Ben Thexton - how I survived a brain injury and became a life coach
- Credit: Jason Roberts photography
Everything changed for Irby’s Ben Thexton when a car crash left him with a brain injury. He has turned that impossible situation into a positive and is now helping others through hardship
I was crossing the road around lunchtime on a Saturday in 2012 when I was hit by a car. I went flying in the air, hit the windscreen and landed upside down, on my head.
I jumped up, animated, as if none of it had just happened. I don't remember much after that - it is pieced together from accounts of other people, but soon I was in an ambulance to Birkenhead's Arrowe Park Hospital. They did tests for all sorts of things, which were measured on a scale of one to ten. I scored one on all of them. One indicated brain damage. So they put me into a medically-induced coma.
A week before it all happened, my now wife Sian and I had bought a house in Bidston, Wirral. I'd moved from nearby Oxton where I'd lived with my parents. I laugh now at how in control of the future I thought I was. I had it all sussed out in my head. I thought I knew what life was all about.
The coma was there to stop the swelling. They drilled a hole in my head too in order to relieve the pressure in my brain. I spent nearly two weeks in that coma, in that hell where I hallucinated the most awful things day and night. Then I woke up and I didn't know if it was real or not. Soon I realised I was covered in wires, I had something up my nose, too. I tried to sit up a bit but someone came running over. The nurse told me I was in the Walton Centre, the specialist neurology centre in Liverpool. I found out afterwards it was Father's Day.
When I first woke up, I couldn't walk. My brain knew what it wanted to do but it was as though it wouldn't communicate with my legs. I had broken my jaw, fractured my collarbone, dislocated my shoulder and my ear canal had been crushed.
The feeling of utter helplessness was terrifying. I couldn't do anything for myself. It felt like someone was always trying to hurt me just to make me better. The doctors were saying it could take two years to recover. Even then, in those early days, I was telling myself I'm going to prove them wrong.
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In fact I took my first steps again within a few days. I was so determined to get out and go home to Sian. I was back at my chartered accountant job quickly - within a few months - but I was in a lot of pain. I was wobbly walking and my jaw was still wired shut. But all of my focus was to get back to normality.
The months rolled on and, at first, I thought I was coping fine. I was progressing far better than expected and the following year we found out Sian was pregnant, completely out of the blue. Soon it was the 12 week scan. Afterwards, we had takeaway pizza to celebrate, but in the car on my way back I started having a panic attack. My first ever.
I managed to compose myself, cover it up, went straight in the house, splashed my face with water and didn't tell Sian. I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want to burden people anymore. They'd been through enough. I couldn't keep bringing up the accident, I told myself. It was done with now.
Then, in August 2015, Erin, my lovely daughter, was born. It should have been the happiest time of my life but I was taking a turn for the worst. I'd been suffering with what I now know was neuro-fatigue. I was irritable, shouting, forgetting things. The sudden lack of sleep compounded everything. I'd been using Sian as a crutch. And with a new baby, her focus had shifted, quite rightly, and that crutch wasn't there anymore.
I started getting mild depression and anxiety, feeling totally alone. I should have felt the opposite. It got to the point where it was harder hiding my feelings than it was actually expressing them.
Eventually I did ask for help. I went to the Acute Brain Injury Unit at the Countess of Chester. A specialist explained about neuro-fatigue and also suggested I might be suffering from PTSD. Even just getting an explanation for it all made me feel a little better.
But then came a phone call from my dad: my brother, Tom, had fallen on a night out and hit the kerb. He'd fractured his skull and it wasn't looking good.
It was 2015, three years after my accident, he was 25 and he was at The Walton Centre, exactly where I'd been. Just like me he had been put into a coma. He was in it for almost three weeks. Here I was, suffering with PTSD from my brain injury, and I was looking at my brother in the same centre, lying in the same bed as I had. I was there for him everyday but when he woke up and I knew he was going to be okay, I couldn't go back again. I went home, sat in the living room and felt entirely broken. I knew I needed to sort myself out.
I started writing it down, journaling, trying to make sense and piece together what happened to me. It quickly, but completely unexpectedly, turned into a book, which was published last year. Seeing it in print was a strange experience. At the time I didn't like feeling vulnerable. Now I'm not bothered, I've realised showing vulnerability is a good thing.
And that book has helped people. I've had lots of messages from others with brain injuries, or those experiencing other traumatic events. It's the best feeling in the world, helping people.
I still work as a chartered accountant for a company in Liverpool but I've also started my own wellbeing company. I'm a qualified life coach and I'm trained in neurolinguistic programming. I run small courses and I have an Instagram account where people reach out to me about their experiences. I also work with a charity, Head Injured Persons in Cheshire.
Nowadays I'm really careful to look after my psychological health. I start my day about 5.30am. I'll go running or to the gym then come home and meditate in my garden. By the time I'm done Erin is waiting for me at the top of the stairs ready to start her day.
This experience has made me a better person. I think I've been lucky. I can understand that feeling of coming back after a trauma so I have a different window on life now. And I know I have amazing family and friends to support me. People have told me I have changed their life. It's wonderful to know I can do that, that's such a positive for me. I had that second chance. It's an absolute privilege.
Ben's book, An Unexpected Journey: Surviving a Brain Injury, priced £8.99, is published by Austin Macauley. You can find out more about his wellbeing business, Well Life, at welllifehub.com.