A WORCESTERSHIRE woman, who has spent more than 20 years struggling to accept her brain injury, has now turned her life around.

Liz Jauncey, who lives in a sheltered housing scheme in Droitwich, Worcestershire, is 53 years old. There is little physical trace of the devastating brain injury – a subarachnoid haemorrhage – that struck her in 1993 when she was just 28 years old and a mum to three young daughters aged nine, eight and five.

As she waited for surgery, her family members were told she had a 50/50 chance of surviving. She came through the surgery with no obvious physical side effects, however, her personality had changed dramatically and the result was nothing short of devastating as she and her family silently adapted their lives to it.

Liz said: “After my operation, because I could still walk and talk and I looked the same, I was treated the same as before and was told that everything would get back to normal. I clung onto this for more than 20 years.

“One of the worst things was that I could remember the person I was before and, having been told that I would be back to normal in no time, I kept trying to be that person. I went from being out-going to suddenly being extremely nervous around people.

“Although my understanding was still there, I was not able to remember words and found it extremely difficult to think of the right things to say. Ultimately this led to me isolating myself and I found I could only cope in situations with a limited amount of people which led me into many episodes of depression.”

Liz had problems with concentration, memory, anger and fatigue and, because of the haemorrhage, she was diagnosed with epilepsy.

She said: “My downfall was that I masked the depression by laughing, smiling and joking and although I did ask for help, I was unable to get the support I needed as those around me thought I was fine.

“Because of this I allowed everyone to make all decisions for me. Unfortunately none were based on what I really needed.”

Liz wanted to return to the “normality” she had been told would happen and, finding that this was impossible to achieve, she had a breakdown within a couple of months of her operation and that resulted in her leaving her family without telling them.

After a short time she made limited contact with them and after eight months returned home. On her return she was offered an appointment to see a neuropsychologist and from there had a referral to Headway, an independent charity supporting adults and families affected by acquired brain injury in Worcestershire.

The changes in her personality led to the – amicable - breakdown of her marriage and she continued to have support from her ex-husband.

Now on her own with her children, she found it difficult to cope and her eldest daughter went back to live with her father. Her middle daughter was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Liz struggled to cope with the high demands that came along with this as she was still struggling with her own changes. As a result of this she put her daughter into voluntary care.

Now challenged by the simplest of tasks like cooking and cleaning, her five-year-old began to take charge. In 1999 Liz re-married but continued to struggle with everyday life.

In 2014 Liz was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - a lung condition that affects everyday life in many ways - and spent time in and out of hospital and in need of extra care.

She applied for sheltered housing in 2015 and in the May, was offered a place in secured sheltered accommodation at The Heriotts in Droitwich. This offered on-site 24-hour warden support, an emergency pull cord in every room which was reassuring for Liz as she knew that, should she have a problem, someone will be with her in minutes. With a quieter pace of life Liz was also able to feel more relaxed and secure.

Although it was less stressful she still spent most of her time in her flat, feeling unable to cope with being around many people. In early 2016 she began to see a Headway councillor at home.

Liz said: “The counselling helped me to build up my confidence and my counsellor, also a brain injury survivor, was able to understand the problems I experienced and I was talked through the sessions in a way that I found easy to understand. Her enthusiasm inspired me to make those crucial first steps on the road to recovery and I have gone from strength to strength since.”

In mid 2016 Liz joined Breathehappy, a local group for people with lung conditions which included a half an hour walk once a week along with support and help.

In January 2017 she began to join in with activities with the other residents at The Heriotts, including bingo and bowling. She has recently set up a second walking group called Parkwalk which is a group for the over 50s and encourages less active people to have a go, supporting any who may have confidence issues.

Liz has also become an enthusiastic resident with the bowling group, which – with her commitment and volunteering input – is now a weekly activity. She is also taking part in the 12-week fitness programme delivered by Fortis Living and funded by Get Wychavon Active which includes Zumba, CrossFit and bhangra.

She now runs an arts and craft group for residents and, as an active member of the community, is currently working with Fortis Living to improve the noticeboards where she lives.

Liz has also started cooking again and has travelled on a train alone for the first time in 20 years.

She added: “I ‘failed’ in my initial recovery but I am now learning to be the person that I should have been encouraged to be after my operation, the real me as I am now, not who I was.

“One of the most overlooked aspects of my life after my brain injury was accommodation. One of the main reasons my confidence has grown is to do with my living arrangements.

“Looking back, I feel that had I been given the option of short-term supported accommodation on my own, I could have found the right direction to cope with my issues and avoided some of the devastation that my family have had to deal with.

“I can almost hardly recognise myself now. By telling my story I hope to learn more about myself, about my brain injury and importantly help others who find themselves in the same situation as me.

“Accepting I have a brain injury means I can now adapt myself around it and stop trying to be the person I was. This approach has changed my life.”

Caroline Winnall, Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator at Fortis Living said: “Not only is Liz an absolute inspiration to all those who have been part of her journey, she is also living proof that, in the face of adversity, people can still turn their lives around. We are humbled by Liz and would like to thank her for her dedication and hard work with her extended Fortis family.”