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Joe’s journey to independent mobility after a traumatic brain injury

In 2019 I was working as a stuntman on a Hollywood film set when I was injured at work. I fell 25 feet onto my head, fracturing my skull and I was left with a brain injury.

Over the last five years I’ve been focused full-time on my rehabilitation. I could walk but I didn’t have any balance and as I was a gymnast before, that was something I found really difficult. I wasn’t aware of many of the difficulties I was experiencing, there weren’t any warning signals, it was only what everyone else saw that highlighted what I was going through.

Today the main symptoms I struggle with are short term memory, distraction and fatigue, which is the biggest driver of what I experience. It seems to be quite specific to my brain injury, so when I’ve got lots of energy I actually don’t feel much impact. But as my energy gets down to 20 or even 10% I start to lose control of how I speak, in fact I can’t really speak, I can’t control my body temperature and I can’t control my emotions. It almost feels like it’s a part time disability. My fatigue impacts everything and it is debilitating. I definitely can’t go back to the film industry, but I can’t even hold down a nine to five job at Tesco’s because it’s too much for my brain. I’m gutted I can’t be involved with stunts any more, although I’m very appreciative of the opportunities I had while I could perform. It was a lot of fun.

I was creative with movement and now I express it differently. Painting gives me space to reflect positively on the experience. I have a studio where I’m developing a portfolio of large 6×4 ft boards, painting scenes from films that I’ve worked on, including Star Wars, Jurassic World, Transformers, Game of Thrones and Ready Player One. I use multiple stencils to create a bigger image in my pieces, bringing awareness to the number of people who come together to create the films we see on screen today. I hope to produce these as a series of prints to sell in the future.

Before my accident I regularly overcame fear. But after the lockdowns, I was afraid to go outside for 2 years.  Once I started on the journey of regaining my independence though, I really focused on how I could push myself and what I needed to do to influence my recovery. So I focused on the hardest thing which was riding my bicycle. I couldn’t multitask – my brain could focus either on peddling or balancing, but not both at the same time. So it was hard work to relearn how to use my bike.

Driving was my next thing – it was my ticket to a future of independence. I obviously needed the DVLA to approve my ability to drive, but I got so much more out of the course with QEF. It really was the right course for me. My therapist recommended QEF in Worthing because she knew the person that provided it, and this was really reassuring for me because they knew my situation, so I was more confident.

I felt very supported right from the beginning. The course gave me lots of information about the areas I needed to be more aware of and focus on to support my recovery. There was also something challenging but refreshing about driving the roads around Worthing as I didn’t know them. It meant that I had to concentrate and be more aware of what I was doing which prevented a lot of the bad habits from coming back into my driving.

I learned a lot about my fatigue and my attention span deficits, so now I try to avoid driving if I’m feeling tired as my risks increase so much. QEF presented me with the opportunity to increase my own independence and to increase my understanding and awareness of my own skills. By passing my test they helped me to learn to better myself – it was an incredible opportunity.

My goals for the future are to sell my art and be a motivational public speaker so that I can support people going through really life changing situations. I’ve rebuilt my life from scratch and the knowledge I’ve learned along the way can really impact a lot of people. Also, I recently got a new car so I am especially appreciative of the advice, support and compassion that QEF provided to help me to achieve my goals.

I’m about to launch my brand JOE 2X and my website is currently under construction. My brain injury has changed who I am; pre accident was my Joe 1x phase (first attempt at life) and Joe 2x is who I have become. If you would like to follow my art journey, my instagram is @joewattsart 😊


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