How a brain injury made me become an Occupational therapist.

With Angela Lockwood.

How a brain injury made me become an Occupational therapist.

With Angela Lockwood.

In her most personal episode yet, A Kid's Life Podcast host Angela Lockwood shares her story from an aspiring Australian hockey player to a 17-year-old with a brain injury questioning the direction of her life and the shattering of her dreams. Angela shares how interaction with an Occupational therapist whilst in the hospital recovering from her injuries would change the direction of her life and give her the focus for her life's work ... so far. This is an episode not to be missed for anyone with children who need a dose of inspiration to look forward.

Episode Transcription 



Life.  people  occupational therapist   hockey   occupational therapy   playing   children   bit   thought  inclusion   ball   support   neurosurgeons   parents   hear   inspired   dreams   independence   matter   week




Welcome to A Kid's Life podcast. I'm Angela Lockwood. And this episode is a special episode. And one that is in celebration of Occupational Therapy Week 2021. And I often get asked, as you know,  I get asked to speak at a lot of podcasts as a guest on other people's podcasts around my thoughts on parenting and calm families and supporting children with additional needs, working in schools and a whole range of topics. And I'm always really blown away by some of the questions that I get asked. But the one that I get asked probably the most is what led me to do the work that I do. And of course, the work that I do, I am an Occupational Therapist, and I work in schools and have done so for about 18 years, supporting teachers to be able to build inclusive classrooms to support children in their class who have additional needs. And sometimes, you know, these are children with disabilities. Other times it's not, it might just be children who need a few extra adjustments or, you know, have a little bit more strategies in place and other kids in the class. And I have always loved doing that work. But it hasn't always been the case. And I thought why not this being Occupational Therapy Week, why don't I share a little bit about my story about what led me to be an Occupational Therapist.


I love the theme this year, I have to admit, it's “Participation, Inclusion, and Independence”. And with no rehabbing a program called The Inclusive Classroom to see inclusion as a part of the role of the theme sorry, of this OT Week, it's great to say that inclusion is becoming something that is being celebrated and being focused on when I was a little child going through school, I have to admit not I can't remember seeing children who were that different to me. I don't remember seeing children here wear wheelchairs. I don't, I don't even remember the word autism or having children in my class who had autism, or even attention deficit. Now I'm not that old. So, you know, I know disability has always been in existence, it was just the level of visibility, that when I look back, I think, yeah, I wasn't really exposed to a lot of difference and a lot of different abilities. I can just remember my little sort of safe world of, you know, just going through as a child, as most children do is just thinking that everybody is, you know, just like you. And the thing I've learned growing up is that everyone actually is just like you, it's just that people experience the world a little bit differently from each other. People might look differently, they might behave differently, they might believe in different things, that that's what makes us all so wonderful, and the world so exciting and rich, as a child. The other is questions that you get asked, What do you want to be when you grow up? And although it frustrates me now as an adult asking a child that because gosh, most kids have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. For me, it was I wanted to be a journalist. Now, it also wasn't always the case. There were all the other things I'm sure I wanted to be. But the very first thing I always wanted as a career path was to be a journalist. But that was only if I didn't play for Australia at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. As a hockey player. I played field hockey when I was five. I remember my parents played, my brother and my sister played, and I was always, you know, every Saturday down at the hockey fields, either watching, playing, or helping out the canteen, which I loved to do. But as a little one, I always dreamt, I really dreamt about playing at the Olympic Games. Now when I was little, I had no idea that it was going to be in Sydney. I just knew that one day I wanted to represent Australia playing field hockey, and now everything and I mean everything was focused in my life on playing hockey. Yeah, I was in rep teams for hockey from quite an early age I played in every school hockey team. You know, I even coached hockey and would you believe it?I even worked at the hockey center. So for me, hockey really was my absolute life, and figure you might have had similar dreams as a small child to like, what were the things that you looked at when you wanted to be when you're older? You know, I always had posters on my wall. Sure. I had mine like Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street and embarrassingly. Oh my goodness. I can't believe I'm ever going to share this but Jean Claude Van Damme. Oh my goodness I can’t even believe I had him on my wall,  those fight scenes. Yeah, I can't believe that that's quite embarrassing actually, maybe we might need that edit that bit out.


But I also had posters of people who are currently in the role who is at the time we're playing for Australia in hockey. And I remember having Warren Birmingham at the time, and if people were hockey players listening, you might even know who he is. I had a poster of him on my wall. And it wasn't because, you know, he was my idol in the sense of celebrity. But he was someone that I looked to, and I thought, if he can do it, and how cool is that, well, why can't I do it. And so my whole childhood really was about dedicating myself to playing hockey. But I also had this real passion, not just for playing hockey, but for sports, and journalism, and writing. And so, you know, in my, my sort of sense, I read lots of books around or the journalist at the time, and Sandra Sully was still around and was still an amazing idol of mine, even back then. And I look at her now. And she's still amazing and wonderful. But there were so many journalists I looked at, and I looked at the game of journalism, and you know, how do I get into that career and I looked up to people looked at Ray Martin, and all these people who I thought they were living the dream. But for me, it wasn't about being front and center in front of people. It was about communicating a message of value. And as a child, I thought journalism was the way that you could do that. 

But it was when I was playing hockey in Newcastle that changed all of that. And it took me a while to share this story. But now I'm very open to being able to share this with people. Because I know it's touched a lot of people's lives. And it's helped people see the way that they view adversity differently. So I'm more than happy to share it. And it was in year 12 when I was playing for New South Wales in hockey. And you know, I was getting there, you know, Sydney 2000 was becoming a reality. For me. It was something that I started to feel and I'm thinking, yes, I'm going to do it. I was only 17 at the time. And I was tripping around doing all these wonderful things with hockey. And it was when I was playing on my home turf, that I was playing against a team that was full of current Australian Olympians. And they were all amazing players like these were people who I looked up to, and I was on that other team playing against them. And it was during one of the games that I can really vividly remember, I was sort of marking the post at the time. And I saw this ball coming towards me in this amazing woman who I idolized and looked up to, and was a bit scared of I have to admit because I was a fullback and she was an attacking forward. And I can remember marking the post mouthguard in shin pads on and ready to stop this ball. And I've always been somebody who's really focused and determined and wanted to make sure that you know, I was ready and this was going to be the game, the game-winning stop, I was going to stop that goal, and we were going to win the game. Now, as always, the wonderful lady stopped the ball so skillfully dead in its tracks, lifted a stick. And the last thing I could remember was her stick coming down and connecting with that ball. And that's it. That's all I could remember. 


Now, what had happened after that was truly life-changing. For me, I was 17, I was two weeks out from sitting my High School Certificate at the time with dreams of being a journalist and playing for Australia and hockey. But it was that one hit of that ball that connected with the temporal lobe in my brain on my skull. What had happened was, that ball was hit at a rate of just under 200 kilometers an hour. Some neurosurgeons had studied my recovery afterward. And they worked out that that was the speed of that ball hitting my head.


And what had happened when that ball hit my head was it gave me a depressed fracture of the skull. Bone fragments were into my ear, bone fragments went into my brain, and it broke all the bones in my middle ear. And I was out to it. And just the impact of my fall also tore the ligaments in my knee. So I was a little bit worse for wear at the time. And I didn't know it right there and then but that one point in time would absolutely shape the direction of my life from that point on. And some people look at adversity in their lives and they go well that was really awful. That happened to me. It happened to me, therefore, I can't do anything about it. My life is nothing now. And I understand that because for a little while I was going through that myself. And I was really fortunate that my parents really supported me through that time. And I had a wonderful network of friends, from school, from sport, a community of people around me supporting me at the time. And my parents knew the importance of seeing a psychologist of me working through some of that loss that I experienced, you know, I had a vision, and I had a dream of being one thing. But then something happened where it changed the course. Now, what ensued after that was a whole heap of recovery, a whole heap of learning to communicate again. Now, my neurosurgeons at the time, I laugh at it, they are because surely they've just crossed a few little synapsis over here and made a bit of an error. But because of the location of where the ball hit me, they said that I would have difficulty, and they shared this with my parents have difficulty putting a sentence together, that there's a very real, a very real outcome to the surgery that I had, that my communication would be significantly impaired. 

You know, I didn't know it because I was sedated at the time. But my parents said it was one of those moments where they were like, oh, here's a girl who wants to set her career up, not just in journalism, but in TV journalism. And she has dreams of representing her country. And this, this is big. But my parents never gave up hope. The medical team here in Australia, and we had access to the top, you know, top-level medical treatment. But what was really interesting for me during all of this is it was like I had a constant out-of-body experience. I didn't really know what was going on. And all I knew was that my friends were coming into the hospital room, very tentative, they weren't quite sure how to communicate with me, they weren't really sure where to look, because I had half my head shaved, and they had lots of bruising, and I looked a little bit like on one side like it was all puffed up and looking awful. I was in the intensive care unit. So it was a really odd, odd period of time. And I look back on that period of my life, and I can see it still so vividly. So vividly. Unfortunately, because I've talked about it so often. And it's okay for me now, you know, there's, there's a sense of gratitude attached to that moment. But I did start this conversation with an Occupational Therapist. And I wanted to be a journalist, as you know, I wanted to represent Australia, but I never ended up representing Australia. I did go back to play. I did go back to play hockey. But I was never the same again, I had the I was a bit apprehensive about every time somebody lifted a stick, every time a ball lifted, I would get really, really anxious. And I just knew my game wasn't “on” anymore that hunger, that drive that I was known for. I guess it just wasn't there anymore. And so I played for the joy and I played for the love but my absolute passion and love for hockey changed. And I was okay with that. And I found a whole range of other sports and other pursuits that brought me joy. But what led me to be an Occupational Therapist was something really special. And that's why I want to share this week being Occupational Therapy Week. During my time in hospital, which as I said, the medical team was just remarkable. I came across an Occupational Therapist who had come in and seen me and was having a chat I can't remember for the life of me who it was. You know, sometimes I ever wonder I was so spaced out with medication and having a brain injury.


I don't even know I'm assuming that this was a real person, I don't know. But what I can remember is during that period of time, I was exposed to the work of occupational therapy. And I knew at that moment, these people are beautiful. They are remarkable. They are people who see you for who you are. And they are also people who want the best for you no matter what. And there was something in me that went ‘Do you know why I've been given this second chance, I have been given this next step to do something with my life. And if I'm going to dedicate my life to doing something, it's going to be doing what these Occupational Therapists are doing.’ And I'm so excited you can hear it in my voice. I am such a passionate Occupational Therapist because I guess because of how I came across the profession and you know I wasn't something as a child that I aspired to be. But what it was is witnessing firsthand the love and the dedication. And I think the ability to see, to problem solve is what the word is, is to look and go there's ah, there's a challenge here, there's, there's something that is stopping this person from doing something. Okay, how are we going to work through this? How are we going to work around it? How are we going to work this together? And it just seemed like a perfect fit for me. It was like the profession matched my belief of the world, that sure things happen. Sure, life can be really tough, but there's always a way around doing things. There's always a way forward. And there are always people there that can support you. So what happened for me was is fortunately, I was registered and accepted into a program at the University of Newcastle, the Bachelor of Health Science, Occupational Therapy back in 2000. No, no, it wasn't, it was 1996, I could play say, I completely forgot 1996. And I yeah, I was just so blown away my whole the whole program, the whole four years, it just kept inspiring me, I always felt inspired by the company I kept and inspired by the work, you know, understanding anatomy and physiology, and then doing four years of psychology, right beside that, how exciting. And for me, it was about really, truly understanding what makes people tick, physically, socially, spiritually, psychologically, you know, occupation is how we spend our time. And I guess I'm a bit obsessed with how we spend time, you always want to make sure that the time that we have is well spent, and that we're using it in a way that really makes a difference in the world. Doesn't have to be big, just small, but that every action we're making, has a positive ripple effect. So for me becoming an OT, I guess it was a logical decision, but it feels like it was a profession I was drawn into. And I, I speak so many times to occupational therapists now. 


And now, a part of my, my work is around supervising occupational therapy students in sort of helping them, introducing them into the world of occupational therapy, and whether they're students or whether they're practicing therapists. I always love hearing why they started in their profession, I really am inspired by their stories. And it's always about helping people. And it's about making a bigger positive impact on the world. And I'm so proud of being a part of this profession. And if there's OTs listening right now, I know you're with me, I know that you know, Occupational Therapists, and I actually believe all health professionals, allied health professionals, medical doctors, nurses, the whole frontline workers, there is an innate sense of wanting to, to help people. Yeah, it's basically the basis of all of the health professions is wanting to make sure that people can be at their best. And that's what inspires me each and every day. 

Now, the theme for this Occupational Therapy Week, that's Occupational Therapy Australia in particular. And I believe, if I just want to go through the words of participation, now one of my beliefs around life, is it to fully and truly get out of life, what you is, you know, you really need to get in the game, you need to participate, be involved, you know, be alongside people. Don't be a person who stands back on the sideline, and just watches. People will often wonder, you know, how people get ahead in life, or how people have things happen for them.


Participation is about being involved. Getting amongst it, having a crack, you don't have to be the best. You also don't have to even be any good at it. But being just in there, participating in what lights you up, and participating in things that really bring you joy, and align with your values. That's where life is at. And I speak a lot and to school students, and I'm hoping that there might be some high school students listening to this episode right now. When I get asked to speak to particularly a year 11 and 12 students because as you've just heard, my story was in year 12, like, you know, life, life changed in a literal, instant. And I always want to help children and young adults say that no matter what happens in your life, you always have a choice. There is always that moment where you can go right that's happened now how am I going to deal with this, and it actually inspired my first book called The Power of Conscious Choice, which it's sold out, not available in hardcopy anymore. But it's available for download on my website at If anyone wants to read it, I go through you know how we do make decisions in our lives, and you know, they're logically led or intuitively led. But ultimately, no matter what happens, we always have the ability to choose what's next, what is the next step I am going to take with where I am at right now. And I think that's such an important message for young people to hear. Now, it doesn't matter what happens. It's all going to be okay. And we are going to work through this together. And that's all kids need to hear. For me, it was on the 12th. You know, it was HSC time I didn't get to go and do the big school this week, like all my friends, did. You know, we did have one. But you know, let's face it wasn't very fun when you've just had a major head injury, and going through rehab. So that wasn't great fun. And I missed out on all that end of year experiences with your 12. 

And I also, you know, things was quite different for me for a while, the way I viewed the world. And it was a really tough time. But I always had the thought, partly because of my upbringing. But my favorite book was called “The Choice” by Og Mandino you know growing up, it was always about going well, what's next? Okay, what is the next thing? What have I got going for me right now? And how am I going to use that? Now the second option, the second theme for OT week, this year is also inclusion. And if you've followed any of my work, which, if you're listening to this, I thank you for doing that. And I'm sure you do also have similar values to me that inclusion is such an important topic to talk about. Inclusion is very much around celebrating people's differences, making sure that we have a society where barriers are removed for people to be fully who they are, you know, to be able to tap into their skills and their uniqueness, no matter where they're coming from, no matter what physical difficulties, they've had got psychological no matter where people are at. Inclusion is about really removing those barriers. So people can access the same things as everybody else. And I just say that is actually a responsibility of society as a whole, is to make sure that we are removing those barriers so that people can truly live the life that they were meant to, or even more importantly, that they choose to. 

And the third theme is about independence. Now I'm, I am pretty headstrong and independent. I love doing things my you know, my own way. If I can do it, I don't see why anyone else should help me. But you know, this is a work in progress. But independence is really about again, having that choice. Being able to have space in your life that you can create. Independence is also really about being able to forge your own path. And for me, one of my favorite sayings, and I've had it on my office wall ever since I went into business 7-10 years ago now was by Ralph Waldo, Ralph Waldo Emerson. And it's,” Do not go where there is a path, go instead, do not go with it is a path, I always get this mixed up.  


When I say it out loud, I've read it all the time. “Do not go with it is a path go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” That's always been my mantra. And I believe as an Occupational Therapist, I have the ability to help other people and support other people to forge whatever that path is that they choose with no matter where they're at in their life. And, sure, there are some times where it's going to be really tricky for people to get to where they want to whether it be to be able to participate in society or to have barriers removed, or to feel like they have a choice over their life and the ability to live the life that they choose. But if my little light in life is to be an Occupational Therapist and support people to do that, then I am really happy to do that. So this week being Occupational Therapy Week, look, I think, my dreams and my goals for my life. And I was actually just recently interviewed on somebody else's podcast and they asked me this question and it was a really, it's a been asked this question a lot, but for some reason, just recently and whether or not it's because of the recent launch of my program called The Inclusive Classroom that I'm now going Yes, this is where I'm at, and this is definitely my space. And this is where I'm fully me, and they asked me what my definition of success was, and what that looks like in my life. And it sort of stumped me a little bit. I don't know if you've ever thought about that yourself, What is your definition of success in your life? But what I thought, at the time, well, you know, I'm actually I'm sure it's changed. It's changed so many times. But my response was that one day when I have my next near death, pad one, so maybe the next one might be my final, my final near death when I'm there, and hopefully, I'm blessed to be able to have that inside of thought, and mind and just look back on my life and go, was it a well-lived life? Was it a successful life, to me, success is really about going you know what you did? Well, you've done it, you've done some really good things in this life, you've had this beautiful ripple effect, where I may never know it that people have been able to do more than what they ever thought was possible. It might have been because of a comment I made or somebody I might have connected them with, or just a thought that they had after reading something I've done. 


If, if that's what my life here is all about, then I am so happy that that's what my successful life looks like. And I don't know about you, yeah, if you're, if you're an Occupational Therapist, listening to this, if you're a teacher, if you're, you know, whatever, if you're a mom supporting your children right now, if you're a dad who's you know, working and, and trying to build a life for your family, or even if you've got really headstrong goals that you're working towards. It's a really good question to ponder, what does success in your life look like? And I know some of my biggest achievements are my own children, and my marriage, my husband, the way that you know, I've been committed to personal development. But I, I really have to say, I'm so proud. And you've probably heard this by being an Occupational Therapist, and I, I applaud anybody who is doing something in their life where they really feel completely lit up, no matter what that is. And if you are doing something that you really love, that brings you joy, that helps you to go, you know what, you're doing a good job, then that's all we can ask. 


So that's a little bit about my story. I feel like that was very raw, but whatever your story is, just step into it. And just know that no matter what pops up along the way, you will always have the ability to choose what's next, whether it be down the path that you're treading right now, whether it be a little shift in the road, or whether it be a complete sidestep, and you go off and forge another path. Just make sure it's a path that you're choosing, and that brings you joy, and it makes you give yourself a little pat on the back every now and again and go, you know you're doing a good job. And that's all we can ask. 


Thanks so much for joining me, everybody on A Kid's Life podcast. That's my story. I'm Angela Lockwood. And if this resonated for you, please share it with anybody that you feel might benefit from hearing a little bit of my story, particularly those young kids who might be feeling like where they're at right now is all there ever going to be? Or if where they're at right now after a challenge is so overwhelming for them that they're thinking that's it. It's never it. So thanks so much for joining me everyone and I will talk to you on the next episode of A Kid's Life podcast.