After Belinda Medlock sustained a brain injury in 2015, she found that the majority of her time was spent indoors, trying to get to grips with the effects of her injury and isolating herself from the world outside.
As part of Headway's A life of lockdown? campaign during Action for Brain Injury Week 2021, Belinda shares her perspectives on isolation after brain injury, which has led her to understand the vital importance of support from family and friends.
"The isolation I’ve felt since my stroke was difficult to get my head around at first. I had to spend a lot of time alone in silence to try to manage the sensory overload and neuro-fatigue that affects me daily.
"I spent quite a lot of time at first feeling frustrated, cross and sad, but eventually I realised that those emotions use up too much precious energy. I’ve found ways of coping and learned not to be angry about it. It’s taken a complete change in mindset, and I’ve found coping mechanisms that work for me.
"My main link to the outside world is social media and messaging, although there are days when fatigue is at its worst and I’m unable to read and write. It’s like riding a wave but it passes eventually.
"Over the years, I’ve realised that I can be happy pottering at home on my own and have a new love and appreciation of the small things around me - my garden in particular, but also colouring and painting things.
"There’s no need for rushing when it’s just me at home and I think that’s a blessing as my speed of processing is a lot slower than it used to be. I take time to do things that used to be done in one go, and that helps pass the days too.
"I’ve found that doing things that make me smile and laugh keeps me happy, anything really, like getting dressed up to watch a film. It might sound silly to some, but I think this last year has made me realise that everyone does what they need to be okay, and that’s my way.
"Of course, there are days when I feel sad and angry because I feel like the world is going by without me and that I’m missing out. There’s nothing I can do about that, and I acknowledge those feelings and let them ride out. I feel that it’s important to understand that these are normal feelings and I don’t try to suppress them.
"My family and friends are a great support. I’m very lucky, I know that many don’t have that support or understanding. Over the years they’ve understood more and keep in touch and invite me to do things with them. They’re not offended if I’m not able to say yes, and they always keep asking me, which has been so important in helping me to not feel so alone.
"It was the lack of understanding that I found most difficult. For a long time, I think people thought I isolated myself due to anxiety. But as time has gone by people understand that it’s the effects of my brain injury that restrict me, such as my cognitive functioning and sensory overload.
"I would say to anyone who is isolated after a brain injury to talk to friends and family and explain why it is that you feel isolated. Read other people’s experiences, I’ve found that there are always others out there who are experiencing the same as you are. Share these written experiences with family and friends, it might help them to understand better.
"For family and friends, I would encourage them to let their loved one talk and to please listen to how they feel. Brain injury is so complex and someone who is isolated because of it really does need your support and understanding.
"Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of awareness raised about the negative effects of isolation and the damage it can do to a person’s mental health and wellbeing.
"Unfortunately for brain injury survivors, isolation is very common and is often long-term, due to the ongoing effects of the injury and a lack of understanding in how to support them.
"As we emerge from lockdown, isolation for many survivors will continue. It’s more important than ever to be aware of the implications that come with a brain injury, and that we find the right support. I’m hopeful that some good will come from this and that more support will be given.
To be honest my life has not been that much different during lockdown and I think I’ve coped well with being home alone. The one thing I’ll take from this last year is that I’m okay with my life. It’s not easy and it is lonely a lot of the time, but I deal with what it throws at me in my own way, the best way I can.
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