How Neuro OT transformed me four years after a brain injury
International business woman, Anne Ricketts sustained a traumatic brain injury in a horse-riding accident in July 2000. Here, she reveals how Occupational Therapy helped her find her way back.
We all know how it feels to look for our car keys in the usual place and find they aren’t there. But what is much more difficult is to imagine is how that dilemma feels every waking moment in respect of everything and all daily life around us.
That feeling when we cannot connect with a previous moment because of a lapse in our memory is a permanent aspect of living with a brain injury.
You live in a stupor where nothing connects, and everything that happens seems alien and strange to you.
People speak to you, but it is as though they are speaking in a garbled foreign language. Their words come too fast, and they are jumbled.
You see their mouths moving and yet there is no meaning or sense. It is like living in an asylum where everyone else is mad.
What you don’t get is that it is your brain that is unable to comprehend the incoming traffic. It is you who cannot understand or process what people are saying to you because all the internal connections which should be able to identify context and meaning are gone.
One moment you had a toolbox full of tools and the next it feels as though a thief stole them all during the night.
Your mind and the familiar thinking voice in your head have gone AWOL, and without them, your life has no direction.
You can’t get dressed because you don’t know what you need to do today. You think about that, and all you find is a black hole where the knowledge should be.
You go to bed without noticing an entire day has passed without you eating, drinking, brushing your teeth or getting dressed, but there is no recognition that time has gone by or of losing another day of your life.
All experiences for every individual living with a brain injury are unique and understanding this complexity and the distinct needs of each person is part of the remit of Neurological Occupational Therapists (Neuro OT).
A day remembered…
Meeting your Neuro OT for the first time is like someone has switched a light on, bringing a sense of anticipation and renewed optimism for the future.
Instead of living in a dark, indistinct and gloomy fog, all of a sudden you can see a rainbow of hope. It feels as though someone has recognised your broken heart and closed gentle healing hands around it.
Finally, you have someone who speaks the same language; you have someone who can ‘see’ you, your beliefs and intentions, and what truly drives and motivates you.
Now you know that, however much you struggle to process all they are saying to you, the day will come when it makes sense.
It is as though OTs don’t see the brain injury at all, but know exactly where to lead you when they, metaphorically, hold your hand and guide you forwards; towards ‘home’ and the familiar and predictable self that you once were.”
I know for others there can initially be doubt, reluctance and non-acceptance that they need any help at all.
But if you are fortunate enough to have been referred to a Neuro OT, grasp the opportunity to receive with both hands.
Imagine it this way: each thought post brain injury is like the spot on an old vinyl record where the needle first strikes.
Without help, many of those thoughts stick right there, and as the wheel of life turns the needle bumps up and down on that same spot. It never gets to the next note, let alone the next track.
A Neuro OT will nudge the machine and so help the needle find the next piece of music. Your life begins to flow again, and while you may find that your needle continues to get stuck as you uncover other unidentified aspects of your brain injury, the occasions this happens will decrease.
Each small change you are encouraged to make to your daily living strategies holds enormous potential for recovery and is a brick in rebuilding your brain.
Practice makes perfect…
Learning ‘new’ things takes diligence. Practice everything taught to you as often as you can. It is the repetition of an activity that rewires the brain and sets the foundations for more to be added.
For example, you may be taught to use lists to aid your management of daily activities. For many people, it may seem odd, or incredulous that this is necessary.
But be aware of unwittingly creating barriers to change, and be open to the huge impact working with a Neuro OT will have on your rehabilitation.
It’s also important to understand the extra load and heartache that we put on our loved ones following a brain injury.
Entering rehabilitation and accepting professional support is as much a relief to them as it is to us.
Where possible, families will be encouraged to participate or become aware of the strategies their loved one is learning to use.
This can reinforce learning between OT sessions and make families feel confident in the support they are giving.
I would regularly turn up at my doctor’s and tell anecdotes, such as I couldn’t read, that I had spilt the milk, or that I had no sayings. What I was trying to say was that I had executive and cognitive impairments, aphasia, coordination and spatial awareness disorders, and loss of self-awareness and experiential memory.
I didn’t know it, but the day I met my Neuro OT was the day my recovery started. With help, I have rebuilt my brain.
How I think feels like ‘me’ again; I have my ‘self’ back, and for me, this was the most vital aspect of my recovery.
With ‘me’ back in the driving seat, I can work out my mistakes, correct them, understand what I need to do and work out how to do it.
I know that I wouldn’t be here without the input of Neuro OT and that I would still be struggling with daily living, my relationships with others and my ability to contribute and feel as though I have a purpose.
I still use my OT’s knowledge, strategies and wisdom because a brain injury brings profound changes that take time to uncover.
Most of my daily living is habitual once more and takes much less effort, thinking and energy to process because my brain had the opportunity to rewire strategically.
My gratitude is profound. As I look back, I can see very clearly that small changes and directed steps brought gigantic benefits. Every aspect of Neuro OT is worth its weight in gold.
Anne Rickets is a Krysalis blogger and founder of the not-for-profit community interest company (CIC), Global Brain Injury Awareness, launched to provide information and support to people in need after an acquired brain injury.
More from Anne here: www.krysalisconsultancy.co.uk/resources/item/nutrition-and-diet-after-brain-injury and www.globalbia.org