I’ve lived in constant pain since 1996. My accident happened during a performance in NZ (I was dancing the Can Can!) and as professional dancers do, I continued my performance even after I had injured myself – adrenalin is a wonderful thing! I spent the first six months struggling to walk, couldn’t drive and definitely couldn’t dance which, as this was my life, was pretty traumatic. I worked with some amazing doctors – I was lucky enough to be treated by the All Blacks sports doctor who understood my need to get back to where I was fitness wise. My diagnosis changed depending upon who I spoke to but the MRI showed prolapsed discs at L4/L5 and degeneration. I had continual sciatic pain down my left leg and I tried every therapy known.
Eventually I could walk normally again but dancing was a distant dream. An operation wasn’t in my plan as I’d seen too many friends go through a fusion only to be in worse pain a couple of years later. I started working in offices and leading as normal a life as I could – accepting that pain and setbacks were my lot in life. I worked my way up the ladder professionally and by 2013 I was heading up a recruitment division for a very well-known training organisation. However life had another curveball to throw me and personal circumstances required a change of lifestyle. I’d worked for many years now with chronic back pain but to be honest working to full-time was meaning a weekend of recovery and not much else. That was fine but when my mum got cancer I knew something had to give. So out of necessity to care for mum (and myself), my consultancy Square Pegs was born.
The first year of my own business was pretty all over the place. Not a lot of direction and a lot of me doing whatever work came along that suited my skill set (recruitment/resume writing/tender or grant writing, fundraising assistance), whilst sitting by hospital beds or taking mum to chemo. Stress has negative effects on chronic pain and I spent much of my time emotionally and physically drained. Devastatingly mum passed away at the end of that first year and, even though it was kinda expected, I was pretty shaken. I took a few months to tidy up all her affairs and then I was left wondering what was next. So back to full-time work I went. However my body had got used to not having to sit in an office chair for fifty hours a week and consequently threw a tantrum. The chronic back pain had not only returned it was literally taking over my life. The new diagnosis was that now I had prolapsed discs at L4, L5 and S1, the degeneration was worse and there were now tears in all of the affected discs.
So a new plan was needed. Square Pegs was dusted off again and this time a firm direction was decided and embarked upon. I sat down and thought about what I loved doing, what I was good at and how I could earn a living. I thought about my body and what it needed from me to not only cope but actually start to thrive. I pictured my mum and her life cut short before she got to take a much longed for retirement trip overseas. It was time for me to make a success of my life not only in a business sense but personally also. I decided that my business focus would be on finding funding for great causes, helping charities and arts organisations diversify their income streams and attract support. Something that would not only give me joy but also, just as importantly, be able to be done from my home and whatever time of day I felt best. Over the last year I have been steadily building relationships with a variety of clients and loving the opportunity to help both charities and not-for-profit organisations develop new opportunities with funders, corporate partners and sponsors. I’ve made mistakes, have freaked out that no one would use me, have fist pumped and literally leapt for joy. Yes it’s been a roller coaster ride as the cliché goes and I’m so lucky to have the fantastic support of my hubby who has not only supported me financially and emotionally but also actually believes that I’m pretty good at this stuff (as luckily do a couple of other people too!).
And the icing on the cake? I’m back dancing again!! Through sheer perseverance (and a lot of treatments and painkillers) I’ve managed to get back into a routine of ballet and yoga classes. I’m not going to be threatening anyone in the Australian Ballet any time soon, but boy does it feel good to pull on my ballet shoes and plie my way to a happy place. I only wish mum could have seen me dancing again. Out of tragedy has come an awareness, and I’m forever grateful to her for that. Do I have bad days. Hell yeah. But because of the lifestyle I’ve built for myself I can rest and not feel guilty about not going into work – I can work from my bed if I need too or play catch up and work at a time that I feel better. My only sadness is that more people don’t have this option – companies need to realise that not everyone is at their peak performance between the hours of 9am and 5pm.
So my advice would be to make lemon out of lemonades. Or vodka out of potatoes. Basically rather than being the victim of your circumstances, make the bumps in the road into spring cushions and find a way to make things work for you – don’t be guided by what society says is the norm. If it spins your wheels then chances are your enthusiasm will translate into your life and work….. and that makes all the difference.