I was born, 3rd child to a middle class family. My father was an ex officer in the army, running the family business of medical equipment supplies. Look at the fridge in your doctor's surgery, most of them are “Labcold” - that was my fathers work. My mother was a florist, winning international competitions and supplying arrangements for the likes of Cafe Royal and the Hilton in central London before I joined the family. I have 2 older brothers, who as a little one, I would say I adored and abhorred! We usually had 2 dogs and a cat minimum at any one moment.
My brothers went to boarding school, and I both loved and hated it. When they were home they were horrible, but I missed them terribly during term time and I was alone again. I had ballet classes till I was 10, then I swapped them for horse riding. I learnt the piano at primary school, then switched to guitar when I went to senior school.
Like my brothers, I went to a private school but as a day student rather than boarding. I found settling in to an all girls school difficult, and hated every moment of the first few years. Were it not for the fabulous headmistress and the biology teacher in particular, I think it would have been far worse! But by the end of my 5 years there, I can honestly say I loved school. Despite my dyslexia, and my natural ability to read numbers backwards in groups of three, I left with 10 GCSE’s, something I remain very proud and grateful for.
I had rather a serious accident on (or should that read off), my bike at the age of 9. I knocked out my teeth and smashed up my face. For the next 22 years I underwent some kind of maxillofacial or orthodontic operation on average, twice each year. I also got smacked round the head by a friend's golf club (accidental!), fell off horses and out of trees and over my own feet, invariably causing concussions and stitches. I had my tonsils removed at the age of 15, and along with them went my singing a solo in the Albert Hall voice - I was having surgery the day I had been set to sing there. I also experienced my first episode of unexplained exhaustion in the run up to my exams.
I went to the local 6th form school, where my middle brother had attended before me. My surname was notorious, and not something I appreciated or took kindly to, but within a year I had worsened his previous example. I would describe my time at 6th form as explorative, explosive, darn good fun, and then intensely nerdy to make up for the first wayward year there!
I had my first job at age 11, as a stable hand working to cover the cost of a riding lesson each Saturday. By 13 I was babysitting and working in the kitchens for a family friends catering business. By 14 I was waitressing till way past midnight a few times each month, and by 16 I was mature D, and Nannying every holiday. I pretty much left home at 17 when my parents divorced and I finished my A Levels, moving to be a live-in nanny in Oxfordshire.
I was accepted into all the top London nursing schools, but I had to wait till I was 18 to commence training, so I spent a year living in Philadelphia, working as an aid and house parent in an international school for the blind and visually impared. It was an interesting experience! Far too much maple syrup!!
On my return to the UK, I moved into central London, just off Oxford Street, and commenced my Nurse training. That was a wild and fun time too! I injured my back around half way through the course, and had to take time off. It was 18 months before I was fit to return, and I filled my time with working in retail between getting fixed and the next available space to complete my training. By now I was living between the commons - Battersea and Clapham, in a house with 5 blokes. And I mean “Blokes”! I worked in the Central Middlesex Hospital off Tottenham Court Road for a further few years, before the exhaustion of trying to make ends meet as a D grade nurse snapped me! I had been working 80 to 90 hour weeks for nearly 2 years. It's not healthy and I strongly recommend no one to follow that pattern!
I fled London and moved back with my mother, who had been my best friend since I was little and I am lucky to say still is. I was disillusioned with nursing, the workload, the hours, the constraints of short staffing and no time for anything worthwhile either professionally or personally.
I got an office job, and wore a sharp suit and high heels to work every day! It was fun, lucrative, and equally exhausting. I frequently arrived at work at 6am and didn't leave till 10pm. I would often drive straight up to London to meet with friends, party all night, and be back at my desk by 6am. I worked weekends too, the overtime was there for the taking, and it meant I could swan off to visit my brother in the West Indies every few months for R&R, which constituted a lot of diving, sailing, and partying.
But then I missed nursing, so I returned to practice working in Hampshire and Surrey as an agency nurse. I frequently had sinus and throat infections, and a string of stomach problems. I still had problems with my back, and also now my hips were becoming problematic. I ignored all the problems and treated them with painkillers as the doctor prescribed, and carried on burning the candle at both ends - I didn't know how else to be.
In 1998, I met my children's father. I started to suffer crippling anxiety in 1999, and that was the beginning of another sign I didn't understand or truly address for many more years to come. We married in 2001, and were blessed with our son that Autumn.
His was a very traumatic birth after a two and a half day labour. The 10lbs of blue baby, with a gash on his skull and a dislocated jaw I was handed made me weep with love and joy that he was alive. He was a high need baby, and I grew more and more exhausted, but battled on, and while I was lucky not to have to return to work immediately, I felt compelled to give back to the world and “justify my existence” as I had learnt from a young age was imperative to ones worth in the world. I took on 4 charity roles that I could conduct with my baby in tow. I suspect the old adage “no rest for the wicked” also played a part in this.
In 2003, at 5 months pregnant with our second child, we moved house - and when I say we, I actually mean I, because my husband literally hid in the bathroom for 3 days before and 3 days after we moved. Bless him. Our daughter was born at home, she was a breech birth, and a beautiful experience. At 6 lbs, she was the most beautiful little star I'd ever seen.
I returned to nursing when she was 3 and her brother 5, working around nursery hours, so nights generally to begin with to ensure I was there when they were awake. "Plenty of time to rest when your dead", another subconscious belief at work in my life still.
By 2007, my marriage, which had been painful, unsupportive and very unhappy from before our wedding reached breaking point. I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Injury (CPTSI/CPTSD), as a consequence of the experience, and put on numbing medication. I never expected the divorce and following years to be worse than the marriage.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the responsibility of being a senior sister, running an occupational health department for the NHS as I had been prior to separation was more than I could handle with such an acrimonious divorce, and so I did what I was mentally able to - I became a cleaning lady. Again, I fitted in work around my children's needs, ensuring I was available to them all their waking hours with me. In true to me form, I ended up working every moment I didn't have the children with me, completing 36 hour straight shifts alternate weekends, and then getting staff and incorporating my company! It was ludicrously hard work, but I was paying the bills.
I was in constant pain, and the brain fog was a full pea souper by 7pm every night, but what else could I do? I didn't know how else to be.
In 2009, a friend told me I should work as a masseuse, I had "magic hands", and they gave me a massage table. So I worked all the usual cleaning hours, mothered all the usual children hours and studied instead of sleeping, but passed my exams, and in 2010, set up as a full time massage therapist working from home and providing mobile sessions.
It wasn't until 2013, having had to defend myself in person in the divorce and family courts for over 5 years, against up to 4 separate "cases" at any given time, that a judge forbade any further litigation. During those years Id had to spend over a year living out of my car, before I was able to secure a temporary home, amongst other horrors and challenges. Our children had been living with me full time in a very small flat for over 2 years by the time I moved to Hampshire and a little home of our own.
I had been working as a full time massage therapist since 2010, and Greenwood Therapies was officially birthed when I moved into my house in 2013. For the next nearly 6 years, I had a 100 mile a day school run 3 days a week, and built my practice to maximum capacity, seeing up to 8 clients on the days the children were with their father. I was also getting sick a lot and increasingly exhausted.
By 2016, my health was really beginning to decline. In order to keep up with the everyday demands of life, I had to withdraw for everything other than work or children. I had a significant accident and crushed the tip of my finger, requiring surgical repair and 6 months of healing time which all added to the weight and effects of trauma in my life.
I began to have to cancel clients more and more often, because I was just too exhausted to do anything much. I was getting more frequent and more intense flashbacks of trauma, not that I recognised them as flashbacks at the time. I imagined a flashback to be somehow visual, like a memory as one seems in a movie - but I now understand that I was experiencing only the bodily felt memories, and they were so painful to me that I dissociated - my mind quite literally stepped out and shut off from reality, so I had little to no idea what happened during those events.
In 2018, I had the most monumental physical and mental health crash and was all but bed bound for 5 agonizing months. My children moved out to live with their father full time, I had to close what was left of my practice, and nearly lost my home.
After 20 years of regularly visiting my GP, knowing that something was wrong, but each time being told “test results are fine, there's nothing wrong with you”, I finally went one more time and said to them that I thought I may have chronic fatigue syndrome. I had referred various of my clients to The Chrysalis Effect over the preceding 4 years or so, but as my GP had kept telling me I was fine, I had assumed that I must be, somehow.
The Diagnosis of CFS Fibromyalgia was confirmed, but I was turned down by South Coast Fatigue, the NHS attempt at support. However I joined the online program of the Chrysalis Effect, and began working with Dr Worby, using EMDR and other somatic therapies to combat the CPTSI.
Within 18 months of starting the program, when I was in a catatonic state most of the time, I was well enough to begin training with them to become a specialist practitioner and wellbeing coach. Within 2 years of being close to death, I reopened my practice, 2 days before the November 2020 lockdown started (great timing!!).
And now, in spring of 2021, I am slowly but surely building my practice as my stamina and wellbeing continue to improve. The lessons that my conditions have taught me, or should I say, the recovery journey out of my conditions, are such that I am grateful. Its not that I would wish such devastating illness on anyone, but I must admit, if there was a way to learn all I have through the process without illness first, I would wish that on the entire population. It sounds a strange statement, but it is one that is common amongst us of whom have recovered.