Life af­ter trauma

Ben Thex­ton

Cheshire Life - - Contents - AS TOLD TO: Emma Mayoh PHO­TOS: Ja­son Roberts

I was 24 and I nearly died.

I was cross­ing the road around lunchtime on a Satur­day in

2012 when I was hit by a car. I went fly­ing in the air, hit the wind­screen and landed up­side down, on my head.

I jumped up, an­i­mated, as if none of it had just hap­pened. I don’t re­mem­ber much af­ter that – it is pieced to­gether from ac­counts of other peo­ple, but soon I was in an am­bu­lance to Birken­head’s Ar­rowe Park Hos­pi­tal. They did tests for all sorts of things, which were mea­sured on a scale of one to ten. I scored one on all of them. One in­di­cated brain dam­age. So they put me into a med­i­cal­lyin­duced coma.

A week be­fore it all hap­pened, my now wife Sian and I had bought a house in Bid­ston, Wir­ral. I’d moved from nearby Ox­ton where I’d lived with my par­ents. I laugh now at how in con­trol of the fu­ture I thought I was. I had it all sussed out in my head. I thought I knew what life was all about.

The coma was there to stop the swelling. They drilled a hole in my head too in or­der to re­lieve the pres­sure in my brain. I spent nearly two weeks in that coma, in that hell where I hal­lu­ci­nated the most aw­ful things day and night. Then I woke up and I didn’t know if it was real or not. Soon I re­alised I was cov­ered in wires, I had some­thing up my nose, too. I tried to sit up a bit but some­one came run­ning over. The nurse told me I was in the Wal­ton Cen­tre, the spe­cial­ist neu­rol­ogy cen­tre in Liver­pool. I found out af­ter­wards it was Fa­ther’s Day.

When I first woke up, I couldn’t walk. My brain knew what it wanted to do but it was as though it wouldn’t com­mu­ni­cate with my legs. I had bro­ken my jaw, frac­tured my col­lar­bone, dis­lo­cated my shoul­der and my ear canal had been crushed.

The feel­ing of ut­ter help­less­ness was ter­ri­fy­ing. I couldn’t do any­thing for my­self. It felt like some­one was al­ways try­ing to hurt me just to make me bet­ter. The doc­tors were say­ing it could take two years to re­cover. Even then, in those early days, I was telling my­self I’m go­ing to prove them wrong.

In fact I took my first steps again within a few days. I was so de­ter­mined to get out and go home to Sian. I was back at my char­tered ac­coun­tant job quickly – within a few months – but I was in a lot of pain. I was wob­bly walk­ing and my jaw was still wired shut. But all of my fo­cus was to get back to nor­mal­ity.

The months rolled on and, at first, I thought I was cop­ing fine. I was pro­gress­ing far bet­ter than

‘This ex­pe­ri­ence has made me a bet­ter per­son. I think I’ve been lucky’

ex­pected and the fol­low­ing year we found out Sian was preg­nant, com­pletely out of the blue.

Soon it was the 12 week scan. Af­ter­wards, we had takeaway pizza to cel­e­brate, but in the car on my way back I started hav­ing a panic at­tack. My first ever.

I man­aged to com­pose my­self, cover it up, went straight in the house, splashed my face with water and didn’t tell Sian. I didn’t tell any­one be­cause I didn’t want to bur­den peo­ple any­more. They’d been through enough. I couldn’t keep bring­ing up the ac­ci­dent, I told my­self. It was done with now.

Then, in Au­gust 2015, Erin, my lovely daugh­ter, was born. It should have been the hap­pi­est time of my life but I was tak­ing a turn for the worst. I’d been suf­fer­ing with what I now know was neuro-fa­tigue. I was ir­ri­ta­ble, shout­ing, for­get­ting things. The sud­den lack of sleep com­pounded every­thing. I’d been us­ing Sian as a crutch. And with a new baby, her fo­cus had shifted, quite rightly, and that crutch wasn’t there any­more.

I started get­ting mild de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, feel­ing to­tally alone. I should have felt the op­po­site. It got to the point where it was harder hid­ing my feel­ings than it was ac­tu­ally ex­press­ing them.

Even­tu­ally I did ask for help. I went to the Acute Brain In­jury Unit at the Count­ess of Chester. A spe­cial­ist ex­plained about neu­ro­fa­tigue and also sug­gested I might be suf­fer­ing from PTSD. Even just get­ting an ex­pla­na­tion for it all made me feel a lit­tle bet­ter.

But then came a phone call from my dad: my brother, Tom, had fallen on a night out and hit the kerb. He’d frac­tured his skull and it wasn’t look­ing good.

It was 2015, three years af­ter my ac­ci­dent, he was 25 and he was at The Wal­ton Cen­tre, ex­actly where I’d been. Just like me he had been put into a coma. He was in it for al­most three weeks. Here I was, suf­fer­ing with PTSD from my brain in­jury, and I was look­ing at my brother in the same cen­tre, ly­ing in the same bed as I had. I was there for him ev­ery­day but when he woke up and I knew he

was go­ing to be okay, I couldn’t go back again. I went home, sat in the liv­ing room and felt en­tirely bro­ken. I knew I needed to sort my­self out.

I started writ­ing it down, jour­nal­ing, try­ing to make sense and piece to­gether what hap­pened to me. It quickly, but com­pletely un­ex­pect­edly, turned into a book, which was pub­lished last year. See­ing it in print was a strange ex­pe­ri­ence. At the time I didn’t like feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble. Now I’m not both­ered, I’ve re­alised show­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity is a good thing.

And that book has helped peo­ple. I’ve had lots of mes­sages from oth­ers with brain in­juries, or those ex­pe­ri­enc­ing other trau­matic events. It’s the best feel­ing in the world, help­ing peo­ple.

I still work as a char­tered ac­coun­tant for a com­pany in Liver­pool but I’ve also started my own wel­lbe­ing com­pany. I’m a qual­i­fied life coach and I’m trained in neu­rolin­guis­tic pro­gram­ming. I run small cour­ses and I have an In­sta­gram ac­count where peo­ple reach out to me about their ex­pe­ri­ences. I also work with a char­ity, Head In­jured Per­sons in Cheshire.

Nowa­days I’m re­ally care­ful to look af­ter my psy­cho­log­i­cal health. I start my day about 5.30am. I’ll go run­ning or to the gym then come home and med­i­tate in my gar­den. By the time I’m done Erin is wait­ing for me at the top of the stairs ready to start her day.

This ex­pe­ri­ence has made me a bet­ter per­son. I think I’ve been lucky. I can un­der­stand that feel­ing of com­ing back af­ter a trauma so I have a dif­fer­ent win­dow on life now. And I know I have amaz­ing fam­ily and friends to sup­port me. Peo­ple have told me I have changed their life. It’s won­der­ful to know I can do that, that’s such a pos­i­tive for me. I had that sec­ond chance. It’s an ab­so­lute priv­i­lege. Ben’s book, An Un­ex­pected Jour­ney: Sur­viv­ing a Brain In­jury, priced £8.99, is pub­lished by Austin Ma­cauley. You can find out more about his wel­lbe­ing busi­ness, Well Life, at well­life­hub.com.

Ben Thex­ton with his wife Sian and four-year-old daugh­ter, Erin, tak­ing a walk on Thurstas­ton Beach

Every morn­ing Ben spends time med­i­tat­ing out in the gar­den

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