How has life shaped me?
So this summer I will turn the ripe old age of 25 years old, and hit the quarter of a century milestone. Having lived over a quarter of my life, I thought it was the perfect time to reflect upon what I have learnt about myself since becoming an adult. I hope this post will be thought-provoking and insightful.
I spent my first four years of adulthood at the University of Southampton studying Environmental Science. At that time when asked my ‘5 year plan’ I was solely career driven, having had it drummed into me at school. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve on enrolment of the course, I wanted to be at the forefront of conservation research, working outdoors in the wild saving endangered animals. But life has a funny way of taking you down a different path. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you wasted your time, which it took me a long time to accept, for three years I felt lost and a failure. I have since come to realise, it just means that there is something better for you to do. Something that may have never even crossed your mind. Your life experiences shape you as a person and can lead you down paths you would have never imagined. For instance, I’d never have believed I’d start my own business and return to education to qualify as a Nutritionist and Specialist Pilates Instructor, but here I am doing exactly that! So how did I get to where I am today and what lessons did I learn along the way?
Whilst at University I went through two key life changing moments. Since the age of 18 I have been in a constant battle with my health, undergoing many operations and hospital tests. In my second year of University, after having a negative coeliac blood test, I was diagnosed with Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), also known as gluten intolerance. Despite religiously sticking to the diet a lot of my symptoms remained, so after two years of intermittent stomach pain I returned to my GP for further tests. Some days the pain would be so bad I could barely move from my bed or I would be bent over in pain one moment and fine the next. I bloated after everything I ate and looked pregnant/fat, despite eating healthily and exercising regularly. One memorable experience, although for all the wrong reasons, was when I caught the University bus to town one day to go shopping. I must have looked so bloated an old lady thought I was pregnant and she got out of her seat and offered it to me, as all the seats had been taken. Of course I was horrified, but I didn’t have the heart or time to explain I wasn’t pregnant so I thanked her and sat down. That day understandably I felt dreadful. This was a huge self-confidence blow for me, I have always been conscientious about the way I look, especially with my belly always looking bloated, but this was a major turning point for me. I was no longer going to just accept it and I was determined to get answers. In April that year I was diagnosed dairy intolerant by my GP. Just a year after graduating I hit another bout of stomach pains, at this point my GP decided that it would be best for me to reintroduce gluten, so I could have an endoscopy and biopsy to double check I wasn’t coeliac. This was probably the worst three months of my life, reintroducing gluten made me so ill I could barely function. I had no choice but to quit my job, I was in so much pain all I could do was lie in bed or on the sofa all day hugging a hot water bottle, so it’s not surprising I became depressed. One of the ways I managed to pull myself together was by creating Eat Yourself Fit, which I used as a coping mechanism. It gave me the opportunity to blog about my experiences and talk to like-minded people going through similar things. This was when I realised I wasn’t alone and that there were thousands of other people around the world enduring similar experiences. My endoscopy returned negative, but my GP advised I returned to a gluten free diet, as it was clearly making me unwell. After three weeks of being gluten free I started to feel better again and slowly returned back to exercising, once I felt fit enough after having just over six months off. Rowing has always been a huge passion of mine so not being able to train and race was mentally very hard to deal with. One day roughly 6 months later I fainted in pain during a race and was admitted to the local hospital. The doctors at the hospital were completely baffled with what was causing my pain and in the end they decided it was most likely caused by tonsillitis poison draining into my stomach. The following year, as advised by my doctor, I had a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. The intermittent pain still continued so I returned to my GP. They then went down the gynaecology route, thinking it could be that causing the pain. It was an area they hadn’t yet investigated and they were aware I suffered from abnormal periods. After a negative laparoscopy, endometriosis was ruled out and I was fitted with the mirena coil to help ease my periods and referred back to my GP. At this point they had exhausted every option, so I was referred to a dietician. Finally the eureka moment, I explained to the dietician my symptoms and she immediately said I suffered from IBS-C and that I should try following a strict low FODMAP diet to see if it eased my symptoms. I have been following this diet for six months now, in which time my symptoms have almost vanished. When I do have an episode of bloating or pain, I can usually look back over what I have eaten in the last 48 hours and work out the trigger. I am now on the modified low FODMAP diet, whereby I am slowing reintroducing foods and discovering my individual triggers. The below images highlight my physical transformation, as soon as my diet was right and I was no longer eating foods that triggered my ibs-c my belly flattened. These photo’s believe it or not were taken just 6 months apart! I trained no differently throughout, the transformation was solely down to food alone.
As you can see I went through a lot of stress, pain and misery until I finally got the diagnosis and treatment I needed. This really motivated and inspired me to help other people who may be going through a similar thing. Eat Yourself Fit began life as a coping mechanism but has evolved into much more than that. I have produced four recipe ebooks and last month I enrolled at the School of Nutrition to study a diploma in Advanced Nutrition & Weight Management. This will provide me with the necessary qualification and knowledge to produce tailored meal plans for clients and more nutritional recipes.
The other huge life changing moment was meeting James in my second year of University, who I met through Southampton University Boat Club, which I helped coach and coxswain. This October we will have been together 5 years and last April we purchased our first house, showing our continued commitment to one another. As I am sure many of you are aware, once your path becomes entangled with another’s, both of you will inevitably have to make sacrifices, compromises and decisions that will affect each other. You can no longer think solely about yourself for if you do your relationship will likely fail. Pictured below is me coxswaining James’ SUBC crew in his fresher year and a photo of us at SUBC’s annual ball.
As well as all these personal challenges I faced, there were very little job opportunities in Southampton and its surrounding areas, making it increasingly difficult to get my foot in the door. I often found I had the skills and knowledge, but lacked the required experience to even get me to interview stage. I couldn’t gain the required experience without working for free as an intern or volunteer, and at the time we were desperate to leave my parents house whom we were both living at. In order to move out we needed financial security, so I signed up to an administration temping agency. Whilst working, I continued applying for degree related jobs. I had one lucky entrance into the conservation world, which came just after I had undergone the endoscopy procedure in 2014. Having been out of employment for almost 6 months, I couldn’t believe my luck, after being so unfortunate with my health. Despite the internship being unpaid it was a foot in the door and being only part-time it allowed me time to continue recovering, whilst not putting too much pressure upon myself. Joining Marwell really helped me to regain my confidence, seeing the animals every day boosted my mood and working with the conservation team was a dream come true. Whilst there I joined the Marwell Choir and participated in regular Marwell Pilates classes. As my three month internship drew to a close, I saw an opportunity to stay at Marwell working part-time in an administration role. I have been in that position now for 18 months. Being part-time it allows me the opportunity to continue working on Eat Yourself Fit, continue my health recovery and allowed me to continue with Marwell pilates and choir. It also gives me the fantastic opportunity to train on my days off and build upon my rowing ability and physical fitness, which I am finding very beneficial.
Rowing has shaped my life immensely. To me rowing is not just a hobby or sport, it is a part of my soul, for which without it, I feel a huge part of me is missing. Since a child I have attended regattas every weekend throughout the spring and summer months, watching my parents race and then ultimately competing myself. As I grew into a young girl, I eagerly waited for the day I could row myself. February last year I gained my first notable seat on the committee as Club Development Officer and then in October as Ladies Captain. This has given me additional commitments and allowed me the opportunity to give back to the club that has given me so much. Rowing takes up so much of my free time, typically I train 5-6 days a week and often twice a day equating to anything from 1-3hrs per day. I race every Saturday from May-September, as well as now running committee errands, which can involve anything from attending evening seminars or day workshops to preparing documents or liaising with local media. A year ago when I was contemplating my life and where to live and settle with James, it became evident to me I had to choose between rowing or a job in conservation. This was probably the biggest deal breaker for me, I had come to realise it simply would not suit me to work a conservation job and row, as my work and rowing commitments would clash. Having watched a fellow crew member and graduate of my course leave rowing for this exact reason, I knew it was one or the other. Sadly rowing is too important to me to give up, so I had no option but to find an alternative career if I was to stay in Southampton and continue rowing. As the images below highlight I have grown up through rowing, starting at the young age of 12 years old as a coxswain, to then win coxswain of the year in 2003 and then progressing to row myself. Two of my biggest achievements to date in rowing are winning the Hampshire & Dorset Ladies Junior Fours Championship and winning the South Coast Championship’s Ladies Senior Fours Open last September. This year I am hoping for more great achievements in both Ladies Senior Fours and Ladies Junior Sculls, as well as a very successful year for my club BTC.
Whilst at Marwell, I developed an interest in pilates. I found that it was improving my core strength and flexibility, which was notably benefiting my rowing. At home I started to run through the exercises, I had learnt in my pilates classes and purchased my own mat, ball and resistant bands so I could repeat all the moves. I then started to repeat the moves in my free time down the rowing club sharing them with my crew, so we could all reap the benefits. This naturally got a lot of interest down the club, so by popular demand I started running pilates style circuits voluntarily one evening a week. This is when I realised I had a passion for teaching, I really enjoyed seeing individuals improving week on week and receiving positive feedback of how it was improving their rowing. I then started contemplating whether this could be a career move to support my work with Eat Yourself Fit. I researched how to qualify as a pilates instructor and came across many training courses, eventually settling on doing my training with Future Fit. I am currently studying a Specialist Pilates Teaching diploma with them, whereby among other things once qualified I will be able to take GP referrals for orthopaedic conditions as well as run my own classes. Another reason I swayed towards this path was due to a recent experience whereby my mum hurt her back and was referred to a pilates instructor through her GP. Through the one-to-one pilates classes she has strengthened her core muscles and those surrounding her spine and now rarely suffers the pain. On my behalf she asked her pilates instructor if they had heard of the training course and Future Fit Training. Their response was most encouraging, as it turns out they had recently graduated from the exact course by the same provider several years ago. That was the final push I needed and that evening I enrolled! This month there was also an article in British Rowing about the benefits of incorporating pilates into training plans. This is very encouraging to hear and could be another potential career avenue I explore once qualified, especially with my vast experience of rowing which would give me the edge over traditional pilates instructors. Additional benefits of being a pilates instructor would be that it could fit around my lifestyle.
As you can see life throws you many obstacles and experiences that alter your path and ultimately shape you as a person. You have to be prepared to make sacrifices, compromises and decisions. It took me almost three years to realise there was more to life than trying to find the ‘perfect’ job. I had to ask myself would it really be worth having the perfect job and earning more money, to then have less time and/or fewer people to share it with. If you are at a cross roads in your life and don’t know which way to go, in a nutshell you have one of two options, follow your heart or follow your head. Every decision you make and experience you endure shapes the person you become. Please don’t make the same mistake I did and believe you’re a failure if you don’t achieve what you’d planned. I felt lost and confused for many years, just because life doesn’t turn out the way you planned it doesn’t mean you failed. Instead ask yourself what have you achieved. You may even be surprised, despite your initial feelings of failure, you’ve actually achieved quite a lot. Take my life as an example, I have a 2.1 in a Masters of Environmental Science, which although I am not using directly has provided me with universally transferrable skills in writing, research, communication and professionalism, to name just a few, which I have used on daily basis and ultimately helped me to start my own business. I have also purchased a house, achieved many awards in rowing, started my own business and lastly and probably most importantly I am very close to finally resolving my health issues.
A school reunion last year really highlighted to me that there are generally two types of graduates, although I realise I am overgeneralising. Those that find a job in their degree field, but have very little time to spend the money and may be struggling to find time to spend with friends and family, as they are too busy with work often working in the evenings at home and/or on weekends. And those that have found their soul mate, have purchased a house or are looking to purchase a house with their partner, possibly have children or are pregnant, engaged or married, but are compromising on their job so they can be with their partner. Often you will have to compromise, whether it be the job itself, your relationships, financially, socially or geographically (location of your home/ job). It is unlikely everything will be in your favour. For the very fortunate few out there that have their dream life, that is the career they dreamed and studied for, their own house and a strong loving relationship, please take this moment to be thankful and realise how truly lucky you are, also please realise the sacrifices and compromises your partner may have had to make for you to lead this life.
Despite the challenges I have faced so far in my life, I wouldn’t change it for the world. By overcoming illness I have gained strength, determination and a new found motivation to succeed. Today I am writing this article, the happiest I have been in a long time, I have finally accepted who I am. I have new goals and aspirations for the future and most importantly am now on the path to achieve them. Sure life has changed me, but I honestly feel it’s been for the better, of course I will never know what would have been, but at this moment I am content and happy. I no longer feel I am a failure and the weight of disappointment from my family, teachers and friends is gradually lifting. I know in time they will come to understand the decisions I’ve made and the reasons behind it and one day I hope they will be proud of me.
Firstly congratulations for getting to the bottom of this incredibly long blog post. I hope you found this article insightful and thought-provoking. Please feel free to leave your comments below.