Being yourself 

My last nursing placement which lasted 9 weeks, whereby none of the staff knew about my brain injury, was something quite amazing for me. It was a profound experience! 

It might sound daft to some, but it was the first time I felt normal and like I was just another member of the team since my TBI. I felt more confident and walked away with all A stars. My feedback even got me invited to represent my university up in London. 

I felt like the real me, not the brain injured me. For the first time in years I didn’t feel alone, I felt like I was normal. Sure I suffered inwardly, but I felt strong and able to deal with it. 

There was no ‘maybe try writing Lists? Are you tired? Can you be quick with the NG feed, I know you talk a lot and you struggle with concentration but Try to concentrate. 

For the first time since my injury, I made proper friends. I performed well and I couldn’t hve been happier. People didn’t treat me differently. 

Anywhere I go I do not mention it. If people ask about my scars, I tell them I had a car crash. 

That’s usually followed by the inevitable ‘are you ok now? No side effects?’ To which I say ‘no, all good now’. 

Even though it makes me sad it’s the lesser of two evils. 

Sometimes I feel like a patient because even if my brain injury is not referred to directly, I become a patient indirectly. The atmosphere instantly changes when people find out I’ve got a hidden and weird disability. 

My symptoms don’t define me, but I’m not fussed if people do think this. I only care when it has the potential to affect my nursing. 

Perhaps this is why I don’t keep friends for the long term. 

When people get close I’m keen to distance myself and start again. The more they know the more they don’t know, if that makes sense. 

It’s difficult to describe but it is what it is. I am happy to be alive, it’s a bonus I made it this far all things considered! So I am grateful and happy, it’s just lonely sometimes. Either way my brain injury means I can only be who I am, I can’t pretend. I don’t have the faculties to pretend to be something other than myself anymore. No front, just truth. 

I tried being sensible for years, but it didn’t work out.

I tried to fit in, same conclusion. 

I tried to be quiet, no chance. 

I tried following the rules like other people. This was a huge failure. 

It’s true, being myself is all I can be, totally and 100%. It does seem to get me into trouble an awful lot though I’m told. 


It’s easier for me to get into trouble and be disliked whilst being myself than acting and pretending to be something I’m not. 

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Finding God? Try this:

Summer 2002

I was 12 years old and going nowhere fast. I was getting into fights every week at school and I would more than likely have carried down that route as I started at my high school in the same year, had the first magical moment in my life not presented itself, in timely fashion.

At the end of school on a wet and windy afternoon, my teacher, Mr Joseph, dismissed the class for the day, but he had asked me to stay behind for a chat.

Oops. There were a million things I could be in trouble for

I stood before him, head bowed and fidgeting nervously. I asked what I’d done wrong. And then this happened:

‘Michael, you’re not fulfilling your potential. I know you said you want to help people and become a brain surgeon when you’re an adult, but you seem disinterested now, you’re on a slippery slope. So I bought you this’

He handed me a medical book. Inside he had written a message of luck for me. This guy actually believed in me even when I, or anybody else didn’t.

The book was called ‘Think Big’, by Ben Carson, the best and most celebrated paediatric neurosurgeon in the modern world. It told a story of how he had been at a similar point as myself in middle school i.e. low grades and constantly getting into trouble, and how he turned it round to become one of the most skilled surgeons the world has ever seen.

That day, something changed. I became obsessed with learning.

I would read 1-2 books a week, I read encyclopaedias cover to cover, I would test myself on the different anatomical aspects of the brain, how it worked, how it could be fixed. I became obsessed on anything and everything to do with neurology and the brain.

I stopped getting into fights and devoted my time to reading and learning. I became a sponge!

Mr Joseph was the first person to teach me the importance of compassion. It can change people’s lives and it is the only cure for any problem in the world, no matter how dark or ugly that problem may be.

Since the London bridge bombings, the people of London have actually been talking to each other on the tube. They’re being kinder to Muslims on the street. The city that the rest of the UK hates is receiving the most love and support it’s seen since WW2. The exact opposite is happening to what the extremists wanted.

Compassion is god, however you choose to define the word. There are over 300 religions in the world, but they all hanker for a glimpse into the kingdom of god. Despite religion losing it’s religious quality and becoming increasingly political over the years, all religions want the same thing: a glimpse into godliness.

For the record, I am an atheist. But I believe in godliness as a quality, not a person. And true religion is beautiful, as is a truly religious man/woman.

Well, try being compassionate to someone you hate. Then you may find ‘god’, whatever that word may mean to you. Try compassioning instead of hating and over time you’ll find that hatred disappears. This is proven time and time again for me.

I would not be sat here today writing this to you had Mr Joseph not shown me such extraordinary kindness on that day back in 2002.

Since then, I learned to never give up on myself or my dreams. There were times in my life that I didn’t think I’d talk properly again, if I’d walk again or even survive another day.

But I did survive and I did learn to walk. Then people told me I couldn’t be a nurse, I couldn’t get to my dream because it wasn’t practical anymore.

I might not be a brain surgeon, but I am living my dream and its all thanks to compassion and the people that have been brave enough to embrace and demonstrate it.

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NB

Mr Joseph attended my wedding and came to visit me in Cambridge where I was undergoing intense specialist neuro-rehab for my brain injury. We remain good friends to this day.

 

 

 

 

 

PTA part 2 – realities

‘Mikey! Mikey! Are you ok? Are you OK mate?!’

Tap tap tap to the chest.

‘Mikey?!’

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The name of the doctor who was tapping my chest and waking me up from my coma abroad needs to remain confidential, because as I write these words my solicitor’s advice that I discontinue writing my blogs rings in my ears. He first told me to stop 2 and a half years ago.

They will be watching and they will be reading.

This is for you guys, in case you forgot:

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4 years previously..

My neuro therapist sat cross legged in the chair next to me.

‘So, let’s get started. I know you want to try and restart your nurse training again, I’ve been told your adamant about it. Is it really what you want to do? I mean, is there something else you might find enjoyable? I’m just thinking of the difficulties you now face with cognition, communication etc, I’m just being practical

. You’d need so much support and additional considerations, are the uni aware of that? Are they willing to support you in such a way?’.

1 year and a half ago…

Health visiting was never really my thing, but I wanted to give it my absolute best as I have done with all my placements. As I sat in the cold chair in one of the offices, a member of staff spoke with me:

You’re wonderful with patients and their families. You’re compassionate and skilled, but there’s something not quite there. Have you ever thought about doing something else? I mean, there are so many jobs where your talents could be applied.

I spoke with a member of my university recently. Sometimes being so different is the loneliest feeling in the world. People like me are hard to understand, or even like, but this isn’t news to me. It’s an old reality that I’ve understood for 5 years now.

Things happen, I make mistakes. I try my best with everything and I always will. I have a year to go and I’m about to embark on my biggest challenge yet, the one which will challenge the reality of whether I can hold down a job as a nurse.

If you ever think negatively of someone because of the way they are, remember this: they haven’t had the same life experiences as you. It goes back to what I often say about homeless people, they didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to become an alcoholic or drug abuser with no home. Imagine what must have happened in their lives for this to become their reality.

You have to be willing to go it alone.

No one will ever understand, mostly because they won’t hang around long enough anyway, so act on that and be prepared before it happens, otherwise you’ll be sad all the time. Don’t be bought by the crap you always hear at the beginning, ‘I want to know you, I want to be involved with you. I’m not like the others’.

Because of my personal experiences the people I meet now don’t even get the chance to know me

Distance yourself and don’t feel badly about it, it’s your reality. Learn not to care about what people think of you, or you’ll be miserable. Most important of all, you have to find peace amidst the chaos!

Peace in storm

I’ve been told for years how I should live my life, what I should and should not do etc, what’s acceptable, what’s not, what’s allowed, what’s socially correct and what’s not.

It makes no difference to me who believes in me and who doesn’t, I have very little emotion for anything other than my family, Reese and showing compassion to people.

But I’m still here. One more year to go and I’m going to give it all I’ve got, win or lose. But I won’t fail, because you only fail if you don’t try.

 

 

 

 

PTA part 1

So I’m lying in the hospital bed. I’ve woken up from my coma and emerged from post traumatic amnesia, I’m in a specialist brain injury ward. I know this because the words are written in front of my bed on a white board:

Your name is Mikey Whitehead. You are on ****  TBI/ABI ward, *** hospital.

You what? I was on honeymoon the other week, WTF am I doing here? Then I remember the plain crash I had and a wave of absolute fear and pure terror sweeps over me as I remember it. There’s a knock at my door and a woman comes in.

‘Hey Mikey. My name is Alison, I’ll be helping you to talk and swallow properly again’ she says.

Does she know I’m a student nurse?

After an hour of what I deem to be pointless but exhausting work, she leaves. I try to lift my arm to touch the TV screen in front of me to watch a pre paid film, but I’m too weak. My head drops back and I’m too weak to fight the tiredness. I fall asleep for what must have been at least two hours. I’m woken by another knock on my door. Two physio-therapists tell me they’re going to teach me to walk again.

After an hour of dribbling over them and falling arse about face, nearly shitting myself and collapsing onto a commode, they finally leave. They both flash me a smile, wipe the dribble from their shirts and tell me how well I did in today’s session. Then there’s yet another knock at my door.

Three men and a lady are standing in my doorway. Then a tall man with a very round and shiny head walks in.

‘Hi Mikey, I’m Dr ***, we’re just doing the ward round. How are you today?’ he asks me.

The tall man asks to examine me. He asks me to put my hands out and touch his fingers with my forefinger. I can’t believe how difficult this is.

‘Oh’, a saddened voice appears behind me. It’s my parents, who have appeared as if by magic, there’s someone else next to them as well. How the hell did they appear out of nowhere?

 I wanted to see Dani, where was my wife?

‘What year is it? Who’s the prime minister?’

God knows the answers to these questions. I looked up at the clock, I used to be able to understand them. All I felt was a severe pain in my head and a blur of numbers which meant nothing to me. I felt so sick, so tired. I just wanted to sleep.

‘Goodnight Mikey, have a nice sleep!’

The lights went out. The I.V line running through my hand was hurting. What was it stuck in my arm for? I pulled it out. What was this tube stuck down my nose? I pulled it out. A nurse left me for five minutes, so I stood up and made for the toilet. The drip stand fell over as I clambered over the bed and made for the toilet. When I got there I pulled my trousers down and there was a tube coming out of my special man parts. DAFUQ is going on?

Mikey  STOP!!

The next day, a nurse enters my room. She says:

I know you said you love nursing, but I think it might be time to think about another profession. I mean, you’re lucky to be alive. You should be thankful for that much. It’s just not realistic babe, I know it’s hard to accept this now but you’re a young man there’s loads of work you can enjoy. Being realistic, It’s time to throw in the towel now.

 

 

Camera phones

A blog should be about what you’re experiencing, so I’ll give you a peak into my little world and write about each day as it happens from now on. As opposed to reflective writing, that is.

So I’m in a bar tonight. I’m drunk, a very spicy curry is in my system so I’m just kicking it and taking it easy with a friend.The friend I’m with notices the guy next to us with his ‘girlfriend’. She’s a very ‘attractive’ and ‘stunning’ blonde girl, really incongruous to the guy she’s with. He’s bald and unattractive but clearly has bags of money. He’s really scary looking too, I mean, he has a shaved head and everything. Oh, and a stone island hoody.

We both know what the time is. She’s probably a lady of the night just doing her thing. But whatever, that’s cool

Oops. They start to have a barmy, he gets angry at her and she decides to go to the toilet with her drink, probably to get over the little tiff they’ve just had.  I could put money on what they’re arguing about, but that’s for another blog. Or perhaps it’s because of all his drugs she just spilled on the floor and I’m the only one to notice, it’s hard to say.

They both go out for a cigarette. But my friend notices what they left behind by mistake on the floor and brings it to my attention: about 12 pills scattered on the ground, and then two little piles of white dust. Oops.

Let’s keep it real, we all know what was left on the floor. The only problem is, the bar staff have noticed what it is but are refusing to acknowledge it. They’re avoiding the little pic n’ mix situation going on on the floor like the plague. So who in the heckles is going to acknowledge what they’ve left on the floor, or are we all gonna just pretend it’s not there?

Oh dear, what a pickle. Being a controversial soul, I decide to not be a coward. Maybe I’m stupid, as I’m sure my mum and dad will proclaim when they’re back from their holiday and they read this. Maybe they’re right. But ‘when good men do nothing, evil previals; rings in my head day and night. C’est La Vie.

A random guy who was chatting to white hoody man earlier on comes in and ‘orders’ a drink, in a very sly manner. He bends over and picks up the pills that white hoody man dropped on the floor. He goes outside to the smoking area and hands it back to the hard nut in white who’s now hugging the blonde bird. He was angry at the girl because she dropped is drugs, but her wasn’t going to be seen in public picking them up. Oh, and I filmed the whole thing.

He’s a really scary looking dude. I mean, he’s wearing a stone island white hoody. You can’t get much harder than that. And bald, it looked like right said Fred had just walked in.

Like I could give a blue monkey how he looks, I’ve seen all this crap a million times before, it’s boring to me so I decide to try and catch him out. Again, I put my phone on record, put it in my pocket and approach the ‘ringleader’ in the white and let him know his pills and sherbet is on the floor.

Hello mate. I’m Mikey and I’m not that normal. Oh and you’re shit is on the floor by the way, you might want to pick it up.

I say, motioning to all the crap lying on the floor, hoping that he’d pick it up so I could catch him in the act.

Of course, he denies the whole thing and says it’s what his lady friend has dropped, ‘they must be vitamins, honestly mate’. Immediately I can see he thinks I’m old bill. Gutted, I nearly had him. He’s obviously a seasoned veteran. I squeeze the crap out his hand when we shake afterwards, just to let him know that if he or his ‘goons’ decide to jump me on the way home that I won’t take it lightly.

Long story short: this doesn’t end with anything special. I look behind me on the way home and that’s about it.

The thing that got me angry was the thought this little shit-bag dropped his drugs to the floor where I’ve been with Reese. The minute I thought that nothing else mattered.

 

All I’ll say is this:

This is why I don’t go out much. My brain injury means I can be fearless at times, even when it’s  to my own detriment, But I will say: camera phones are a marvellous invention.

When I was younger, I remember numerous times I was on the street being beat the shit out of, people were walking by and noticing what was happening but were too scared to do anything about it. I remember thinking, ‘I’d give anything for someone to stop and help me’.

I refuse to feel fear anymore. I refuse to have that feeling where you’re mind is controlled so strong by emotion, like when you’re scared, or when you love someone or really care for them you’d go to the moon and back for them. In either situation, you can (and most probably will be) taken advantage of because you’re not thinking clearly. That was what happened in my experiences anyway.

So keep out my way. Whether you’re hitting a dog, threatening  a child with violence or dealing drugs in a public bar. I tend not to care about any of it, I’ll try my best to do what I think is right.

 

Compassion

May 2013

I sat in the offices in my university going through the motions of having to formally admit defeat to my head injury by withdrawing from my nursing degree programme. Not five days before this, I had also admitted defeat at a prestigious nursing event where I was due to hand out an award in front of some pretty big names from my profession (like the CEO of NHS England).

I sat opposite a tutor who had also been attending the same awards ceremony up in London. She had been there to witness the soul destroying and humiliating defeat I’d given in to on that day.

‘When I tried to return to university; the pain, dizziness, sickness and vertigo symptoms that were with me at the awards ceremony just don’t seem to be going away. I’ve given it everything I have’ I’d said, looking up meekly at the tutor.

Fast forward a couple of months now. I’m sat  in the comfy armchair that my then long-term neuro-psychotherapist would talk to me in.

‘The pain, the depression, the trauma, it’s not leaving me. The nightmares are a living hell. There’s no way to say if this will get better, I have no one and I have nothing to live for. I really don’t know if I will be able to be a nurse now’ I remember saying, as tears filled my eyes.

‘It takes courage to admit that Mikey’, he’d said to try and comfort me.

I’d meant every word of what I’d said to him. I didn’t know if it was possible for me to even have a job let alone work in my dream job as a nurse

I had no one. My marriage was in pieces. I’d suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after being injured myself after the traumatic birth of my daughter, who very nearly didn’t survive.

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I was using a concoction of alcohol, diazepam, propranolol, zopiclone, dihdrocodeine and paracetamol (taken with aspirin) to try and escape the realities of my life by spacing me out as much as humanly possible.

I was suffering from PTSD, severe anxiety and depression. The nightmares and flashbacks were only ever waiting just round the corner from me, ready to strike at any time of the day or night. Because of my injury, it was so difficult controlling my emotions and thoughts now. Brain injury deeply effects the most valuable principles we humans need to function: our self-identity.

I didn’t know who I was anymore. Even my wife didn’t like this ‘new’ Mikey.

I was living and hoping to die from a seizure which would strike at any moment.  It was at this point where I really didn’t care if I lived or died. I won’t lie, I considered ending the whole thing on more than one occasion and I wasn’t afraid to do it.

The people around me showed no understanding of my condition and PTSD, other than my parents, who lived 120 miles away. People would talk about me, be vindictive and nasty about my new behaviour which was ‘not what the old Mikey would have been like’.

I had lost everything. My life was in pieces and there was not a single person who could understand the ‘new’ Mikey and his problems. I’d gone from being a ‘nursing celeb’ (as the editor of the Nursing Times had dubbed me) to having nothing.

Back to the university offices in May 2013

‘I don’t know what to do. Nursing is my life, it was always my dream to be here. Now I have to walk away’ There were actual tears at this point.

The tutor turned to me and began to speak. What she had said next changed my life forever:

‘This doesn’t have to be the end. I have something to say to you’ she had said.

‘Take another year out to recover. We will hold your place open for you, you won’t have to reapply’.

Even today, I am searching for the words to describe this incredible act of compassion and kindness, but I’m still drawing a blank.

‘But that means I would have been on the course for over 5 years, which is against NMC regulations. Who has arranged this?’  I asked. 

And then something magical happened.

‘I did’ she answered, her eyes also starting to fill. She was giving me a way out.

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Two weeks ago I completed three years of formal academic nurse training, something I initially set out to do 6/7 years ago.   There have been many people in my life who have not been kind to me, and by quitting nursing I’d have been throwing away an incredible act of kindness that was showed to 5 years ago.

There will never be anything I can say or do, even though I’m told my ‘dedication and commitment is enough’.

But the commitment was never only just about the nursing, it was about something far more profound, I fought for something I now believe can save us when we are at our lowest points in life, because compassion is more than just an act, it can change peoples lives for the better.

On behalf of my four year old daughter, who is constantly helping me come up with funnier and sillier ways ‘to make the sick children at daddy’s work better’, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Dispelling hatred 

I have as much reason to feel hate as anyone else and I’m sure I struggle with it as much as anyone too.

There is a secret, but it’s the hardest thing to get your head round. It involves the opposite of what’s been drummed into us. 

I left my ex wife with the agreement I’d be back, until she surprised me by asking me for me to sell my shares in it shortly after I had ‘temporarily’ moved out.

The same applies to hurt as well. There’s a secret for that too. 

I could’ve taken £250,000 with me as I was legally entitled to. But I said I wouldn’t, as we had agreed verbally years before. That was fair, nothing special. 

I can’t work full time ever again and some people think I was silly for doing that. 

I recently agreed to reimburse her for £20,000 her mum had leant me for my rehabilitation after my injury of my claim is a success. Even if I get £21,000, I’ve agreed she can have it. 

And rightly so. But it was something else I could’ve acted upon differently. 

She’s taking Reese away to Disneyland, the place we agreed I would get to take her to first. Plus it will be on Father’s Day, any other day would’ve been ok.

Hating her and her actions is foolish. It creates more anger and would only cause hatred. When you trust the one person in your life with everything and these things happen, it changes you as a person. 

I won’t hate 

I’ll love, Because the secret is this: 

Hate does not dispel hate, only love dispels hate. That is the law, ancient and inexhaustible. 


These personal experiences of mine can be applied to anything in life. I  have learned this by applying it to others who have viciously betrayed me in the past. 

Hatred is the dark, love is the light. You cannot do anything to darkness, the only way you can get rid of it is by introducing light. 

I’ve been keeping a secret when writing these blogs 

I’m not sure I’m ready to tell my stories yet, or if it’s even safe. Or wise for that matter. But my brain injury is only one of the stories. 

It’s one I’ve been able to tell, albeit with a great deal of risk. 

I will live my life in truth. Truth doesn’t need an opinion or explanation, it simply is. I’m not commenting on anything I’ve spoken about here today, so nobody can feel antagonised by it. 

It’s simply the truth, that’s all.