Having been a successful entrepreneur with a thriving property business, Tim Richens’ life changed overnight after a tragic incident left him with a traumatic brain injury, with the realisation that he could not return to the life he previously had leaving him feeling suicidal.
Now, ten years on, Tim has again set up his own venture, but this time as a guest speaker and trainer tackling topics like recovery, rehabilitation and what life looks like with a brain injury or mental illness.
NR Times learns more about Tim’s commitment to improving lives and supporting people – particularly men – in showing and understanding their emotions
Tim Richens was being driven home from hospital after a stay of several weeks, having been in an induced coma and at one point not being expected to survive following his brain injury.
“I thought to myself, ‘Well that was different, I’ll get back to normal now’,” recalls Tim.
“I genuinely thought I’d go home and pick up where I left off, with my business, with my life. Like when you have a broken leg and that inconveniences you for a while, but then it heals and you’re back to normal.
“But of course, you don’t go back to normal. Nothing about it is normal for you or particularly for your family. The life you had has gone.
“I’ve been to the lowest places you can imagine, I have been suicidal. Often, I would think how much easier it would have been if I had died that night, instead of having a brain injury.
“But if you’re going to carry on, you have to get through it. So that’s what I did. And that’s what I want to help others do.”
Now, following the night in February 2013 when his whole life changed, 60-year-old Tim has found a different course, and one which allows him to support other people, whether in better understanding brain injury or in supporting them through their challenges by sharing his own experiences.
Having established himself as a guest speaker, Tim, from Somerset, is delivering training to corporate businesses through to local support groups, including to Headway and Circle Case Management, both of whom were invaluable in helping him through his own ongoing recovery.
“The only people who really know what brain injury is like, who really get it, is the people who have experienced it and who live with it. So I wanted to share my own experiences and my own story to help others,” says Tim.
“Things changed forever after my brain injury. It was recently the ten-year anniversary and I bought myself a cake. A new life started for me that day, so in many ways I’m a ten-year-old in the body and with the life experiences and memories of a 60-year-old.
“I know what it’s like when you don’t feel you can get from A to B, I have been there. But through creating this support service, the priority is now helping other people and hopefully enabling them to feel better about their own lives.”
Brain injury and its impact
Tim, a father of three, led a busy life. As the founder of his own successful property sales business, Tim had previously enjoyed a high-flying career in the insurance sector, while also finding time to be a coach at his local football team and watching his beloved Chelsea.
However, one night in February 2013 – a “normal night out at the darts” – life was about to change. Tim got into a car which, unbeknown to him, was moonlighting as a taxi. He fell out of the vehicle while it was moving at speed, landing on his head.
Having been rushed to hospital, Tim’s family were told to prepare for the worst by doctors and he was not expected to survive – but after more than a week in a coma, and several more weeks in hospital, happily Tim reached the point where he could return home.
But while on his journey away from hospital Tim imagined picking up life where he left off, the reality turned out to be very different.
As the cognitive impact of his brain injury began to manifest, with fatigue, anxiety and anger being overriding symptoms, Tim realised the extent of the challenges he faced.
“I tried to resume my life, but I couldn’t,” he recalls.
“With my football, I had a longstanding relationship with my local club, and while I was away other people took up the reins. When I came back, I became paranoid everyone wanted to get rid of me – that kind of anxiety was not an emotion I had ever felt before.
“I was such a placid person before, I’d never lose my temper, but now I was so angry. I knew I was embarrassing myself, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
“I went back to work, but I was so tired, I couldn’t even work 9 to 1. Even though the team were doing a great job, many clients wanted to deal with me, as they always had done, but now they were telling me they were thinking of going elsewhere. They bought into me as a person but now they were losing confidence in that.
“After about 12 months of trying to make it happen, I gave up work and everything I’d ever worked for.
“I’d been brought up to understand that the man of the house is the breadwinner, who provides for and protects his family – yet all of a sudden my family are having to care for me. I felt like a burden to them.
“Probably about a year after it happened I began to feel suicidal. I just couldn’t see my value to life or life’s value to me. I would walk to Cheddar Gorge and imagine walking over the edge. I wasn’t scared of dying and thought it would bring the closure I wanted and needed.”
As well as his internal struggles and own realisation of how much his life had changed, Tim was also badly affected by the reaction of other people.
“The rest of the world saw the cuts and bruises heal and expected me to be back to how I was. But the impact of brain injury is unseen, and that’s where the problems come from,” he says.
“I often think that it would have been easier if I’d have had a physical injury, then at least people would know where was something wrong. Whereas people look at me and think ‘You’re alright, there’s nothing the matter with you’.
“I’ve had two very different, but also similar, experiences of parking in disabled parking spaces. Once, a man got really aggressive with me for parking there, because I was apparently fine. Another time, when I told an elderly lady I had a brain injury, she patted me on the head and said ‘You poor love’.
“The aggression and patronising behaviour are things you do experience, because for all the world to see, I look fine. But I wasn’t fine and was struggling, and every thing like this could have a massive impact.”
Finding a new course
As Tim learned to adapt to his new life, he was able to look to the future with more positivity.
Having played and coached football previously, Tim now turned to walking football as an alternative, reviving his lifelong love of the game and which he credits as saving his life. He also found vital peer support from his local Headway group.
“I learned to control what I can, and not focus on what I can’t,” he says.
“There was one day I was talking with one of my support workers and we spoke about what I wanted to do. I realised I wanted to work, I wanted to get a job.
“I needed a purpose in life again and some structure. That’s what a job gives you, rather than being at home doing nothing, as I had done for a long time.
“But the problem was that I couldn’t work 9 to 5 anymore, so that ruled out so many options. Short of an employer putting a bed in the office for me, that was never going to happen.”
Tim spoke with Maria Morris, vocational rehabilitation case manager, expert witness at Circle Case Management and VRA Practitioner of the Year 2021, and Nicola Weller, marketing and events manager and winner of the CMSUK Case Management Supporter of the Year Award 2022, who helped him identify where his skills lay and what he could offer.
“I had a story to tell and could present well, and realised my passion now lay in helping people affected by brain injury. And although you’re often told that brain injury makes you less empathetic, I have much more empathy now than I ever did,” he says.
“I realised that out of all of the brilliant neuro-rehab professionals I had met, who were brilliant at doing what they do, none of them had the lived experience of having a brain injury. I learnt much more at Headway about what life was like with brain injury than I did from any professional.
“It was like a dot to dot puzzle – I could help to join those dots, and make the picture become clear for people. I see my role as creating the line between those numbers. I could give people the tools to solve their own problems and change their own lives.”
But while brain injury was the instigator, Tim also wanted to expand those he could support into people with mental health challenges and people who struggle to express and deal with their emotions.
“I went for a pint with my walking football team one night and we were talking about emotions. I said that if I’d have cried when I was younger, my mum would say ‘I’ll give you something to cry about’. And as I looked round the table, everyone was nodding,” he says.
“There are a lot of people, and particularly men, who do struggle to show emotions, and that can take its own toll. There are a lot of things going on for people they need to break down, but they don’t know how.”
Tim decided to establish a support service which would see him being a speaker at events, from Headway groups through to businesses to enable them to better understand how to support people with brain injury or mental health challenges.
“I’ve had audience members in tears, because they totally understand what I’m sharing and they identify with it. I had an email from someone’s wife who attended my session to say thank you for making him realise some problems he had, and that they were the reason he had turned to alcohol,” says Tim.
“I hope I can help people to realise it’s never a bad thing to show emotions. This is the elephant in the room for a lot of men, emotions is a topic that shall never be mentioned.
“There can be times in people’s lives like if they’ve lost someone, they’ve lost their job, they have retired and they feel like they have no structure or direction. These can be hugely challenging times, but they shouldn’t be afraid to show emotion or feel they can’t.
“People are coming back to my sessions and I’m getting work, so I must be doing something right.”
And for Tim, the feeling of working again, and of making a difference, has improved his own mental health significantly.
“I knew that if I could find a job and the more I could get out from being at home, the better I would be. I’m so pleased I have done that, at last I have a reason to get up in the morning again,” he says.
“I’m in a far better place to deal with things now than I have been for the past ten years. I have the lived experience to support people in ways that neuro-rehab professionals can’t. I realise the value in the recovery process of sitting down at Headway for half an hour, talking what was probably rubbish and doing the crossword.
“By sharing my experience, and giving the tools for people to help themselves, I am finding a lot of good has come of it, most importantly for them but also for me. My priority now is to help other people find the route that I have taken, away from the lowest point and hopefully towards a more positive future.”
Supporting Tim to rebuild and thrive
Nicola Weller added: “Tim has been an absolute pleasure to work with and to pass on marketing and business expertise to. Not only is he eager to develop his new business but he is passionate about helping and inspiring other brain injury survivors.
“Part of this passion is to educate professionals that work alongside brain injury survivors with a first hand account of his accident, rehabilitation and ongoing journey.
“Tim presents on a traumatic accident in a lighthearted, engaging and informative manner, giving the listeners a real insight into what life is really like with a brain injury.”
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