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Life in lockdown: Alison's story

Life in lockdown: Alison's story

I feel as though I’ve gone back in time to eight years ago when I only left the house once a day.

After sustaining a brain injury which left Alison Winterburn with severe memory loss, she found that being outdoors and taking regular walks became a crucial part of her recovery, helping her to form new memories which replaced the ones she lost.  

But the UK-wide lockdown has meant that Alison can no longer enjoy her time outside and she now worries that this change in her routine could affect her memory once again.

She said: “The current lock down situation has sent me back to this strange experience; leaving the house only once a day to walk or cycle for exercise is, for me, a complete return to what I went through eight years ago.”

In 2012, Alison fell unexpectedly ill with what turned out to be viral encephalitis, leaving her with severe memory problems.

She forgot most of her personal memories, became completely unable to recognise places she once loved and even got lost in her own family home.

"When I returned home from hospital, the scariest thing was that my brain injury had caused extreme short and long-term memory loss,” said Alison.

After building up her physical strength, Alison began to walk short distances each day to try and help with her memory recall.

She said: “My memory of places and journeys was formed on the basis of knowing what was missing – strange to say but I knew what I didn’t know!

Relearning these routes took a long time. I started with a circular walk from home; always turning left. Occasionally I would attempt the other direction and get lost!

“Eventually I increased my travel by cycling a longer circular route – again, attempting the opposite direction would have been impossible.

“Over time, and with lots of work, I started to become familiar with the routes and journeys again. It felt so great to be able to talk about the lovely places I had visited and visualise it in my head.”

But Alison is worried about how the current limitations in place as a result of the coronavirus will affect her memory.

“I feel as though I’ve gone back in time to eight years ago when I only left the house once a day,” she said.

Alison enjoying her walks along the beach

“Although the major difference now is the lack of personal engagement; whilst years ago my local neighbours were friendly and supportive, helping me to regain my visual memories and directing me back home when I was lost, we now have to keep our distance.

“I am currently taking on a variety of journeys, walking or cycling, trying to alternate as much as possible rather than constantly repeating the same one.

Varying the trips will hopefully keep my brain working.

“When we can eventually join up with people again, even though I have ensured I keep in touch via Facebook etc, I don't know how my memory will cope with such a break from normality.

“I really miss travelling to lovely places, but the current experiences of walks and cycling make me realise what determined, commendable attempts I took to regain my visual memory.

Hopefully when this unbelievably strange life experience ends, and we get through it, my place recognition memories will remain.

Despite her own worries, Alison has an infectiously positive attitude towards life.

She said: “As brain injury survivors with invisible disabilities, we must pat ourselves on the back occasionally. Self-praise is not easy. Remember, courage keeps our determination going and you are not alone!"


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