My name is John Collins, and I’d like to share my story of living with brain and spinal damage.
To begin, my journey of living with a brain condition started at age 11 or 12 when I experienced my first Traumatic Brain Injury. A hook got stuck in my head, requiring many stitches. Strangely, the trauma’s effects only became apparent when my personality changed, and my hair started turning grey, which concerned my parents.
As my life progressed, in my early twenties, I faced another life-altering event. I was thrown out of a window, landing 15 feet below in a basement area. Miraculously, I got up and appeared fine, even going to work. However, around midnight, I collapsed and was rushed to Barts Hospital, with no recollection of what happened afterward. Medical records show that I was under the care of a neurologist for two years, requiring monthly monitoring due to the Traumatic Brain Injury.
The damage to my reflex system persists to this day, leading to incorrect reactions. My memories are fragmented, with occasional flashbacks, but I struggle to recall much before my last Traumatic Brain Injury.
When people ask if I remember certain songs or TV shows, it can be challenging, but I’ve learned to shrug it off and continue with my life. In my thirties, I was diagnosed with a mild stroke and faced another Traumatic Brain Injury, leading to mild paralysis and memory problems. It became clear to me that if I wanted to create a life as a survivor of Traumatic Brain Injuries, I needed to reassess my life and the restrictions I faced.
In my forties, I pursued and achieved my Psychology and Law Degree and published my first book. Unfortunately, I then suffered another Traumatic Brain Injury, resulting from a bad fall, which affected my spine, hearing, and vision. However, I found a way to train my left brain to compensate for some right brain functions, resolving my speech problems by thinking in one accent and speaking in English. Subsequently, I encountered another Traumatic Brain Injury and further damage to my brain and spine in my late forties.
Despite these challenges, I refused to let them hold me back. I achieved my own High Court cases and co-authored over 15 books with my flatmate. Presently, I live with Spinal Compression of Root Nerves, CSVD, Chiari Malformation, Bilateral Hearing Loss, Bilateral Vision Loss, Scoliosis, Lesions in my Spinal Cord, Muscle Atrophy, Central Nervous System Disease, Brain Damage, Hydrocephalus, Spine Damage, and have survived over 5 Traumatic Brain Injuries, requiring me to use a wheelchair.
I aim to share my story with anyone who has faced brain or spinal injuries, to show that these challenges don’t define us. We define ourselves, and our experiences can enhance our empathy, realising we are no different from others. Though we may do things a little differently, with support, we can achieve the same outcomes.
Living with these conditions has, in my humble opinion, made me a better person. I embrace my circumstances and strive not to let them limit what I can do and wish to do. It is important we see each other as equals, and I will never stop fighting for my rights and the rights of others who may be unable to do so. We all have a voice that needs to be heard no matter how we get our words out, they are all important and should be seen for what they are.
I want to clarify that I’m not suggesting everyone should follow my path. Personally, I don’t see myself as disabled; I consider myself differently abled. My wheelchair serves as a means of transportation, and I control it. Similarly, my hearing aids assist me in hearing, but I am in control of them. When people see me, I want them to recognise the person beyond the chair. Each individual is equally important, no matter the challenges they face. Whatever you may be going through, remember things do get better.
Though it may not be easier, I’ve come to learn that it does get better. I have my share of bad days and difficult weeks, but I don’t allow the pain to take over. I own my life, and my disabilities do not define me.