Life

'Your world changes in a moment': Brain injury survivors share remarkable stories of strength and triumph

Big Issue Recruit has teamed up with charity SameYou, which supports survivors of brain injury and campaigns for change

Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Big Issue Recruit has joined forces with SameYou, the charity launched by Emilia Clarke and her mum, to help people who have experienced a brain injury back into supported employment.

Here, three people tell their stories of what happened when life as they knew it changed forever.

Scott Pearshouse suffered a traumatic brain injury at the age of 27 after falling 40ft

His family were told that if he survived, he would be in an inpatient facility for at least two years. However, the married dad-of-one, now 40, made a miraculous recovery. Just as he was about to return to work after a year, he was made redundant from his job as an electrical engineer.  

Scott, Hayley and Penelope Pearshouse

I found life difficult to comprehend and couldn’t accept a different me. I applied for jobs but getting a role wasn’t the hard part; keeping the job while my brain was recovering was. 

I didn’t tell anyone about my brain injury. I couldn’t let anybody know what I’d been through because I wanted to progress in this world and I didn’t want them to look at me and think of me any differently.  

I decided to study part-time for a Quantity Surveying degree in 2013 while still trying to maintain employment. I completed my degree and achieved a 2:1 grading in 2016.   

The highlight for me was gaining sponsoring for the university fees, along with a first-class honour for my dissertation. I also studied for my RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) Chartership and in 2019 I achieved professional membership status first time round.   

I previously hadn’t told anyone within work about the injury and I had really hidden it in case it was seen as a negative. But I shared my story on LinkedIn in December, and it has been the catalyst for change. I’ve had such positive feedback, I really wasn’t expecting it. I am now a mental health ambassador for LionHeart, which provide support to RICS professionals and their families who may be going through bad times. My journey since the dark days of 2011 has been incredible. After everything I’ve achieved, I’m now talking to you guys and I have just been part of a panel talking about mental health for RICS. 

The message in my current workplace is ‘people before profit’ and I find this so refreshing. In the short time I’ve been there, they are helping me to thrive. 

Hayley Pearshouse was 23 when she left work to care for Scott

The couple, who live in the Midlands, have daughter Penelope, aged two and a half. Hayley, now 37, returned to work in a temporary role, and is now the senior lighting buyer for Sainsbury’s, Habitat and Argos. 

I was at the stage when I was thinking, should we move to London, then Scott had his accident. Obviously it just threw everything up in the air because he was in hospital for so long. My work was really supportive and I changed my hours so I started at 6am and finished about 1pm.  

Scott was in hospital for 17 weeks and I’d spend all day and night with him because he was really poorly. He had to have 24-hour care. It was intense. 

Then Scott moved into a living facility with strict, limited visiting hours. I hated it and Scott would beg me not to leave him. Because he was so unhappy there, they said he could come home. But he’d need care. So, I handed my notice in that day. My dad had been a carer and he said to me, ‘You’re so young. Do you want to be a carer?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t. But I love him and no one else is going to do that job as well as me.’ 

I went back to work after a year. I took a maternity cover role as an assistant for a buying team and they asked me about the gap in my CV. I said I’d taken a year off to care for my partner and he’d just recently gone back to work after a brain injury and they understood. 

I was trying to build my career because I was thinking if this doesn’t work out for Scott and he can’t hold down a job, I need to get a good job so that I can support us. It’s been a tough 13 years but we’ve always tackled things together. 

Today, we’re happy and I am super proud of him. Scott is now really enjoying his career. And I absolutely love what I do. 

Eddie Burgess, 64, from Burnley suffered a stroke last year

He works with adults with learning difficulties, mental health issues and those with challenging behaviours. Eddie enjoys his job but has been told after an independent assessment that he is not able to return to work for the moment.

Eddie Burgess

With my job, you definitely need to be attentive. You need to be alert. You need to be able to respond quickly if needed and you need a good memory. You also have to be physically fast sometimes. For my job, I need to be well.

Before the stroke I had a brilliant memory, I could remember dates and it was like a set of drawers in my head. I could just open the drawer and I’d know where all the information was. Now, it’s not like that. It slips, you know. The drawers are broken, let’s put it that way.

A nurse was appointed from an outside agency to do an assessment. They decided that I’m not fit for work at the moment, but they can’t decide when I will be fit for work. The nurse said from her experience, that she expected that the organisation I work for will want her to give a date, but she couldn’t do that. She said recovering after a brain injury isn’t straightforward.

I’m not 100%. Your world changes in a moment, you can’t just suddenly go back.

I’ve got a really good manager and she’s mentioned a phased return.

They said, just come back when you’re ready. You know, that kind of support.

But I also feel pressure. I think it’s my own pressure, really. I’m worried about finances. But then I’m a worrier, a constant worrier.But it’s having that financial back-up to be able to go back into work knowing that you have support if anything goes wrong. There’s no clear information out there.

I’ve been fighting, scrambling about the internet, trying to find out what I can do.

I am close to retirement. I’m only a year and a half away. But before I had the stroke, I didn’t want to retire. I enjoy work, as much as you can. When I first went there, I drove into the complex and I thought I want to work here, before I had even spoken with anyone.

I’ve worked in care for over 30 years and I’ve done all aspects of care. So, it’s part of my life now. It’s not just a job.

SameYou is partnering with Big Issue Group to support brain injury survivors and their loved ones back to work

Big Issue Recruit will introduce specialist job coaches to support individuals on a one-to-one basis during their search for employment and beyond.

If you would like to sign up to use the service as a candidate, or to learn how your business can support people with barriers to employment into work, visit our website, email us or call 0207 526 3200

Find out more about SameYou, including how to help and get help, at sameyou.org 

Call Mind’s free support line 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except bank holidays), on 0300 102 1234, email info@mind.org.uk or visit mind.org.uk for resources and advice if you are struggling with your mental health

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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