A brain injured mother has written a memoir she can refer to, so that her husband doesn’t have to keep repeating the same stories over and over. Coupled with medical information, she has self-published the book and hopes it will prove a useful resource for others.
Faiza Siddiqui, not her real name, was a secondary school physics teacher in Oxford until one Saturday morning in 2009 when the car she was driving hit a van head on.
The 32-year-old received a serious traumatic head injury and has been left with frontal lobe brain damage. She had been driving on the wrong side of the road, although it has been difficult to establish whether something had started to go wrong inside her head before the accident. After spending six weeks in a coma, she woke to find she had no memory of the previous two years.
Siddiqui has been recovering slowly and learning strategies for life. Aside from the memory problems, she has limited use of one arm because of the brain damage. Her book, Diary of a Headcase, joins her personal experience with what text books say about this type of injury.
The book was written under a pen name because of details she has included about her post-injury sex life. Four months ago – five years after her accident – she gave birth to her first child.
Faiza Siddiqui spoke to Ouch with a little support from husband Ben.
Is it difficult being a mother with a brain injury?
Annabelle is a good sleeper, which is very important for me because once I get tired, I go a bit weird. I can’t walk straight, I lose my balance and I make stupid judgments. All the disability forums say that babies adapt, and she has got used to not being held very securely. I would never drop her, but I have to dig my thumbs in.
Do you have strategies to help you remember things?
If I have to remember a shopping list, like bread, sugar and milk, I think of my route from home to the coach stop for school which I did every day when I was 14. Along that road in my mind, I’ll imagine really big images to represent each thing on the list. For bread, I think of the sitcom Bread and the brown ceramic hen that the family put their money in. Sugar is a word [used in place of a swear word] so I think of dog mess that I might have stepped in on the way to school. Milk is a black-and-white daisy cow with big udders at the traffic lights, with cars trying to avoid it. It’s the same technique I used for my exams at school, so when they mentioned it in hospital I knew it was something I could do.
How has the brain injury changed you?
That is a hard question. Is it because my brain’s been meshed and damaged and interfered with, or have I changed because of this life-changing experience? And it is hard to answer honestly because it’s difficult to see all the things that I am now, as not just being a damaged version of the old me. My memory is worse and I tend to get stuck in a cycle. I have to stop and notice that I’ve been going around in circles for quite a long time. I have to force myself to step back and ask myself a few set questions like: “What is it like from the other person’s point of view?” “What patterns keep coming up?” “What are you thinking again and again?” It’s a horrible way of being because it involves me saying that I am, actually, brain damaged.
Why did you write Diary of a Headcase?
When I asked Ben to tell me about parts of my life, he would get annoyed because he had told me before. He strongly encouraged me to write it all down. Now, I remember bits of my book better than I remember the thing itself… but it has helped me make sense of what my memories are.