For people living with the long-term effects of brain injury, the idea of dating can be a daunting and challenging prospect.
Common concerns include things such as how to go about meeting someone new, whether and when to tell a date about the brain injury and whether it is still safe to even have sex.
Brain injury survivors also mention the difficulties of dating when they have memory issues, low confidence and communication problems.
Brain injury survivor Kathryn, 60, found dating and intimacy very challenging following her haemorrhage but explains that with time, and after many emotional highs and lows, she was able to again meet people.
Kathryn sustained her brain injury in 2015, when out of a blue, and without any previous symptoms, was struck down by a subarachnoid haemorrhage, caused by a ruptured aneurysm.
“I had recently separated from my partner when it happened,” recalled Kathryn. “We had been together for a year but decided to take a break to reflect on our future together, although we were still talking regularly.
“That morning I phoned him and we were chatting normally. “I remember saying en route to the kitchen that I felt a little strange, as if my life-force was draining out of me, and my head felt woozy.
I then said ‘I feel really ill, call an ambulance’. I remember nothing after that.
“Apparently my speech became slurred and I was making no sense, as if I had had a stroke and was unable to converse. He heard me collapse and go into seizure.”
Kathryn’s ex-boyfriend phoned an ambulance and she was transferred to hospital for emergency surgery.
After a number of operations, including two to clear blood clots that had formed behind her retinas due to haemorrhages in each eye, Kathryn slowly began to recover.
However, she was left with a host of issues including partial vision, speech and walking problems, cognitive impairment, acute fatigue, anxiety and low-self esteem.
Kathryn said: “It was an arduous journey to recover enough to get home and it took its toll on me mentally, physically and emotionally.
“This emotional impact got even worse when I returned home. A week after I had been back, my ex-boyfriend walked out on me completely and I never saw him again.”
This rejection hit Kathryn hard and she felt very isolated as she tried to come to terms with the effects of her brain injury.
She said: “I felt very alone at this time. My main support was my sister who lived 90 minutes away from me.
“She was in no state to help me though as her husband had died four days after my haemorrhage.”
As the weeks turned into months, Kathryn suffered many emotional lows.
She said: “I became anxious, frightened and just shut down. I started to believe I would be alone for the rest of my life.
“I never thought I would have the confidence to love, to share, to be a partner in anyway and especially expose my broken body and all its new disabilities, along with my weight gain, to someone new.
“I doubted if I would have enough energy for an intimate relationship.”
Kathryn said it took three years until this situation changed.
She said: “I just suddenly decided ‘I am worth more than this,’ so I went on an internet dating site and posted a profile.
“I had a reply within a matter of minutes and had a lovely evening chatting to a nice guy. It broke me in gently, giving me confidence to act more feminine and to begin to enjoy flirting again.
“It was nice to speak to someone who was attracted to me and the experience gave me a boost. I knew the old Kathryn was still there and it once again felt so easy.
“I subsequently went on two more dates, with two separate men, but I was not interested in either. One of them did want to date me though.
“On both occasions I felt it was important they got to see and know me, not my disabilities, so I didn't tell them what had been happening in my life.”
Kathryn was encouraged by her dates and felt her confidence again slowly coming back.
Shortly she met another guy online who was to become her boyfriend.
She said: “We spoke a lot on the phone, chatting for hours and hours at a time.
“I told him everything that had happened to me and he was nothing but kind, empathetic, and a fantastic listener - I just let it all out. That had such an impact on both of us.
“Sometimes you don’t want advice; you just need someone to listen. He was great at that.”
It wasn’t long until the pair met up in person. To help make the date as easy as possible, she put in place some simple steps.
She said: “Our first meet up was in a local bar. We had something to eat and a drink, and then he drove us to a local park and we sat watching the world go by for a short time.
“This all required strategic planning on my part. Obviously, I had to arrive in a taxi which still meant overcoming a number of tasks I find difficult these days, such as paying for the taxi, working out the cash payment, undoing my seat belt, and walking into the bar.
“I made sure I got there as early as possible so I had time to relax before he arrived. I picked a table position I felt comfortable with, in a bar I know is quiet on a Sunday afternoon.
“I also made sure the table was near the toilets so I didn’t need to walk far."
Kathryn also took some simple steps to make sure she didn’t jeopardise her safety.
She said: “The first time I met him I made sure that he dropped me off at a pub near my house, as I didn’t want him to know where I lived until I could trust him, and I got a taxi home from there.”
The couple have now been together for six months and their relationship is slowly getting stronger.
Kathryn said: “Dating still brings all the usual difficulties, but I feel wanted at least.
“I feel more normal and it’s lovely to be with someone who accepts the effects of my brain injury.
“I’m only seeing him once a week, due in part to him living a distance away and his work restrictions, but daily phone calls have brought me some joy.”
Kathryn said she understood why brain injury survivors might be scared of dating or starting a relationship with someone.
She said: “I know what it’s like to be scared, to put yourself out there again but life is for living and you have to stay positive.
“No matter what happens, finding joy in whatever small packages they come in is essential.
“Living with a brain injury is hard, there are plenty of setbacks, and some days you will feel you cannot leave the house or face anything.
“But you have to keep going and find the positives. When you are ready, and as long as you have control, you should take the brave step of letting someone into your life.”
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