“Dear past thank you for the lessons, hello future I’m ready.”

I’ve learnt some harsh lessons in life, but those lessons bought me precious time, health, happiness and peace of mind.

Ethan Robertson Unsplash

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters” is a quote that is often used by motivational speakers and life coaches. It’s easy to say these words. It’s much harder to put it into practice. I managed to make it here today though and so can you, just think about the final result that will be your driving force.

Firstly I just want to say I can’t even believe I’m sitting here today having the confidence even to be writing my story, three years ago things were different. I’m Pauline, 41 years of age, married and living in Dublin with my husband Edward and my 21-year-old son Ian. Ian is my pride and joy. In 2014 I decided to change my life forever after seeing a picture of myself and my son that completely floored me. I had suffered from years of chronic illness and stress, and it had finally caught up with me. It took me years to get here but better late than never.

My story starts at 28 years of age when my health began to take a turn for the worse. Within a year I was diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease Crohns and from here on in years of bad lifestyle choices, and stress played havoc with my physical emotional and mental health. My self-esteem, body image, and confidence reached an all-time low this is not uncommon in Crohns sufferer’s body image issues can show up in some sufferers.

My initial diagnosis was mild and controlled by medication which kept it in remission for a few years. It was not to last though as my poor lifestyle habits were about to catch up with me and teach me those harsh lessons I mentioned above. I had many spells of hospital visits requiring steroid treatments and invasive testing in 2013 after a series of unfortunate and tragic events in my life, I was admitted to hospital and faced losing over a foot of my bowel. I was gutted my gut let me down excuse the pun!

In 2004 following my Crohns diagnosis, other autoimmune disorders began to surface in my body. My body was riddled with inflammation, in fact, it was on fire. I gave it the fuel it needed to ignite daily, and that fire burned badly with my bad habits, smoking, drinking, and binge eating. I subsequently went on to develop a rare blood clotting disorder within two years called APS is also known as Hughes syndrome. It’s an autoimmune disease caused by antiphospholipid antibodies. APS provokes blood clots in arteries and veins as well as pregnancy-related complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth and preterm delivery. It was the beginning of a heartbreaking series of seven early baby losses.

In 2010 I underwent major spinal surgery. The Crohn’s, miscarriages and excessive weight gain had damaged my spine, and it caved under pressure. I was standing in a queue in my local bank, and my legs went from under me, I managed to get back up thinking I’d had a dizzy spell as there was no pain in my back ironically but within days that all changed. Having to lie in the MRI machine for over an hour the tears streaming down my face in horrific pain waiting on the outcome, I knew it was not good.

I ended up having five hours of surgery to fuse it together. Having to put my foot to the floor the day after my surgery and the temporary loss of independence that came with it I was 34 years of age in nappies with bags and tubes everywhere and having to learn how to walk properly again. It is something that keeps me motivated every day now to stay fit, active and healthy it is part of my “why”.

Spinal Fusion

There were days I didn’t want to get out of bed I was in that much chronic pain. The time spent with discs ruptured in my back was one of the worst in my life, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my beautiful mum passed away very suddenly before my surgery here one day gone the next. I woke up in respiratory distress after my operation and wanted to die. I pleaded with her to come and take me to wherever she was so I could feel no more physical and emotional pain. She did come to me that night but to guide me. I never want to wish I was dead ever again. I will be reunited with my mum when the time is right.

I was admitted to hospital a few months post op with a suspected heart attack and possibly a clot on my lung. I was 35 years of age I am glad to say it was neither but more than likely stress related however due to my medical and family history they put me on beta blockers for an irregular heartbeat. My heart was broken and needed fixing, and I was the only one who could fix it. There were no pills or magic solutions it started with me. For three more years, I played with the idea of getting better and starting a new life but my head was not in the right place, I had so much more emotional healing to do and self-compassion to find.

In January 2014 half of my womb was removed, all the miscarriages and blood thinners I was taking for the clotting disorder caused excessive bleeding caused other complications. I was now severely anaemic and getting sicker by the day. As a couple, we’d accepted we were no longer having any more children as the previous year my husband was advised to have a vasectomy because of my health issues.

With each subsequent loss, the physical and mental anguish took its toll. It was the final straw for me as a woman I’d lost it all I gave up. I remember thinking I had nothing left it was all being taken away, my self-confidence, self-worth, health and my beautiful mum were all gone, I found it very difficult to focus on how grateful I should have been for my supportive family and friends because I felt I’d failed. I knew I was going to hit rock bottom soon.

Two weeks after having part of my womb removed a night out with close friends to cheer me up turned into one of my biggest nightmares. We became the victims of an unprovoked violent assault it left my husband, myself and our friends devastated. What an important reminder of how life can change in a matter of seconds. The attack led me to develop post-traumatic stress for a further six months. On reflection now I am grateful as it could have been so much worse but at the time it was the final straw for me.

I was now 38 years of age and ten years had passed. In February 2014 I told a friend of mine I wished I was dead again. It was a cry for help, the loss of my mum, surgeries, miscarriages, assaults and now I was seriously obese and facing more surgery on my spine and bowel. I either ran away or faced my reality bluntly it was an early grave one way or the other I was going down. I hid the internal struggle well I became good at being a master or disguise and putting my it’s grand face on, but I could not conceal the physical degeneration in my appearance. It was now evident. I was 38 years old five stone overweight and looked around 50 years old.

On the 21st May 2014, my son Ian turned 18, and it was on that day I decided to change my life forever. It took a lot of struggle, and I sacrificed a lot to get here but nothing compared to what had gone before I knew I could do it, I had to retrain my brain believe in my capability and reaffirm it daily. A growth mindset was essential to my success.

In October 2014 I lost my job as a commercial broker after 20 years. I had no regrets, for years I was a prisoner in my body trapped, but I’d set myself free now at this stage achieving my weight loss goal and regaining my health. But I was still a prisoner to a career which left me frustrated, unfulfilled and unable to reach my full potential in life.

I could change all that now with the offer of redundancy. I walked out that door, calm and confident that it was the beginning of the rest of my life, it was.

I sent my story directly to Arianna Huffington and received a personal reply from her which I cherish to this day, and I have had many articles published on Thrive Global. I am writing about all the things I am passionate about from nutrition, mindset, health, wellness, work-life balance. Writing is great therapy for me it is like healing, and if it just helps one person, it will have served its purpose.

I invested in myself and retrained as an accredited professional coach and studied nutritional therapy and applied to become a member of the International Coaching Federation. I recently set up my own coaching business in February 2017 and specialize in Women’s personal development and lifestyle coaching. Coaching is my passion I went from just surviving to thriving, and I now help other women to so the same.

Movement and proper nutrition are now my medicine. I put the fire out. Weight training has been my savior it helped me not only lose the weight but heal my spine. In Jan 2015, I decided to take it to the next level which and to compete in natural bodybuilding. I competed for the last time ever in September 2016 in the best condition of my life. I have since hung up the sparkly bikini three competitions was my goal, and I did it. With a couple of medals and trophies under my belt, I’m happy out.

I will apply that strength, passion and energy to my coaching business going forward. I took a chance, and it paid off.

My past was my fuel for my future I am grateful.