ONE minute, Kristyn Rourke was dropping her fiance off at the train station.
The next, she was in a hospital bed, hearing about her own life as if it were a movie she had not yet seen.
Ms Rourke suffered a severe traumatic brain injury when a car travelling at about 200km/h on the M1 at Morisset slammed into the back of her Toyota Hilux so hard it plummeted off a bridge into a small ravine.
“I’m lucky I survived,” Ms Rourke, of Aberglasslyn, told Fairfax Media.
Initially, she lost more than 10 year’s worth of memories, including the birth, and death, of her baby daughter, Olivia, in 2008.
“I’m happy to say I’ve had enough of those memories return to remember my daughter now,” she said.
“And enough to realise my foster son was not the 10-to-11 year old boy that I remembered – rather a 20-year-old man. And enough to remember that I did have a loving relationship prior to my injury.
“When there are enormous parts of your life that are missing from your memory, it really is quite distressing, especially as you see the pain, hurt and disappointment in the faces of people who care so very much.”
The driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, Kayden James Lawson, of Killarney Vale, left Ms Rourke for dead and rode away on his skateboard before trying to hitchhike home, Gosford District Court heard in February.
Lawson is now serving a four-year sentence for his role in the accident.
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia after the crash, with evidence suggesting he was psychotic at the time of the incident.
Ms Rourke, now 41, said her “entire world” had changed since the accident on November 10, 2014.
She was in hospital for five months, and has had seven operations, with another to come.
She fatigues easily, has balance issues, and often struggles to process information. She sometimes has trouble with slurred speech, which has led to her being accused of intoxication.
Ms Rourke has learned to accept help, and her social life has been “pretty much non-existent.”
Therapy and rehabilitation sessions became the former property manager’s full time job, and her five-year relationship fell apart.
“We'd become engaged a year to the day before my accident,” she said.
“That relationship didn't last. The whole process was too much. Too much of a drain on emotions. It made me realise my injury doesn't only impact me.”
On Monday, Ms Rourke returned to Bar Beach – where she used to go for rehabilitation – to share her story during Brain Injury Awareness Week.
“When I was an inpatient at Hunter Brain Injury Service, my physio would take me to Bar Beach to walk on the sand for therapy, and I'd do my stretches and walk the stairs whilst overlooking the water,” she said.
Ms Rourke is behind the Brain Injury Perspective Facebook page, which she hopes will offer support and insight for anyone dealing with the side effects of a brain injury.
She wanted to share her words, her thoughts, and what she had learned along the way with others – whether they had suffered a brain injury themselves, or had a loved one who had.
“I had support from Lifetime Care arranging my therapy, and I had a support worker,” Ms Rourke said.
“But I wish there was some kind of instruction booklet that told you what you would need to deal with, ways to overcome the darkness that can sometimes loom overhead – that there would be times you'd really question your self worth.
“There were many things that you just had to feel your way through as best you could.”
Ms Rourke said she wanted to raise awareness of brain injury, because it was not always visible.
“There can be many unrealistic expectations. Judgements even,” she said.
“I still have my own down days, but I've come to realise that the sun shines again.”
“I still have my own down days, but I've come to realise that the sun shines again.”Kristyn Rourke