At eight years old, life seems simple and fun; playing football is the aim of the day and spending time with friends seems to be the only responsibility you have on your plate. An acquired brain injury can shatter that ‘norm’ in an instant and change life forever.
In this honest and inspiring account of a young adult who has lived with his brain injury for 13 years, we find out that hopes and dreams still exist and goals can be achieved in abundance.
“I was eight years old when I had my accident. I played football and was captain of my school team and local community team. Like many little boys I dreamed of being a professional football player and my local team Derby County was my goal. I loved riding my bike and just doing what kids do; I didn’t know any different and never thought I would.
Then my accident happened and for many years I was angry and frustrated. I didn’t feel understood anymore and suddenly my life was full of people. I didn’t know why I needed them, they weren’t there before.
Nothing felt right
I didn’t know what rehabilitation was at first but it was tough. I was a child with all these adults around me telling me what to do. As I grew up things became harder. People kept telling me how good I had been before my accident and I knew I wasn’t the same as before which upset me. I needed help with everything, at a time when I should have been gaining independence. I always used to be able to feed and dress myself, why had that changed? My siblings made me angry too and they would be frustrated with me…nothing felt right.
Despite not liking all of these adults around me, I did like certain therapists who I could see were there to help me. My speech and language therapist was good. She helped me to understand what other people were saying when they said things like “it’s raining cats and dogs” – I thought this was real and not just a saying. She made sessions fun!
My physiotherapist helped me to walk again and supported me to strengthen my muscles and correct my foot which didn’t work in the same way as before. Our aim was to get me back to playing football.
I didn’t cope very well with therapists who looked too professional and still don’t today. I preferred people to dress in a relaxed way rather than carrying brief cases and looking like a professor!
Coping with being ‘different’
With all this going on in my life, growing up I felt the odd one out and I felt different. I would worry that people could see the differences in me all the time. I had a long time out of school during my recovery and when I went back I really struggled. I felt everyone, including my brothers, were moving on and I was stuck. I began to hate school because I was bullied for being different which was made worse by needing my own teaching assistant and a porta cabin where I could go to unwind and listen to music and work in peace. I was missing out and had no friends.
My behaviour therapist and case manager saw how upset this was making me and found me a new school placement that gave me opportunities to learn in more practical ways. I even worked on a farm looking after sheep and chickens and drive a tractor. I felt much calmer outdoors and achieved NVQ qualifications which I am really proud of.
As my recovery continued I tried to play football again but was told I was “too aggressive” so I was supported to change sport and started to play cricket. This was great and I realised I was really good. I won player of the year award when I played for my county’s disabled team and was selected for the England under 16 disabled team. I still play cricket locally today and have just passed my umpiring exams. When I wasn’t playing cricket back then I was on my X-Box of course!
As a young adult looking back, I am proud of how I have learned to control my anger. I have accepted that I have challenges and I know I can get easily overwhelmed by too much information and too many things happening at once. I now accept support from others and know what my limits are but the difference is as an adult I get to choose what I have support with and that makes me feel more in control. For example, I was supported to do three bush and craft survival courses at NVQ level and this helped me to realise strengths I didn’t know I had. Who’d have thought I’d be the fastest student to make a fire by bow drill and learn to forage for food, build shelters and keep myself safe. Finally I believed in myself again and having been told I would never drive a car, went on to pass my test and now have my own car.
Becoming me again
I now have a partner and am so proud to say I am a dad, two more things that never seemed possible back then. My hopes and dreams are for my son to be happy and not make mistakes and for me to be able to help and support him and others. I would like to be a mentor to others going through life following acquired brain injury and have dreams to run a small holding with chickens and a few goats.
My case manager and behaviour therapist from Bush & Company helped me be me again. They heard my voice and made things happen like school, college and work as well as understanding the emotions I was going through. They helped me to not only recognise my own behaviour but understand others. I know more about my brain injury now and I don’t know what I would have done without them. Today I don’t need them so much as I am more settled but it’s reassuring to know they are there if I need them and they believe in me.”