This month, while making peace with the cold, the Headway community has been discussing the topic of losing and gaining. The path to recovery is filled with both triumphs and challenges. Our community is built on the strength of shared experiences and mutual support, and we are constantly inspired by the stories of resilience and progress that emerge from our members. In this week’s blog post, our on-site counsellor, Mia Pienaar, delves into the concept of gains and losses—how each step forward, no matter how small, contributes to a larger journey of healing and growth. Let’s continue to build a supportive and empowering community together.

By Mia Pienaar, Registered Counsellor 

Loss is a topic that most people would prefer to avoid. Life is full of loss; your favourite mug breaks, friends grow in different directions, the perfect bunch of flowers wilts and withers away. These day-to-day losses might cause us some pain and sadness but pale in comparison to the big losses we fear the most.  

For survivors of brain injury, loss can be a major part of the experience. Survivors can feel the loss of physical functionality, the loss of their mental activity as they recognise it, even a feeling of having lost themselves when the brain injury occurred. Similarly, family members can feel guilt around mourning the version of the survivor that they knew, even though the person is sitting in front of them. Family members and survivors alike can even feel the loss of the ability to rely on their lives to unfold as expected. How do we trust a life that brings such a world-upending trauma as brain injury without any warning?  

At the same time, life is full of gains. For every loss, there is something new in its place. That’s the way of life. While some survivors, especially in the beginning of the brain injury journey, can’t imagine finding joy again, other survivors will say they are grateful for their brain injury.

Hearing a brain injury survivor who overcame a near-death experience express gratitude for their trauma is both humbling and inspiring. These survivors are usually those who have worked for their happiness, who have been determined to make it happen. It’s not their current experience that is admirable, it is their determination and perseverance that inspires. Their joy and progress is all the more precious for how hard they fought to build it. 

Paul Whitehead suffered a cerebro-vascular accident, an aneurysm, in 1990. He has been a member of Headway Gauteng for longer than most of our permanent staff, and so is a true veteran of living with brain injury. Paul describes his pre-brain injury routine: “I would get home after work, read the paper, and have a cigarette and a drink.” His brain injury forced a change. Paul was able to return to work after his brain injury, through a lot of hard work and pure grit. Now, Paul identifies the gains he has made in friendships within his church community, having met some amazing people at Headway, and having become passionate about walking – collecting more medals for completing walking races than he has space for.  

》Read more: Why community is key when it comes to brain injury

The fact is that change is inevitable. Losses, gains, these are the ebb and flow of nature. It is true that these changes can cause us heartbreak, fatigue, and insecurity. It is also true that we share this common experience as humans – we all feel the range of emotions that come with the roller coaster ride we find ourselves on. We lose together, and we also gain together.  

The loss that comes with brain injury can cause terrible pain for all involved. Luckily, through communities like Headway Gauteng, we can gain genuine connection, untouchable hope, and acceptance of each other in a way that might not be possible without the common experience of surviving brain injury.  

Paul says, “You win some, you lose some.” Let us win and lose together.  

》Read more member stories: Nicolene shares her journey with brain injury