The following piece was published in the Daily Mirror, 31st October 2013.
Horror crash changed my personality for the worse – just like Corrie’s Nick Tilsley
Simon Stevens tells how the trauma of a severe head injury had a drastic and detrimental effect on his personality
When Coronation Street’s Nick Tilsley was left in a coma following a car crash, his relatives had an agonising month-long wait before he regained consciousness.
But the restaurant boss wasn’t the same man. He had suffered brain damage, which dramatically changed his easy-going personality into someone angry and irrational.
But the transformation in Nick is far from being a made-up plot device by the soap’s writers.
Many people with brain injuries, like dad-of-two Simon Stevens, experience the same.
Simon’s life and character changed forever in September 2010 when the businessman was knocked off his motorbike by a car.
“I went from being easy-going to an aggressive bully overnight,” he says.
Simon was airlifted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge with multiple injuries, including a ruptured liver, spleen and aortic valve.
He had also broken his back in three places, fractured six ribs and lost eight litres of blood. His wife, Tanya, was warned he might not survive.
He was put into an induced coma for three days while surgeons tried to piece him back together.
“I was later told that it was very touch-and-go whether I would make it,” says Simon, 43, from Bishop’s Stortford, Herts.
Simon was eventually discharged and continued his long recovery at home but he experienced double vision.
After being checked again by his doctor, he underwent a brain scan. It revealed he had suffered a subdural haematoma – a bleed on the brain.
Although his body slowly healed in the coming months, the blow to his brain had more long-lasting effects.
“Before the accident, I was always considered a lively and gregarious sort of character but, above all, easy-going with a long fuse. I rarely shouted or lost my temper,” says Simon, who with Tanya has two children – Jacob, nine, and Reuben, five.
“I had run my own very successful graphic design, printing and publishing firms since 1996. I was always on the go and had to think very quickly on my feet.
“But after the crash I realised I couldn’t multi-skill any more and I would easily lose the thread of what I was doing”.
“Once I could keep loads of plates spinning at once but, after the accident, I struggled to spin one plate at a time.I was also constantly forgetting where I had left my keys, phone or wallet or why I had come upstairs. That often made me very angry and aggressive”.
“I became very shouty and snappy with Tanya and our boys. I easily lost the plot and got angry, which frightened the boys.It really brought it home when I had a dispute with someone which escalated and I was accused of being a bully
Although I’m 6ft 3in and have a shaved head, I always saw myself as more of gentle giant and was shocked I was now seen as the aggressor. By Christmas 2011 I was very down and said some very random and abusive things I later regretted. I was horrible to both my mum and dad and everything came to a head.
I’ve also inadvertently been very rude and aggressive to friends and colleagues.
I have certainly lost a few friends along the way. My fuse is now far shorter than before.”
To try and manage these new aspects of his personality, Simon has worked with a neuropsychologist to learn techniques and tactics to help him deal with his mood swings and short temper.
“The frontal and anterior temporal lobes of the brain are the most commonly damaged areas in traumatic brain injuries,” says Dr Paul Shotbolt, who specialises in assessing the extent of brain injuries and providing psychological therapy and rehabilitation at Re:Cognition Health.
“Problems that arise include rapid mood changes, severe irritability, aggression, paranoia and intellectual disability. Relationship and marital breakdown is extremely common after brain injury.”
Tanya, who has been married to Simon for 13 years, says that the first 18 months after the accident were the worst.
“He couldn’t remember anything and I constantly had to remind him of things. He was very difficult to predict because of his mood swings,” she says. That Christmas was horrendous and it all came to a head.He couldn’t bear to be around his family and was very rude to them. He was never like that before. We were going to call it a day with our marriage but then I booked for him to go away with a friend for a week and that bit of time apart helped. We sorted it out from there.’’
Meanwhile, Simon is learning to live with his condition.
“I’ve been told about the Coronation Street storyline and anything that raises awareness about this condition is positive,” says Simon.
“The more people can understand how a brain injury can affect someone, the better. A lot of the time people just think I am being rude or angry when it is really due to what happened to me.”
© Daily Mirror 2013
If you have been affected by brain injury, call Ben Posford on 020 7485 8811 or email him at email@example.com.