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Then & Now

I guess every good story starts at the beginning, and mine is no exception. I will endeavour to turn a long-winded tale into a shorter story of pertinent facts that make up my life.

I had a traumatic childhood, fraught with the customary (my parents divorced when I was 10), the unfamiliar (my house burnt down when I was 11), and the self-inflicted (I was an elite gymnast who abhorred being second best, and so starved myself for long periods at a time and pushed my body to unimaginable extremes). I was lonely, odd, misunderstood and rejected by most - you know, the typical teenage angst stuff. It didn't help that I was an immigrant (we came over to South Africa from the UK when I was 5) and had a funny accent (I was born in the north of England where the dialect was - and still is! - strange and incomprehensible). I didn't get on with my peers, my mother, my friends (if indeed I had any). I sought solace in reading, and hid out on my uncle's farm, in the fields under the pine trees in the Natal Midlands. The long and the short of it was that I hated being me. And my soul and body misaligned, starting the slow decline into affliction that would later manifest as chronic illness.

Later on, life seemed to get worse. I was sexually abused by a family member when I was 16, which was traumatic enough in itself, but that my own mother did not believe me and cast me out, was devastating. I was living alone by the time I was 17, trying to finish high school, take care of myself and work part time. I enrolled myself at UNISA and worked around the clock to pay rent and submit papers for my BA degree - I was malnourished, underweight, lost and tired, and I did the craziest things just to survive.

By the time I left my teenage years behind me, I was working full time as a ballroom dance instructor, starting in the morning and ending off after 10pm each evening, working insane hours and hardly sleeping or eating. I lived in a notorious suburb in Johannesburg called Hillbrow, and one night walking home from the studio, I was brutally assaulted by 2 men. I ended up for a stay in the trauma unit in hospital, my skull and every bone in my face broken, and with every thread of my being wanting to die.

Somehow I survived, and so fled back to Natal and tried to pull the pieces of my sanity together, but against all odds ended up in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic. After being shot at with a short-barrelled shotgun and getting my eardrum burst - amongst other things - I felt pinned to the wall and something inside me cracked. I have little recollection of many things between then and later, but do remember going to Europe and spending a year working as an au pair, hitch hiking around countries, sleeping on beaches, and scraping by on nothing.

A little later on I ended up living in someone's garage back in Johannesburg and working for pittance for a Danish shipping company. It was there I met my future husband - a Dane working as an expat - and grabbed at the opportunity he presented to go and live in Denmark when he finished his post in South Africa.

The years in between are a blur - we were together for a couple of decades, moving consistently around the globe, living in cities in various countries on different continents. Contrary to popular belief, it was a hard life, lonely and full of loss, not glamorous and seductive as many declare. I began to get ill - psoriasis reared it's ugly head, as did tinnitus, Meniere's syndrome, and then eventually my face and jaw began to give way; I needed facial reconstructive surgery after the trauma of the assault. The operation was long and difficult, the anaesthetic nearly did me in, and my jaw was wired up for 6 weeks afterwards. I was now full of pins holding my jaw and cheekbones together, and every time the weather changes, I still feel the ache. Additionally, PTSD plagued me - my nightmares were brutal and constant.

But life goes on : I raised 3 children almost singlehandedly, learning different languages along the way as an expat, and always, always having to say goodbye to connections made. My husband was remote, both physically and emotionally, and eventually decided that family life was not for him. It was while living in the Dominican Republic that the next affair became one too many, and I packed up some suitcases and got on a plane with my kids to the UK - I home I had never really known.

I tried to set up life in Edinburgh, fighting to get work as a photographer while trying to make some kind of family life for my children. I started feeling ill and fatigued, getting headaches and becoming irritable and listless. An old family connection made life bearable there, and I so longed to put down roots and call Scotland home, but finances were tight and I just couldn't make things work.

And then my mother got ill. She was diagnosed with MND - motor neuron disease - and was given just a couple of years to live. I made the gut-wrenching decision to move back to South Africa to look after her, and as I was making the transition between countries, she passed on. I arrived back full circle in Johannesburg; sick, tired, friendless, alone, and nearly dead. I succumbed to multiple illnesses, including menorrhagia, fibroids, ovarian cysts, and ultimately Hashimotos, autoimmune and the dreaded celiac disease.

To top it off, a lifelong friend with whom I had planned to open a business, managed to turn my nest egg investment into nothingness. It seemed everyone owed me money; those who I had helped out along the way, in turn, turned their backs on me. To be that ill, and be financially destitute, was crippling.

It was finally when I was at the bottom of the pit that I knew I had to once again make the choice between letting go or deciding to live. With my 3 children in mind, I enrolled at Quantum University to study Natural Integrative Medicine for my PhD, using what was left of my settlement agreement package from their father. And in learning about holistic medicine, was able to make some lifestyle changes that saved me.

It has been 4 years since then; often painful, sometimes frustrating, always difficult. I was told by an adrenal doctor that I would be on medication for the rest of my life, which I refused to believe. I searched and researched, long and hard, and met some incredibly kind and helpful people along the way.

And then eventually, 3 years ago, met the person who quite literally saved me : my life partner Bruce. He introduced me to juicing, to a plant-based diet, to a slower and more relaxed way of life. He took charge, stepping in with fortitude and grace, looking after my children on the days I could not function, coaxing me from PTSD nightmares, holding my hand and holding my heart. He has shown me the way to the real me, the healthy me, letting me look at all the aspects of myself that I once hated, and accepting me for who I am.

Even though this past year has again been devastatingly difficult, losing my father in June and succumbing to the pain and depression it wreaked, I have now reversed my Hashimotos, I no longer suffer from psoriasis, I do not have Meniere's syndrome any more. My nightmares have ended. My system is now alkaline. The only ailments I am working on are a hormonal imbalance and an iron deficiency, and I will always have celiac disease. But now, having just turned 50, I feel I can conquer everything, because together Bruce and I are now on an incredible journey, to life, to health, and to happiness.

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