Melanie Whittaker

"I try to be more positive about everything"

by Melanie Whittaker

Melanie Whittaker was 37 when she had a subarachnoid brain haemorrhage.

The aneurysm was successfully clipped, but after her brain injury Melanie no longer felt like the same person. Her career, social life, independence and plans for the future all changed.

Although Melanie believes her personality remains very much the same, she feels her life and the things she previously took for granted are not.

"It is true to say I feel like a new person following my brain injury. 

"My memory and concentration have been affected. 

"My divided attention is 'broken' so I get very overwhelmed in situations where there are multiple stimuli. My sense of taste is also gone.

"The difficulty is that I 'look' the same, so perhaps people do not realise the extent to which I have changed. 

"Sometimes my friends need to be reminded of my challenges as they are a bit oblivious and that can be upsetting or draining for me."

While Melanie, 43, may appear the same on the outside, her brain injury has had a huge impact on her daily life.

"My social life is very different now. 

"Places with lots of people are a total nightmare for me, unless I make massive adjustments. So supermarkets, bars, restaurants, clubs, going to gigs and seeing family are all a challenge.

"Driving was a large part of my previous job as a corporate account manager. Although I can do short trips now it still something I find difficult, as it takes lots of concentration and there is a lot of stimuli. 

"That has affected me greatly as I am the only driver in my household. Public transport is a huge issue too, as it is generally busy, multiple stimuli and not something I can easily do alone.

"My job has been massively affected. I work for the same organisation but my role is nothing like what I used to do. This has dramatically affected my income and therefore my family's lifestyle."

Not only is Melanie's current life very different from before, she feels the life she hoped for is no longer a possibility.

"My husband and I did not have children before my brain injury and for that I am now both sad and grateful as I don’t feel I would have been able to cope.

"How do you tell a child not to make noise or talk over each other?

"Dealing with friends and families' children can be a challenge for me and that is another thing I have to manage. 

"Now I am 43 so that will never be a part of our journey."

Melanie also struggled to get the support she needed after her personal independence payment, a type of benefit, was withdrawn. 

"People absolutely do not understand brain injury and it would definitely help if they did, especially government bodies.

"Headway helped me when my PiP was withdrawn and I had to go to a tribunal. I am massively grateful for their support and insight.

"I still only now receive the minimum mobility component but it’s not only about the money."

But Melanie says receiving PIP is about so much money more than money, as it enables her to access far more support.

She said: "It’s about the other support you get. I need to have people with me in unfamiliar situations or journeys.

"A lot of places where I receive assistance with my condition require you to show you are in receipt of PiP before they will assist.

"But it's now looking like I'll have to go through it all again which I'm dreading.

"Headway also gave me telephone support when I initially had my haemorrhage signposting me to places that could help."

But despite her brain injury creating new challenges, Melanie has found her own ways to cope with them. 

"Positively, I have discovered new skills and interests. 

"Having been unable to go to a gym to improve my fitness, I took up running.

"Going to the gym was impossible for me because of the multiple stimuli. There is music, the noise of the machines and sometimes there are exercise classes, which is all too much for my head.

"Now I am a leader in running fitness which means I can go out running with small groups, away from roads in the countryside.

"Often I will run either at the front or the back so I can manage my condition, as people tend to chat while running and this can be an issue. I’m also mental health ambassador for our local club, helping raise awareness and encouraging people to run. "

"On the anniversary of my brain injury I tend to have a quiet remembrance and go for a life affirming run.

As well as her new found love for running, Melanie's brain injury has led her to other new opportunities and interests.

"I have an allotment with a friend which keeps me calm and well fed.

"Somewhat strangely I have gained a talent for bird spotting. I think because my divided attention was badly affected I see all sorts.

"At work I was instrumental in setting up the Health and Wellbeing Team and I assist with recruitment and managing the volunteer health champions and various campaigns.

"All of this can be done from home and via Skype which means I can totally manage my condition.

Melanie has achieved some brilliant success after her brain injury - but she still has good days and bad days.

"Sometimes I feel positive about the future, sometimes not so much. 

"Like anyone I have good and bad days. 

"My independence has been most affected and as a fiercely independent person that was hard to accept.

"It knocks your confidence and makes you feel down.

"I try to be more positive about everything and live as best I can, as I am acutely aware that I nearly died and I am lucky to be here."