Health Information Week - What it means to me

Everyone has their own story to share about ways they have found to care for their own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of other people.

A team of bloggers have agreed to describe their personal journey. We hope their stories help and inspire others during our Year of Wellbeing.

 

Health Information Week - What it means to me

Year of wellbeing blogger JackieI think it’s fair to be said that I am passionate about health information - and information in general. I believe very strongly that the more information we have, the better our chances of leading happy, healthy lives.

When I looked at the individual themes for each day of Health Information Week (July 1-7), I found that virtually all of them were intertwined in my own story of health and wellbeing, of illness and recovery. There are many wishes within my story.

I wish I’d been more mindful of my feelings and emotions instead of living life at 100 miles an hour for so long. I wish I’d been more knowledgeable about the symptoms and the environmental triggers which could cause my own particular illness. I wish I’d been diagnosed more quickly. I wish I’d reached out earlier. I wish I’d known about Warwickshire CAVA and ConnectWELL much sooner. But for now, I am where I want to be, so my wishes are for other people. I wish that they have all the information and help they need to improve their lives, help them come to terms with illness and enhance their wellbeing. I hope this story helps in some small way.

I think my wellbeing has taken a pasting a few times in the past. I didn’t notice it because I was never ’ill’. Having brought up a family of four single-handedly, for years afterwards I had at least two jobs, regularly working 50 hours a week or more. And I could be in a room full of sick people and never catch anything. I ran, swam and loved the most demanding fitness classes. If I wasn’t swivelling around at Zumba, I was at Boot Camp or chest pressing at a pump class. If I had energy afterwards, I was out somewhere - I was rarely at home, and that was the way it suited me. I was ultra-fit and healthy as far as I was concerned - it never occurred to me that my wellbeing could be lacking.

And then I did become ill! Working at the local sports centre at the time, I became increasingly breathless. Reluctantly, I consulted my GP but carried on working as the fight for breath intensified. Within weeks, it had progressed to the stage where I was admitted to hospital as an emergency and diagnosed with pneumonia caused by a bacterial or viral infection. I never recovered fully, and nine months and a lung biopsy later, I was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, brought on by autoimmune disorders which also racked my entire body with pain. I was prescribed a cocktail of drugs, including immuno-suppressants - more often used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs. Eventually they began to work, but the time I spent at home, isolated and lonely, my independence gone, was probably the worst of my life.

I realised that actually my wellbeing hadn’t been what I’d thought it was. My hours had been filled with work, exercise and going out every chance I got. Without this, I felt lost and fought not to become needy towards my children who were grown and living busy lives. Unable to move far without coughing violently, my weight ballooned - not helped by the high-dose steroids I was also taking. My pride in how hard I’d always worked was replaced with resentment as I had to fight for benefits I really didn’t want to be on, but needed to survive. My saving grace was Rory, a little rag-tag bundle of fur I’d rescued from Bulgaria, a gentle, lazy dog who rescued me right back. He was there through every stab of pain and dark thought. Somehow he always knew when to shuffle over and plonk himself down beside me, when I needed the warm, wet comfort of a licked hand.

Gradually I improved, helped immensely by a friend who poked and prodded me into joining a local health club, even though all I could do was sit in the jacuzzi and the steam room. It became the focus of my day, made me get dressed and into my car, and when I got home, I was exhausted and content in the solitude the rest of the day brought. I was always envious of the swimmers I watched though, and one day I decided I’d have a go. The lifeguard looked horrified as I coughed and spluttered my way down one length, stopping three times, but I persevered daily, and within a month, I was swimming 12 lengths. I was coming out of the other side of hopelessness, slowly but determinedly.

November 2017 was when a lot of things happened - good and bad. As I regained strength, I yearned to work again and knew that I had the tenacity to make the right job work, but doubted if I would find an employer brave enough to take a gamble on me. Deciding to volunteer, I found Warwickshire CAVA and signed up to Volunteer Connect which gave me access to hundreds of volunteering opportunities locally. For a while I volunteered for a veterans’ charity in Nuneaton, covering reception and arranging events. Then in November Warwickshire CAVA asked me to become an admin volunteer in their office, working for a project called ConnectWELL. I felt at home there from the very first day. I had begun a big challenge that month also - National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) - the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I was powering towards the target when the unthinkable happened - I lost my little dog to heart failure, and with it, the will to finish my book, at least for a few months. Later, it gave me something to aim for, to overcome the sadness and loss I felt, and by April 2018, it was complete.

April 2018 was an exciting month for another reason. I began working for ConnectWELL part-time as a Wellbeing Co-ordinator. It was a challenging role, but I loved it as it gave me a terrific sense of purpose. I was helping people who often had found themselves in the same boat (or a very similar one) as I’d been in. Later in the year I became involved with the Warwickshire Year of Wellbeing and attended a storytelling course where I learned to blog and vlog so I can share thoughts, views and feelings with the world (or at the very least, Warwickshire!) I took on extra hours and with a little flexibility, find myself comfortably working 28 hours a week.

This is, without a doubt, one of the happiest times of my life. I have a good work/home balance and plenty of family and friends around to help me enjoy life to the full, though not to extremes! But I never take my wellbeing for granted. My lifestyle is so much healthier than ever before. Yoga is my exercise class of choice now, along with nature walks and swimming, I eat well and when I’m tired I actually rest! Wellbeing is far too precious to me to lose it again.

 

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