It’s true I felt like an absolute legend! Haha form an orderly queue ladies!
I started to begin to break away from being cared for and to seek my independence. I thought what the hell could I could do with my life, was I destined to be an invalid forever with zero independence? I wouldn’t be able to manage a degree and work my way up that way, I couldn’t manage the study especially when I didn’t have the concentration span to watch an entire episode of Sponge Bob Squarepants.
For a while I wanted to become a personal trainer, I had gained a lot in my recovery from fitness and I wanted to give that to others to help in their recovery. I did a course at Yorkshire Coast College in Scarborough to become a level 2 gym instructor and I even went to an open day at Salford University to look at doing a degree in Health and Fitness. I ended up struggling through an online level 3 gym instructor course for a while before realising the fitness industry wasn’t for me when I was asked to do an all day assessment. I couldn’t do ‘all day’ and I offered to do a morning one week and an afternoon the next. When they refused, my first reaction was ‘they can’t do that it’s disability discrimination!’ But over the next week I thought about it and decided I couldn’t really be bothered.
So back to square one, what was I going to do with my life? I was constantly frustrated by public ignorance towards brain injury even though I had never even heard of one before having one. I was sick of people thinking I was drunk or stupid. One Sunday when I was full of frustration I sat down and started writing with no plan. I had been asked to write something called a blog, a girl called Claire in London kindly set me up a blog site and I started putting it on there. I made myself a Facebook page and posted it on there. I did another then another, I started getting some great feedback with people private messaging the page and asking me advice! Me give advice? You’re having a laugh aren’t you, that’s for experts! I hate it when people give advice who aren’t qualified to do so but I suppose over the last 9 years I have accumulated quite a bit of knowledge and experience mainly through doing things wrong! I’d like to think that I could turn all those mistakes into a positive by helping others going through the recovery process in a non-patronising way of course!
Wanting to take the blog a step further and craving the kind of respect I had for my mates’ achievements, I announced that I was going to do something brave that I and lots of other people consider their worst nightmare: I was going to give a talk on my experiences to an audience. The first talk was for Headway East Coast in Scarborough and since then I have spoken at conferences, charity events in Yorkshire, Manchester and Merseyside. Most recently I have been talking to years 11 and 12 students AKA ‘new drivers’ about the possible consequences of driving without due care and attention. Starting in September I am going to be working with West Yorkshire Fire Service presenting a Road Safety talk to Students in Wakefield College. It’s an area with high collisions involving young drivers. This is my first proper job! Well I’m not getting paid for it but it will come with job satisfaction and if we prevent a family going through tragedy then isn’t that better than any amount of money!
So I don’t have an exact plan of what I’m gonna do or where this is going to go, I’m not that organized! But for now, I’m much happier than the days of predicting the outcome of Jeremy Kyle’s lie detector. I’m not suggesting for a minute that that the only route for someone recovering from a brain injury is blogging and public speaking! I am just saying that has worked for me. I suffer issues with fatigue and it is something I can do that doesn’t involve working for hours at a time. I mentioned at the start that when you have a brain injury then you are alleviated of all responsibility this is a good thing because your brain cannot cope with responsibility on any level. If like me you are lucky enough to become aware of your situation you will, progress past this stage and crave that responsibility back on some level. Everyone needs some sort and form of employment to feel that you make a difference in the world no matter how small. A one hour shift working in a charity shop can be equivalent to an eight hour shift on a building site, it’s all relative to the individual person. I’ve learned that in theory I shouldn’t compare myself to others, I am not inferior I’m just different! If you can do this then you’re better than me!
Please share your experiences, what has worked and what hasn’t and any amusing stories regarding employment after brain injury in the comments below. Thanks for reading!