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Find what gives you joy - Pattie’s story

Find what gives you joy - Pattie’s story

Life before 18 July 2020 was pretty hectic. I’m a Mum to three boys, a wife and a primary school principal of a little Catholic school. My life was a mix between running the household, caring for my family and dealing with the variety of problems and tasks you get when you’re a teaching principal of a little school.

We had just sold our house and had moved into temporary housing, waiting for our new house to be completed. I was pretty shattered and felt exhausted on many levels!

During the last weekend of the July holidays, my husband and I had decided to go through to Christchurch for a couple of nights. On the Saturday night, we were on our way to go out for tea, and as it was very cold, we thought that it would be a good idea to jump on a Lime scooter instead of walking.

My husband was in front of me and I followed. I don’t remember much after that, as I was hit by a car as I was crossing the road. I became aware of my surroundings a while later in one of the trauma units at Christchurch Public Hospital. After many hours, tests and treatments, I was taken to the Neurology ward.

My left wrist was broken and in a cast. I had a deep wound in my forehead that required plastic surgery, a fractured skull, a face full of bruises, the mother of all headaches that wouldn’t quit and I was vomiting. Although I was confused about why I was injured, I knew what day it was and who my family was. I slept a lot! I struggled with my balance and felt very dizzy, needing assistance to get out of bed and go to the bathroom. I spent 10 days in hospital and was extremely excited to get back to my family.

The next part of my recovery is all a bit of a blur – it seemed as though one day merged into the next. It was a longer period than I initially thought I’d be in, a period I called the “Four Fs” – Fogginess, Fatigue, Frustration and Fear. There was a lot of tiredness, a lot of sleeping and a lot of crying.

I found that I was tired after doing simple tasks such as doing the dishes! My initial goal was to do simple routine housework and build on it as I could. I had help to keep on top of the bathrooms and vacuuming, but I worked on achieving the rest throughout each day with lots of rests in between.

My balance was still an issue, but once I’d had some treatment, it had improved enough that I didn’t need to steady myself by holding onto the walls.

Therapists from Laura Fergusson Brain Injury Trust visited me every week at the start, talking me through what was happening and helping me set goals for my recovery.

I thought that I’d be back at work pretty quickly as I had no idea how severe my injury was. Every goal I set myself – workwise – had to be reset!

Very gradually, I made myself get outside and go for walks. My dog and I would walk to the recycling and rubbish bins daily – probably only about 100m in total. Then we would add going to the end of the houses in our block – another 100m in total. I wouldn’t do this daily, only when I felt I could.

I found this part of my recovery very challenging. I wasn’t used to putting myself and my health first. I wasn’t used to struggling to do things. I was a capable, intelligent woman who was independent and fierce. I identified with being a career woman who was in control.

I had to shift my thinking, which was huge. I had to accept help. I had to relinquish control at home and at work. I had to focus on myself in order to recover.

We finally moved in to our new house early September. I felt as though I had room to breathe and I had a purpose each day. I began scheduling my day in my diary, making sure I wasn’t overdoing it and going back to the boom-and-bust attitude I had before my accident.

Scheduling appointments for the week, daily chores/tasks, walks/exercise, social events and also scheduling in regular rests throughout the day was extremely helpful. Not only did I feel more in control, but it was also a creative outlet for me.

I started going to physio for both my neck/back/shoulders and hand/wrist/fingers (which we discovered had also been broken after my cast was removed). My aunt drove me to and from hand therapy appointments in Rolleston. The movement of vehicles and the surrounding scenery left me feeling very tired, and I had to give myself time in between and after journeys to recover. Eventually, I was able to manage longer trips and my recovery time would be shorter.

My concussion physio was still visiting me. However, I began seeing a psychologist to help me work through all the feelings and issues that were coming up, and this reinforced the goals that I was working on. My psychologist helped me find my joy. We spoke about what I found challenging, how I spoke to myself, what I found important and what gave me the ‘good’ feels. My therapists worked on helping me achieve the goals that I was working towards.

After the Christmas holidays, I returned to school. Once again, I thought I’d be able to do more than I actually could. Time and time again, I would have setbacks – I’d set myself goals of how long I could be at school, I’d push on and my recovery would take a dive. I spent all of 2021 trying to get back to school full-time. The best I could manage was Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10am–1pm, still only doing admin work. We discovered that, if I tried to increase my hours too quickly without a ‘consolidation period’, the headaches and fatigue would return. Progress was slow.

Now, nearly two years on, after resetting my goals, I am finally back in the classroom two days a week but still working on being in the office full-time on the other three days, with later starts and early finishes. Life at home has become very quiet as all the boys are now at university, so I find I have less pressure to be on call for them! I still get fatigued, still get headaches – especially when I do too much.

Changing the way I speak to myself has helped me come to realise that my recovery has been a very personal journey. Understanding and identifying my emotions and limitations has been the biggest challenge – and continues to be ongoing. I now tell myself that it’s OK to feel like this, it’s normal for recovery to take time and to have setbacks.

Doing things that I enjoyed was the most helpful thing in my recovery. Planning out my day/week in a creative way by journalling, doing a little gardening, walking (increasing my time and distance as I felt I could) and rekindling my love of reading – all these little things gave me happiness and purpose. They made me feel good about myself. Going for a walk is now my ‘go to’ when I feel overwhelmed or frustrated.

As I look back on the last 22 months, I have come a long way, and although I may never be 100% the same as I was, maybe that’s not a bad thing – my life was not sustainable.

I also think that it would be important for family members to have some support. I was fortunate that my husband had some experience dealing with concussion, however not to the same extent as my injury. He would have benefited from someone having a chat with him about everything – not relying on me to pass on information.

If I had advice to give someone that was in my situation, it would be to give yourself time and go easy on yourself.

Find what gives you joy.

You can find Pattie's story along with 14 other stories in our book Hard Yakka, Concussion - The Lived Experience which you can buy here.