Mother-of-two Emma Doherty turned to Headway’s Foyle Outreach Group for support shortly after discharge from hospital in 2017. She had been a passenger in a road traffic collision, sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury that left her with ongoing effects.
“My brain injury was mainly to the frontal lobes which means that executive functions such as planning and problem solving are challenging,” explained Emma. "My attention span and initiation of tasks (my ‘get up and go’) is severely reduced.
“I also have problems with fatigue, with my memory and sensitivity to noise; not easy as a mother to two boisterous young boys. Day-to-day living is extremely challenging, and I feel like a very different person living with my brain injury.
“The effects cluster together which means that daily tasks such as looking after my home, preparing meals, and even some simple things like following a TV show are difficult.
I try to be as positive as possible, and I see myself as being extremely lucky. This might sound strange, but the potential damage could have been so much worse and I’m grateful that there was a limited effect on my mobility and communication skills.
Emma found adapting to life after brain injury very isolating, and because she was unable to work or drive, became increasingly lonely. Discovering Headway in the early stages gave her the chance to meet others who had been through a similar experience while accessing support from the knowledgeable staff.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Headway's face-to-face services were withdrawn, but the Headway in Northern Ireland team quickly set up remote support sessions over Zoom to continue supporting people through this hugely difficult time.
"The remote support allowed us to keep in touch and to take part in activities during a period of our lives filled with a lot of uncertainty and anxiety," said Emma.
"In a world where everything seemed to shut down and a lot of services and social activities were no longer available to me, I loved that the service provided by Headway was a constant and continued throughout the pandemic and all the resulting lockdowns."
Like many Headway service users in Northern Ireland, Emma now attends face-to-face meetings since they reopened, but still sees the ongoing remote support sessions as a valuable service that she will continue to access.
She said: "Although I very much enjoy the in-person meetings, I feel the virtual programme also brings benefits such as allowing me to get to know more members from a wider geographical area and to take part in a wider range of activities.
"I love Headway. I knew very little about brain injuries before I got mine and gained so much from meeting up with people who understand and are able to give support, advice and friendship.
"It is also great fun and I have been given the opportunity to take part in a wide range of activities which I may not have been able to if it had not been for Headway. The staff members are incredible too, they are a very caring and helpful bunch always willing to offer help, support or a listening ear.
"To anyone else with a brain injury my advice would be to take as much help as you can as soon as you can.
Early on in my brain injury journey I may have been guilty of trying to do everything myself, and then I would get frustrated if I made mistakes. Recently I have learned to take advice or assistance when offered and to ask for help when needed.
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