Have I had a tough life?
Yes I have! Do I dwell on it and feel sorry for myself? Not anymore.
Let me tell you my story and explain why!
I guess you could say I became trouble on the day I was born. I was 6 weeks premature and my dad was told by a Consultant that he would try and save my mum, but there would be no hope for me. However, that was on the 7 November 1974 and what a surprise i’m still here (just). From that day on, little did I know then, but I became a fighter and I never give up. Little did I know growing up, but being born so prematurely caused me to have a heart problem, but this wasn’t detected for many years.
I spent my childhood and teens swimming for my county and then for my Country. I was the second best breaststroker in Wales and held the Welsh record for the under 14s. This got me a place in the Commonwealth Games in 1990 in Auckland, but due to a knee injury I was unable to go, because I needed surgery. Also, my parents didn’t support my swimming, and it was more important that I concentrated on my education, because I was falling behind at school as a result of all the training. Literally overnight my swimming career was over and at the age of 16 this was pretty devastating, because all my ‘friends’ thought I was weird and I got bullied quite a lot for being different. This stayed with me for a long time.
I also grew up suffering from severe migraines and when I was 22 I suffered a T.I.A (transient ischaemic attack). It still wasn’t clear what had caused this, but I was put on medication, which meant that I may not be able to have children. As a result over the next few years I focused on my career as a Lawyer, working long hours and at that time I quite enjoyed what I did.
At the age of 32, after carrying out some research myself whilst on a diving trip I discovered that I had a hole in my heart, which had been there since I was born. Within weeks I was having heart surgery to have this fixed. This was scary, but also really positive, because if it was successful it meant that I may be able to come off my medication and start a family.
The good news is, it was successful and I have a gorgeous daughter called Martha. It was after I had Martha that my priorities around my career changed. After a year off I returned to work on a part-time basis, but by this point I had a new boss who took a distinct disliking to me, because he made it clear that he didn’t like part-timers and went on his mission over the next couple of years to knock every ounce of confidence out of me, took all my responsibilities away from me, made me look incompetent, tried to make me redundant, tried to pursue disciplinary action against me several times. Rather than working part time I found myself working 12 hour days some days just to keep up with my work load and to avoid being put on a performance management plan.
Eventually the stress got so bad, because I was no longer a good mum, good partner, or good friend and I was starting to have regular panic attacks, being sick before I went to work and crying went I got home and hardly sleeping, that I ended up collapsing and losing the feeling in my whole left side, coupled with my hand going in a claw like shape, which I couldn’t move. I was rushed to hospital. A stroke and heart attack were ruled out, but I became severely agoraphobic, unable to socialise with anyone, convinced everyone was talking about me if I did go anywhere and it was clear that I had a breakdown. I was eventually diagnosed with fibromyaligia.
Several months later I made the decision to leave a job that I had done and once loved for 14 years before it killed me and took a £10,000 drop in salary. By that point I was in such a bad way I couldn’t even go anywhere near my old office without having a panic attack and getting extremely upset. I felt ridiculous at the time.
However, I discovered mindfulness and a love for cycling and started to do some big cycling competitions around the UK, which I loved. I also qualified as a Spin Instructor and got a job in a local Spin Studio teaching several classes for per week. This helped me regain my confidence.
After 2 more years, I was head hunted for a fantastic job opportunity, but it was close to my old office. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, so I used the mindfulness techniques I had learned, which helped me to stop dwelling on the past and make peace with it. I learnt that forgiveness was not about forgetting how another person had wronged us, but about letting go of the emotional baggage, which helps us release any negativity that has come about from the hurt we have experienced. I therefore realised that this person couldn’t hurt me anymore.
Unfortunately, only 9 months into my new job whilst cycling into work on a cold February morning I had a serious cycling accident, which turned out to be life-changing. However, for me this was life-changing in more ways than one, because although I suffered catastrophic injuries, including multiple broken bones around my orbital area, fractured and smashed cheekbone, fractured jaw, hairline fracture to my skull, loss of hearing in my left ear, moderate brain damage and a broken finger, which required me to have major facial reconstructive surgery and I now have a face full of titanium plates and pins, but on the positive side I had a free face-lift on the NHS, which isn’t a bad thing when you’re in you mid 40s.
I was told by my Consultant that I had come very close to death, which was quite scary, but on the positive side I didn’t die (again), so I was going to use this further chance at life to enjoy every day as if it was my last. I did have some low points during my physical recovery, because I felt trapped at home and normally my go to was to do some form of exercise and I couldn’t do any of that. I was also unable to eat anything apart from smoothies and soup, because I had my jaw pinned and I lost a huge amount of weight. I now know how people who go on ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’ feel when they haven’t eaten properly for weeks, because I couldn’t wait to eat a crispy bacon sandwich for the first time.
However, I taught myself to play the guitar on Youtube and can now play along to The Foo Fighters, which is fab.
I had a skiing trip booked for 11 months after my accident and my Consultant told me that there would be no way i’d be able to go, because there was too much pressure around my brain, so I wouldn’t be able to fly and i’d struggle with the altitude. I was determined to go, so we got the Eurostar to Tignes in France and to deal with the altitude, I got off the cable car at each level to let the pressure ease and then carry on. Despite never skiied before, by the end of the week I took part in my first race and loved it.
I returned to my job after 5 months, but immediately I realised I was being micro-managed and I felt history repeating itself again. I didn’t have any proper reasonable adjustments made for me. I was just asked constantly when I would be better. I didn’t have these answers. Eventually, through my own private medical insurance I was seen my a Neuropsychologist who carried out a series of extensive tests and concluded that due to the nature of my injuries I had some cognitive issues and due to the nature of my work I was unlikely to notice an improvement for at least 2 years post-accident and with added stress at work this would only prolong my symptoms.
My employers were not sympathetic to any of this and wanted to put me on a performance management plan, or place me on an unpaid secondment until I was better. This just added to my stress, so my GP signed me off with work related stress.
This was when I finally had my wake up call. I realised that I was deeply unsatisfied doing what I was doing. I embarked on an intensive Life Coaching course, together with NLP, a Masters in Mindfulness, and a diploma in Advanced Nutrition and Weight Management. Through every part of each course could relate everything to what I had been through in life.
One thing I hadn’t managed to do since my accident was get back on a bike and this was a big obstacle for me, so on 3 August 2018 I took part in a half Iron Man event in The Cotswolds and was part of Team True Spirit, which was such an honour. This was very difficult for me, both physically and emotionally, but coming over that finish line made me feel so proud.
I now set myself a crazy challenge every year. In 2019 I took part in Spartan UK, which was a mix of Ninja Warrior and World’s Strongest Man. This was extremely tough, but I completed it.
Next year on 9 May 2019 I have set myself a challenge to take part in The Rat Race, which is a 20 mile run, with 200 obstacles. Despite being unwell lately I will be there, even if it takes me all day to finish.
My motto now is BIONIC
B – Brave
I – Identify
O – Obtainable/Timely
N – Necessary
C – Can (if you keep telling yourself ‘I CAN’, you will achieve it and you won’t procrastinate.
In July 2019 I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Thankfully, it was caught very soon and within a few weeks I was in hospital having a total abdominal hysterectomy to have it removed. When I was diagnosed, I wasn’t even stressed about it, or upset, I just told my Consultant to do what he could to get rid of it. I went on holiday for 2 weeks, throughly enjoyed myself and got on with the surgery when I returned. I practiced all of the mindfulness tips I have learned over the last few years, both for the diagnosis and the pain following the surgery and I can honestly say it worked. I am now in the recovery process, i’ve started writing my first book and i’m in a good place mentally.
However, what I also came to realise during this time that the memory loss and confusion that I had been experiencing for 2 years was most likely to be the result of early menopause, which is a common symptom of menopause. Having interviewed many professional women in a similar position who have experienced unfair treatment at work, because of their menopausal symptoms, I am now making it my mission to educate women on how to manage their symptoms during menopause and educate organisations so that sickness absence is managed, morale is increased and loyalty and engagement is increased.
In October 2019 I won The Inspired Award for my achievements and contribution to the fitness and nutrition industry and for changing my life around. If I can do it, anyone can and I will use my proven coaching methods to show you how!
I believe everything happens for a reason and it can take something traumatic to realise what your calling is. I am now happier and more positive than I ever have been in my life. I’m sure there will be more dramas and tragedies to come, but I no longer see my myself as a victim anymore. The past is in the past and the future is another day. The important thing is to focus on the present and enjoy every day as if it was your last. Change is possible if you want it. I know I can help you with that, because I am an example of someone who’s been through it and come out the other end on top of the world.
Shona has always helped me feel encouraged and motivated. I can now fit exercise into my weekly routine which has made such a difference to my fitness, confidence and even my concentration. The mindfulness and meditation techniques help me to take a step back from the stresses of life. I am so much happier now than I was. Thank you Shona.