In September 2006, I was covering the civil war in Sri Lanka when my minibus hit a tractor. I was thrown forward and broke my neck, shattering the third, fourth and vertebrate. It left me all but completely paralysed from the shoulders down. I was 25.
If I’m honest, I thought my life was over. I had visions of spending the rest of my remaining years in my parents’ sitting room. In fact — largely through grit, determination and voice recognition software — I was able to get back to work nine months to the day after the injury. Of the 20 or so countries have reported from since, more than half have been since the injury.
My aim here is not to duplicate my writing elsewhere, rather to explore some of the issues around my disability and somewhat unique life. My aim is to write about travel, mental and physical health, sex, trauma, friendships, relationships and my ongoing journey and challenges.
I first started using this blog with a few posts in 2015, but I’ve since removed them to make a fresh start almost three years later. Quite a lot has happened in the intervening years, and I’m hoping to use this also as a site to showcase my broader writing and other activities.
Dictated to family and friends (a remarkably frustrating process) in October 2006 barely six weeks after the accident, this was my first attempt to get the experience down and out to the world. Published a couple of weeks later by Reuters, I still think it’s one of my best.
A darker, perhaps much angrier Reuters piece, this time from February 2007. By now, it was clear that a dramatic and complete recovery was just not going to happen. My financial and professional future was entirely unclear — indeed, it was far from certain I would be able to get out of hospitals and institutions. Still, the voice recognition software was working and I needed to prove what I could do.
By summer 2007, I was back at work in the Reuters headquarters in Canary Wharf. If I’m honest, I was hugely frustrated — I would much rather have been back in Sri Lanka. I was just getting to grips with the realities of living with 24-hour care and frankly struggling. But I was very aware of the need to present a quick and easy success story if I was going to make things work.
In September 2007, I saw my chance to get back overseas. I was working for the Thomson Reuters Foundation Alertnet program providing news on humanitarian disasters. There was the opportunity to travel to Norway and Sweden to promote some of that material. If I’m honest, I suspect it cost so much that I was grounded for years afterwards. But it was still a major step forward.
A few months later in early 2008 and I was back in Sweden, this time with disabled activity charity the Backup Trust. Given my sheer level of paralysis — all I could move at this stage was my head — pretty much the only outdoor activity that seemed achievable was being loaded into a ski cart and being dumped down a mountain in northern Scandinavia. If I’m honest, it felt like a bit of a gimmick — but it was still an interesting week.
By early 2010, the global economy had slumped and spending cuts were looming in the UK and elsewhere. Entirely dependent on support from the state, I was becoming increasingly alarmed. Fortunately, as it happened, not long after this piece was published I finally won a major compensation package for the injury and my worries somewhat eased. I’m very aware that many, many others remain in the same situation, however.
By early 2013, in many respects I adapted much better to the injury. With the compensation payout, life was easier. But I was also suffering growing health problems. In this piece for Al Jazeera magazine, I pondered the dangers of life as a war reporter and whether it was ever really worth it.
Currently based in London as a columnist on global affairs for Reuters.com, leaving the “pop-up” Project for Study of 21st Century [PS21] think tank and serving as a part-time British Army reservist. I also do activism for UK Labour Party, occasional standup comedy and a host of other things.
My aim here is to showcase my work for various outlets, reflect on the disability and more and document what has proved both a fuller and in many senses much more unexpected life than I had ever anticipated.