After being left with a serious brain injury in a car collision in 2019, Lawrence – then a member of the SAS Reserves – has made huge strides in rebuilding his life.
Here, he shares his story of recovery and how his ability to communicate has been transformational in rediscovering the confidence and cockiness which are so important to his life as a ‘normal’ 23-year-old
As a 21-year-old man achieving his life’s ambition of joining the Armed Forces – winning a place in the prestigious SAS Reserves and progressing through his training – Lawrence had much to look forward to in his future.
But in a devastating car crash in October 2019, he sustained a brain injury and catalogue of serious physical injuries. His life as he knew it was over, and despite a good physical recovery, Lawrence became insular, with the struggle to participate in conversations or determine his friends’ sarcasm making him withdraw from society.
His confidence all but disappeared. However, through the power of therapy – and particularly speech and language therapy and its project-based online communication groups – Lawrence has achieved his ambition of being able to rediscover a social life.
He is able to confidently participate in the conversations he would once shy away from, he has a girlfriend – something he feared may never happen in the earlier stages of his recovery, when he could only see an isolated life ahead – and is set to begin a plumbing diploma.
“There have been a lot of bad times, but I’m now in a good place. I’m happy,” Lawrence tells NR Times.
“I used to want to be on my own, but not anymore. Through the groups, I have got my confidence back. They have probably been the most important part of my rehab and I wouldn’t be able to do anything like I’m doing today without them.”
Surviving and regaining independence
After being left fighting for life after the car accident in 2019, Lawrence was faced initially with a battle for survival, followed by a long road to physical recovery and ongoing implications of his brain injury.
Having been taken to the RVI Major Trauma Centre in Newcastle, Lawrence spent three-and-a-half weeks in a coma in intensive care.
“I don’t remember the crash at all. I just remember waking up in hospital and wondering why I was there. I was in intensive care for weeks and I have no memory at all of that time,” he recalls.
“I would talk to my brothers when they came to visit but they said I was saying stupid stuff, really random things that just didn’t make sense. I remember just lying in bed, looking out of the window.
“There were times that I didn’t even know who any of my family were when they came to visit me, and I wasn’t even sure who I was. I was introducing myself as being someone completely different.”
After Lawrence thankfully won his battle for survival and began his recovery, he was transferred from the RVI to a hospital nearer his Northumberland home.
“I saw more of my friends, and also I now had the chance to leave the hospital, people could come in and push me around in a wheelchair,” he says.
“But while I had a bit more freedom, being in hospital with such short visiting times felt like I was in prison.
“I was lying in bed all day and I wasn’t having any of the therapy I went on to get, like speech and language therapy or occupational therapy, and had just a bit of physio.”
After a private rehab package was secured, Lawrence was able to go home – and with support of his case manager at A Chance for Life, he was able to really step up his recovery.
“It was so much better to be back home. At first, I couldn’t do much, but my mam and dad would push me in the wheelchair while they walked the dogs, or I’d push myself,” he says.
“Once I got a case manager and a rehab team, things did start to improve massively. I made big progress with my physio, I did struggle with the pain when I was walking and had to keep going back to the wheelchair, but I could walk for a bit and then stop.
“I built up what I could do and I felt like I was making progress, just the fact I could see some progress made me feel better.”
Continuing to advance thanks to his therapy, Lawrence also spent three months in specialist rehabilitation centre STEPS in Sheffield, equipping him to live independently.
By unfortunate coincidence, Lawrence’s parents had sold the family home to downsize to a smaller property – with Lawrence and his two older brothers living their own lives, and another brother still living at home, his parents had moved into a two-bedroom house – meaning his quest for independence was even more important to him.
“My mam and dad used to sleep in the living room at first so I could have my own room. But I wanted my own space and I wanted to live independently,” he says.
“I was really happy with how things went at STEPS. I had my own apartment for the last five weeks to get me used to living on my own. It was really good for me, I enjoyed my time there and made some good friends too.
“When I left STEPS, I had a trial of living independently and it went well. I can cook for myself and live on my own. I live fully independently, but my mam and dad are close by, which is nice.”
The life-changing impact of brain injury
While Lawrence achieved his ambition of regaining his independence, he began to realise the extent to which brain injury had affected his life, particularly through his social interaction.
From enjoying an active social life with a strong group of friends before the life-changing crash, Lawrence now felt excluded and unable to participate. Fatigue was also an ongoing issue.
“When I was in a group, I couldn’t keep up with the conversation,” recalls Lawrence.
“I didn’t know who was saying what and I wasn’t taking it all in. If someone was talking to me, I might not hear it all because of the noise of other people speaking, so I might say something completely wrong.
“I felt better if I didn’t join in. I wouldn’t talk at all if there was more than one person in the group.”
Sarcasm was also something Lawrence really struggled with.
“My brothers can be quite jokey, but I thought they were being serious. They’d say something and then say ‘We’re being sarcastic, Lawrence,’ but to me it didn’t seem like they were joking,” he says.
“I would tell them I didn’t understand but they would still do it. I guess they found it hard to change the way they had always communicated with me.
“But I did get frustrated at times when I was talking to my brothers because I couldn’t tell when they were joking with me and when they were being serious.”
Lawrence’s fear of becoming involved in conversations meant he became withdrawn.
“I got to the point where going out would only make things worse for me emotionally. It made me so much less confident. If I was at home by myself, then I had no reason to talk and no need to interact with anyone,” he says.
For what was once a young man with a budding elite military career, Lawrence’s life felt like it had changed “beyond anything I had imagined” – and his confidence hit rock bottom. The cockiness enjoyed by Lawrence, and by so many other young people in the prime of their lives, had gone.
“I was never the most cocky person, but I do think it’s a good thing to have to some extent. It’s part of your confidence and helps with your ability to deal with things,” says Lawrence.
“But then I didn’t have it anymore. I struggled to read emotions and struggled to find the things to say and I couldn’t handle situations.
“I needed to get some of that cockiness back to feel a little bit closer to who I used to be.”
Becoming an effective communicator and rediscovering the cockiness
The loss of the confidence to speak in conversations, even with family and friends, affected Lawrence significantly.
“I just wanted to be normal but I knew I wasn’t anymore. I didn’t know what to do at this point, to be honest,” recalls Lawrence.
Lawrence identified his goal of wanting to regain some of his cockiness to his speech and language therapist, Matthew Nakonesky of Speech Therapy North East. Group therapy was identified as a course of action for Lawrence – and one which would turn out to be transformative.
Lawrence took part in a number of online communication groups, where he was joined on video calls by a number of other people who also lived with brain injury, and had similar stories of struggling to communicate.
“I didn’t know anyone in the groups at first, but we were all the same. We all struggled, but we all helped each other to get better,” he recalls.
“Everyone was the same, we all had suffered a brain injury and we were trying to rebuild our lives, so I felt less pressure speaking in front of them because they understood.”
Within a short space of time, Lawrence began taking a lead role in the sessions, his confidence returning in abundance with the progress he was making.
“Because you can speak and have a conversation in this situation, it helps your confidence in going out there and doing it. You know you can do it, so then you can go out into the street and into the world and do it,” says Lawrence.
“It was such a massive boost to my confidence and it has helped me deal with the pressure I felt. If I hadn’t have been part of the groups, there is no way I would be like I am today.”
Happily, Lawrence is also pleased with the level of cockiness he has regained, rating it at around 6/10, which he believes is enough.
“I think I have the right level of cockiness,” he smiles.
“I am happy. I wake up happy. I know I have the confidence to deal with what lies ahead.
“But I know that if I didn’t have my speech and language therapy, I might be physically fit, but I wouldn’t be able to sit here and have a conversation. I can do that now, and that has changed my life.”
Matthew, who has specialised in speech and language therapy for almost 24 years, says: “It has been fantastic to see the progress Lawrence has made, and to know that the communication groups have been such a central part of this.
“The whole reason we have the groups is for people to build their skills and boost their confidence in a safe environment, which they can then take into the real world outside.
“When we first met, Lawrence really lacked confidence and would say very little in meetings, if anything at all. Now, he takes a leading role. I’m so proud of the progress he has made and continues to make in his life.”
A bright future
From the devastation of what happened in 2019, Lawrence is now in a positive place and is looking ahead with optimism. He is in a happy relationship and has just returned from his second holiday with his girlfriend, and has big plans for the future.
“When I was little, I had two dreams – either to be in the Army or be filthy rich. I can’t be in the Army anymore, so it’ll have to be filthy rich,” he smiles.
Having volunteered at a rock climbing centre, something which has become a passion for him and has been crucial in regaining physical fitness, he is now volunteering with a plumbing business to gain the vital skills for his future career. He is now set to embark on his Level 2 plumbing diploma.
“I still have a lot of problems with fatigue, so I can’t just go and get a job, but I want to work and do some graft,” he says.
“I’ll be going to college two nights a week, and then I’ll be working one day, which I am confident I will be able to manage. I want to do it.
“I think eventually I’d love to set up my own property development company, so I’m learning some of the skills I’ll need to do that. I hope that will make a great career path for me.”
While Lawrence can now look ahead with confidence, and continues to access speech and language therapy intermittently when he feels he needs it, he is keen to support others who may be in his position with reassurance.
“I feel like a normal person again, but it has taken a lot of work,” he says.
“You can’t flick a switch, it’s hard, really hard sometimes. But don’t quit. Don’t give up.”
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