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
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.