Achieve everything with a pinch of salt

In our latest blog, Jack Martindale talks about his experience of returning to university following his brain injury which he sustained when he was hit by a car on New Years Day 2010.  Jack has also written a book ‘Battling a Brain Injury: the life that Jack build’ in which he tells his brain injury journey.  You can find out more about Jack and his book here.

Jack and his book
When it comes down to all decisions and choices that you may ever need to make, it can surely never be wise to trust anything that anybody ever says above your own judgement and intuition. Can it? Perhaps I can even occasionally be a bit stubborn. This is not a pleasant characteristic and certainly not one of my traits in which I’m particularly proud. A friendly seeming TFL worker unfortunately was the most recent victim of this who was faced with some unnecessary stroppiness after taking the liberty of butting into the conversation that I was having with a “visitor” friend. Being told that it would be quicker to exit Highgate station to get to Hampstead Heath a different way to which I had for the past decade is not something that could be met with much approval. The fact that the way that he directed is in fact marginally quicker is something that I can now take on board.   

Your own judgement is important

The point that I am however tenuously trying to make is that it is crucial to adapt and take in new information, though it can never be a positive element of a personality to ever consciously surrender your own judgement. This is incredibly true of my choice to go back to the University of York after incurring my severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) after being hit by a car in north London’s Palmers Green in the early hours’ of New Year’s Day 2010. Here, I’m using the term ‘choice’ loosely;  for me there was no alternative that I ever felt I had, but to resume my study’s and graduate from the English and Politics degree that I was already in the third year of and due to graduate from in the summer succeeding the accident. Obviously this supposed rite of passage never occurred as it was originally scheduled to happen, as eighteen months’ of intense neuro-rehabilitation was further confirmed.  

A bleak prognosis

Jack in a coma
Bleak is an understatement to describe the prognosis that I had been given upon being hospitalised.  The notion of me regaining full consciousness was far from definite and the idea that I should resume my studies may have been seen as absurd as it was farfetched. Having only turned 21 within several months’ of the accident, perhaps paints yet more graphic a picture toward the level towards which I felt that I still needed to prove myself and the abilities that I still felt obligated to conquer. This was arguably intensified by the scrutiny that I felt that I was destined to face throughout my ongoing recovery process. Undermining the necessity of this process may not be fair or even accurate; only from experience I can vouch that it is not a pleasant process to have to be put through. Still, on the 10th of July 2013, I finally graduated from the University of York. This was in the joint honours degree that I had already commenced and it is hard for me now to try and encapsulate the extent to whether I was most relieved or overwhelmed upon receiving my upper-second class honour’s certificate (2:1).  

The challenges of completing my degree

To paint the picture that I merely picked-up where I left off and resumed the life plan that I had already envisaged would be a gross mistruth. Partly as I’ll own-up to never having had any real idea of where life should lead beyond wanting to have some stability and spending lots of fun times along the way. Upon being inflicted with a supposedly “catastrophic brain injury”, this was all about to change.   It would be futile to try to claim that my circumstances had not drastically changed. If you have much first-hand experience relating to head injuries, you’ll be familiar with the term “insight”, most popular for therapists and the like to throw around. It is not that I’m wishing to at all discredit the term in itself, it is just that from first-hand experience, I have to say that there is little more demeaning than being subject to other people speculating upon the private matter of how you interpret information. Again, I am not wishing to dispel the value of professionals  assessing your progress, in helping you to achieve your goals. 
All that I am trying to say is that you can be the only real conductor of your life paths. There is absolutely no merit in blaming other people or using excuses."
Completing any degree is challenging and as I was pretty adamant that I should complete mine, I still believe that this driving force overrode any challenges or obstacle that I inevitably faced. Determination and drive without delusion is what I’d still hail as a characteristic in overcoming all potential barriers in life.
Jack and his mum at graduation
 

Reflections

Jack
Anybody who has read my book ‘Battling a Brain Injury: the life that Jack Built’ should know that I am a right sucker for clichés and metaphors. I own-up to that one and I can only emphasise  how imperative it is to “stick on in there” and that “slow and steady win’s the race” in terms of pursuing anything that you want. Apologies if this sounds overly crass or ridiculously trite, although carrying on with this theme: it is what it is. The necessity in listening to your gut, was explicitly demonstrated to me upon my returning to university after being inflicted with a TBI. If completing a degree is something that deep-down you know that you feel that you may have the ability for and wish to achieve, there can be no harm in embarking upon this journey. There is absolutely no shame if it then transpires that for whatever reason – perhaps you don’t engage with the course you are studying or simply feel overwhelmed by the demands of higher education – at least you’ll have the knowledge that you “had a go”. Whatever the outcome, with this you may at least be able to rest a tad more easily…
All in all, I’ve come to conclude that bravery is measured, not solely by your achievements, but by those which you attempt with vigour. As long as you do not take yourself too seriously, then all should work out alright in the end."
 

Jack's top 5 tips for other young people going to university following a brain injury

  1. Always try to enjoy yourself in completing your studies as much as possible.
  2. Don’t be too hard on yourself. A degree is predominantly for your benefit and there really is no point worrying what other people think or make of your decision to choose to complete one. Your own expectation is the only one that you ever should have to live up to.
  3. Being qualified and having a degree is fantastic. Yet it is not the “be-all and end-all” and there are other worthy alternatives to do with your life that do not involve higher education.
  4. Don’t “bury your head in the sand” or ever be afraid to ask for help. It is only through doing exactly this that I was able to graduate in 2013.
  5. Make sure that you always keep behind some self-belief.
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