Writing my own happy ending

This week, I’m going to hit one year post surgery.

One. Whole. Year.

It’s certainly been a whirlwind of a year and every single one of the twelve months that have passed since my surgery has brought a new challenge. I’ve had two surgeries, thirty two nights in hospital and countless outpatient appointments that each involve a seven hour round trip to stay with my parents.

However many hardships I’ve faced, I can’t help but look back at my experiences with a strange sense of pride. I’ve learnt something new every single day and I truly feel like I’ve made something good out of a terrible situation.

Way back in January 2019, I started carving out the new post-brain-injury version of myself by taking to WhatsApp and saying to some of my closest friends “I had surgery this morning, but it’s fine – it was only brain surgery!” Understandably, my friends were quite shocked! Reactions ranged from “Eh??” to “?!” to my personal favourite “😳😳😳😱😱😱”

I think I’d decided even then, just a few hours post surgery, that I wasn’t going to let my injury be something bad. Admittedly, I hadn’t slept in weeks and I’d had a lot of painkillers, but even then, I was determined to use my experiences as a force for good. Twelve months later, and I feel like I’ve achieved this goal. Don’t misunderstand me – I know that some truly awful things have happened to me, but I’ve made the story my own    and turned the experiences in to the year of my life that I’m most proud of rather than a year to look back on with sadness.

I’m not finished yet though. The first chapter of my story has been a rough one, but the next chapter is hopefully going to be a little more stable. It’s less than 100 days to go until the marathon and I feel like I’m spending all of my free time either planning fundraising events or running! I know that I’ve got more surgery to come, but going in to the year knowing what’s coming makes it so much easier to deal with!

So, as I enter year two of recovery, I’m in a positive place, and I can’t wait to continue carving out the happy ending to my story.

Don’t forget, you can support my fundraising by donating online. While you’re here, why not take a few seconds to put your name on the waiting list for my fundraising auction that goes live online in a few weeks?

 

 

 

 

When music hits you, you feel no pain.

I recently launched my fundraising event and pub quiz: Brain Buster. I realised quite early on in the planning of the event that the biggest challenge I’d face would be convincing people to donate items that I could use in an auction or raffle – which is where I’m hoping the event will be most successful.

So last Friday, a friend and I sat down and came up with a list of over 100 local businesses and sent them an email telling them about my story and how they could help. I wasn’t expecting much response, because most of the businesses on the list were small independent shops that probably have far bigger issues in the current political environment than donating to charity. However, I was massively wrong. In the last week, countless businesses have replied to my email and posted me gift vouchers and products that I can use to improve my fundraising. I’m massively overwhelmed by the support that the Oxfordshire community has given me, and I can’t wait to put their generosity to good use on the day of the event!

Obviously, my main fundraising effort is still sponsorship for the London Marathon. I’m training regularly and things are going well. I recently had a major boost to training when I got my hearing device fitted.

Even though I have one ear that works perfectly, I’ve never been able to listen to music when I’ve gone out running because once I put a headphone in my good ear, I couldn’t hear any of my surroundings. Fine for the countryside runs I might do when staying at my parents house, but not safe when the footpath I’m using goes alongside a busy city centre road. Now that I have my hearing device, I can stream music to the deaf ear through my hearing device and keep my good ear free for listening to my surroundings.

During my long run last weekend I found that having music to help me keep my pace was a huge boost and the distance seemed far easier to cover than it had done in the past. Hopefully, the music will continue to help me along the way as I increase the distances I’m running even further. Bob Marley once said that ‘When music hits you, you feel no pain’. I’m not sure that’ll run true at the end of the marathon, but I’m hoping it’ll ease the pain a little. So, if any fellow runners are reading this, let me know what your favourite song to run to is. I’ve got quite a hefty playlist to build up before the 26th April!

I’ve still got a long way to go to reach my fundraising goals, but I’m getting ever closer. You can support my cause by donating online, or by getting in touch and donating an auction lot.

 

New year, same me

The new year has arrived and as usual, it’s been heralded by hoards of people taking to social media to declare that they’re taking part in Dry January and #NewYearNewMe has been trending across all platforms for days.

Whilst it’s admirable to have aspirations for making yourself a better person, I’ve never found New Years Resolutions something that work for me. Last year, my resolution was to become healthier. I think it’s safe to say that I missed the mark on meeting that resolution a little bit.

In 2019, I went through some massive life changes and I definitely ended the year as a different version of myself. Since my recovery, I’ve set myself some pretty big life goals – running a marathon and raising £4,000 for charity to name a few. I’ve decided that, for now, that’s enough change in my life. So, no New Years resolutions for me this year, just a promise to myself to keep getting healthier and to keep up my marathon training and fundraising – both of which are going well.

A year ago from now, I’d spent the first of 28 nights in hospital and things were looking pretty bleak. Fast forward a year and I’ve raised almost £3,000 for Headway and I’m well on the way to being able to run the marathon. If you’ve contributed to getting me this far in my recovery, training or fundraising – thank you.

I’ve got some big fundraising plans coming up, so make sure you keep an eye on my social media to find out more, and don’t forget, you can always donate to Headway through my fundraising page.

Living on a prayer

I’ve had this song stuck in my head all week. Why? Because I’m half way to my fundraising target! (62% of the way there actually, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). Since I got my London Marathon place in September, friends, family, colleagues and complete strangers have rallied around me and donated an incredible £2,514.10. Even though I set my target quite high, I never expected to raise this much and I’m so grateful for every penny that’s been donated. Particularly to the audience members of a concert I was in last weekend who donated almost £1,000 of this total.

Whilst the dulcet tones of Jon Bon Jovi are particularly relevant to me this week, I really do feel like I’ve been living on a prayer all year.

Last Christmas, I was so depressed that I couldn’t enjoy my time with my family. We were at my aunt and uncle’s house on Christmas Day and I distinctly remember leaving the table midway through lunch. I went to the bathroom and sat on the floor and just cried. I could hear my family downstairs enjoying their meal, but I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t join in. This year, I’ve been given a second chance at life. All the odds were stacked against me in January and I was seconds away from death on several occasions. Despite my chances not looking good, I lived to tell the tale – something that I’m incredibly thankful for.

When you’ve lived through a near death experience such as the one I had, you get a new perspective on life. Suddenly, the important things at this time of year aren’t who gets to eat the last roast potato at Christmas lunch or who gets to decide what telly to watch on Christmas day. Those things are material. What’s important to me is the fact that I get another chance to spend a festive period with my friends and family.

So, I won’t be writing next week. I’ll be busy absorbing all the love my family have to give and getting ready to start the new year off a lot more positively than I did last year.

If you’re reading this, I wish you the happiest of Christmases with your nearest and dearest and, please, don’t forget to let those you are closest to how much you care about them.

 

 

The reason behind my madness

Earlier in the week, I did a pre-work run. For me, training before work means an 05:15 alarm clock and leaving the house at 05:30. It was only just above freezing, it was dark and it was raining, all of which contributed to it being a pretty miserable experience. By 06:15, I was back in my flat hugging a radiator in an attempt to warm myself up and wondering what had possessed me to agree to train for a marathon.

Two things have happened in the last fortnight that have made it abundantly clear to me that however tough training for and eventually running the marathon is going to be, it’s worth every ounce of energy I put in to it.

Firstly, last Thursday my beautiful niece was born. It’s the first time in my life that my behaviour will have a direct impact on that of another person. Obviously, bringing a five month old to London in the cold isn’t a good idea, so she won’t be there when I cross the finish line. However, the idea of her sitting down when she’s older, seeing a photo of me on race day and realising that anything is possible if you work hard enough for it definitely inspires me to run the race. Hopefully her Auntie Amy will one day inspire her in the same way that she’s inspiring me right now.

Secondly, this week I paid a visit to the Headway Oxfordshire activity and rehabilitation centre. I’m incredibly lucky that my brain injury doesn’t mean I need high levels of support. Others aren’t so lucky. Visiting the centre and seeing the high levels of support that survivors less lucky than myself need really hit home how important my fundraising for Headway is. Their centre offers everything from gym equipment for physical rehabilitation, through to art classes so that survivors can spend time with each other and feel less isolated.

So, next time I’m running before the sun comes up, I’ll be thinking of all the Headway service users that I’m raising money to help and the gorgeous Isobel Rose Gordon. Two very worthy inspirations, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’d love it if you could support my journey by donating or sharing my story on social media, and don’t forget, you can listen to me talking about my journey so far on BBC Radio Oxford at 10am on Tuesday!

The good kind of hospital appointment!

Unsurprisingly, having as many hospital appointments to attend as I do isn’t fun. However, this week I’ve been to two appointments and come away smiling! 

On Monday, I got the fantastic news that on 4th January, after exactly a year on antibiotics, I will take my last little red and yellow pill. The medication has been part of my life for so long now that I’m really excited to turn off the alarms that go off on my phone three times a day. I’ll hopefully also be a little bit less tired and less hungry all the time!

9CB1E40E-2925-45B9-A8AD-9A7819D54488Then, on Thursday I had an appointment with the Ear Nose and Throat team. Everything looks good and they’ve put me on the waiting list for my final surgery. The wait list is currently four to five months, so I’m hoping that by next summer I’ll be able to put all of this illness behind me! It also means that I get one more shot at rocking this awesome hair style!

Whilst I can beat the illness and be cleared of infection, I’ll have the lasting effects of a brain injury far beyond next summer. Whilst the brain can heal, it’s much slower to heal and I might never get back to where I was pre brain injury. 

Headway have helped me move in leaps and bounds already and I’m so excited for the fundraising plans I’ve got over the next few months!

Running is going well, even in the cold and I’m really humbled by some of the amazing donations people are making. 

In addition to running the marathon, I’m organising and hosting a pub quiz and silent auction in Oxford on 19th February. I’ve had huge support from businesses in Oxford so far, but I’d love it if some of my readers could donate an auction lot or two. Maybe you have some sports memorabilia in the attic that you don’t want? Or a holiday home that you could spare for a few days? I’d love to hear from you. Just use the contact form on my blog or send me a message on social media. If you want to come to the event, then tickets will be on sale soon after the new year. There are just a few details to iron out! 

Finally, listen out for me on the Kat Orman show on BBC Radio Oxford on Tuesday 17th December. Kat and her team have asked me to come in and tell my story to their listeners and I’m so grateful for the opportunity!

Once again, thank you for reading. Don’t forget you can donate here, or share my story on social media. 

Concentrating on concentration

This week, I’m talking about something that is sure to bring dread to most people. Exams.

As I’ve probably mentioned to everyone I know once or twice, (sorry), I have an exam next week. I sat the exam last December in the midst of my mental health problems and given what I was unknowingly dealing with, it’s no surprise that I completely flunked it. Results day came around in the middle of January and I was so ill that I replied to my automated results text!

Now that I’ve got the worst of my illness behind me, I’m determined to do as well as I possibly can next week. However, studying for an exam when you’ve got a brain injury isn’t easy.

Over the last few months I’ve been working with Headway on methods to improve my concentration. It’s something that I’ve really struggled with since my brain injury. I’ve got really good at remembering to have regular breaks whilst I’m at work, which makes my brain do what it needs to do to get through the day.

Thankfully, my job is varied enough that if I’m struggling to concentrate I can put something down and work on something else until I’ve had a break.

Unfortunately, when you’re studying for an exam, particularly an advanced one like the one I have next week, easing concentration issues through variety isn’t easy. This means I’ve had to take breaks on a more regular basis. Progress is slow when you have to take a fifteen minutes of every hour as a break, which in turn makes concentration even harder because you’re worrying about how much you still have to learn!

So, it’s safe to say I’m looking forward to getting home next Friday and taking a really long nap!

In other news, just as I was hitting a wall during my run this morning I got a notification on my watch that I’d had another donation. It was anonymous, so if it was you – thank you! Every single donation goes straight to Headway and supports their incredible work. They really have helped me get my life back on track and your donations mean the world to me.

You can donate on my virgin money giving page, or you can share my story on social media to increase awareness of the brilliant work Headway are doing.

 

Ten months later

For most people, ten months seems like a lifetime. Right now, it’s ten months until September, and there are so many things to look forward to between now and then that we can’t help but think of it as a long time away.

For me, the last ten months have been the complete opposite.

I have never been a person to reflect on the passing of time, but I woke up this morning, saw the date on the screen of my phone and couldn’t help but reflect on how quickly the last ten months has gone.

Ten months ago from this very moment, I was waking up from life saving brain surgery. So much has changed for me since that moment, and I’m definitely a different person, but I’ve been thinking about just why I feel like this year has flown by in comparison to all of my previous years.

Perhaps it’s because I spent the first few weeks of the year in and out of consciousness and having so many hallucinations that I don’t really remember January at all, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think it’s because how much I have to do to feel a sense of achievement has changed. This time eighteen months ago, I wouldn’t have considered it a challenge to simply get to my own front door. Now, I feel a huge sense of achievement on the days where I feel like I have enough energy at the end of the day to climb the stairs to my second floor flat instead of using the lift.

Changing the levels at which I feel I’ve had an achievement means that I now notice the smaller things. Having one of those simple achievements on a more regular basis takes away the element of having to wait for the next big life event and time passes far more quickly.

In ten months from now, I’m hoping I’ll have run a marathon and reached my fundraising goal, but they’re far larger achievements than the ones I’m focussing on in the mean time. I’m going to continue to take life day by day, achievement by achievement  and run by run and my bigger goals will hopefully fall in to place.

You can help me with those bigger goals. I’d love it if you could share this post on your social media pages, or make a donation to my cause.

The Magic of Porridge

I’ve been reading up about nutrition for runners a lot in my free time recently. Knowing that energy levels can often be a problem for brain injury survivors, it’s occurred to me that I need to make sure I’m giving my body the right fuel if I’m ever going to succeed at getting over the finish line in April. It turns out that the solution to having lots of energy during a run is porridge.

Lots, and lots, of porridge.

Most articles I’ve read say to stock up on a carb filled meal a few hours before a run. So, I got up this morning and made myself a rather large bowl of porridge. I then crammed in a few hours of studying (3 weeks until exam day. Help.) before heading out for a run along my favourite route; the Thames tow path near my flat. 

After a rough ride through October, I was really worried that all of the effort I put in to training in August and September would have gone to waste and I would have to start from scratch.

Thankfully, that was not the case. For the first time since starting my marathon journey, running today felt really good! I stuck to the distance set for me by my personal trainer in my training plan, but I wasn’t struggling by the end and it’s made me look forward to getting in to the longer runs! I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m so proud of myself for how far I’ve come since January. 

I’m also really proud of the charity I’m running for; Headway Oxfordshire. At the Action Against Breast Cancer Awards a couple of weeks ago they won Charity of the Year. The award really couldn’t be more deserved and I’m so thankful that they’re getting recognition for all of their hard work. The only reason I’d even consider running the marathon is because I truly believe that Headway Oxfordshire deserve every penny that I’m raising for them. I’m also hoping that I can use every platform available to me to raise awareness of the incredible work they’re doing to support brain injury survivors

At the moment, while I’m not running, or eating porridge, I’m revising (hence the shorter blog post this week), but once my exam is out of the way I’ve got some exciting plans underway to boost my fundraising. Keep reading my blog to find out more in a few weeks time! In the mean time, like, share and donate! I’d love to know what fellow runners do to boost their energy prior to a run. Let me know in the comments!

Swings and roundabouts

When we recover from any illness, our natural instinct is to try and bounce back. To try and get back to normal life as quickly as humanly possible.

When someone has a brain injury, that’s not possible. It takes a little longer to recover, and in some cases, a full recovery isn’t ever possible. It’s been almost ten months since my surgery now and I still struggle with the symptoms of my brain injury sometimes.

After three weeks off sick curled up under a duvet, I returned to my normal life on Monday. Well, post brain injury normal at least. Having not had to concentrate for a few weeks, my brain struggled with the full force return to life. My fatigue hit full force and I found myself napping as soon as I got home from work every day.

Thankfully, after a few days, I had started to readjust to the concept of being awake and the cloud of fatigue had started to lift. I had a day booked off from work on Friday and managed to take part in everything I’d got planned without my fatigue getting in the way too much.

So, whilst this episode of heightened fatigue only lasted a few days, it’s evidence that my brain still hasn’t recovered. The MRI I had while I was in hospital recently showed that whilst everything is heading in the right direction, there’s still abnormalities in the tissue in my brain, and that will take a while to change. I’ve just got to accept the fact that for the foreseeable future it’ll take me a little longer than average to recover from bumps in the road.

In a much more positive turn of events, I’ve finally had my appointment confirmed for my hearing assessment in December. The whole process of initial hearing assessment through to having surgery to place a hearing implant takes around three months, so hopefully my the time I turn 25 on the 1st March, I’ll have my hearing back!

So however bad the last month has been, I’ve got a lot to look forward to over the next few months. I can’t wait to get my running shoes back on next week and get back to training. Donations to Headway are still coming in thick and fast and I’m getting ever closer race day, and my fund-raising target. My health keeps throwing spanners in the works, but I can’t wait to cross that finish line!

Amy