I’ve just finished an afternoon cooking with my dad. We’ve started doing this every two weeks, to help stock my fridge and freezer with healthy meals. It’s taken us a long time to get to this point and I’m so proud.
You see on 28th February 2018 my world changed forever as the back of my head hit the snowy platform at the train station. The ‘Beast From The East’ will evoke all sorts of memories for folks in the UK. For me it still sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear the words as it takes me straight back to those few life changing seconds. I was travelling to see my brother to get my hair cut and highlighted. As a nurse working crazy shifts it was really hard for us to get our diaries to match up enough for this rare annual event to happen. I’d planned my trip down to almost the last second, visiting places I loved and catching up with special friends... but then everything changed in an instant.
Still to this day I have no memory of what actually happened but I managed to find my way to the local A&E department and was told I had concussion and whiplash, otherwise known as a traumatic brain injury (TBI). I was given a leaflet about concussion by the doctor who told me to take pain relief and to return if I had any of the symptoms listed. There was no explanation of what to expect, so the next day when my neck pain was so bad I couldn’t get up off the sofa, I called 111 and found myself being rushed back to A&E. I was told this is standard for whiplash and had I not been warned the pain would get worse!
Anyway, me before this TBI was a registered nurse working in end of life care. I lived alone with my cat and loved travelling to visit the many friends I’ve made throughout my adult life so far working as a missionary, relief worker and latterly as a nurse. I had travelled, alone, to live in three East African countries before I even trained as a nurse and I loved it. I was fiercely independent and prided myself as such. When I wasn’t travelling around here there and everywhere, I was often caring for my mum in different ways as I had since my childhood. We just loved getting out whenever we could and having fun together. Even if mum couldn’t cope for very long, it was just great to get ‘out out’ as she would say. I was barely at home.
Life is very different now. As I write this, the fall I had was just over 2.5yrs ago. I am slowly beginning to realise just how much my world has changed and shrunk. Due to the level of fatigue I experience there are so many tasks that I used to take for granted but now find difficult; showering, cooking, baking, walking in local parks, enjoying photography, singing in the church Christmas choir, going out for dinner with my friends, driving where and when I wanted, shopping for what I wanted, just getting in the car and driving. My triggers are mostly adrenaline/emotions, noise, light, sudden changes and when I’m bad lots of movement. My symptoms are many, but to name a few; poor mobility, changed gait, foot drop, instantaneous ending of energy like a light switch, brain fog, difficulty processing anything, coordination, word finding, short term memory issues, headaches, neck pain, eye pain and something I can only describe as a shuddering brain when it reacts to certain noises. The list does go on!
I worked really hard to prove I could get back to work, but after the first few hours working on the ward my symptoms were severe. After two weeks of trying to prove I had tried ‘hard enough’, it became clear I needed to find a different kind of workplace and role. Many months later, after working still to prove myself worthy of a job in nursing, I reached the end of the road and my contract was terminated on health grounds. My world once more became unrecognisable.
This new world I now find myself in has me unemployed and fighting for disability status within the benefits system. Having to prove things I’m only just beginning to realise and accept. I also find myself relying on both my parents for their support in getting everyday activities done like shopping, cooking and regular errands. Thankfully my mum had an operation shortly before my fall that means she is now able to care for me. Quite a role reversal! She now takes me ‘out out’ for as long as I can cope. I did lose many friends initially, but those who have stayed for the party have shown me love and friendship I’d never understood before. I will never be able to thank them enough for all they’ve given me so far along this weird and wonderful journey. Who knew being vulnerable and asking for help/admitting I can’t do everything and don’t have everything together would be a game changer in my friendships? Who knew the one thing I prided myself on, not needing help and always being the fixer, was the one thing that held me back from fulfilling relationships with those I love?
So jobless, carless, unable to walk more than 150 metres on a good day and facing the end of my career as a nurse, I find myself not only relying on my family and friends to help carry me through stuff, but also leaning into God in ways I’d never dreamt of. I’ve been through many challenges; bullying throughout school, bullying in my dancing classes, almost dying of malaria, being bombed and evacuated from South Sudan, dealing with PTSD, a life changing back injury at work as a newly qualified nurse...
They all seem to have prepared me for this time and have shown me that there is hope. I could not have got this far without my faith in God or his love shown through the nature and the people he has placed around me.
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