“I was born with a brain condition, but I didn’t know I had it. In 2016, as I was photographing a wedding, I got a devastating headache, collapsed, and my life changed forever.
“As a farmer’s daughter, originally, I wanted to rear chickens. When I was eight years old, I started my own egg business. I would go to school carrying a wicker basket full of eggs and prop it up on the staffroom table. Word got around and soon I had a little delivery route as well.
“During secondary school, people began to take the mick. They called me ‘Chicken Girl,’ but I didn’t really care. My chickens were cool!” Says Emily with a laugh, her freckled nose holding up her smile lines.”
“I am the youngest of five. My oldest sister is quite a few years older than me, so when she had her first daughter, Lilly, I bought a semi-decent camera to take pictures of her— she was too cute. A year later, at 15, I found out my science teacher was getting married so I asked her if I could photograph her wedding. After the event a few of her friends invited me to do their weddings and that’s how my photography business was born.
“I can’t begin to describe the pain I felt that day. I was overworking myself, so that morning when I got up to get dressed to go to the wedding, and really couldn’t decide what to wear, I attributed it to just being tired.
“As I opened my car door, I kept thinking I shouldn’t be driving. The wedding was at a beautiful Church of England church in Somerset and as I was doing the confetti photos, my headache kept getting worse. It was a hot day, so I figured it was just heat stroke.
“The bride, the groom and I drove to a field to take a few pictures. As I was getting them in position I thought, I can’t take these photos. I can’t even use a camera. At that moment I realised that something was off.
“I got out of my car at the reception venue, my legs felt weak and I collapsed.”
“I spent four days at home thinking I had heat stroke. Even after the doctor rushed me to hospital in an ambulance, I was convinced that she was exaggerating. I remember telling her ‘I don’t need an ambulance.’
“I was taken to Exeter where they did a brain scan. I sat waiting alone, the night’s darkness just outside the window. Three doctors and a troop of nurses walked into my room at midnight. They told me they had found a brain haemorrhage and that I had AVM. They said that it wasn’t good. ‘You’re off to Plymouth hospital. When you get there, they’ll perform a surgery. You will most likely go blind, but although 9 out of 10 people die, you should survive.’”
“When I got to Plymouth all of the doctors there refused to do the procedure because they felt it was too life-threatening. If they did it, I could die; if they didn’t, I could die. I ended up staying there for a few weeks.”
“My first day back at home I had another haemorrhage. I was in bed and now I knew exactly what was going on. My neck ceased up and I turned to my mother and said ´Mum, please call me an ambulance.’
“I’d been to church growing up, but I wouldn’t have called myself a believer. After my first hospital experience I was flooded by a reassuring feeling that God had everything under control. I felt that if I died that would be okay.
“It was really strange. I was called the ‘Smiley Girl’ by the nurses. I was just happy to sit there and smile. I completely put that down to my faith—although the morphine might have helped a little,” says Emily with a giggle, her silver crucifix neckless centred on her chest.
“I ended up at Bristol Hospital, stayed there for two months until they could perform a procedure inside my brain and that bought time for a laser treatment a few months later—over the next year I’ll finally find out if the treatment’s been successful.”
“All through my bed ridden days my mum sat by my side knitting; making things for my nieces and nephews. She was constantly bringing me my favourite drink, hot apple and black current—now that is a creature comfort!
“I’ve started to recover a sense of normality now. I was unbelievably scared during my first wedding back as a photographer. It felt incredible though. I knew that was where I should be.
“I then met my boyfriend, Richard. I was doing a photo-shoot for some friends and he was there. He is a big part of my normal. I can’t exert myself too much, so we’ve taken up golf together. There is this thing he does; at the end of our games he always comes up to me and gives me a kiss. It’s his way of saying “Well done.”
“I take every day at a time. I love to look after my nieces and nephew and being allowed to do that makes me forget I am still ill. I also take a photo of Dartmoor daily, that’s where I feel closest to God, and in a sense that’s my therapy.
“The brain haemorrhage has ended up being the best thing that has ever happened to me. I empathise with people so much more now—you never know what is going on in another person’s live— and I have made some great memories since too.
“There is a church close to my parents farm and one day, right at sunset, Richard and I sat talking in front of it. We opened up about our feelings and hopes for our future. Knowing that someone wants to spend their life with me… even though my future is a little bit…now that’s really something.”