When I was first diagnosed with ME/CFS in 1996 I received very little help from the medical profession. After a while I realised that it was down to me to learn how to deal with this illness and I dedicated all possible resources to doing just that. In fact, like many, I fought too hard at first and my symptoms just got worse.
When I finally allowed myself to grieve the active and dynamic life I had lost and accept that life needed to be lived differently for a while, I freed myself to learn the skills I needed to live the happiest and healthiest life possible. In fact I was so successful that after 5 years I completely recovered. I was able to enjoy uninterrupted, full and vibrant health for 7 years before succumbing to the illness again in 2008.
I’ve always been interested in helping others overcome their challenges and improve their quality of life. I studied Psychology at university, then after extensive experience as a counsellor, trainer and supervisor in a voluntary agency I studied an Advanced Diploma in Person-Centred Counselling. I’ve also worked as a Residential Social Worker, a Children’s Worker in a women’s refuge and as a Manager of children’s homes. But since experiencing this illness for a second time I’ve felt my calling must be to share what I’ve learned and help others live a much better life despite chronic illness.
I believe my initial recovery was helped along by my growing interest in Taoist philosophy, Yoga and other forms of spirituality. I learned to recognise the importance of the connection of the body, mind and spirit and treating a person as a whole. I decided to qualify as a holistic life coach because I wanted to do more than support people emotionally. I wanted to be able to help people learn new skills that promote a happier, healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle.
Now I want to help you live a life you love and find a satisfying sense of purpose. Chronic illness doesn’t have to stand in your way!
I can help you if:
- You’re struggling with your energy levels, your brain fog or other symptoms and want to learn how to manage your illness better
- You’re struggling with feelings of loss for your pre-illness life and you want to find a way to let go and move on
- You want to learn how to reconnect with your essential nature and find new ways of expressing yourself that don’t aggravate your condition
- You’re struggling with other people’s reactions to you and you want to learn how to communicate better with those who misunderstand your illness
- You want to rebuild a social life that works for you
- You want to rebuild your sense of self-esteem and find new ways to make a contribution and serve a purpose
- You’re committed to finding ways of giving your body the best possible chance to heal itself
- You’re ready to find new ways to be happy, to replace the ways that your illness has stolen from you
- You’re ready to do whatever you can to learn to live the happiest, healthiest life possible with your condition
- You’re ready to start dreaming of a better life, and taking small steps, one by one, towards achieving it
I first got ill about 24 years ago at the age of 29. Although perhaps it really started a year earlier when I took over a month to get over a virus and was diagnosed with a post viral fatigue. At the time, I thought I was at the peak of my health. I had an active and demanding job as a Residential Social Worker and I volunteered at a youth counselling agency. I was extremely fit: I did yoga every day and either swam, ran, or did aerobics about 5 times a week. I also had a great social life but I didn’t sleep much!
One day I felt that I was coming down with a virus. I rested up but it never fully materialised, however, as soon as I tried to work I was hit with an extreme exhaustion and pain that nobody could explain. My response was to push, I was determined to get better, but instead I just got worse and could barely look after myself.
I was lucky to get a diagnosis as ‘ME?’ within about 3 months, at least it meant I could read up about what little was known about it. But I was frustrated that all my doctor wanted to do, was treat me with antidepressants. Eventually we agreed on a low dose of amitriptyline which helped me sleep better and eased the pain and tension in my muscles a little. Then I started a T’ai chi class and started seeing an acupuncturist with slow but positive results. After 6 months I started back to work a few hours at a time. After another 6 months I was working half time but I knew that even though I was doing a lot better, it wasn’t good for me to work when I was having a bad day and there was no predicting my bad days when the rota was drawn up!
By then, I had accepted that I had a chronic illness and resolved not to put my life on hold until I was better. I knew I just needed to learn how to live it in a different way to keep within my energy limits. So I decided to leave work and go travelling again and headed off around South America. So what! If I couldn’t walk the Inca trail- I could still visit Machu Picchu! So what! If I couldn’t carry my backpack – I could get a taxi from the bus station to the hostel! The best thing about travelling was that I was wonderfully free to respond to how I was feeling on each day. I could do nothing on my bad days and it was very easy to pace! I had a wonderful time and little by little my health improved.
By the time I returned to England I had improved enough to live a relatively normal life, albeit a sedentary one. I was still unable to increase my physical activity without post-exertional malaise. I then decided to build on my Psychology Degree and take an Advanced Diploma in person centred counselling. It was something I knew from my voluntary work that I was good at but had always resisted because I couldn’t imagine a job that involved sitting down all day! Now it fit much better with the way ME/CFS dictated that I live my life.
Whilst studying part time I worked as a Children’s Worker in a woman’s refuge and I counselled in a young offenders institute on placement. I continued practising a way of being that I’d been learning through my interest in Taoist philosophy. This involved accepting my daily limitations and minimising both mental and physical exertion. My health continued improving and I got a job managing children’s homes.
5 years after ME/CFS first hit me, I found myself looking down from the peak of a mountain I’d hiked up (Helvellyn), feeling like a blind woman who had regained her sight. I knew I was well again, I had beaten this illness.
Unfortunately that’s not the end of my story…..
With my full health returned my itchy feet could no longer be ignored. A 6-month trip around Central America didn’t satisfy the itch so six months later I was off again. However when I returned I found I still didn’t want to resume my career. Although it had been very rewarding I’d felt out of balance; I’d been serious and responsible all the time. I wanted to be able to laugh and experience joy on a daily basis, not just if I tried hard on the weekend. Recovering from a chronic illness taught me how precious life was, and not to put up with an unsatisfactory lifestyle.
So then started my ‘live life for today’ career. I did 6 ski seasons in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain, first as a Rep and a Ski Guide and later as a Ski Instructor. In the summers I worked as a Walking Guide, Group Tour Leader and Hotel Receptionist. In between seasons I picked cherries, I temped, I ‘wwoofed’ and did whatever I had to, to get by. And I experienced joy on a daily basis.
Then, after a relatively stressful ski season with money worries and a nightmare flatmate, I picked up a virus on a plane journey. I was on my way to a brief, between-season visit to family and friends. I had so little time to catch up with everybody that against my better judgement, I ignored my bodies need for rest and rushed around seeing everyone as planned. My first day back in Spain (after 7 years of full and vibrant health) I was horrified to realise I had those familiar symptoms again. Determined to look on the bright side, I thought that if I rested and put all my previous learning back into action, it might just end up being a short term post viral fatigue. My management kept my symptoms mild but a couple of months later I suffered a nasty tooth infection requiring two courses of antibiotics, and that was the start of a new complication.
My gut flora were thrown out of balance by the antibiotics and I developed an intolerance to sugar. This gradually extended to wheat and gluten, then to yeast, vinegar and mushrooms. Now I had a new challenge to deal with, one I still haven’t overcome completely.
Unable to do another ski season, my job as a hotel receptionist was extended to 10 months a year. It was an easy sedentary job that I was familiar with and I could live a relatively stress free life in a very beautiful village surrounded by supportive friends. 3 years later, after learning to meditate at a yoga retreat, I suddenly knew that I wasn’t giving my health enough of a chance working all the hours that I did. It also became clear to me that I needed to share all I’d learned about self-help. I made the decision to leave Spain and return to my parents’ house in England in order to write my book. I started blogging as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru and later decided to qualify as a life coach. Living at my parents I was able to support myself with part time work at the local convenience store.
4 years later I managed to get back to spending about half of my year in Spain. Working as Inspirational Editor for ProHealth, and running an online coaching business meant I could work anywhere even if I was moving around. After a couple of years I decided to take my business to Spain full time. Unfortunately, a year later the costs of running a business there, when I still had to work part time because of the illness, became too high and I made the decision to move back to the UK. Despite no longer living ‘the dream’ in Spain, I still absolutely love my life. I love running my own business helping others to take back control from chronic illness to live a happier, healthier more purposeful life. I take pleasure in all the little things that are available to me and I know this is just another step in my journey to creating an even bigger dream. I’d love to help you journey towards yours too!