'I didn't have a scratch on me - but I knew something was different' - young woman who sustained brain injury in bike fall
"I remember staring at my hands and thinking there were no scratches or bruises... but something had changed and I couldn’t figure it out"
A young woman has shared the details of her ongoing recovery after sustaining a brain injury when she fell off her bike in Dublin's city centre.
Linda Collins (28) was on a morning commute on Camden Street on July 31, 2014 when a screw came loose on her mudguard, jamming her tyre, and sending her head first over the handlebars.
Speaking to Independent.ie, Linda said she now wants to share the details of her fall and the road to recovery to help other people in her situation.
"The fall was a bit of a blur, but I didn't have a scratch on me. The red light was on and I was slowing down when I fell off my bike," Linda said.
"The traffic was stopped at the time. I remember being on the ground and everything on top of me, I just got up. People were getting out of cars and asking was I okay.
"I felt like everyone was looking at me and I didn't understand, I felt fine.
"Then I was talking to colleagues when I got into work. I thought, 'I have no idea of what you're saying to me, I know you're talking to me, but I have no idea what the words mean'. My brain wasn't processing it, and I knew there was something wrong with me," she continued.
"I just felt weird. I remember staring at my hands and thinking there were no scratches or bruises. There was one crack on my helmet, probably a sign that it had got a good bang."
Linda was diagnosed with severe concussion and whiplash that afternoon, and she would later discover that she had also suffered a mild traumatic brain injury. Her symptoms for the next few years would include insomnia, headaches, fatigue, visual disturbances, poor attention or concentration, memory loss and irritability.
The University of Limerick business graduate had started a new job the month before her fall and moved in with new housemates in August.
"I didn't realise it at the time but all the changes weren't helping [my condition]," Linda said.
"At the time, I just felt like it was really bad timing. There was so much going on at the one time. I felt so guilty for not being at work. I was thinking, 'They all think I'm some big fake'.
"I had just moved in with new people while we were trying to figure out what was wrong with me as well. I felt like they thought I was absolutely bananas, because I looked fine but I didn't feel fine."
Linda has now decided to write about her experience, hoping her own road to recovery and the tips she has picked up along the way can help others who have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury or those who suffer from some of the injury's symptoms.
Her website, 'Patience Living With A Brain Injury', details her recovery journey and top tips for managing symptoms, as well as providing advice for family and friends of a loved one who has suffered a similar injury.
Writing about her experience, Linda said she remembers feeling "isolated" in the weeks after the accident.
"I couldn’t work, I couldn’t socialise – I felt isolated, alone and clueless if I’m honest.
"Surely I didn’t have a brain injury? They’re just being overly cautious! I don’t have one single bruise on my body – and I bruise like a peach! But yet, I knew something was different.
"Something had changed and I couldn’t figure it out. There were too many ‘Why’s?’ to ignore."
Now four years later, through her hard work, resilience and patience in learning to manage her symptoms, Linda most certainly feels the good days outweigh the bad at this point. Working as an account manger in a busy marketing agency, Linda says she credits her doctor with giving her the push to start her website.
"I stopped and started writing a few times," she said.
"About two years into my recovery, my doctor said; 'You've such a positive attitude, you've tried everything to get better and I'd love you to put that resilience into something to help others'.
"Then I thought maybe I'll start writing about it. I did start and found it too emotional at the time and too difficult to relive the experiences I'd had.
"One day a few months later, in October last year, I just started writing. It all started coming out, I wasn't getting emotional."
Linda said she felt there weren't any sufficient online resources on recovering from a mild traumatic brain injury for her family or friends in the months after her fall.
"I found I was reading the more extreme stories, the really bad car accidents and people who had had strokes, really devastating incidents... I was reading those and felt, 'that's not me'. I felt there wasn't anything there for me.
"My family and friends were trying to help or advise me, but nobody had experienced something like this before. It's all well and good for me to write my story, but I knew if I put down all the tips I had picked up along the way, like what to do if you're not sleeping well, it could help people.
"The thing is, after my own accident I looked perfect. I walked away from it. I thought, 'I'm actually grand, I don't have a bruise or a scratch'."
Linda said she is now confident with her method of managing her symptoms, after a couple of years of trial and error.
"I find I start to slip if I don't practice mindfulness or if I don't get my eight hours sleep," she said.
"I definitely found my symptoms were a lot more severe around Christmas when I was socialising a lot more.
"Even when I was getting ready to launch the website, I had two episodes and a panic attack in the week before it went live. It seems ridiculous that all of these little things add to extra stress. I will always have to manage these symptoms but hopefully not as strictly.
"My family and friends have been great, I've spoken to them about everything. If I hadn't spoken to them, I don't know how my mental health would be. I'm so lucky to have them.
The young woman also credited the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire, Headway and Acquired Brain Injury Ireland for their support in the past four years.
"The plan now is to keep adding content to the website, I just want to help other people and families who went through what I went through," Linda said.
"A lot of people have got in touch since I launched the website and it makes me want to keep on going.
"Some people are saying that even though they may not have had a brain injury, they have a lot of the same symptoms of stress or anxiety, and the tips on mindfulness are really helping them.
"Another person with chronic back pain said the tips are helping her."
Writing on her website, Linda concludes; "I’m almost 4 years into my journey now and I certainly don’t have it all figured out.
"But what I do know, is that I’ve got to a point where I can live a normal life (the majority of the time anyway).
"My brain injury no longer defines me. So, I want to share with you all how I got to this point."