In January 2011 I suffered a TIA which affected the right hand side of my face.  Although doctors didn’t think this would happen again, in June 2011 I suffered a stroke.  This was found to be caused by the carotid artery.  I was taken to The City Hospital, Nottingham where scans and tests were undertaken.

In the blink of an eye I had lost my speech and movement of my right hand side, but I could understand what people said.  I was discharged from hospital with no support apart from my family.  We didn’t know what to do, what to expect or who to contact.

My GP referred me to a local hospital and also to physiotherapy.  I had been been at home for five months before my rehabilitation started.  I was sent to see a psychologist who felt they couldn’t help me, but they did provide the number of Headway Nottingham.  This is where my whole life changed, and my family got support and a better understanding of the effects of brain injury.

We were firstly visited by a member of the Headway Outreach Team.  They explained who they were and what they could do to support not just me, but also my family.

Due to my stroke I had stopped going out, stopped talking to people other than my family and centred everything on my home.  Telephone conversations were difficult due to my speech and my problems understanding information so I simply stopped answering the phone.

Prior to my stroke I was a tenant participation officer in the social housing sector.  As a senior officer my role was very high profile, both for the company and the community I worked in.  I gave presentations at national conferences, organised seminars and turned government white papers in to understandable documents.  I also trained community groups in the roles and responsibilities and charity law.  My life had suddenly done a complete flip and I didn’t understand letters sent to me on the simplest subjects.

Not only have my family had to accept and deal with these physical changes, but my personality changed too, and not always for the better.  My moods can switch from over-excited to angry and upset within moments.

When the outreach team visited I was told about the Centre they run at Headway Nottingham.  My initial reaction was “no way, that’s not for me”.  I didn’t accept my brain injury and lacked confidence going out of the house and meeting new people.  It would mean I had to talk, I didn’t talk!  It would mean that they saw my limp, my floppy foot and my stick.  I was too proud for that!  Every excuse under the sun came out of my mouth, really I was just scared.  The Outreach worker didn’t push me; things went at my pace, “baby steps”.

Eventually I had a trial visit, my partner supported me.  What a shock!  There were people there like me.  I found total acceptance and no expectations.  I now attend the Headway Centre twice a week.  My family said they could see the change in me within the first couple of months.  At first I didn’t talk much, now I’m probably one of the most talkative, because it doesn’t matter how long it takes me or if I use wrong words.  I love artwork, Headway encourages this, I hadn’t picked up a pencil since school but now I have won an award for it.  My confidence has grown, I have been encouraged to voice my opinion in workshops and been helped to believe that what I have to say is worth hearing.

I attend all workshops, mood management, cognitive therapy and understanding brain injury.  These have all raised my awareness and understanding of what’s happened and why things sometimes happen as they do.  This has positively impacted on my mental health; I’m more at ease with myself and accepting of my circumstances.  I’ve stopped comparing “now me” to “then me” which has made my life much happier.

With the support and encouragement of the staff I have started to look at my physical disabilities such as walking difficulties and have (nearly two years on) accepted a four wheel walker from the Falls Team, and that I need a wheelchair for longer journeys.  Before Headway I wanted nothing that made me stand out.  One of my biggest achievements was going on a day trip to Skegness with the Centre.  I’d gone from going abroad at every opportunity to going no further than my local shops so this was a big step.

I’ve made new friends who understand me; we even meet outside of the Centre and telephone each other.  I look forward to ‘my’ two days.  I have something to talk about with my family when I get home, rather than just listening to them.

So, it’s not just about Headway helping me with my benefits (of which I had no understanding), it’s about ME.  It’s about “my life now”; it’s about all aspects of my wellbeing, mentally and physically.  Without Headway Outreach and Centre where would I be right now?  Probably sitting in my house with nothing to say, no interests and still not accepting what happened to me.  Instead, I love my new life.  My lights have switched on and I enjoy everything.