"Six years ago, as a result of a whitewater kayaking accident, I acquired a brain injury.
"My identity disappeared. I had amnesia, no language, no thoughts, no sense of time. My sensory input meter was jammed on overdrive, I became slow, I misjudged things physically and socially.
"Re-learning of such basic skills as the alphabet and counting, language and behaviour), left me with anxiety and depression.
"Life is still a challenge and sometimes a struggle but with progress. I have a kind and patient husband, two very supportive daughters, a forgiving and loving dog; I have a phone full of apps to assist me, helpful neighbours, a support group, therapists, colleagues.
"From the outside, until I communicate or walk, you would have no idea my poor brain struggles.
But here I am and, if you are lucky, you might get to know the hidden me :-)
When you scowled at me on the bus, what did you see?
A person clearly undeserving of the seats for disability?
That I should stand? Or sit at the back? That others are more needing?
That I must come from arrogant stock, bad manners and bad breeding?
If I could, I would. You don’t understand,
Being needing of accessibility wasn’t in my life plan.
Was it a particular sort of disabled - how do you wanted me to look?
All my limbs amputated, a crash helmet, and eating my colouring book?
What you are failing to judge me on is the hidden me.
You won’t be able to spot my symptoms of brain injury.
That you are challenging me now is why I prefer to stay home,
Than deal with the public as well as my brain injury syndrome.
When I awake to a new day with its challenges ahead,
I want to fall back asleep, delay waking, stay hidden in my bed.
Depression is the first thing I must conquer and be strong,
Paint on a face that shows the world nothing is wrong.
I must follow my lists of how each day should begin.
You can’t tell but my brain has faulty executive processing.
Without my lists I have forgotten toileting, eating even dressing,
When to leave the house and other actions equally pressing.
And things often go wrong with my deportment and balance,
My judgement of proximity is not one of my talents.
I am as likely to walk into a door frame as the gap in the middle,
Or not notice a trip hazard and go down like a skittle.
I see people I know, walk past and forget I need to acknowledge them,
I interrupt or walk away in the middle of conversations.
I get easily angry and impatient, I offend and confuse,
Cry or laugh at odd times and unintentionally amuse.
The attention I give is often a small fraction,
Because of my painfully high levels of distraction.
I used to hold an audience with my quick-witted repartee,
I used to present intellectual challenges with my academic degree.
But now in company when I open my mouth to speak,
People shuffle uncomfortably, fidget and their faces turn bleak.
They don’t want to comment and I feel I need to explain,
The problem is not them, it is me and this stupid brain.
“Oh” they say, but I “look normal” or “gosh, we can’t tell”,
That they “had no idea” I had a brain injury and that I’m “doing so well”.
This non-complement fails to acknowledge my struggle, my difficulties to survive,
And that most moments each day are a struggle to thrive.
I know that you can’t tell the effort I’m making,
That I seem like everyone else, that you can’t tell I am faking.
I use technology and gadgets and widgets to cope,
And the assistance of charities and support groups to give me hope.
I consider the day when it is over and mark myself out of ten,
And know in the morning I’ll have to do it all again.
This exhausting treadmill feels like a criminal punishment assignment,
The isolation I experience is like solitary confinement.
I disembark with when the driver prompts me, and I say thank you and wave,
I breathe through anxiety: “I am ok, I will continue to be brave.”
Fellow passenger please remember that it matters what you say and do,
And that one day, any day, this could happen to you.
By Stef Harvey, Client of Headway Hertfordshire.
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