Coming to Terms with a Traumatic Brain Injury – Using Stoic Philosophy

Helen Rudd suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2006. In this powerful piece she recounts how she developed the internal strength to come to terms with the effects of the accident and to find new meaning in her life. Helen heard about Stoic Week on the BBC 4 Today programme, and found that Stoicism’s focus on developing a resilient attitude to meet whatever the circumstances as best as possible was just what she herself, in drawing on her own internal resources, had done. 

My Experiences of Stoicism

Helen Rudd

I suffered a traumatic brain injury in May 2006.

Before my accident I was on the go all the time.  I’d run in the Hastings Half Marathon 5 times, did aerobics every week, went swimming 3 times a week, sang in an opera group and a light operatic society, acted in plays and volunteered at the local theatre, tried to walk everywhere etc etc.  At the age of 43, I’d been an executive officer in the Inland Revenue for 21 years and one of my jobs had been the manager of the local enquiry centre.

One day in 2006 I’d just been swimming on my way to work when I was hit in the side of the head by a van, probably at 30 mph and rolled under a parked car.  I was in a coma for 3 weeks, and then went to a brain injury rehab centre for a year, of which I remember nothing.  Now my memory of about a year before the accident and back are fine but I remember nothing until about 3 years ago.  I think it took me some time to fully realise what had happened to me.  My Dad had to teach me how to read and write again, of which I remember nothing.  My symptoms now are a slight loss of co-ordination, a loss of memory of about 5 years and a pretty bad loss of mobility.  I don’t use a wheelchair, I can walk outside as long as I have my stick and somebody is with me, and my balance is poor.  I am medically retired from work.

My worst time was 2 to 3 years ago. I think that by then I’d be come fully aware of what had happened to me,  I was extremely depressed to the point of not wanting ‘to be’ and I stayed in a local mental health resource centre twice, I used to have screaming fits, stayed in bed all day etc etc.  If I’d known what would happen a while ago I would never have believed it, and I used to wonder ‘why me?’

At the start of 2013 I started to feel better psychologically, if not physically.  This feeling of wellbeing has grown and now I am moving to a bungalow in the countryside tomorrow.  I was listening to Radio 4 the other morning and heard about the stoicism project.  I realised then that stoicism is what I’m employing now.  I’m making the most of what life had dealt me, and I now think ‘why not me?’  I help people in ways that I’m still able, for example writing official letters, talking to people who are suffering in a non-judgemental way and not  pretending I can help them, inviting friends round, which in turn helps me.  I’ve become proud of the way I walk now in that I can’t help smiling in spite of being unable to balance properly and I find that walking more slowly makes you look at things more, like walking around the lovely park here in the autumn with the shining golden trees and the dew on the grass.  I’ve even passed an OU module in psychology and intend to take a longer course in October.

The accident has given me a much fuller life.  I’ve learnt things about the world, made friends with people I would never have even met before – and now when I see people jogging I feel glad that I don’t have to do that because I can’t.  I honestly feel lucky that I survived the accident, met so many inspiring people and have learnt so much about life.

Leave a Reply

20 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with a Traumatic Brain Injury – Using Stoic Philosophy”

  1. I’m glad that you feel satisfied that you have done your best, I think that shows real strength. Don’t let anybody judge you. It’s difficult, I know, and that’s the way Stoicism has worked for me. I wish you all the best

  2. I particularly like the phrase, ” talking to people who are suffering in a non-judgemental way and not pretending I can help them” because I have been struggling with this. I want to help people, and should, but I I can’t take responsibility for the results, because the results are something over which I have no control. I feel satisfied that I have done my best to help and that is all that I can do.

  3. Do you know John, your reply has really meant something to me. I don’t see myself as strong either. I didn’t actually know who I was and now I can see that it’s being a realist. Please pass on my best wishes to your son

  4. Dear Helen,

    My son went through something similar at age 23, and has continually amazed me with his positive attitude as he deals with his new reality. You seem to share his point of view. He doesn’t see himself as being strong, but rather, as a realist who would be foolish to ignore or deny all the wonderful things he has going for him. Life is good, and you both inspire me to see it for what it really is.

    From Portland, Oregon, I thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Best wishes,
    John

  5. Nice post Helen. I admire the attitude you have developed despite your injury. I hope I’m able to face any adversity when it comes as you do. Eventually if we’re fortunate enough to grow old, we will all be faced with similar diminished physical abilities. I witness some older folks unhappy as they fight and rebel against such. Others that have surrendered,accepted and even embraced old age seem so much happier.

    1. Thanks Rob. People’s replies have been lovely. I can identify with older people now who fight how they are. A good friend of mine told me that anger and frustration are part of acceptance, and now, 7 years on, I can see that’s true

  6. Helen, many congratulations on finding a meaning in your suffering. I am studying Logotherapy invented by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl and you are a perfect example of how one can change one’s attitude to a life changing blow of fate. You are living a modern form of stoic existence which I think many people can identify with, and try and emulate as a result of your inspiration. I hope you regularly give yourself a hug for all you have achieved. Sincere best wishes from Dublin.

  7. And thank you Jennifer for your kind message. Writing things for the stoicism blog has helped me come to terms even more with what’s happened – a nice surprise for me!

  8. I echo the comments of both Marko and Hugh. The traumatic events in our life if we can keep positive and try to live in the present moment can actually help us find true peace and happiness. It is easy to talk about the theory of Stoicism but you are living proof that it works. My husband died suddenly three years ago a week after my daughter and grand children had emigrated to Australia and five months later I was made redundant from a job I loved. I have rebuilt my life which is entirely different from my life in 2011 but as you say the people you meet along the journey of life are incrdible and if you let them help you life can be full and exciting. I too heard about the Stoic Week on Radio 4 and participated in the project and it has been very rewarding and opened up new avenues for me. You are an inspiration and I send you every good wish for your happiness in your new home.

    1. Do you know, Angela, your reply has made me so glad that I ventured into posting something on the stoicism blog. You sound an inspiration too, I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through your troubles, and I’m pleased that you said it’s opened up new avenues for you too

    2. Take care, dear Angela, the world is all yours and will bring you so much joy until you and we all change the earthy location and go somewhere else to rejoin those who have already departed. I strongly recommend the book by Eben Alexander “The Proof of Heaven” which is also full of optimism and hope.

  9. Dear Helen,
    I am co-founder and a lecturer on Ireland’s first Masters in Coaching Psychology in University College Cork. As a central element of the programme we focus on Cognitive Behavioral Coaching. This is not just about coaching others but also about coaching ourselves mindfully, (Mindfulness based Self Coaching / MBSC) and dare I say it stoically. Our performance in life can be impacted by unexpected and catastrophic events such as yours but we always have choice as to how we play with our attitude. You are certainly writing your own story. You are doing that with immense heart and courage. You are inspiring in the extreme. You are a shining example to us all in our mindlessness. What is the next chapter in your story? Thank you. Hugh O’Donovan.

    1. Crikey Hugh, I can’t believe I’ve had a reply from a person so highly qualified in psychology – so thank you! I wrote an update at the end of 2013, not intending for it to be read, but your reply has encouraged me to ask for it to be posted, so Patrick is kindly going to add it to the site tomorrow

  10. Dear Helen,

    I admire you from the bottom of my heart. While most of us mostly talk about stoicism, spirituality and other ”wananbe” technics, you actually do it every moment of the day. I wish you a very fruitful, fulfilling and holistically happy life many years to come.

    Best regards from Slovenia

    Marko Pavliha