Who Are You Now? from Headway East London

Listen to this post: 

Headway East London logo has a stick figure composed of an upward pointing arrow with a head on top.

Big hurrahs to a storytelling project out of London. Headway East London is a charity organization supporting peers with brain injury. It has a beautiful new website with stories and pictures for their Who Are You Now? project.

[Image description: Headway East London logo with a person shown as an arrow with a head on top.]

There are a few things there that really stand out compared to a lot of other brain injury story collections I’ve seen. First off, it’s the way they present the life stories, everyday life stories.

There’s usually two ways life stories go in the brain injury community.

  1. My story starts with a recollection of the crash, stroke, or incident that caused a brain injury. Most of what’s shared occurs from brain injury day forward and is mostly only about me. Lots of painful details.

  2. My story includes pre-brain injury life primarily to set up how very much I had and how very much I lost. Those parts are mostly for suspense.

Not so with the Who Are You Now? project. The storytellers begin at the beginning with childhood, family life, and a host of details that round out their stories as people. They don’t provide life details to be the set-up for the big storytelling payoff of getting to the injury. This really makes it a stand out. The details are there because although brain injury significantly and permanently altered the storytellers’ lives, they’re still people with other things to say.

The second thing that sets this project apart from many is the social justice stance it takes. Many people think that when someone in my community doesn’t succeed at something, it’s due to lack of trying hard enough, being motivated, or wanting it. But I don’t think that occurs for us necessarily more than in any other marginalized group, or maybe even any group at all. What the Headway East London folks recognize is that life with brain injury exists in the interactions (and lack of them) with the community. From the project’s website:

“With improvements in emergency medicine, survival rates for head trauma and other causes of injury to the brain such as stroke are increasing dramatically. Unfortunately the long term support available to survivors has not kept pace and they very often become isolated. 60% are long term unemployed and as many as 80% live with secondary mental health problems. A large contributing factor in these circumstances is a lack of public understanding. Many of the problems experienced by survivors are hidden from view and they are regularly on the receiving end of prejudice and intolerance. They are also disadvantaged by inaccessible legal and civic systems. The aim of this project is to help survivors regain their voices and the confidence to use them, and to help the public understand better the impact of brain injury.”

This is highly empowering language. It recognizes that if the public were to understand and accommodate more, then my brain injury community could be less isolated and less often at the receiving end of the prejudice and intolerance they mentioned. It’s not that we should be required to rehab ourselves into normalcy to be accepted. I’m so delighted to find this as well, because the paragraph above is at the very heart and soul of “Who Am I To Stop It”. It’s always nice to find your community!