On Sunday 5th May 2019 I went to the Women’s Health event. Full from the Deliciously Ella snacks and sweaty from the intense Nike workout class, I sat waiting on the front row ready for Katie Piper’s interview. Being such a role model, and as inspiring as she is, I knew I needed to really listen to her. She’s beautiful, successful and also incredibly articulate which I found admirable and refreshing.
She spoke of her mantra being “confidence isn’t will they like me; confidence is being ok if they don’t” and also of how she managed to develop confidence even through an incredibly difficult and unimaginable time. But when the talk finished, and the host asked the audience if they had any questions, I had a bit of an out of body experience.
My head was saying put your hand up, you won’t get this opportunity again so just do it, but my voice and communication skills hadn’t yet caught up. When the mic did come around my ability to communicate had gone out the window. I was so nervous and shaky, and also very aware of the fact I had committed to sharing with hundreds of strangers that I was about to have brain surgery. I could have just asked a general question, but I wanted the best out of this, and I wanted to really connect with Katie. Thankfully she understood my point and in a roundabout way my question to her was:
“I’m currently preparing for brain surgery in a few weeks and wanted to ask what advice you would give to overcome the fear of giving up control and learning to accept your new normal – that being, things you could do and couldn’t do after your attack, compared to life before?”
She told me:
“Take comfort in knowing you have no control over anything in life. I could walk down the street and have an acid attack again at any point. You won’t be in control on the day of your operation, just as you are not in control in this room right now and nor is anyone else here. Anything could happen anytime so accepting that makes it a bit easier. Surrender to the recovery and don’t try to rush to do anything or get back to normal. You’re brave for even speaking up and saying something in this room today, that takes a lot of courage.”
She added a heartfelt “good luck” and following the talk so many girls smiled at me and a woman came and hugged me tightly and whispered, “good luck sweetheart, you’ll be fine.” The kindness was overwhelming and so welcomed, and the hug even more so even if it was from a stranger.
After the talk I purchased Katie’s book and got it signed. She asked me more about the surgery and just said very matter-of -factly “you’re called a patient because you have to learn to have patience through the recovery so take your time.” In my book she wrote “Keep being you.”
Other key points I took from the talk:
Sometimes it’s not as easy or as simple to “think positive”, or to “be positive” but a lot of the time we do need to look at the problem and ask is it bigger than us? There are some things that are out of our control that we have to go through but sometimes some of the hardest things we have to go through become the biggest catalysts for change in our life. When we approach situations that are going to cause change, they’re going to open new doors and new relationships and force us to find characters we didn’t know we possessed in our personality and ultimately that’s going to be a good thing, to discover we had traits we didn’t know we had. You have to experience vulnerability to practice bravery and to practice courage and they’re positive emotions. Sometimes the darkness must happen to have the lightness.
”Worry is a total waste of time, all it does is keep us very busy doing nothing at all.”One of Katie’s favourite quotes
Katie remarked that “most of the time we spend worrying about people and things when in the meantime life is happening. All of the bad things that do happen to us, we never even worried about those!” And it’s so true! I remember being worried about something the day I found out I needed brain surgery, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. At the time it seemed huge because it was the biggest thing going on. But when I found out I needed surgery – something I hadn’t previously worried or thought about – nothing else mattered and my other worries seemed to fade away.
Katie added that “If you lose the gratefulness to be there and the little adrenaline rush then isn’t that time to move on? Never be too big headed to think it would be embarrassing to do X, Y, Z. Pride will keep you from achieving and will keep you doing what you’ve always done. Take risks and treat failure as practice for the ultimate goal.”
We’re constantly told to be positive all the time else we’re almost failing if we’re not. I felt this back in January when I cried on the phone to my mom after meeting the surgeon that gave me a choice. Her response was “you need to just park it now and not be negative.” But the truth is I wasn’t being negative. It was the second time in the whole tumour journey that I openly felt emotion but as a result, I began to keep it quiet and tried not to let my emotions escape openly again. I do realise now that by telling me to “park it” she was almost parking it herself because she was also worried and didn’t know how to deal with the news. But because I kept it in, I went on an unhealthy downward spiral in the weeks that followed; binging behind closed doors, being irritated and short tempered with people at work (who found it very out of character and would ask me if everything’s ok which just set me off more) and feeling very alone.
I’ve since learnt that it’s ok not to be ok all the time and you absolutely have to feel these emotions in order to accept a situation and move on. I don’t regret the times I ended up having an outburst and broke down in public or made myself known as ‘the one that always cries after one too many drinks’ (if only they knew, I often thought! Plus, I bet people feel guilty now!) Having said that, I should probably apologise to the Uber drivers that endured a crying female in the back blurting out “I’m-having-brain-surgery-soon-but-I-can’t-tell-people-because-they-will-probably-just-worry-or-make-it-a-tragedy-when-it-isn’t-but-I-really-need-to-tell-someone-otherwise-I-am-going-to-go-insane.” They often didn’t respond but I always felt better for getting it off my chest and slept better that night, not to mention despite not being the most sought-after passenger on those nights, I never did get a bad rating.
This experience has taught me a lot, but one thing I’ve learnt is that we don’t always, and won’t always, have it together and that’s normal. It’s unhealthy to brush off emotions and although positivity does make everything easier to deal with by changing the way we view a negative situation; it makes us human to feel those emotions. As Katie told me in May, you’re never really in control throughout your life, but when you learn to accept this you will be able to change your thinking to deal with anything life throws at you, asking “what can I learn from this experience?”