“What we think, we become” - Buddha
My story is powerful, one of both tragedy and triumph.
In truth, life has brought me to places I hope no other person will have to visit.
To deny the tragedies and sorrows of my life would be to deny essential elements of my journey. They are a part of me, and I hold them inside myself with gratitude and pride.
That’s not to say they were ever easy…
I’ve experienced profound and devastating loss, from close family members to my beloved husband when I was expecting our first child and we were only eight months married.
Battling through the grief was intense in itself, but I had other challenges to scale.
When my daughter was very young, I was diagnosed with an inoperable benign brain tumour and given a poor prognosis.
After an exhaustive search, I finally found a surgeon in the UK willing “to have a go” at removing the tumour.
I was warned that surgery was incredibly risky and that I may not survive.
However, I was undeterred. I had a daughter who needed me.
Thankfully, I survived 15 hours of neurosurgery and a post surgical intracranial bleed.
But I woke up days later to the devastating reality that the surgery had left me completely paralysed down the left hand side of my body.
Wheelchair bound, unable to walk, and heavily medicated, I set about slowly trying to piece the shreds of my life back together.
Eventually, I was transferred to a Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit to learn to live with my new physical limitations.
I had other ideas.
Day in and day out, I made it my life’s work to try to regain the use of my limbs again.
Slowly, I began to experience small changes.
And then one day the big toe on my left foot flickered!
That was all I needed to mobilise myself further. And I used this victory to continue making strides in my recovery.
Although I recovered greatly over the years, the medications I had to take to keep intractable epilepsy at bay were taking their toll on my already damaged mental state.
Six drugs four times a day made it difficult to function cognitively or physically.
As a result, I headed down a slippery slope of depression. I was advised that my mental state was caused by brain injury, and trauma. I was so worn out that I began to accept my lot.
But I was miserable.
Joy, excitement and motivation were lost to me. All I could do was eke out a life as someone living on a mental flatline.
And that’s the way I managed my life for nearly seven years.
Until... I began to question my state of being. Life was becoming so intolerable that I wondered if I could keep going and this pushed me to question my reality.
Was I as brain damaged as I first thought?
Was there another way of living?
I began to do some research.
Unbeknownst to me over the years, I had inadvertently become an accidental addict. I had become addicted to the prescribed medication I was on.
It was around this point that I truly reached rock bottom.
The suffering I had endured over the years had worn me down, and mentally blunted by the medication I took, I had no real quality of life. I had become trapped in my own mind.
But in this despair, I heard the smallest part of me calling from deep within, urging me to take action, pushing me forwards and giving energy to the voice. Something in me had changed and the more I questioned my situation, the more curious I became. It finally became clear to me that it was me, and only me, who could change my life.
I knew then that I must begin taking charge and the time had come for me to plot a new course, one I navigated myself, in order to see if I could chart my way out of the physical and mental prison I was in.
I sensed there was more to be gleaned from my situation. I was driven, I completed my research, I armed myself with the necessary tools and I set my sails towards a new future, one that I knew could offer new meaning to my life. I also knew that if I didn’t do this, I was done, and thus I began my work in earnest.
The drug withdrawal journey was tough. Tougher than a lot of terrible experiences that had gone before, but I kept going. Incrementally, I dropped my dose every few weeks until finally, at long last, two and a half years later, I’d reached destination zero for the drug I had been most addicted to. On and on I went until the day finally came when I no longer took any medication at all.
I’d suffered immeasurably in the time it took. In the absence of any real support, I then had to set about building a new version of myself for me, and for my precious daughter.
Without the drugs a new version of me began to emerge. Everything felt so fresh.
My experiences had taught me so much and the greatest message I had been left with was that everything is possible and so, with this in mind, I began life again. Only this time I walked with my head up, sure in the knowledge that I’d truly nailed how to live life, and now it was on my own terms.
I was living tenaciously. I had become fully Rachel.
If you’d like to immerse yourself in my complete story, check out my memoir Flying on the Inside.
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