Where did I go?
by Polly Williamson
When former equestrian champion Polly Williamson sat down to write a book about her brain injury she didn’t know what a transformative act it was going to be.
She decided to write because she wanted something to control, something independent. She wanted to prove that her brain could still cope with something new – a fresh challenge.
Writing gave her all this, but also, as it turned out, much more.
Drafting her story was a cathartic experience that helped her slowly, bit by bit, page by page, rediscover the person she was before her accident, it helped her realise that Polly Williamson wasn’t dead after all.
Polly, who is a former young rider European champion, sustained a subarachnoid haemorrhage after a horse she was training for competitions fell, and in its panic, kicked her in the head – she was wearing a helmet.
She was placed in an induced coma and when she woke up in hospital 11 days later, she had significant problems with her memory and had to learn to walk and talk again.
After five months of treatment, first in hospital and then at a specialist brain injury unit, Polly was able to return home.
It was at this time that issues around her identity really became apparent.
“When I came home I believed Polly Williamson was dead. I saw pictures of her and I genuinely couldn’t identify with her, I believed we simply were not the same person.” recalled Polly.
“It’s hard to explain but I wasn’t thinking about it in factual way, it was a feeling. I didn’t like the clothes she was wearing or anything. I felt lost.
“The loss of identity was the most difficult part of my recovery without doubt. It took a long time to build up my self-esteem because I wasn’t sure who I was.”
Before the accident Polly was very independent and had a busy family and social life.
She ran her own small equestrian business, managed the household while her husband was away with the Royal Navy and looked after her two small boys Freddie and Jack.
This independent streak to her personality was still very strong and was the main reason why she decided to write her book – entitled Where did I go?
She said: “I’m naturally a very independent sort of person and I wrote the book as a form of doing something on my own. So much so I told no-one, not even my husband, until the first draft was finished.
“I now realise I wrote it because I wanted to prove to myself that my brain did still work. I was working, looking after the kids but typical of me that wasn’t enough. I wanted to see if my brain could do something new.”
As the months passed and Polly penned more of her story, she realised that the process was helping to rediscover her identity.
She said: “It was very cathartic, slow process but it definitely helped me to rediscover who Polly was and is.
“Putting my thoughts down, without anyone else interfering, was liberating. It wasn’t the sole thing that helped me with my identity, of course time was a massive factor, but without doubt writing the book was a very valuable exercise.”
Following her brain injury Polly struggled with emotions and felt at times incapable to feel anything.
In her book, Polly explains the first time this changed, a fact that even her husband was unaware of until he read it.
She said: “My son Freddie was in the running for a local art award. I was sat in the audience with all the other parents. They announced that he had won and suddenly, I felt a rush of emotion, of love and pride.
It was a massive moment for me; it was if a light had been turned on, as if the room had been lit up with sunshine.”
Five years on from her accident Polly still she struggles with balance issues and occasionally has memory lapses. But thankfully this hasn’t stopped her from being able to go back to work teaching.
She said her determination has undoubtedly helped her get to where she is today and is now looking to the future with her family.
She said: “The improvement does keep on; you just have to dig deep and understand it will get easier. A neurosurgeon told me last year they have seen continued improvement up to 10 years post accident in some patients. So you have to keep on going. And as my Dr told me, being “a bloody minded pain in the arse” has undoubtedly helped my recovery!
“But I know I’m incredibly lucky. I will continue to live a full life, be a good mum to my boys, and maybe write another book one day!”