A 44-year-old former Intensive Care Nurse from Bilborough is supporting a campaign to reduce loneliness amongst people with disabilities after a freak accident left her feeling completely isolated.

In 2015, Candice Ridley was admitted to hospital after slipping and hitting her head in the shower.  What followed was a whirlwind of seemingly endless hospital visits and an eight-week admission as Doctors fought to address her worsening, life-changing disabilities. 

“If I compare what I was like working in intensive care to how I am now, it’s two different people. My life is completely different and it’s hard to even think about…  When the accident happened, the whole weight of my fall was my head smashing the side of the bath.  I lay unable to move, my body was paralysed so I couldn’t feel anything from my head down.

“I basically had to start my life again, but because I’d recently moved to Nottingham, without friends or family close by to support me. I felt completely alone and terrified by the simple things I was struggling with – walking, talking, understanding the world around me and taking care of myself.  I imagined my future in a wheelchair and couldn’t comprehend how I could live as the new me, when I’d been so used to supporting other people as they fought for their lives.

“Five years ago I lost every ability I had.  My world went from being a big open space where there were no walls or limitations.  I could fly to my family in South Africa. I could walk, abseil, swim, go to a restaurant whether there were upstairs or downstairs toilets, I could socialise with whoever, however, there were no limits on my world. Then all of a sudden my life went from a wide open world to a world within a shoebox.  Over the years I’ve learned to decorate my little shoebox and be okay with it, and now because of Covid and lockdown that shoebox has been squashed.  It’s felt like now I have nothing – the little bit of independence I had has been taken away – the only thing left of my former life.”

Candice is now supporting a campaign by local charity, Headway Nottingham to increase understanding and awareness of brain injury in order to reduce the social isolation that can result from it.

Headway Nottingham’s Services Manager, Charlotte Leask explains:

“Much like the restrictions we all saw as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, brain injury usually strikes suddenly, without warning and can affect any one of us.  At Headway Nottingham we understand that each person supported by our service has been through the most traumatic experiences most of us could imagine, and have often battled to regain the physical and cognitive abilities and life skills they currently have.  We are fortunate in Nottingham to benefit from incredible medical care, saving the lives of people who wouldn’t have survived their injuries previously. Whilst this is amazing, Headway Nottingham is the only local service that works over the long term to help each person adjust to life with new disabilities and learn to get to know and love the ‘new them’.

“Life after brain injury can be lonely – simple tasks like popping to the shops can become overstimulating and frightening due to memory loss and cognitive difficulties.  Behaviours and personalities can also change beyond recognition and people may not be able to keep themselves safe as they once had.  Although someone’s disabilities maybe ‘invisible’ to the outside world, friendship groups can dissipate and difficulties in communication mean people often feel misunderstood even by the support systems in place to support them.

“Much like lockdown, brain injury can be tremendously isolating and lonely.  Headway Nottingham provides a sense of friendship and understanding whilst supporting people to relearn skills and strategies to meet practical needs and keep themselves safe. When Covid-19 hit we quickly adapted our services to support people remotely with welfare calls, activity packs, online workshops and social opportunities, but as important as this is, it’s really a sticking plaster for the gaping hole that the temporary closure of our centre has left in terms of practical rehabilitation, friendship and understanding. Our team has battled hard to support our clients to avoid deteriorating mental health and regressions in the rehabilitative progress they have made. 

"Covid has been very tough for everyone, but the large-scale closure of support services that our clients rely on has had a significant and damaging impact on the lives of local people with disabilities. We’re urging our community to be aware of the impact of brain injury in Nottingham.  Please consider that as many of us feel relief as Covid restrictions ease, people living with the effects of brain injury can be facing a lifetime of isolation unless they access the brain injury specific support they need.  Reach out and spread the news that we’re here to help.”

Headway Nottingham supports 100 people a week from across Nottingham city and county, and looks forward to reopening their doors this Summer.  Candice has been supported by the charity for the last five years. 

I already felt so lonely in the world as a brain injury survivor… I didn’t have any way of relating to the world and still don’t. But Headway was a lifeline. Headway understand you, and you are supported at the level of need you have. I love coming here [to Headway] because I feel like I’m at home.

"When I’m not here... I’m having to try and be something that’s not easy for me at all. I’m having to force myself to still fit into society and I’m not fitting in because I don’t understand people and they don’t understand me. It is incredibly difficult and sometimes I just want to stop trying. Now I’m learning to say ‘yes I have a brain injury please be patient.  I look normal, I can sound normal, but I might struggle with what you’re saying’. 

“I have crafts that I can do at home but at Headway it was directed. Aside from the guided sessions run online by Headway I’ve had no directed creative sessions whereas at Headway it was carefully done to meet individual’s needs… I miss that so much. It was encouraging and positive.  Over lockdown I’ve completely stagnated, in fact I think I’ve gone 100 steps backwards.  In any of the rehabilitation that had happened over the last five years at Headway and all the progress I thought I’d made has fallen into a stagnant pond and has been overcome by mould.  Whether the progress is still embedded somewhere in my brain and my body and my motor functions and my skill functions, time will tell. 

“I’m most looking forward to getting a hug.  I’m concerned that I can’t look forward because of the changes that keep occurring to restrictions.  But what I’m most looking forward to is getting a hug and just being at Headway to be with my fellow folk, to be with my family.  To see faces, to see people and hear conversations and laughter. I’m looking forward to having stimulation and structure again.”

If you or someone you know needs help...

Headway Nottingham is available to support people through the difficulties and disabilities that brain injury can bring.  Support their campaign by visiting headwaynottingham.or.uk/event/abiweek.  If you or someone you know needs support after a brain injury call the team at Headway Nottingham on 0115 9679669 or email [email protected].

Note to editors

Headway Nottingham is the only long-term brain injury rehabilitation and support day centre covering Nottingham’s city and county (registered charity no. 1088685). The charity provides rehabilitation, support and respite for people with brain injuries, their families and carers.

Key facts

  • Every 90 seconds someone in the UK is admitted to hospital following a brain injury.
  • Brain injury can impact on every aspects of someone’s life and take away everything that they took for granted about their abilities. People with brain injuries experience disproportionately high levels of family breakdown and depression.
  • More than one third of people currently supported by Headway Nottingham have waited almost ten years to receive any specific brain injury support since clinical discharge.

For press enquiries contact Rhiana on [email protected] or 0115 9679669 / 07414 112 580.