IT seemed like she had caught the flu – but photographer and mother of two Tina Chisnell woke up in hospital with no memory of her husband, children, or anything else about her life.

Tina's symptoms had developed rapidly, from aches and pains to being violently sick.

Then she became extremely confused, and was talking nonsense.

Her husband, Mark, took her to her doctor, but when she became uncooperative, it was suggested that she was taken to accident and emergency.

Fortunately, doctors at Southampton General Hospital realised she had encephalitis – swelling of the brain, which her doctors suspected was caused by a problem with her immune system.

"It looked dire for me," says Tina, 38, who lives in Hamble.

"My husband thought I wasn't going to make it.

"When I came round, I didn't remember anything. Then some memories began to come back, but it was like I was living in a time warp. For instance, if someone asked where I lived, I'd tell them my address from when I was nine.

"I didn't remember anything beyond my childhood to start with. Then little bits of memories of my husband and children began to come back."

Tina was ill during June and July of last year. After being in hospital for three weeks, she was allowed to come home for a couple of hours.

"It was very strange because my house was full of photographs that I didn't remember taking," she says.

"Lots of memories have come back, but now there are still huge chunks missing. I don't remember being pregnant with my second, Ollie. I remember giving birth to him and him being laid on the bed, but other than that, I don't remember any of his first year."

For the first three weeks in hospital, Tina was having frequent seizures and couldn't see her children, Oliver and Aiden, now aged two and four. She was concerned about how they would react when they saw her, particularly as they were so young.

"My eldest, Aiden, had his birthday while I was in hospital. I went down to the coffee shop in the hospital to see him," she remembers.

"I was worried that he'd feel shy with me, but he came straight to me."

But when she returned home, she found things were difficult with her youngest son.

"We had to have a nanny in case I had another seizure, but there had been a lot of people helping to take care of the boys, and Ollie was treating me like another baby sitter.

"I remember one day, when my husband came home, Ollie crawled straight over to him and I just cried.

"He had only wanted me before I was in hospital.

"I knew I had to get rid of the nanny, as we couldn't re-bond, but it made things very difficult. I didn't know what to feed them or when, or anything. My husband printed up a schedule for me and I had to keep on looking at it until is stuck.

"Now we're bonded fine, but it did take some time."

At first, almost every aspect of Tina's life was confusing for her. She knew how to use a camera, but had no idea how to use her computer to edit her photos.

She has had to relearn huge aspects of her life.

"I don't feel like memories are coming back. The more I try, the harder it feels," she says.

"I hope they will come back, but I've accepted that they might not.

"I want to move on. I don't want to be in grief about it all the time.

"The hardest thing is not being able to remember Oliver's first year. If I could just have that first year of his life back, I'd be happy. It's so hard."

Tina's lack of memories of her son's first year was compounded by her accidentally deleting the photos she had taken of his first birthday, as she had forgotten how to use her computer.

Tina, who had worked in the bio technical industry before spending ten years as a teacher, was scared that she would be unable to continue working, as she could remember how to take photos but then didn't know what to do with them.

That's when Mark suggested reviving an idea that she had had years ago – to take portraits of 100 women and girls in Hamble. A writer himself, Mark said that they could combine forces, with him writing profiles of her subjects, together creating a living history document of the area.

Together, they are creating 100 in Hamble, first as a website (, with hopes for a book and an exhibition to follow.

"I was really down and isolated at the time – my self esteem was gone," she says.

"It was a way to get my confidence back. I'd have to learn how to process the photos and get comfortable with using the equipment again, at my own pace.

"And meeting these people and talking to them about their memories has been a way to reconnect with other people as well."

Tina says that she had lost her connections with her friends as she couldn't remember them and their shared histories.

She started the project in March and is now half way to her target.

It has been a healing process, which has gently pushed Tina outside of her comfort zone, but not so far that she has been sent running for cover.

"The project has allowed me to reconnect with the place I live in," says Tina.

"It's been brilliant. I've also met with a lot of people with inspiring stories – many of which that are worse than mine. It's made me think 'I'm still alive, and I'm doing this.' I can take photographs without thinking about it. It feels natural.

"It's improving my confidence.

"I was petrified about embarking on the project, but it's taken a negative and turned it into a positive."

Encephalitis can be fatal, while common long term problems include personality and behavioural changes, memory loss, repeated seizures, speech and language problems and issues with balance and movement.

Tina says that as well as memory, loss, she has experienced other long term effects of the illness.

"I can remember things that happened yesterday, but not as well as I used to. I have to write things down. I also have a problem with processing.

"If someone is speaking too quickly, I can't process it and feel really silly having to explain.

"If you ask someone to talk more slowly they tend to speak...really...slowly," she says, pausing between words for emphasis, "Which makes you feel stupid.

"Or sometimes, I can't remember the name of something, like the dishwasher.

"It's difficult to accept, because I've always had a good memory and been high achieving.

"I know I've changed. I don't know properly what I was like before.

But not all the changes have been for the worse.

"My husband says I never liked autumn before, but now I love it. I think it's beautiful," she adds.

"And I notice people's kindness a lot more. People are very kind."