Finally coming home after a prolonged period in hospital should be an exciting time and in many ways, it was. I was looking forward to being in a familiar environment and I was relieved to see that it still had the same furniture, my bedroom still had all my 'things' and my adoring family dog was still there to greet me. But somehow it just didn't seem as familiar as I thought it should have. Everything felt a little different and I couldn't completely relax in this known, yet unknown space. From the very first moment I entered the house, I became anxious that it wasn't actually my home and that these people weren't actually my family. Maybe there had been some awful mix-up at the hospital and I had been sent home with the wrong family?
But my parents assured me that I was in the right place and that nothing had changed, so I decided to believe them and tried to ignore the feelings of unease. Once inside, I was so exhausted from the car ride home, all I was able to do was to walk into the lounge and fall into my favourite comfortable chair. I was all set to spend an afternoon relaxing and doing absolutely nothing at all. However, as I was soon to realise, the realities of the afternoon were very different to what I had expected.
The first distraction that rudely interrupt my relaxation was the carpet in our house. It was the same carpet that had been there ever since we had moved into the house three years earlier, but for some reason on this day, it bothered me. It was a lovely 1970's, flowery patterned, brown carpet, which we all hated. But it had never caused me so much distraction before.
But on my first day home from hospital, while I was sitting in the lounge, trying to relax and watch TV, my gaze kept getting drawn to this awful carpet. I couldn't seem to stop myself from looking at it. Even when people were talking to me, my gaze would flit from them to one spot on the carpet and then to another. It was dizzying and exhausting and I didn't seem to have any control over what was drawing my visual attention.
Very quickly the swirling of the carpet, the noise of my family talking and the TV blaring became so overwhelming that I had to leave the room and head to bed. Of course, this made sense to us all. I had just spent a long time in bed all day, so I was going to feel unwell and tired at times, as I continued to recover and build up my strength. We never once questioned that it might be something to do with the environment that I was in that was making me feel unwell and adding to the exhaustion.
Over time, I got used to the carpet and learnt to move my focus so that I wasn't gazing at it for hours on end. However, it continued to cause many confusing moments until it was thankfully replaced six months later to a more boring, plain beige carpet.
Some days, I would find myself gingerly walking over it, as if small mounds had developed amongst the delightful brown flowers. Other days I would completely miss some harmless object that had been left lying on the carpet, causing me to trip and stumble as I moved from one room to another. The cat (who unfortunately blended in with the carpet) learnt very quickly that if she didn't want to get kicked or stood on, she had to move out of the way when she saw me coming towards her.
Playing any sort of game on the carpet also became a nightmare. Monopoly pieces seemed to get swallowed up and hidden by the flowers and even large items such as shoes would vanish, as if the carpet had magical invisible powers that were passed onto anything that touched it. Small dropped objects would also disappear and I would often spend time crawling around on the floor looking for that elusive earring or coin that had fallen out of my wallet. My family learnt to quickly rescue me from these situations, before the frustrations completely boiled over.
It's hard to imagine that something so mundane as carpet could cause so many issues. But that was not all that was difficult about my home environment.
"I was just sharing the blog with my mum and she commented that she remembered being upset on my first night home. She thought that I would want to spend time with the family, but instead I went to bed because it was too overwhelming. Now she understands why".
Nicola McDowell sustained a brain injury aged sixteen, and for the following seventeen years was unaware that she had CVI. Through a series of blogs Nicola shares her experiences with us.
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