Following a brain injury, many survivors report feelings of becoming a new person, as if they lost who they once were before. In fact, Headway’s A New Me campaign found that around three quarters of brain injury survivors experience this.
Mikey Smithson felt this way after a road traffic accident in 2015 left him with a traumatic brain injury.
He said: “From that moment my life changed completely for me, I had woken up from my coma a different person.
“Although I don’t remember my accident or being in hospital, I do know that I am not that same person I was before my accident. I had to relearn things over and over again and retrain my brain as it was like I went back to my teenage years.”
“I had to hop around on one leg for several months with double vision… It was a task and a half!” Mikey said. “But I was lucky enough to have my family around me to support me through this time.
“The last four years I have spent relearning the physical things I would have taken for granted like walking, eating and speaking.
Life now is about me accepting how to live with a hidden disability. It’s not easy for me as I am a young lad who doesn’t like to open up.
Despite his feelings of loss of self, Mikey was able to regain some elements of his old life – in particular, his interest in fitness.
He said: “In the last year or two I have only really started to become interested in fitness again as I lost all self-confidence and motivation after the accident, and this is still something I struggle with.”
Like many other brain injury survivors, Mikey found that exercise didn’t just help him physically, but mentally too.
“The effects of my brain injury have at times put me in really dark places and made me feel isolated, miserable and incapable of being a person,” said Mikey.
“But I’ve found that volunteering in the gym has helped me to build up my physical and mental health too.”
Despite the improvements Mikey’s made along his journey, the effects of his injury still present challenges every day.
He said: “I suffer badly with fatigue, so I found it really hard coming home and trying to function after a couple of hours in the gym.
“Fatigue can affect me in many ways, one of the biggest battles I face when I am fatigued is my mood. Fatigue can not only affect how tired I am but also my functioning and ability to concentrate.
“It can make group conversations very difficult for me.
I also find it hard to tell people I have a brain injury because I don’t want them to look at me as someone different or judge me.
“There have been times when people have said ‘you don’t have a disability, you look physically fine to me’. I still struggle with the hidden effects daily.”
Despite this, Mikey is determined to complete his final exam and qualify as a personal trainer.
“My goal is to one day become a personal trainer for people with brain injuries, as I think we will be able to relate to each other’s struggles.
“I hope to be able to offer people support, guidance and help with physical fitness, nutrition, motivation and mental health.
“I want to send a message out about how important it is for people with brain injuries to look after themselves physically and mentally.
I want to show other survivors that they can still pursue their goals.
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