Hello. I am a new trustee for the Head Injured People (HIP) in Cheshire (since March 2014). My brief personal background is that I am a retired police officer, having served with Cheshire Police for 28 years. As a police officer I undertook a range of operational policing roles, both within uniform and crime investigation areas.
I also undertook specialist strategic roles and have experience of; project and programme management in relation to enterprise wide IT system implementation, Performance Management and Best Value programmes, strategic development of service improvement delivery, performance measurement and information / intelligence management. I acquired my brain injury (ABI) while on duty in a car crash in June 2009 and the resulting impact of the ABI injuries resulted in the end of my career and the opening up of a whole new chapter of challenges.
I live with my partner, Tina, in central Cheshire and our 4 children (aged 17 — 7 years).
My objective as a HIP trustee is to support the charity in continuing to develop an excellent level of support to all of our members, their carers and families.
My ABI Journey
Everyone who survives a brain injury will have a uniquely challenging journey ahead of them. I see mine as a four stage trip from; awareness to acceptance to adjustment to advancement.
After the car crash I knew I'd been bashed up a bit. My head was sore and swollen (left temporal lobe area mainly), plus numerous other cuts, bruises, aches and pains too numerous to mention. I'd been hurt at work before so wasn't too concerned and really believed I'd be back at work in a week or so.
However after a few days it dawned on me that odd things were happening. I was struggling to talk properly and sounded like I was drunk, slurring words, couldn't find the word I wanted or saying a different word rather than the one I'd thought of. I was also tired all the time, intolerant to bright lights and noise. I didn't seem to be able to organise myself. I lacked energy, fell asleep at the drop of a hat, had a persistent headache that no painkiller could reduce and I had become very forgetful. I felt overloaded and strangely disconnected from the world around me — everything was the same but oddly different. I had an overwhelming sense of loss and isolation.
My GP said this was not unusual with a brain injury and that I should be OK after a 'few' weeks', but perhaps not quite the same as I was before. I was reassured to a point, felt some awareness that my brain was not functioning as it used to but still believed I'd recover and be back at work in month or so.
However as the months passed by I didn't seem to be getting any better. My initial optimism about recovering from my ABI became frustration and then disillusionment. Even though I tried every way I could think of to conquer this brain injury challenge it seemed to beat me every time. My problems persisted. In fact the harder I tried to defeat them the worse I seemed to become. I became increasingly run-down, 'flu' like and unwell. My previously positive and motivated self became gloomy and depressed. A return to my old self and career seemed a long way off.
After 10 months, numerous medical assessments and a course of CBT treatment I was lucky enough to be referred to the Community ABI Service based at the Countess of Chester Hospital site and met the excellent neuropsychology specialist team that work there. It was only after a series of exhausting tests over a 6 month period that the full nature and extent of my brain injury became apparent to me. This was an important milestone on my journey. I accepted my professional career was ended. I started to realise that an ABI stays with you for life and I would have to accept that fact if I wanted to make any real progress in dealing with the condition. To be honest getting to a real acceptance of my ABI has taken years to achieve and I still have to remind myself not to battle my condition but rather to work with it to my advantage.
Initially I tried to use my personal drive and motivation to carry on as normal to beat the negative effects of an ABI — but this just worked against me, making me more tired, irritable, frustrated and despondent, Progression towards well-being and an improved quality of life for me has involved making many life adjustments. Thankfully I've had the opportunity, via the ABI Service, to learn a lot more about brain injury and this knowledge has been the basis for successfully making adjustments. In particular I've learned about; how the brain works, the common effects of brain injury, how to better manage lifestyle to counter fatigue, how to stay positive, how to improve memory and the value of support from others. Putting this theory into practice has taken some time, but by making adjustments to daily life (keeping lists of things to do, actively listening, adopting routines), taking more time for self-care and 'working at resting' I've been able to take small steps towards an improved quality of life. As well as the valuable insight and advice from medically qualified experts, some of the best tips for improving my life have come from those who are experts by experience, i.e. those who have been through an ABI experience themselves.
So what does the future hold? Firstly I've come to appreciate how lucky in many ways I've been. It could have been far worse. I'm still alive and kicking. I have extra time with my family that otherwise I might have missed out on. I have time to enjoy the outdoors and reflect on life and self.
I also wanted to fill the void left by the end of my career. I missed not working in a professional rewarding role anymore, plus wanted to try and pay back in some way the help and support I'd been given over the years.So I explored options for working in the so called 'third sector' and was fortunate enough to be elected as a governor at my son's primary school and then as a Governor for the Cheshire and Wirral NHS Foundation Trust.
As my role with the NHS comes to an end in November 2014 I was delighted to be successful in my application to become a trustee for our charity, Head Injured People in Cheshire, which I joined as a member in 2011. I had already met many brain injury survivors and have always drawn inspiration and hope from my conversations with people who have experience and insight into living with brain injury. It's one of the few times that I feel I am talking to someone who can understand my world and connect with me on a level that provides me with reassurance, new ways of coping and inspires me to carry on.
Thank you for taking the time and trouble to read about me and my journey with a brain injury. I'm looking forward to meeting many more of you into the future as we continue to develop the support offered by HIP to brain injury survivors, their carers and families.