Storying Sheffield

A story from Sheffield and back

My name is Abi, and like many enthusiastic young things at 18 I was more than ready to spread my wings and leave my home town of Sheffield. My core had always been tied to the arts, in particular, dramatic arts and performance of all kinds. Yet I also hungered to learn more about the human psyche: what makes people tick? How does such diversity in people occur and co-exist?

After a year travelling the world, searching for new experiences in the beauty of rich and diverse cultures, I began studies full of ambition: one psychology degree and an MA in performance arts. A year working in London down, I headed off back to Kuala Lumpur to find something more than the rat race. There’s something about Asia that opens your mind. And something about being in such a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities that opens it up to infinity: so many questions about what shapes who we are, what really matters, and how much life is about the people you can share who you are with.

My work there was fundamentally about the amazing people I got to share stories with. Working as a creative arts therapist in psychosocial rehabilitation and as a teacher for children with special needs, there was a vast number of stories. These amazing people will never know how much I learnt from them as I taught social skills through role play and we fell about laughing at our combined creative fun. And as an avid animal lover, much of my spare time was taken up in rescuing abandoned kitty cats. One in particular with whom I could not part…

Unfortunately, at the pinnacle of my career and perhaps youth, just after my 29th birthday I fell 8 stories from my balcony in a freak accident and broke my body into uncountable pieces. Both legs were broken at the thigh, my pelvis in two places, right upper arm, every bone in my right wrist crushed to splinters, and my jaw out of kilter. Thus began a long journey of my own, and being on the receiving end of help and support. This journey began on January 1st 2011, and although I turned a good corner April this year, it is one I shall probably always be on. The world I knew ended and I began a new chapter to my story that I never imagined could happen. I had to learn to live again from the very beginning, unable to walk, to use my arms or legs, to even focus enough to read. How things can change in an instant.

But what I had still was my lust for life and determination. When I was fit to fly back to UK, after 8 months of intense hospitalization and treatment, I re-engaged with my passions. Still unable to walk, I set about writing and a year later I had my first book published – Autism Arts: A Drama Syllabus for Children on the Autism Spectrum. In between physio and pain management I put together all of my home-made drama games, scripts and stories (and wrote some more!) and read up on new theories to compile a 3-year program for those I could no longer work with myself. The writing became my focus and reminded me of my passions, and that I was not the only one in this world needing support.

After a necessary extended amount of time back in Sheffield to receive treatment, I fell back in love with my original home. I never felt discriminated against for my walking sticks or limp or the metal cage on my leg (by anyone except myself), and formed new friendships and inroads to a possible new life. And not alone, Sukisam my cat-son came with me as the best therapy a person could have.

To cut this story short, I am now 3.5 years on from that fateful day, and through sheer grit and refusal to give up am jogging, dancing, and most recently attending ‘hot yoga’ (I must be a masochist). I’m also now a gardening obsessive, and can frequently be found pruning and planting, come rain or shine. And even more excitingly, after 3 years applying (the first year I went to interview on crutches with 9 metal pins in my leg!) I have got onto a doctorate in child and education psychology at The University of Sheffield.

In telling my stories, not just of the accident but also everyday stories when unwinding with a friend old or new, I feel I can keep coming back to who I am. We all have so much to share and for me, hearing other people’s journeys keeps me centred and reminds me what life really is.

Although my backstory will always be with me, the next chapter has undoubtedly begun.

Autism Arts is available from Pavilion publishers at
Abigail co-runs the Sheffield Arts and Wellbeing Network (SAWN) and can be found tweeting away at @AbiBB (when not in the garden or babying her cat).