Twenty years of living with brain injury

Over twenty years ago, Philip Fairclough fell fifteen feet from a ladder onto a concrete patio, causing massive trauma to his head and severe brain injury. Eight years later his book, Living with Brain Injury, was published by JKP. Today, in support of Action for Brain Injury Week, Philip shares with us the progress he has made since writing the book, as well as the lessons he’s learned along the way which are sure to help anyone who has suffered head injury or cares about someone with a head injury. 

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Cover image for ‘Living with Brain Injury’

People often say, ‘Such and such crosses the divide of culture, status, sex, nationality and even religion.’ It wasn’t ’til my book, Living With Brain Injury was published by Jessica Kingsley in 2002 that I realised how brain injury crosses these divides and more – and this was despite my having previously given presentations before groups of litigators dealing with compensation for head injuries, social workers, care givers and hospital staff. It was further brought home to me by the number and types of reviews I read in magazines published here and in the States as well as the letters I have received from carers and sufferers alike.

Things I have learned which have helped me cope in every day life
In the early days, when I saw how my condition was affecting my family, I honestly felt I’d have been better dying. However, since then I’ve come to realise there is always someone far worse off than me and I tell people, now, for me every day is a bonus. Something else I’ve learned, which came as quite a shock, but helped me to try and see beyond the obvious, was understanding why the wives of some of my fellow sufferers, at the rehab unit, left them after their head injury. I remember saying to Pauline, how terrible that they should be abandoned at a most critical time in their life. Her comments on that were quite sobering. She told me that if it wasn’t for the fact that she loved me and  took her vows and our faith seriously, she might have done the same! We’ve now been married for forty two years with still some to go!

One final note on the matter of what I have learned. The OT’s at the rehab unit, from day one, stressed the importance of setting realistic goals and, having achieved them, setting some more. Though this was a strategy I had been employing for years, both as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and as a salesman, it was an invaluable tool in helping me keep focused on the positive aspects of life and putting the negatives on one side.

Things I wish I’d known before my accident
I wish I’d realised just how dangerous window cleaning was and had taken to heart the warning I was being given by the excessive costs of insurance! Yet for all that, whilst I wouldn’t want to relive the past twenty years nor for my family to go through it all again, I have learned so much that I wouldn’t have otherwise, contributing to ways in which I have changed since before the accident. For example; though it seems that my memories of what I was really like before the accident are flawed, one thing I do remember is that I had very little empathy for people with illnesses. Though my wife had suffered with health problems for many years and I was very understanding of her, since I’d had few serious health issues since childhood, I had no understanding of how sick people felt or were treated or what they needed from others. However, that changed fairly quickly when I realised how understanding and helpful people were to me. And not just friends, family, work mates and neighbors, but even total strangers. Since, I suppose, I expected them to understand me and make allowances for me, I was forced to change my attitude towards those with health issues, regardless of how serious or trivial they appeared to be.

Philip at home after the accident, before the move to Rosehill Rehabilitation Unit. The shape of the skull was caused by the removal of a part of the bone to relieve pressure on the brain.

Philip at home after the accident, before the move to Rosehill Rehabilitation Unit. The shape of the skull was caused by the removal of a part of the bone to relieve pressure on the brain.

Changes in my health
Whereas stamina was a real problem in the beginning, my fatigue requiring me to sleep most afternoons, for the past few years I have not needed to sleep. In fact, I am awake most mornings between five and six and I often work in the garden for two or three hours without ill effect.

Since I have had no seizures for the past fifteen years, meaning that under medical supervision I have been able to cease using anticonvulsants, apart from the freedom I have gained, many of the side effects common to such medication have also ceased or been minimised. This, I feel, has made me easier to live with. You’d have to check with my wife but I think she’d agree! This has also meant I have been driving again for several years and am just in the process of becoming the policy holder for the car insurance, something I’ve not done for over twenty years. I am also no longer classed as disabled which has helped me gain back much of my self worth. I have been working part time for the past fifteen years, back in my old job of selling which is another plus. The one other thing that has changed is that my enforced retirement has allowed me more time to write. Not only have I written my book, I have also written, and had published, sixteen newspaper and magazine articles in the UK and in Malta. I have written five novels, two of which are, at present, doing the rounds with agents, a full length children’s story and I’m currently writing two spin offs from one of my novels. I am determined to get something, in fiction, published! For two reasons: 1) I want to know if people find my fiction worth reading as my non fiction and 2) Despite only having eighteen months to go before officially retiring, I would like to regain self worth from being able to once again earn money to provide for my family. Watch this space!!

Things which haven’t changed!
I still have problems, at times, grasping things which Pauline or others tell me, requiring them to explain them again, sometimes more than once. I still have problems with time telling and numeracy and I also misread situations or misperceive what I think are people’s responses to me. All these things cause me irritation,  mostly at myself when I fail to understand things, which I have difficulty hiding.

Final thoughts
I wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea that things are a push over, that head injury is something and nothing or that I’m back to normal! I know I was very fortunate compared with many. I was very fortunate in the speed at which I was dealt with and the expertise available to me that day. I am fortunate in having a family like I do and the kind of friends which we have. Much of what I have is based on determination and a positive attitude and this stems from my unswerving faith in God whom I’m convinced had a hand in my life that day since there were too many coincidences for them to be coincidences! Something else which has contributed to my recovery is that, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I am active in our door to door ministry and regular bible study, all of which has not only kept me physically strong but mentally too, making my neural pathways knit that much faster!
Whether to a sufferer or a carer, my final note on this matter is as follows and you’ll find it in the last sentence in my book:

Remember: Where there is life there is hope and there is DEFINITELY life after brain injury.

You can find out more about the book, read reviews or order your copy here

Why Neuroscience for Counsellors?

Rachal Zara Wilson is a counsellor, social worker and author of the new Neuroscience for CounsellorsWe caught up with her for a quick chat about the book and why she wanted to write about such a complex topic. 

1.  Who do you think would benefit from reading this book?

Definitely counsellors, but also any other therapists as well.  The book is designed so that it has sections where the neuroscience is explained, and separate sections for counsellors and other therapists with suggestions on how to use this knowledge for the benefit of their clients in the session room.

Families of people who are experiencing mental health dysfunction may also be interested in the knowledge contained in this book, and also in the implications for how they can support their loved ones.

2.  Why did you write this book? Wilson_Neuroscience-fo_978-1-84905-488-1_colourjpg-print

I’ve always been interested in neuroscience; the brain is so fascinating and amazing, and capable of so much more than we’ve always been led to believe.  And of course, as a counsellor working with people, how the brain works has always been top of my mind.  The final motivator was having a child who was experiencing problems with their mental health, and I guess I just hoped to find something that would help him and others in a similar situation during the course of my research.

3.  So what’s so exciting about what you learned?

Probably the most exciting thing would be the brain’s capacity to change itself, known as brain plasticity.  The brain isn’t static, it’s more like a dynamic organ that is constantly changing for better or worse.  And what we do plays a huge part in how it changes.  How much stress we’re under, what we eat, the quality of our sleep, whether we exercise and how much, our living environments, and the presence or absence of early trauma in our lives are some of the things that contribute to the way our brain functions, and to its capacity for change, or plasticity.  I guess the most exciting thing is that we have control over this plasticity to a large degree, and we can therefore improve the quality of our brain function, our health and our lives.

4. Why don’t we know this stuff already?

Because neuroscience is a field in its infancy.  There’s a lot of learning coming through, but much of it’s wrapped up in scientific jargon, making it inaccessible to those of us who are not scientists.  And because there’s lots of different levels of looking at the brain, (both micro and macro,) different neuroscience specialties do not always integrate their specialist knowledge.  I think the benefit of this book is that it integrates the neuroscience into an overall big picture, while also drawing on this resource to come up with practical ways for integrating it into therapy.  It hasn’t been done before because it’s new, because it’s complex, and because integrating neuroscience with counselling and other therapies requires a knowledge of both fields.  I believe that in the future, all practitioners providing talking therapies are going to need to understand what neuroscience offers our professions, or risk becoming irrelevant.

5.  Why put it in a book?

This knowledge is meant to be shared.  All counsellors and therapeutic practitioners want best outcomes for their clients, and the more knowledge we have that can help people make positive change in their lives, the better.

6.  Is it complicated?

The neuroscience is complex, but the book is designed so that people who just want to know what it means for their practice can just read those sections, while those who want to understand how it all works can read up on the explanations for how all the scientific evidence fits together.  The book is written in the plainest English possible, and there is a glossary and diagrams at the back to help you fit it all together.

You can find out more about the book, read reviews and order your copy here.

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