The 5 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned While Unwell
This last year has seen ill health on my part sadly: acute tonsillitis twice, thyroiditis and then a big op with the removal of a large nodule on my thyroid 6 weeks ago, along with a small part of my thyroid being removed too.
As you can imagine, this is not how I anticipated this year to go with the release of my book Mumboss in May and a UK book tour (halted midway for the op, which restarts in September) not to mention other exciting career and life milestones marked in the calendar, some have been ticked off, others not just yet.
That’s life though isn’t it, no one has a crystal ball: the twists and the turns are never obvious and the journey ultimately helps you grow or at least learn your strengths.
The infections I listed to start ended up being interrelated to the op I later discovered, and it was thanks to the second acute bout of tonsillitis that the 4 cm lump on my thyroid was discovered in the first place. It’s position meant it was pressing on my windpipe and affecting my breathing at night but wasn’t obvious to the eye so understandably missed by GPs who put my nightmares down to anxiety not compression issues. The surgeon Mr Stephen Wood aka known as Hot Doc by my Mum and I (!) thought it could have been there for 5-8 years so that’s a hell of a lot of missed sleep and pain over the years.
I won’t sugarcoat things, it’s been one of the toughest times of my life and I’ll write about in full soon as hopefully it will help others undergoing similar and will prove cathartic and healing to me as blogging so often does.
I wanted this post to focus on the lessons I gained from my operation: the good and the bad.
I’m relieved my lump was benign, I’m nearly 100% recovered now and normality has thankfully resumed. Thanks for all the love.
YOU LEARN YOUR STRENGTHS. I knew I had a high pain threshold but my thyroid op was 100000 x worse than the 2 c-sections I personally experienced (one a traumatising emergency c-section, the latter an elective). Your neck/ throat literally effects everything: breathing, eating, speaking, yawning and the pain was acute and at times, frightening. To give you an idea, every time I yawned, I felt like I was choking. I had to train myself to be as calm as possible so as to be as pain-free as possible. Crying was so painful that despite wanting to wail at times, my only choice was to breathe deeply. Forcing a sense of calm resulted in me feeling more at peace. It allowed me to accept the pain rather than fight it. It is only when you are rock bottom (my husband had to bathe and dress me for the first few days after the op) do you realise how strong and resilient you actually are.
MAKES YOU FEEL GRATEFUL. It’s easy to breeze through life expecting to be healthy when touch wood, you’re rarely ill (which was me pre-op) but being unwell has elicited a greater appreciation for my own health and a deeper respect for how precious our body, mind and time on earth is. It has made me relish every single minute, even the tough times plus it’s also made me slow down. My work schedule feels balanced and I feel more content than ever.
YOU DISCOVER WHO IS THERE FOR YOU. My husband Peter was my rock along with close family and friends. My Mum stayed at the hospital the entire day and during my op that evening so Peter could look after the boys. Emotionally, Peter kept me strong throughout as the recovery has taken weeks. Reflecting back on his unconditional love and support makes me cry, even now. As does the care my best friend Will showed me, and all the way in the US, too. An anaesthetist currently on a Fellowship programme at Harvard, Will was there for me on the minute I came out of theatre and beforehand. He had reassured me before the op as I was overcome with fear and phoned me as soon as I came out of theatre and was recovering in my room. As the hours went on, he answered every concern I had as they arose and was metaphorically by my side throughout. I don’t know how I can ever thank him for that. For his insight and care. I have so many other close friends to thank for their love, encouragement, emails, calls, presents and cards, I would literally be here all day long listing everyone if I had to but you know who you are. Being unwell makes you realise who is there for you when you need them most. My other best friend Carlie is my lifelong rock, her support never wavers and she instinctively always knows what I need. I didn’t mention that my hands smelt medicinal post op, yet she sent me NEOM Happy Hand Cream to lift me and exactly when I needed… I was also incredibly touched by the outpouring of support and even gifts from readers too. This online community is such a precious one to be part of, and I will never take any of you guys for granted. Sadly on the flip side, being unwell also makes it clear who isn’t there for me when I need them, as is so often the case when life takes a dip and stops becoming the endless party others perceive it to be. That’s OK though, it’s a great way to sort the wheat from the chaff as we say up North (I can still say it living down South in Windsor can’t I?) and we never stop learning huh.
I STOPPED TRYING TO BE STRONG. I let other people look after me. And my kids. I always like to be the strong one, the one helping others but being unwell showed me I can’t always take the carer role and it’s OK, more than OK, to reach out, and equally accept help. It’s not a weakness.
PUT SELF-CARE FIRST and STOP THE GUILT. The guilt for carving out time for myself is gone. Self-care is a priority. I’m making time to meet friends, take massages, walk as much as possible, and look after myself as much as possible.
Have you been ill lately and what has it taught you?