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  • montanafillingham

Just do the next thing…

Lately I have lost my voice. I haven't been posting any updates or blogs, and I know some of you have noticed, and I thank those who have checked in with me or asked my loved ones where I’ve gone. I am grateful for that care and concern. I am grateful for a lot of things. Gratitude has a power most of us underestimate.


I have always promised myself I would be honest with the people that read my page and lately I have found it increasingly difficult to be honest; even with myself. I have been angry, upset and confused, but most of all I have been lost. I’ve lost direction and I’ve lost focus. I’m not alone I know that, and also aware enough to see that I am more privileged than others at this crazy time in history.


For me personally it's taking me a while to put my head back on straight. This year has been a confusing and challenging time for us all. In all honesty, it's been downright scary - it still is. I haven't commented on a lot of things because I didn't want to speak from a place of anger.


Anger is ugly. It does so much damage in the world.

But I AM angry.

It’s been 3 years and 5 months since my accident, but lately there has been a surge of feelings that felt so raw and like I was back at the lowest points. Still I wanted to find a way to put my thoughts across without that tone of bitterness.


So here is a brief update as to what has gone on for me during this year and the COVID pandemic.


I started the year with big plans. I turn 30 this year. I had allowed myself, since completing my foundation training, to take a step back. I procured a small teaching position, but as I believe if you are to teach well you have to remain in the thick of things, I also took a zero hours contact in my old A&E department; the one I was working in when I had my accident. I loved being back and worked during one of the worst winter crises the NHS had seen since its inception; little did we know what was to come. I hasten to add this isn’t just my opinion. The BMJ published data before COVID hit. Waiting times were at record high.


The job has never been easy, but I knew that a long time ago, and I found myself grateful to be back, (even with the challenges), and well supported by like minded colleagues. My confidence was high and finally I was seeing some financial recovery too all, of which gave me the feeling of going in the right direction.


After Christmas I took some holiday time and spent it in Amsterdam with my partner. Unfortunately, the relationship was suffering problems. We both faced challenges with physical and mental health and the things we required of the other weren't matching. It was not an easy decision, and with his health the way it was I felt awful leaving, but the constant confrontation chipped away at my own mental health and I felt whatever I did, to him, it was 'wrong'. Break-ups are something we’ve all been through and they’re hardly ever a good experience. If the past few years have taught me anything though it is after a setback it is possible to regroup. Take the lessons from the things that didn’t work out and hit the drawing board…again.


It's tiresome, but that’s what is needed. Take some time to deal with it and then move forward right?


I was ready to do just that and then I developed symptoms that could have been COVID and had to cancel my forthcoming shifts. As things developed there was uncertainty about whether, (after I had isolated for the suggested period), I was still too ‘vulnerable’ to go back to the front line. This floored me. I have worked so hard to not be seen as ‘vulnerable’ for my health conditions; I hate that word. Don’t get me wrong I know there is strength in some of my vulnerability, I am a big fan of Brene Brown. I have written blogs based on showing you my vulnerability, being honest about when I am struggling and professing that admitting when we are not okay is a great strength and virtue. But here it was being used in a way that would mean I had to step away from clinical areas at a time when I was finally feeling proud of myself again and able to dig in to the next stage of my career. I tried to find more information with increasing frustration that every person, institution and association had a differing opinion on what I should do and being completely honest I wasn’t liking the general jist of any of them.


As many of those with chronic conditions I was advised to shield until we knew more. In addition, there were concerns that my manual chair could be an infection control risk. I need to touch the wheels to reposition while examining patients, the wheels could carry virus particles and it the practicalities of glove changing mid examination, (fulled at this point by my anxiety to not be a ‘risk’), just became ludicrous. This led to trying to source an electric chair with armrests which would be much easier to wipe down and keep sterile.


I just felt like everything had imploded again. My fundraisers for the year had so far been cancelled and this was how I had previously funded equipment and therapy. My clinical work seemed off the cards for the foreseeable, which had put me back to relying on benefits and unsure about career progression. I was starting to lose hope with a deep set apathy some days; others a manic anxiety that led me down rabbit holes, certain it was a good direction only to look at all my notes later and feel I’d never be able to sort everything out I needed.

I then lost a colleague and mentor. It was early in the crisis and not due to COVID directly, but the public are (I hope) becoming aware that the pressures of COVID have had knock-on effects to health care in a way that is not yet completely clear. I know many have felt more personal losses and I send my love to you all at this, quite frankly, shitty time. Grief is something that I am intimately acquainted with and when so many of us, (through necessity), have had our usual grieving process changed; unable to attend funerals or otherwise congregate with our loved ones to share in our memories and appreciation of that life… well it has made the process that much harder.


As humans we are, to some extent, programmed to dislike change. The unfamiliar feels uncomfortable as we are separated from our habitual ways of dealing with the challenges that are, simply put, a fact of life.


Illness happens

Career setbacks happen

Relationship breakdowns happen

Death happens

Shit happens


As humans, (and for some unknown reason especially in Britain), we love a good moan about the latest crap thing. We’ve all done it, and you know what? To some degree it is absolutely necessary and therapeutic; to just rant about the latest barrage you, as an individual has suffered. I can’t find an exact source for this quote, but I came across it while working over the winter and it made me laugh.


‘It is ok to lose your shit sometimes because if you keep your shit, you'll end up full of shit and then you'll explode and there'll be shit everywhere. A shit storm. And nobody wants that.’


It’s one of the reasons that I write and why I blogged so much in hospital after the loss of my legs. I needed that outlet. I decided to share it because I wanted to see if my story could help other people realise just that. We need to talk about the difficult things to process them, but admittedly it was also for the reassurance; we are not alone. Everyone struggles. Keeping it all in, ignoring the problems and negative feelings doesn’t help.


However, there is a different side to this. One that doesn’t get enough attention simply because it is SO much harder than explosively ranting and bemoaning our various personal problems… Acceptance and gratitude.


3 years post-accident you wouldn’t think I would be struggling with acceptance. You’d be wrong. I still wake up some days thinking, ‘what the f**k has happened to my life?’, and the far more irritating question, ‘WHY?!?’ I’ve made a big deal of sticking to my stoic guns; that what happened, happened, so I have to just get on with it. Be happy. Be positive. And live the best life that I can. I believe that I truly do. It is what I tell myself everyday while I wrestle with the profound sadness of all the things that are so much more difficult now. But that’s also the moments its most difficult to accept.


In lockdown we’ve been encouraged to go outside to exercise. Great! I’d love to. I’ve wanted to go up the forest so many times, but my chair isn’t exactly suited to rough ground and it’s also not the wisest thing for me to do alone. If I fell out my chair or got stuck while up in the Brecons, well… I guess it would be a story. Honestly, how my mother’s hair isn’t pure white I do not know.


It’s hard not to grieve for the old me some days, but I cannot be that girl again. I need to be the next version of me. One who hopefully learns from her mistakes, apologises and tries always to practice what she preaches. I am alive. I am grateful for that. My arms work. I am grateful for that. I have somewhere warm and dry to sleep. I am grateful for that. I have food to eat each day. I am grateful for that.


However, my point is this. People now have a better awareness, (again, I would hope), of how it can feel to be physically isolated or excluded from certain activities. People with disabilities didn’t need lockdown, we knew that feeling from before. It has also shown how isolation and increased acute stress affect mental and physical health. I’ve been doing a lot of online conferences and all over the world the impacts of COVID on mental health have been vast. It is so important that we let the challenges we are facing make us think critically about how tomorrow should be shaped.


One of the key features of the way we move forward is diversity and inclusivity. Accessibility should be a standard. In the same way I am having to truly accept the way my life is different now, we as a world need to accept that change is gonna’ come. There will be a new normal and we need to make sure that new normal is considerate. That’s why while I think the violence and destruction of property during the 2020 civil liberties protests was wrong and extremely counterproductive, I will always support PEACEFUL protest for civil rights. The apathy, the only caring about an issue when it affects YOU or someone you love is narrowminded ignorance. This is the time to be supporting each other, acknowledging each other, listening and then finding solutions together.


And now here’s where the real honesty and vulnerability comes in. I’ve been completely candid about the mental struggles I have had, but I have kept something back. I was afraid what people might think. Over the past year I have seen a few clinical psychologists and counsellors. All of them agree that I am living with PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms and am awaiting official diagnosis.


I have kept this a secret out of shame. A shame I have promised myself I will no longer feel. When it was first suggested I felt that I hadn't been through enough to warrant that diagnosis, though I am not sure what more I felt I needed to go through in order to ‘deserve’ the feather in my mental health cap. This was last year, and since then I have become more aware of my symptoms and have had to accept this is likely the case.


I felt weak. PTSD was for soldiers and victims of severe war crimes. I did not feel that sexual assault and my car crash counted. I KNOW that sounds ridiculous, both of those are heavily traumatic and I would reassure any of my patients with PTSD that any trauma can result in this problem... two significant traumas combined and in a short space of time is MORE than enough.


I got on despite the symptoms and I kept going because that is what you have to do. But as COVID hit the acute stress worsened my symptoms. I began to accept that I had been ignoring a lot in order to just get on: which is honestly the worst thing you can do. And I knew that. Logically I did, but I didn’t want to feel the feelings bubbling back up and taking me back to a head space I had crawled out of. I was so proud of keeping going, that I dug my heels in and promised myself I would not go backwards, but the more I resisted the worse I started to feel.


A few months into lockdown I found myself once again in the clutches of a deep depression. After getting a taste for building my life back up it was like the carpet had been pulled out from under me… AGAIN. Everything felt so uncertain and scary again. I couldn’t write and I could barely speak to anyone without fear that they’d sense how scared and how panicked I felt and start worrying that I was having some kind of breakdown. I have had dark days like this before. I knew the signs of what was happening to me. It started with the nightmares. Then feeling like I was back at the lowest points in my life. Feeling trapped. Feeling irritated when people didn’t understand what I was getting at. Every task was like swimming through honey. Then the self-deprecating thoughts. ‘You can’t help anyone’, ‘You are no good at anything’, ‘Nobody actually cares what you think’.


Because I’d been through it before though I knew what to do and slowly I dragged myself kicking and screaming to the point I needed to get to. The point of asking for help. I reached out. I talked and was reassured once more that I am loved and supported whatever I needed to do. I re-started counselling and over the last few months I have re-gained confidence in myself and all that I believe in. Lockdown for me became a positive experience of change. An acceptance that things have to change in order to make progress.


We can’t control the changes that come our way, but what we can control is how we respond to them. One of the key aspects of my personality is my ability to be honest regardless of my shame, and one of my strengths is that, (eventually), no matter the setback I do get right back on that proverbial horse, and take another swing at it. At one point I felt so intently that I was the ultimate hypocrite because I preach honesty and positivity and self-care and yet go through periods where I find that so hard to do myself. But that’s because it IS hard; the thing I have to be proud of is that despite that I refuse to give up.


COVID forced me to take the step back I needed. I am now managing the symptoms with a mixture of medication and mindfulness. I have learnt so much and while I wait for the ‘all clear’ to go back and do my job I am instead chipping away at writing the book, studying and developing teaching for medical students and I’m even considering a pHd in education. Just taking the time to consider what the future holds for me.


This experience has also made me even more passionate about speaking up about provisions for Mental Health care in this country and our attitudes towards mental illness. I am able to say now...

Mental illness does not make me a bad person Mental illness does not mean I cannot succeed in my life Mental illness does not mean I am weak

But most importantly....

My mental illness does not define me!


I am stronger for my struggles. I am better for my mistakes. Everything is an opportunity to learn and move forward. I am working with the government scheme Access to Work to get the equipment I need to return to work as safely as possible.


I've taken the time to really reflect and out of that I have made some strong (but scary) decisions. Alas, I still have more questions than I have answers and the decisions I have yet to make are likely the more important ones… BUT I have made progress and that is something to be celebrated in itself.


You may notice the name of the page has changed and previous posts have been taken down. This backstep, is the deep breath before I launch... 'My Mind on Wheels'. This social media project is to drum up awareness of the book I am writing about coming through trauma and take all of you with me as I turn Post Traumatic Stress into Post- Traumatic GROWTH.

Learning to Walk has become Learning to LIVE! This isn't because I have given up on ever walking again, but because as I have said multiple times...


I WILL NOT GIVE UP MY LIFE TO CHASE MY LEGS!


There is so much more in my recovery than just the physical task of walking. And there is so much living you can do without walking. We are in the era of accessibility and we must continue to push for that.

A friend of mine has recently given me a nugget of a mantra 'evolution not revolution'.

We do not need a revolution, for they so often come at the cost of violence and division.

We need evolution, achieved through education, communication, compromise and compassion.


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