When Paul Leyland, 56 and from Wellington, in Somerset, suffered a stroke while on holiday in August 2012, the multi-media expert was thrown into a world of brain injury which he describes as 'an alien planet'. Not only was Paul's vision and emotions severely affected, but he was also left with long-term numbness down the left-hand side of his body that still challenges him today.
Having rebuild his life with support from Headway Somerset, Paul has now set up a support group to help others affected by stroke and encourages others to seek help from Headway services such as the HealthUnlocked online support forum.
"My vacation in Cornwall took a dark turn," Paul recalled.
"I'd been enjoying the last day of being on holiday with my family when I decided to stop off at Tesco supermarket for a cooked breakfast. Something in my head registered that I was having a stroke as I recognised the symptoms. I could feel a kind of numbness and weakness spreading inside my body and became very unsteady. I couldn’t imagine what else it could have been."
Fortunately, Paul's family was able to help him to the supermarket, where staff called for an ambulance and he was rushed to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske to receive emergency treatment.
“After five days in hospital I was discharged, though the journey home was quite surreal," Paul continued. "I had lost a certain amount of sight in the top left-hand corner of my eyes as a result of the stroke but my injured brain was filling in the blanks, which made everything seem slightly distorted.
“When I got home, I remember resting for a while but I had an unnerving sense of being in an alien body as I didn't feel like 'me'. It was like coming around to consciousness and being a different person – quite a strange sensation. My emotions and how I perceived things also changed after my stroke.
“Even though my fingers and thumbs seemed to be working, getting fit again – not that I was fit before my injury! – was difficult. I did not lose feeling in my limbs entirely, but I was left with a long-term numbness down the left-hand side of my body, which still remains today. It's very strange and almost akin to the feeling of a dental injection."
Homesickness for my old sense of self
“The hidden effects of my stroke are just as disconcerting as the physical, if not more so. I often feel odd sensations of homesickness and loneliness. I think the feelings of homesickness come from a yearning to be back in my old body and back in my old reality.
“There is a kind of stone disconnect from my new world that is hard to describe – a kind of dreamlike numbness that makes me feel as though I am not really here.
“Today, if I am walking down a road or through a field, it feels almost like a sense of de-ja-vu – like I’ve been there before – as it feels familiar and unfamiliar all at the same time. I will know the route, but various points along the way will feel alien and slightly out of place to me. There is a sense of being in an alien world."
HealthUnlocked has proved invaluable
Paul soon turned to Headway Somerset for support with managing the long-term effects of his brain injury.
He added: “I spoke with Ali Bazely, Network Support Coordinator for Headway in the South West of England, and she invited me along to Headway Somerset’s outreach group in Yeovil to speak with people who have encountered similar experiences.
“The social media support forum, HealthUnlocked, also proved invaluable to my recovery. The online nature of the forum allows people to share their experiences with others similarly affected across the country quickly and without judgement."
Before his stroke, Paul ran a media production consultancy firm. His job involved organising a social enterprise programme working with a wide variety of individuals and groups, which included people with mental health problems through to young offenders and the homeless.
The programme was designed to help people explore and share their experiences to increase awareness and help to break down stigmas.
“Following my stroke, I decided to turn the camera onto myself to raise awareness of how strokes can affect the brain and change a person’s sense of identity,” said Paul.
"In recent months, I have been working on a creative project to explore the effects of brain injury with a group of stroke survivors to investigate how people affected process and express the daily challenges they face after a stroke.
"The initiative is designed to help stroke survivors come to terms with what has happened to their brains, and help their families and friends to understand the impact such injuries can have upon every aspect of a person’s daily life."
You can watch Paul's excellent video below. Please note it contains flashing images that may be unsuitable for some people.
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