Just as her career was flourishing, professional singer Angela Molineux narrowly survived a horrific crash. Through courage and self-belief, she learnt to embrace life again
"There could be swelling in your brain and you might lose consciousness at any moment” – that’s what the paramedic told me when I asked if it was really necessary to put me in a neck brace. I looked back briefly at the wreck of the car we had just been in. In that moment, the overwhelming sensation of being alive was replaced by the most intense fear I’d ever known. What if these were my very last moments of consciousness?
The night before had been exhilarating. I was back on home soil in Canada, performing Ireland’s Call at the Canada vs Ireland rugby match. My dear friend and insanely talented designer, Colleen Morris, had kindly designed the most stunning dress for me. I sang my heart out to a crowd of 20,000 rugby fans. As I sang, I thought of my mum watching back at home, her heart full of pride.
The previous year had been trying to say the least. I had sacrificed so much to release my debut EP. In London, I had a few wonderful friends cheering me on, often letting me sleep on their sofas when I was between flats. It was non-stop, 14-hour days of writing and recording sessions, performances, vocal coaching sessions, and I was often subsisting on one meal a day. It was the life of an emerging artist: feast or famine.
My family in Canada were worried. My physical and mental health and wellbeing were at risk, yet I was absolutely determined to succeed. I had a degree in psychology to “fall back on”, but that would have meant essentially giving up my dreams. As an adoptee, I had spent too many years of my life struggling with always trying to fit in and be who others wanted me to be. It was finally my time to truly be myself. I pursued my passion with intense determination and perseverance, resulting in some of the most amazing experiences of my life.
The day after the rugby match performance, a friend offered to give me a ride to the airport. Merging into the exit lane, my friend swerved across two lanes of heavy traffic and lost control of the car. I grabbed on to the dashboard as we flew off the motorway into the air. My friend’s friend in the backseat was screaming. So many thoughts raced through my brain. “Is this how my life ends? Will I never see my family again? Will I never sing again? Will I never marry or have a child?”
I remember my head hitting the roof. Everything went black. I felt another hit to my head that was so intensely painful I saw stars. I’m not sure how many times the car rolled, but we finally landed in a grass ditch. Everyone vocalised that they were OK. I was just able to open the car door to get out. We stumbled up to the side of the motorway, looking like war survivors. We were extraordinarily lucky to be alive. I was diagnosed with a mild brain injury, neck and back injuries, and PTSD. But I went back to A&E a few times for more scans and tests. A plethora of prescriptions for painkillers, brain stimulants and antidepressants were prescribed. At one point, doctors thought that I might have a blood clot travelling to my heart, based on my low oxygen level and the horrible bruising on my legs. They explained that I might have to undergo emergency surgery. I have never felt more alone. Thankfully, the tests came back clear, but I was still not out of the woods.
Everything became a constant dizzy fog. I couldn’t handle lights, noise, or too much outside stimuli. I had difficulties communicating to friends and family. I was most comfortable alone in a quiet, dark room, listening to self- healing meditations or having baths. I also had constant headaches and sharp stabbing pains in my head. I suffered through anxiety, panic attacks, debilitating depression and flashbacks every day. Emotionally, I relived every trauma I had ever experienced as if it was happening all over again. So many times, I wished I had died in the accident. I wondered why I was still alive.
No one has had any real answers for me in terms of recovery time, or which symptoms I may have for the rest of my life. So many of my friends fell away after expressing initial platitudes of care and kindness. I fought with my mum on the phone as she struggled to lend support from overseas.
How do you explain the symptoms of a brain injury to someone who has never had one?
I kept trying to push myself to recover because I was beyond frightened that I would be in this state forever. I missed singing so much it physically hurt. Vocally, all was fine, but I couldn’t stand for longer than a couple of minutes without my back hurting. I felt like an unhealthy senior citizen, trapped in a young woman’s body.
For a long time, I refused to accept the impact and full extent of my injuries. As a performer, there is the expectation that the show must always go on.
I’ve learned to live in the present. Our lives are extremely fragile and what we so easily take for granted can be gone in a heartbeat
It’s now been four intense, challenging years since my accident. I try to take each day one day at a time and each symptom at a time. I have good days and bad days. I dance and sing and try to celebrate life to the fullest on the good days. I deal with chronic pain in my neck and back from the soft tissue damage, and ibuprofen has become one of my best friends. On days when I’m in a lot of pain or when I’m having a “bad brain” day, I have to rearrange my schedule, remind myself to take time out, meditate, and remember how blessed I am to simply be able to see, to walk and talk.
I’ve done a great deal of research into resources and information on PTSD and brain injury recovery, and which foods and vitamins are helpful. I’ve finally accepted that my life will never be the same again.
Slowly, I’ve been trying to pick up the pieces of my career. I’m working on new music, a book, and I’ve launched an inspirational podcast. I’ve learned to live in the present more fully and not to judge a book by its cover. Our very lives are extremely fragile and what we so easily take for granted can be gone in a heartbeat.
I’m no longer afraid to die. I’m simply afraid of not fully living. I’m humbled and amazed at not only the kindness shown to me by strangers and new friends along my recovery journey, but also the human body’s immense ability to heal physically and emotionally.
Whatever challenges you’re facing physically or mentally, know that even if you’re by yourself, you’re never truly alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support. Everyone is going through something you may know nothing about. Give people the opportunity to care. Practise simple compassion and empathy. We’re all in this together, whatever our differing pains may be.
Dig deep for courage, strength and faith. If you find you still come up empty, keep digging. Keep going. You’ll get there. Breathe. Celebrate the little things. Eat dark chocolate. Find solace in your best friend’s smile. Take comfort in music. One sunrise at a time.
Angela’s powerful story exposes the difficulty of living with long-term health conditions. The mind-body system is complex, so her advice to reach out for support, and to keep on digging inside yourself is crucial. We have so many more resources than we realise, and the one truth is that, deep down, when we are truly honest, we ourselves are the person most worth listening to.