After falling off her bike on a Dublin street, it was some time before Baltimore woman Linda Collins realised the true extent of her serious injury. For the first 12 months, she couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, writes Emma Connolly
I’M not glad my accident happened, but it has got me to the good place I’m in today.
That’s how 28-year-old Baltimore woman Linda Collins feels after suffering a life changing brain injury, after falling headfirst from her bicycle while going to work.
Four years ago this July, Linda from Reengaroga was cycling along Dublin’s Camden Street when a loose screw on her mudguard caused her tyre to jam, sending her flying over the handle bars.
She was wearing a helmet and didn’t suffer any bruises or broken bones.
Other than feeling a little shaken, she felt able to continue on foot to work.
But without realising, her world as she knew it had changed forever.
The fall had caused a mild traumatic brain injury which would effect her cognitive skills and emotional behaviour in ways she could never have imagined.
She’s now sharing her incredible story, and the non-medical practices that helped her recover, in a newly-launched website called ‘Patience: Living with a Brain Injury.’
She talks about the chronic fatigue she suffered after the fall; her concentration problems, difficulties with noise and other challenges, and how over time she learned to control her mild traumatic brain injury, rather than have it control her.
On the site, she writes: ‘My journey tells the story of how I got to where I am now (the amazing highs and the lowest of lows) – back working full-time as an account manager in a busy marketing agency in Dublin, living a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
‘I still have my struggles, but the good days definitely out-weigh the bad ones! I hope my story will help others – both those suffering from a mild traumatic brain injury and their family and friends.’
Speaking to The Southern Star she said: ‘My motivation is to help others because when I had my accident I found myself in this “inbetween space”. I wasn’t on the severe spectrum, I didn’t need home care or I wasn’t an inpatient, but there wasn’t any resource available online that I could relate to. I wondered was I going to get better; how would that happen and how long it would take.’
She added: ‘Initially I told my story because I wanted to help just one person, just one family or just one mum like mine, to show that there is light at theend of the tunnel if you have patience.’
She’s been inundated with messages of support and thanks since she shared her experiences online – from people with brain injuries but also those living with pain, anxiety and depression.
‘My focus is on positivity so lots of people find it very helpful,’ said the UL graduate.
After her accident, she was unable to work despite her best efforts, and began a two-and-a-half year stint as an outpatient in the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire.
‘I worked with an occupational therapist to help me with my cognitive skills, things like multi-tasking, concentration and decision-making – basically to help me with everyday tasks.
‘I also had vocational therapy, and had to pass tests so I could get back to work. I started with eight hours over two days and now I’m back working full-time.’
Linda’s boyfriend Noel gets a lot of mentions on her website and she credits him, as well as her parents, brother and sister-in-law, for their huge support. She met him on the very day she got her brain injury diagnosis, just a few weeks after the accident.
Unable to get back exercising on her own, she signed up for personal training with Noel as her trainer.
The couple are now living together and happier than ever.
She admits she hasn’t been on a bike since the accident.
‘I did try once, but was too afraid. It was quite traumatic. I’d like to try again, though.’
Linda played football and basketball while a student in Mercy Heights in Skibbereen but now also avoids contact sports and anything that could potentially hurt my head.’
‘I would be quite cautious when it comes to a few things now. I didn’t fly for along time as I was afraid of air pressure; I wouldn’t scuba dive on holidays or anything like that, and when it was suggested a group would go to Disneyland I just said no as I wouldn’t do anything that involved spinning. But I try my best not to let my TBI stop me from doing most things. Instead I adapt and plan my week to optimise my brain’s ability to cope when attending a concert, going out with friends or going to a wedding,’ she said.
Linda has been medication-free since two or three weeks after her injury and instead has focused on exercise, food, sleep and meditation to recover.
‘I’m a stickler for my routine and build my week around optimising my brainpower. That involves at least eight hours sleep, and naps if something big is happening; making sure I eat very healthily, using food as fuel; taking exercise and practicing mindfulness, which basically allows your brain to rest and recover without going to sleep.’
She freely admits that there were plenty of times when she wouldn’t have believed she’d be where she is now.
‘Probably every day for the first 12 months, to be honest, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Milestones like Christmas and birthdays would come and go and I wouldn’t feel better or be able to socialise.
‘But you just have to pick yourself up. It helped that I was always a very positive person. If I was having a bad day, I’d tell myself that the only way I could know that, was because I must have had a good day the previous day.’
She’s adamant that everything happens for a reason, and while she acknowledges she has to follow a somewhat militant regime, and is very happy with her life.
‘I am often asked if I feel like I’ve missed out on defining years. The honest answer, despite losing complete control of my life for the first few years of my brain injury, is ‘no.’ Not one little bit. I’m 28 and I’m so thrilled to be able to say that I love my life.
‘I take the positive from it and say that I met Noel, a great boyfriend; I’m working as an accounts manager with some amazing clients and have great friends and family. Anyone would love my life – I’m very happy.’
The resilient young woman is determined to keep adding to sharing her experiences and continue helping as many people as possible.
When asked if there’s a book in her, she laughed before responding: ‘Find me an editor and I might just do it!’