For many people with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) – every day can feel like the longest day adjusting to the change after their injury.
In support and solidarity for anyone whose life has been affected by ABI, Headway Essex is launching its first “Longest Day” walk on Sunday 19th June. The event will be held as part of the annual Essex Fun Walk.
There will be a 2k and a 5k walk starting simultaneously from the Headway Day Centre locations in Colchester and Benfleet. People can also do the walk virtually or complete it in small segments over several days, or weeks, at their own pace.
Helping to set off the walk from the Headway Centre in Colchester is Tara McIntrye, who sustained a brain injury in 2014. We caught up with Tara to talk about her accident and involvement with the Longest Day Walk.
Can you tell us what you remember about the day of the accident?
I was on the way to my nan and grandad’s house. It was February 2014. My grandad’s birthday. Family is so important to me. He wasn’t so well at the time, so I was glad I was visiting him. He has passed away now. I have good memories of him, and my grandad was so proud of my recovery. Having him in spirit helping my recovery has given me strength. I spoke at his funeral – and I have more confidence now than I did before the accident and I couldn’t imagine myself doing that.
Your car was struck by a person under the influence of drink and drugs – how do you feel about this now?
I’m still angry. I was unlucky. My boyfriend at the time was lucky, he was in the passenger seat and he walked away with no injuries. It could have happened to anyone, and it’s awful luck. But – people are amazed to see me now, as my recovery has been incredible from the life threatening injuries. I’ve made a lot of progress and I’m pleased with the improvement in my brain injury sustained in the accident.
Your father said your injuries were so severe, that he had to identify you by your teeth. What memories do you have in the months following the accident?
I was in Colman’s [specialist rehab Hospital] in Norwich. I was disorientated. Because of my mental state and concern that I would hurt myself, having my family there was helpful, it gave me reassurance. “I used to say to my dad please – pinch me so I know it’s not a dream”
When I got home seeing my nieces, my mum, dad and my nan was uplifting. People say life is too short and my injuries have given me a renewed outlook on life. Now I ring my nan every night who lives on her own to make sure she’s OK.
You sustained multiple injuries, including a traumatic brain injury and a broken pelvis. You said your life had ended before it had even started. Can you tell us about the first few years of recovering from these injuries?
Exercise has really helped, plus I feel healthier in many ways now compared to before the accident. I have a weekly plan, including lots of exercise which has helped my balance, strength and stamina.
Can you remember how you first found out about Headway?
When I found out about Headway Essex I said to my mum – I don’t think I’m ready for that now. I thought people might be different to me, and I wouldn’t feel the same. Looking back, I was denying the fact I had a brain injury.
Can you tell us about the role your family have played in your recovery?
My mum has helped me accept the injuries have affected my life. I’m in a good place now because I’ve met so many people who have coped with a similar experience and we gain strength from each other at Headway Essex.
My family buy me a nice present each year in February on the anniversary of the accident. It’s a celebration of my life, like a second birthday really.
What has Headway Essex been able to do to help your whole family?
They are here when my family need someone to talk to. We follow them on social media, and that’s a good way to hear about what’s happening – and what support is available.
What do you get out of your visits to the Headway Centre?
They have given me confidence. They have given me hope, and belief that I can get better, and will get better. It’s about fuelling positivity – Headway Essex is very good for me.
In what way has Headway Essex helped your independence? For example, have we been able to advise you on mobility aids, adapting your house or give practical advice?
A simple but important bit of help Headway Essex gave me was better cutlery in my kitchen, making it easier for me to grip, and use. It mightn’t seem much but it’s another part of my independence, being treated as a person, and help based on what I need.
In what way has Headway helped your confidence?
I’m learning to write again, and I can hold a pen in my right hand which was my favoured hand before the accident. The social activity is a highlight; Thursday is my favourite day. Seeing people, their smiling faces and talking with them is amazing. I get so much from these days.
Have other service users at Headway spoken to you about any shared benefits from being connected to people with similar experiences?
Yes. Everyone wants to get better, live to their potential, getting the best quality of life. Some have said “this is their safe place”. They can be themselves, and say what they want to say. These sessions are giving people hope. The social part is massive for me, and other people here.
Have you experienced any stigma, or discrimination because of any disabilities that you have?
I’m lucky, I haven’t experienced any discrimination. I was paranoid I would get it, especially using a walking aid but it’s been accepted.
What would you say to someone thinking about asking for help, but not sure what to do?
Go for it. It’s the best thing I have ever done. Some people are scared as they don’t know what it is going to be like, but I say just go for it as the staff and volunteers and the service users are so welcoming.
What’s your dream now?
I like to give people hope and see them smile. I don’t think people should be sad with a brain injury. A brain injury is what it is, and you can make things better for yourself. I like positivity in people.
Another dream is to walk without a walking aid. I can do short distances at home, I believe in time I’ll be able to do this.
In a way – do you think Headway Essex has helped give you your life back?
100% yes. I am who I am because of Headway Essex, and that’s a fact of life. I’d still be in bed if not for Headway Essex. I feel I get a lot from people that attend here, and they help me too.
We’re delighted you are joining us to set off walkers on Sunday 19th June. The event is about becoming a collective, walking in aid of anyone coping with a brain injury. Can you tell us why you’re taking part?
I will be walking in memory of my grandad, and that motivates me constantly. I know I will be helping others – that’s what motivates me. I love to support and hope many people will join us and raise money for Headway.
Why is it so important the public support events like this – and supports Headway Essex?
You never know what’s around the corner. I had never heard of Headway Essex before my accident, and you never know when you or your family might need them.
Finally, what has it felt like having Headway alongside you in your recovery?
It has been the best thing for me. It’s great to have a sense of something to look forward to, like the Thursday social group. I’ve helped set up the Headway Essex young person’s circle. We are meeting online at the moment. I give people hints, and tips that have worked for me in these sessions, so we support each other.
If you are inspired by Tara’s story, you can walk in solidarity with her and for anyone coping with an acquired brain injury by signing up to the Longest Day walk on Sunday 19th June. Joining the many across Essex, walking together, so anyone adjusting to life with an ABI can access the support they need. To sign-up visit the Longest Day Event Page.