Easter weekend 2022, my life changed forever. I collapsed at Waterloo Station suffering from severe pain and weakness in my legs. I was rushed to the hospital and after numerous tests, consultations and an MRI, I was diagnosed with FND and could not walk for 3 of the 5-day hospital stay which is frightening at any age.
What is FND?
FND stands for Functional Neurological Disorder and describes a problem with how the brain receives and sends information to the rest of the body. If you think of the brain as a computer, in someone who has FND, there’s no damage to the hardware, or structure, of the brain, it’s the software, or program running on the computer, that isn’t working properly.
Life since my FND diagnosis
The diagnosis of FND is a permanent disability and is obviously life-changing, something it takes you a while to come to terms with. Before my diagnosis, I was an active world traveller, a keen sailor and a photographer with a zest for different adventures – amongst other things the thought of a sedentary lifestyle terrified me.
It was after some mental health therapy with my GP and a discussion with a neurologist in September 2022, that I came up with the idea to photograph disabled people doing sport. I gave it some thought and on the 20th January at a mini-conference which was looking at access for disabled people in sports (both playing and spectating); one of the speakers gave me this wild idea of setting up the “The Disability Sports Network” and by the 28th January I had a basic website and photographed my first wheelchair basketball game on the 29th January. People came to visit my site as I was making some noise in the disabled field. I have had visitors to my website from day one and the numbers have been increasing ever since.
I began looking for disabled sporting events that I could attend to photograph and getting a press pass to the London Marathon has been my career highlight so far!
I will also be seeking sponsorship so that I can help grassroots clubs out by taking better photographs for them, which in turn will improve their social media activity as what’s out there is quite poor at present. Many of the smaller clubs do not have funds for photography costs.
For me, it was necessary to have a goal after being diagnosed with FND. I knew I had to plan for a different future and a new career. No longer was I able to work a 40-hour week. This type of photography suits me as I can cover a couple of events a week but still get plenty of rest and recuperation.
My overall aim is not only to get back on my own feet but to increase awareness for my fellow disabled people too and show that with a supportive community around you, anything is possible and that if I can do it, other FND sufferers and people with disabilities can create a new happier life for themselves too.
I have so many exciting plans and many of them are still in formation, but I will be writing a few books in the near future. They will be covering subjects such as ‘My FND journey’ as when I was diagnosed there were no full stories from other FND sufferers out there and as part of my therapy and help from the FND community, I was encouraged by the FND Twitter community to write a blog about my journey from the start and this is ongoing every week. I have heard back from many people both medical and non-medical that the blog has helped them understand this complex problem I have as no two persons have the exact same symptoms. Well, it took me 6 months to fully understand most of it. So this is the plan for the last quarter of 2023 with the aim of getting this book into as many hands around the world as I can, especially newly diagnosed people and doctors/medical practitioners as a lot of people need updating on FND. There will be Some of my world travel photography also included to provide a little relaxation between chapters.
I do also want to write books on my travels around Asia/Australia as I managed to take 23 months off which was fun and during this time, I produced some wonderful images that I’d love to share with the world.
The third book would be a yearbook of images I have taken of disabled people in sports during my first year of photography. It will include photographs from every event I go to, including the London Marathon 2023, International Blind Games in August and hopefully the Invictus Games in September.
Also, I would like to do a yearly calendar of the best sporting images that I have taken throughout my first year at “The Disability Sports Network”.
The other things I am planning to do are to hopefully train a few disabled people to take sports photographs themselves. This is in the early stages of planning and any input or sponsorship around training a person would be greatly appreciated.
Not everything I do evolves around disabled people in sports, for example, I am giving my time to teach 18-25 year olds in the Greenwich area (End of August 2023) about sports photography in general. I would love to teach this once a month. Or give some extra tuition to up-and-coming photographers from lower-income and minority backgrounds. I’m currently doing this for free.
My last project idea, for now, is that it would be great to set up a “Sports Disability Network” magazine of some kind so that I can employ disabled photographers, writers and everything else that goes into a magazine publication – providing the website as a portal to the world of sports for the disabled community to access and enjoy their lives as best they can. I have no idea of the timescales of this project yet, but I will certainly look into various funding opportunities in 2024 and beyond. I would love to send trained disabled people around the world to photograph and report on any event promoting the positivity of disabled sports games and there are a lot around to photograph, providing live sports and reports for everyone. For the moment that is a dream, but a big one that I aspire to do.
Naturally, I want to support my sponsors and build them into my journey so that they can benefit from my expanding audience and coverage as I grow my career and travel around the UK photographing national and global disabled sporting events.