I was eleven years old. I was crossing the road to get the school bus. There was a car behind the bus and it pulled out and hit me. I’ve been told that my twin went ahead of me and that I pulled him back. He got a hairline fracture to his right elbow and I got thrown fifteen yards.
I don’t remember anything except waking up in hospital, clueless and scared. I asked ‘What’s happened to me,’ or something like that and the lady said I’d been knocked down. I can remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to die!’
The rest is a blur. I was in hospital for about four weeks. Mum and Dad have told me a lot of stories about it. About how I was really confused. And about me crawling round the bed, trying to find a way to get off. A woman I knew from my primary school came to visit, but I was convinced she was Dot Cotton off East Enders.
When I left hospital, I went through neuro rehab. I remember trying to walk at home and I can remember it really hurting. I was a bit side to side with my balance. I can remember the physio exercises I went through. I can remember the speech therapy I had; the tongue twisters I had to say.
I missed the first half-term of secondary school and when I got back, it was nerve-wracking, knowing I’d be meeting so many new people. I got a lot of grief from the other kids for the way I spoke and walked. They used to say I was drunk. There was a girl who used to shove against me and then say ‘Sorrr-eee!’ until one day she came and apologized.
I was like – all gullible – ‘Oh! – Ok!’
And then she looked at me and rolled her eyes – just like that – and turned and walked off.
School work was hard. I was always getting left behind and last to get ready before and after PE. If I’d been reading a book, I’d struggle to remember what I’d just read.
I always wanted to be a nursery-nurse. I did a child-care course. I actually did loads of college courses. First, I did a foundation course where I worked really hard on my typing because I’d always wanted to touch-type. At the start, I really struggled with my left-hand fingers, but I worked through it best I could. I got to the top of the class and then I did a secretarial course. I did catering, where I worked in a kitchen. I did horticulture. I did singing. I did English and Maths. I did a Health and Social Care foundation course, a childcare course, a fitness instructing course and a teaching assistant level two, to which I’m now qualified.
To be honest, I was just locked in a cycle of courses, which I had to do to justify my benefits. It was great to meet new people and make new friends, but it mostly used to be a dead end. Some things I’d do again and try and excel in – Fitness Instructing and Child Care. I never even qualified in a lot of them: I didn’t get good enough grades. It was hard keeping up with the work, remembering it and not getting distracted.
I had a job to do with stock for a bit. I’d have the information in front of me, and I knew exactly what to do. One minute, I’d be thinking ‘This is making time go really fast!’ but next minute, I’d be staring at the paper. I could see the words and numbers in front of me, but I didn’t know what to do. It had just gone!
That still happens. Recently, I was volunteering at the charity shop sorting out clothes. They rotate them; everything’s got dates on. Anything dated before the fifteenth I was pulling off the rail. I did the dresses first, and I did that well. Then, I did something else. And then I said to the woman: ‘Shall I do those dresses as well?’
Then there were two bags – a clear bag to put some clothes in, a blue bag for the others. I found myself getting confused half way through. You’re not remembering two things; you’re remembering four things. Which bag, which type of clothes, the other bag and the other type of clothes. I struggle to remember four things that I’m supposed to buy from the supermarket! And if I’d had a poor nights’ sleep, it’s really bad….
The trouble is that people don’t recognize that I have a brain injury: I look just like everybody else. The staff are patient with me because they know; they wouldn’t lose their tempers or anything.
I don’t know how I landed in the accident, but apparently I damaged my thyroid gland too. That wasn’t picked up until my mid teens. My weight had ballooned and since then, it’s been a battle keeping it off! Hypothyroidism makes you tired and when I’m tired, I get dizzy and confused. My head symptoms get worse when I forget to take my thyroid meds.
I tried all sorts of things to lose weight. I’ve begun to understand diet fads now. It’s possible to have a salad at lunchtime, but two to three months down the line, are you still going to want to eat leaves for lunch? I took diet pills for a while. At the time I thought, ‘this is the one.’ The number of times I’ve thought ‘This is the one.’
Turns out the only pill I need is my thyroxine tablets. I’ve lost nearly four stone with Slimming World and it’s taken me ages. It’s a constant battle of wills but when you’re in a good place in your mind – you know what you’re doing and you know where you’re going – you can focus. I’m happier now and I’m healthier. I like coxes apples – they’re good and they’re sweet. They say ‘an apply a day keeps the doctor away’ but I’ve had three so far today. The doctor’s got no right coming near me!
I passed my 25m swimming a few days before I got knocked down, but after my injury I lost my confidence in the water. Over time, I sort of talked myself round to not feeling so overwhelmed and I used to go with a support worker one day a week. I used a waddle under my arms and eventually, I removed my waddle and swan 22 lengths with no worries at all! I just love going swimming.
I got mugged once after I’d been collecting sponsorship money for a walk I’d done round Ladybower. It was late at night. Two youths on the other side of the road got my attention and asked for a light. I said, ‘No I’m sorry’ and for some reason, decided it’d be a good idea to use the cash machine with them standing there. They came and stood right behind me. When I went to walk off, this bloke stood in the passage and wouldn’t let me through. He grabbed my bag and I screamed and he took off. He got rid of the bag. Dad found it later in someone’s backyard. I was really angry with myself – I don’t think it would have happened if I hadn’t been so vulnerable.
I got attacked one night as well. I’d been in the pub with a friend, and she suddenly said she was staying there all day. I went out for a while, and when I went back, she was with a group of people. I knew none of them, but I decided to sit with them anyway. One of them thought I said something bad about her. I did walk away, but instead of of leaving, I went upstairs to talk to the staff. This lady’s neice followed me upstairs and she said, ‘Can I talk to you outside?’
I said, ‘Yeah – okay then.’
Outside, she pushed me into a rail and knocked me down.
I went back to rehab after that. Neurological rehab is nothing to do with drinking. I’ve been a few times now for different things. There’s a documentary called ‘Put me together again,’ which followed my progress. At the end, unbeknown to me, they arranged to have me chatted up in a bar by a stranger who was really an actor. Luckily, everything they’d told me about looking after myself had gone in, so I did alright.
When I met Matt, we guessed each other’s ages. He was 23 and I was 28 and we both thought the other one was our age. We met through the Catholic Club, right next to our school. You know when you’re looking for something, and trying to make it happen? And then something comes along without you trying that hard.
If anything’s helped my recovery, it’s been having my girls. They’ve really tested my executive functioning. I love the fact that they’re so dependent on me, but it puts a lot of pressure on me too. Being patient. Being organized. Being able to plan ahead and handling emotions.
I don’t personally think I’d done a good job. No: I’ve done alright. I knock myself a lot but then I look at how my children are and I think, I’m so proud of them! So I’ve not done too badly.
I’m a people person, but sometimes I struggle to make deep friendships. Sometimes, I try too hard with people who are not interested and I have to think, ‘Why am I clinging to that?’ It’s easy seeing two other people having a coffee together without realizing that they don’t go round doing that all the time – they might not have sat together in a cafe for a month. They may not even be very good friends!
I’ve made a lot more friends now, through the girls. In my mind, the other Mums are really free-flowing. They go into a shop or have a drink or go to the library and read a book or do whatever they have to do quite spontaneously, without having to worry about their schedule or even about what they spend. They seem to rely on gut instinct, where as my gut instinct’s broken.
But in reality, I know that’s not true. Everyone has to plan: it’s just that some people make it look easy. And everyone struggles with something; I’ve got to remember that. I can’t see what’s happening behind their closed doors. I’ve come such a long way myself and they definitely can’t see what’s happening behind mine.