Podcast: My traumatic brain injury

The Disability Download

On this episode of The Disability Download, Scott Sutherland shares his story of how he acquired a Traumatic Brain Injury, his recovery, how he manages his mental health and his journey to being a motivational speaker.


Scott Sutherland: There’s the other side of brain injury where you feel like me at the start: you can’t do nothing, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. It’s really hard but you need to be given a wee opportunity of some sort. Maybe that’s just my experience, hopefully it does help others. Once you get given a tiny chance and you feel as if you’re starting to be believed in that is where your confidence slowly builds. See once your confidence gets there, you feel like you can do anything.

Erin O’Reilly: Hello and welcome to The Disability Download, the disability download is brought to you by pan disability charity Leonard Cheshire. I'm Erin O'Reilly and on this podcast we respond to current topics, share stories and open up conversations about disability. 

Hi and thanks so much for joining us for another episode! So you've probably heard the statistic before that one in five of us will be affected by disability at some point in our lives, and there's at least 1 billion people with disabilities around the world.

And that's why it's so important that you know we have these conversations about the challenges that disabled people still face today and the barriers that still exist in society and why you know we need to work together to create a much fairer and more inclusive world.

For this episode, we're going to be learning about traumatic brain injury and hearing from Scott, who is a volunteer speaker for Leonard Cheshire.

So Scott had a traumatic brain injury after a hit and run in 2011. Previous government research found that there are 1.4 million people living with a brain injury in the UK, and the effects of brain injury can be wide ranging and vary from person to person. And for many people, the effects of brain injury may not be obvious to other people, so it’s a non-visible disability. 

For Scott, it totally changed his life and on this episode, he shares his story with us and talks about his recovery, mental health, his experience as a Prince's Trust Young Ambassador and the unexpected opportunities he's had since. So, let’s go over to Scott!

Scott: So my name is Scott Sutherland and I’m 28. I’m from Glasgow, Springburn, I live in Springburn.

On the 27 of March 2011, unfortunately I got a severe brain injury through a hit and run – a deliberate hit and run – at the McDonald’s in Springburn. It was me and my two friends, we were at the dancing in the town. And then after dancing we got a taxi and we said we’ll carry on then go to McDonald’s. But by this time obviously it was like 1 in the morning.

Then we got there, and we went to order the food – we ordered the food no problem. We then went to stand back on the grass embankment. Then there were two meals ready – it was for my two friends and they went over to get it. And the man in the car, I don’t know why but he beeped the horn but when he did that his son at 29-year-old - bearing in mind we were only 18 at the time – started arguing with us over schemes of areas. Come on, at 29-year-old.

I started to walk over to see what was happening. He revved up the car, chased the three of us. My two friends ran another way, I ran along and he came after me and knocked me down. That gave me a TBI, which is a traumatic brain injury. Whereas you have an ABI which is an acquired brain injury which might be through strokes or brain problems, not brain injuries – that's the difference there.

When I woke up, I was in a coma for two weeks. I couldn’t remember a thing. My mum and that told me and I just couldn’t take it in really. I couldn’t sit up, I had to learn how to sit up and move my head. So the physio came in and I was really bad at the time. The physio was doing different things and was making me practice sitting up off the bed. So at first, I was lifting my head off the bed then it was a wee bit then I managed to sit on my bum onto the edge of the bed – but obviously I had to hold on. Then my life just completely changed.

As time went on, I was in hospital. I really wasn’t well. I had a tracheostomy and I had gas. I was really bad and that was for a few weeks after the coma. I couldn’t walk - they had to show me how to when I was in the Southern General Hospital.

When I had the brain injury, they had to take a part of skull out. They actually put in my stomach, open my stomach up and put in my stomach and that was to save something. I’m not too sure what it was but it was to let the brain swell out. It gradually started going down after a few weeks.

I got the last of the operations and I wasn’t well for a few weeks. I’d been sick, I kept getting dizzy spells and that was due to my brain injury. That kept happening for a few weeks then that stopped, but they kept me in hospital to keep an eye on me. That was for four and a half months really. When I got out, they put me to the PDRU – the Physically Disabled Rehab Unit. That is to give you a lot of physio – help you get back on your feet, help you walk, help you talk. I was in there for a month and a half. 

I got out the PDRU and when I came out everything was different. I couldn’t do anything I used to do and everything had totally changed. It took me time to realise that. You can see a slight dent there. When I got out of hospital the dent was really big. So that made me really self-conscious. I used to wear a skit pad constantly and that made me really self-conscious because everyone could see it. They would think he’s got a brain injury – he can’t do this and he can’t do that. 

The two boys I was with were my best friends. After my injury, I don’t see them anymore and I had a lot of other friends who dispersed from me. I don’t know why, I don’t know if they were thinking that I can’t do the same things and that’s where it got to me. It really got to me. You slowly start to realise who’s your friends who’s not your friends.

I just didn’t think it was fair on my family because my mum had to give up her job. My dad was unfortunately unwell so he couldn’t work. Lucky thing at the time was that for about 20 years she worked with disabled people, she’s cared for. She’s the most amazing person I could ask for. She gave up her job since it happened to me and she gave me so much support. She gave me every single appointment I’ve had with the doctors and different psychologists and therapists and speech therapists. I had to go and see people like that and she took me everywhere. She made sure I was okay and she always has even to this day. My sister said I was her golden boy. Well, I’m not complaining in any way.

A few months after I got out of hospital, my cousin works for Digby Brown as a receptionist. She had been there for 10 years. She said to my mum, “listen Carol, I know you don’t want to think about this but see if anything happened to Scott or he felt not well, after getting out of hospital he’d probably have to pay for it.” So she said, listen, get a claim in and go with Digby Brown just to get that sorted. I went with them and see after that when we went to get help from Digby Brown, got accepted.

My lawyer for Digby Brown appointed a case manager for head injuries. She was the one that got me a lot of appointments and helped me get into jobs and colleges. But see at that time when I was applying for these things it was just far too early in my recovery. I was kidding myself on I think. But that is where you feel, I want to be normal and I want to be able to go out and work. Deep down you know you can’t do it and that’s the hard part to accept – you know you can’t do it. 

At that time, I applied for jobs, I didn’t go for interviews. I just wasn’t ready to do things like that yet. I said to my case manager, Lynne, that I need something to get into because I’m mentally depressed, sitting in the house, doing nothing, in these four walls, no friends, nobody contacting me, life is different. You can’t do things like you used to do, you can’t share things. So that is the part where your life completely changes.

She [case manager] put me in touch with Headway, which is a brain injury charity that supports all types of brain injuries. When I went I was the youngest person there, because there was no younger person with a brain injury that I could interact with. The closest person to my age was about 40. But see for the support I still went and with the older folk I did have a good relationship.

It came to couple of months after, I asked if there was anything I could volunteer to help with to the person who runs it. He said that I could help on the walking group on a Friday afternoon with the adults. I said it was no problem, I would help out. I would support them going on a long walk all the way to Headway, which was the church on Renfield Street. After the walk, I would just go home. But every Friday I would go out and help them, speak to them. I was asking them questions, they were older – they experienced a lot more than me at the time. 

We tried the young person group again, yet it took a good few months for three people to come. I think there were five of us and we kept that going for a year. One would drop out, then another would drop out because they probably thought that they weren’t getting support from the experience. But they are, they are getting support – they're talking to other young people who have a brain injury that they can share experiences with. That’s the part some people with brain injuries realise that you can’t really get help, but that’s totally not true. Even with two people you can share experiences or help – you can say this happened to me and ask how did you do that. There’s always help out there if you do look for it.

Then Lynne went out and a week or so later she said, “Listen Scott, I’ve got this course for you if you want to join you can go for an interview – it's called Prince’s Trust.” I’d heard of them, but I was dubious about doing it. I was nervous, I suppose, because it was really my first interaction with other young people at the time – even without brain injuries, people who are normal. That made me quite nervous because I thought people were going to think things about me. I went for the interview with the woman Jackie, no problem. I got accepted for the course – it was a 12-week course. It was in Maryhill. It was quite far away so I used to get the bus down to Maryhill.

It was on the eighth week, I don’t know why but Jackie came to me and said, “I’m going to put you forward for a Young Ambassador Award.” I couldn’t believe that somebody would actually believe in me, to put me in that position. I had to go to a massive selection day, which was nerve-wracking. Not only nerve-wracking because it was the first type of experience like this, because I was very anxious of crowds. I couldn’t handle crowds. In a closed area, crowds I couldn’t accept. I just didn’t like it.

The group were sitting down, you were talking, you were speaking. And that was you practicing to be a Young Ambassador. Once I was Young Ambassador we moved to the actual Prince’s Trust space and that was when all the stuff really started – the speeches and volunteering and different things.

That was where I thought I was going to be able to do this. I always remind the first time I did it I was in the Prince’s Trust office, but it was people from different businesses. I went up and totally froze. I started speaking and see once I started speaking it just seemed to come out. That was just ‘wow’ - I did it – I did something like this. Everyone got up and clapped. I had a bit glug in my throat, I couldn’t believe I did something like it.

After that a couple of months later, there was an event. You will probably find it quite funny but it was called ‘Lunch with an Old Bag’. There was a big stage and I was up on stage, there was about 150 women. I had never spoken in front of that amount but I spoke then told them my story and what Prince’s Trust had done for me. Everyone clapped and that was the pinnacle of my speeches I thought.

I got a call from Prince’s Trust. They had good news for me and I had been nominated for the Young Ambassador of the Year. It’s just something you couldn’t believe and that someone would believe in you that much to put you forward for it. It came to the point where they said Young Ambassador of the Year and Scott Sutherland. I totally froze. I collected the award and the reception I got was something else.

Only a couple of weeks later I got another phone call. I had been nominated for Young Scot of the Year. I couldn’t take it in, I couldn’t believe it. I had finally accepted that people are believing in me and that I’m able to do things. See for the fact what had happened, what I’d been through, fortunately I had managed to get the Young Ambassador of the Year and Young Scot of the Year. When I was nominated for the latter, there’s people other than Prince’s Trust that think I’m able to do things.

I can meet Prince Charles. It was with Prince’s Trust as well. There were five of us and Prince Charles was shaking our hands. He was coming to me. Honest to God, the nerves. I was shaking! I was going to shake the hand of a Royal, I just couldn’t believe Prince Charles was standing in front of me. So I shook his hand. That was the pinnacle of Prince’s Trust

Then five years later my dad unfortunately passed away. I was really close with my dad. That just put me really into a bad depression. I was really, really badly depressed. I just couldn’t take it in that my dad wasn’t there anymore. Through time you do accept it that he’s not there anymore.

I just got badly depressed. I went to see my doctor. He put me on other tablets, he tried me on them and they didn’t make me feel any better. I went back, got referred to a psychologist over at the Hub, it’s called. That’s where you get speech therapy, physio, all that type of thing. She put me through different techniques and made me think different. If you think different, not think negative, not think everything is getting on top of you. You start thinking that people speaking to you is really annoying you, you’re sitting in your room, once you get up you’re looking forward to going to bed. That’s not life. When you’re waking up, having a cup of tea and watching TV, and you can’t wait to go back to bed because you don’t want to sit through the day.

That must have went on for a year and I managed to finally get through that period. The point I’m at now didn’t just come through doing things that I did, it came through things mentally. Total mental stress on your brain is bad and unhealthy, with stress and pressure, when you have a brain injury. There are other people who have brain injuries and they go through different stages at different times. Not every brain injury experience is the same. A lot of common things and some of the same things, but not everything is the same so everyone is going to go through a different experience. 

If you think about it as not everybody’s brain is the same. If everybody’s brain was the exact same we’d all be the same. There’s not two brain injuries the same in this world.

There’s the other side of brain injury where you feel like me at the start: you can’t do nothing, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. It’s really hard but you need to be given a wee opportunity of some sort. Maybe that’s just my experience, hopefully it does help others. Once you get given a tiny chance and you feel as if you’re starting to be believed in that is where your confidence slowly builds. See once your confidence gets there, you feel like you can do anything.

Once you accept that you’ve got depression, that is a big part of it. Speak, is number one. But accept, is number two. If you don’t accept it you’ll never move on. You will always be stuck in the same position. That’s how I managed to get through that point of my life with the depression side of things. You need to think differently in these situations and do things differently. Go out, find stuff to do, distract yourself. 

I’m always going to be in recovery. Yeah, I’m going to come as close to normal as possible but I’m always going to be in recovery. People don’t understand that you’re always going to be in recovery and that’s where I am. Because I’m still picking up things that I used to do, I’m starting to do things I used to be able to do. I’m still learning. I’m still taking seizures, that's part of having your brain injury so you’re still recovering.
Say in two months, I’ve had eight seizures in my sleep. That has been pretty horrible but they come and go. They come for a wee while then they’ll go away for months and months, then come back. That can be pretty annoying alone. But see when you have the major ones, the tonic-clonic ones, you know before you’re going to have one of them. You feel spaced out. You can’t remember after. 

Now, through my brain injury, through seizures and anxiety, I’m on 15 tablets a day. Yet again, that is a part that really annoys me – the fact I take tablets for something that happened instantly. I have to see a seizure doctor every six months. Things like that you need to accept. It’s hard. You think ‘why do I need to go through with this?’ But it’s just the way it is.

I’ve come through the other side with a lot of achievements, a lot of skills – skills that I never had before. What I’ve had to come through, I have had to take it. As I say, I’ve not had a choice. 

At the moment, I’m a happy man. I’ve got a child, I’ve got a baby. I’ve got a girlfriend, I’ve got two step-children. I couldn’t be any more happy. I’m in a position many young boys aren’t so I’m in the position I’ve got a family and I’m happy. That is the main thing to me. There’s always a brighter day on the other side. Think positive.

Erin: I just want to say thank you to Scott for sharing his story with us. Some really important messages there about mental health and coping mechanisms, and we just really appreciate Scott for being so open about his journey.

As Scott mentioned, he did receive some exceptional accolades from Prince’s Trust and he's also worked with Headways, the brain injury association, to raise awareness about brain injuries. So I'll pop links to both of those websites on our show notes on our Simplecast site so you can check them out as well. 

As always we want to hear what you think about the podcast, if you’ve got an idea for an episode or a guest you want to hear from, so please do email us at disabilitydownload@leonardcheshire.org or DM us on Twitter or Instagram @LeonardCheshire and please do remember to like, share and subscribe to the podcast.

Thanks so much for listening everyone. Stay safe, until next time, I’m Erin and this has been The Disability Download!