Reflecting on her life before, during and after her accident and rehabilitation, Sophie Morgan’s memoir Driving Forwards is a raw and intimate look into her personal experiences.
When 2020 began artist and presenter Sophie Morgan had plans to go on an adventure to create a new travel documentary for Channel 4, but when the coronavirus pandemic arrived her goals had to change. After talks with her literary agent Sophie had a new idea: a memoir reflecting on her life experiences and the accident in 2003 which left her paralysed at just 18-years-old.
“If I’m honest I think I was slightly naïve in thinking that I can easily do this and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into,” reveals Sophie. “It was honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done but the most worthwhile.
“I have spent most of my life looking forward not looking back, and trying to focus on the next thing.”
The process of writing itself was new to Sophie but after speaking with experienced friends and completing some online courses she opened her laptop and began.
“I have always known when my story starts: whether it’s healthy or appropriate or not, everything in my life has revolved around that day when I had my injury,” admits Sophie. “I knew where to begin and luckily, I have always kept diaries throughout my life but particularly around the time when I had my accident in 2003.”
As a painter and an artist, Sophie approached the task as another form of expression, allowing her to explore her past experiences to share them with others, but also to examine them 18 years on from her injury.
“The book itself is split into three parts and that in itself felt quite natural because there’s before my injury, during where I was doing rehabilitation and then the rest of my life, and it does feel like it’s very much compartmentalised like that,” shares Sophie. “I don’t think I could have done this at any other time of my life.”
“It has been half and half, 18 years before and 18 years since. I’m now very far down the line and I’m able to look back without it being so painful, I certainly know that I’m still learning and I’m still a work in progress but there is so much that I have learned,” adds Sophie.
This feeling reached its peak once Sophie had finished writing the book and went on to record the audiobook.
“That was very heavy but I had the most wonderful man as the sound engineer who sat in the booth with me for three days,” remembers Sophie. “It was very moving because I haven’t really told my story out loud to anybody before and there I was with this stranger who was so lovely.
“After we were done I got in the car and just thought ‘I’ve done it’, but it wasn’t just about sharing it with someone else, it was more about telling myself what I’ve been through. It was very strange and surreal to be reading my life back to myself.”
Creating the memoir meant reflecting on the multitude of ways the accident affected Sophie, her life, relationships and even her own perceptions of disability in the past.
“I owed it to myself and to anyone else who has a spinal cord injury, especially a complete spinal cord injury. I knew I needed to go into the details of what it was like to wake up in a spinal unit, to see your mum and dad again for the first time.”
Throughout the book, Sophie’s raw account of her experiences explores how the relationships around her changed.
“All of the connections and relationships in my life shifted, some for the better and some for the worse, but I created stronger ones and new ones,” shares Sophie. “I think that relationships of every form are key to survival when you acquire a disability at a young age.
“At that time the things that mattered most to me were literally the people around me and that continues to be the same, they were really a lifeline to get through it all.”
For Sophie, these relationships also helped her to remember who she was at her core.
“My family and friends understood who I was so they were able to give me back parts of myself which I might have lost otherwise,” recalls Sophie. “It can be quite hard trying to find your identity again so you need those people around you to help at times.”
Like for many people who acquire a disability, Sophie’s injury didn’t just have an impact on her.
“In my experience disability doesn’t just happen to the person that is living through it, it also happens to everyone around them,” reveals Sophie. “My family and I went through a learning curve and we didn’t know what we were doing, we had no idea.
“We didn’t know where to turn and we made massive mistakes but we also learned that it’s ok to get it wrong, and you will get it wrong, but as long as you love each other and you can be honest with each other then it will be ok.”
Behind the pages of Sophie’s story is another motive: getting readers to re-examine their definition of disability.
“If I could make one person stop for a minute and reconsider what they thought about disability that would be a life goal fulfilled,” offers Sophie. “The reason for that is I had ideas about what disability meant before my accident and as much as they were very unconscious, they were also problematic.
“This can lead to a lack of understanding or empathy, because each disability is so different,” adds Sophie. “Spinal injury has its own characteristics, its own behaviours and complications and I wanted to share those, but I’m not representative of everyone and I want to stress that quite hard: everyone’s relationship with their disability is completely different.”
To a reader, Sophie’s book is a story of strength, family and rediscovering her identity, but for her it also marks the end of a portion in her life.
“This is the most honest I’ve ever been about my experience and I’m so proud of that, but it also marks the end of this chapter in my life because it’s 18 years before and 18 years after,” admits Sophie. “I’m at a point where I’m without a shadow of a doubt the most comfortable with who I am and with my disability, now I’m just open to whatever happens next.”
Sophie’s memoir, Driving Forwards, is out now in various formats.