Trying to understand what’s wrong

My brain injury was difficult to detect on regular MRI scanners. It wasn’t until a year after my accident I was sent to Harley Street to have the latest version which is a T3. It gives a much higher resolution and therefore more detail. They were then able to diagnose a diffuse axonal brain injury. Essentially that is where and number of pathways in the brain have been disrupted. The signals are either lost or they must find a longer alternative route. These can be seen in road traffic accident causalities, such as my case, due to the rotational forces in a shunt or spin.

I did have a large cut on my head which required 9 or 10 stitches. But as much as that hurt, it probably wasn’t connected directly with my brain injury. If you know someone or you yourself have recently been in a road traffic accident please don’t read this thinking they/you must have a diffuse axonal brain injury. It by no means happens to everyone. Whilst everyday unfortunately accidents do happen on the road, thankfully many of them to not have the conditions which result in this type of injury.


If you have heard of this injury before it may be from when Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond. He crashed a jet powered vehicle while filming for the show in September 2006. He was in a coma for 2 weeks  but he did manage to return to work. Although no two patients have the same injuries or symptoms, he did go on to mention some difficulties which reflected my experiences.

“It was a lot to deal with. I had a pretty tricky few years. The knock-on effects of the injury meant I was susceptible to depression, obsession, compulsion and paranoia, although I wasn’t aware of that at the time. It gave me an unnatural platform from which to observe my own mental state, which was exhausting. For a time I lost the ability to connect emotionally. I began picking away at my own personality and that was dizzying.” Richard Hammond

I found shopping in supermarkets a massive challenge. My anxiousness about “was I in the way of someone else” verged on paranoia. When I side stepped for them, they would continue to inch towards me whilst engrossed in  what they were looking for.  Feeling chased and harassed I would start taking fast shallow breaths and looking for an escape. Of course this is unreasonable as it is natural for fellow shoppers to browse the shelves. There will be times that you happen to be stood right by an area they want to investigate.

Being hard on myself.

The more I thought about anything I found a way to blame myself for it. I managed to berate myself so much decisions were almost impossible. If my partner asked where I would like to go for dinner I was too frightened to even try to suggest anything. I was worried that once there his meal wasn’t as good as he wanted. I would see that I’d made a bad choice which had impacted him and I couldn’t cope with that. This was unfair and unfounded as James is easy going and rarely complains, it was tiresome for him. I was unwittingly making him responsible for my entertainment and almost my whole life.

What it's like to suddenly have a brain injury

Richard Hammond went on to talk about how he needed to know if the accident was his fault and I was the same. As the last thing I remember was from the night before I was worried I’d done something wrong. I clearly remember leaving a restaurant near my work as the Managing Directors had bought the team dinner. It was a pleasant evening. I walked with the MD’s back to the company Smart car and set off home. I don’t remember the journey and even getting home that night. The following morning on my way to work was when the accident happened.

In most cases when a vehicle is rear ended by a following vehicle it is usually seen as the driver in the following vehicle being at fault.

The Highway Code (para. 126), in relation to Stopping Distances, recommends that “you should drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops.”

However that didn’t stop me from trying to find a way to blame myself. Even when a police officer visited me at home to return my handbag and give me the results of their investigation. He explained that there was no evidence that I had done anything wrong. They wouldn’t be prosecuting the other driver as they had found the dead Buzzard at the scene. Therefore they felt it really was just an unfortunate cause of wrong place, wrong time for both of us. But I found myself questioning had I just overtaken the truck and pulled in front of him, slowing suddenly when I realised the traffic ahead was stopped. There were no witnesses who saw the moments before the accident. The truck driver had not indicated that I had in any way caused the accident so this was nonsense. It was just me tearing myself apart.

The hardest part about trying to recover from a brain injury is when you start to notice what’s wrong. To begin with I knew my memory and language skills were affected as was my walking. Part of my spine compressed and damaged some nerves affecting the strength and balance on my left.

But it wasn’t until I got back some self awareness that I was able to reflect on some situations and see how my behaviour wasn’t normal.

Often those with brain injuries can have so many different things they are trying to cope with. They can over look some symptoms which you would think should be glaringly obvious. Months after the accident I started to complain of either double vision or what I named “one and a bit”. I can only describe this as the two images from the eyes not lining up properly and having an overlap. I might have had this immediately after the accident. But its possible that as there were so many things my brain and body were trying to deal with I just didn’t bother to take any notice. Brains that have been injured are having to work so much harder than before. To do the simplest task they will prioritise what to worry about next. And the order of priority doesn’t always make sense.

I was someone I didn’t like very much.

Even now I have days when I will reflect on something I did the day before. I regret it because it wasn’t normal for me. This can be something as simple as my response to a recruitment agent sending me an email. One agent had copied and pasted to everyone they could find on LinkedIn. The email was about how they can send “my company” some CV’s.  I angrily fired off a reply. Not even bothering to address them, pointing out that my profile clearly shows my last employment has ended. Therefore I’m not connected to a company needing staff.

This was both unnecessary and unprofessional. As a former recruitment agent myself this person was clearly demonstrating why recruitment agents have a bad name. But all it achieved was to make me look like a nasty moody cow. I usually would have just ignored it. Believing that they only want replies from those who are interested in their services. Thinking they won’t even remember contacting half the people as it would have been so many.

Mental health after a brain injury

But I see this blog as a part of me accepting what happened and what I’ve got now. I hope that as I continue to learn I can try to help others and their loved ones as they go through their own journey. Actually I want to let you all witness in real time what the next chapter holds for me. I don’t want to just talk about the injury and be all woe is me, I want to push forward. I’m going to share with you things I’m interested in. I hope that as I achieve things, no matter how small, I might inspire someone else.

My journey begins with Starting recovery.

Although I have no memory of the day that changed my future, it doesn’t have to be the only thing that defines me.

But please don’t think I’m in any way extraordinary. In I’m not strong or brave, I didn’t choose this brain injury, I explain why those words don’t fit.

Other articles you might like:

What was your life changing moment?

"What's wrong?" turned out to be a brain injury that I wasn't told about.



11 Replies to “Trying to understand what’s wrong”

  1. Please let me know if you have found this useful in any way. Under the title of each post in the updates section there is a comment button. I’d love to hear from you xx

  2. Interesting thoughts about MRI scanners. I had one done nearly 30 years later in Australia… “out of the blue and rather dramatic”

    Also Richard Hammond’s thoughts
    “Although no two patients have the same injuries or symptoms”
    If you have heard of this injury before it may be from when Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond crashed a jet powered vehicle while filming for the show in September 2006. He was in a coma for 2 weeks but he did manage to return to work. Although no two patients have the same injuries or symptoms, he did go on to mention some difficulties which reflected my experiences.

    Have you got a reblog button?

  3. Following brain injury it is normal to try to cope and pretend to be uninsured. It is difficult to face the reality of a brain injury. The motor insurance industry is evading responsibility and this must be stopped. Working together with the Police we want to see full compensation applied for from vehicle insurers. This can recover NHS and care costs helping to lower taxes and save the NHS. Please visit us at

  4. Michelle, Just seeing the quote from Don Winslow has me weeping. Thank you. Grocery stores as agony…yes. “Picking away at myself”…yes. Just yesterday I told my fiance, “I don’t know how not to be afraid.” Diffuse axonal injury…yes. Desperately lonely within all this and craving bonds…yes. So many loved ones now dead or otherwise gone. A one-time consult with a psychiatrist recently who asked me, “Was your brain injury self-diagnosed?” A neurologist who wrote in a report that “…this woman” [me] “insisted” on the presence of certain symptoms which did not show up on an MRI (although an abnormal advance of lesions on the white matter of my brain did). Yes, I am someone I don’t like … and I have lost the affection of several people due to the injury and the devastating changes — often surprising and sudden — to the person I used to be. I wonder if that person is dead. It’s been nearly four years since my latest brain injury (there have been several through my life), and now that my body is in active menopause … this one has tilted the balance, it seems, into damage deeper than the previous resilience could mitigate.

    I just found your blog in the last few days and am grateful for your presence, your honesty, your courage. Thank you for being in the world. Blessings on you.

    1. Courage I’m so sorry you are in this position. It’s soul destroying to feel you’re not listened to and dismissed. I hope in time you come to accept yourself as you are now. That’s the first step to happiness.

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