The Art of Strengths Coaching

M is for Natalie Mead: Recovering From Setbacks

Natalie is known as a leading marketer in digital media. She is extremely positive and superbly professional. A distance runner and self-managing person, her sense of control was shaken after being attacked in South Africa. In this article Natalie describes her journey on the road to recovery.

Why me?

I cannot begin to describe what it is like in that moment when you truly think you are going to die.  Or worse be raped then killed.

It was December 27th 2007 and as I took a phone call in South Africa from my partner at home, I was dragged by 2 men onto the beach beside the road where I was standing.

Some thousands of miles away, my partner, Mark, hears my screams on the other end of the phone and then silence as my assailants throw my phone away. God only knows what must be going through his mind.

The men want money; they threaten to kill me if I don’t stop screaming. I stop.

My mind goes into overdrive. I have no money on me; my purse is at the restaurant over the road where my friends are waiting for me to return from my call.

I try to explain this rationally and lucidly, but of course it’s not what they want to hear. They push me to the ground with such force and I feel excruciating pain shoot through my body.

The rest is a blur… my mind either has chosen to block it out, or I simply just can’t remember the detail.

What I do remember is my face being held deep in the sand for what felt like an eternity so I couldn’t breathe, thinking I would suffocate.

I remember thinking I may never see my children again and I remember thinking why is no one coming to help me and I remember the pain.

I can’t even tell you how long the incident lasted – it felt forever. And I can’t even tell you why they finally left me there alone – but thank God they did.

I pulled myself up from the sand, dusted myself down and even looked for my phone – concerned that Mark would be worried and needing to let him know I was ok. I crossed back over the road and found my concerned friends back at the restaurant.

It was then I cried and the shock started to set in and I realised how much pain I was in. I was taken to hospital and, miraculously despite the kicking and beating I took, I only had multiple fractures in my left arm and shoulder. I assumed they would patch me up, send me home and I’d get over it.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I was seen by the consultant that I realised the extent of the damage to my arm and the surgery that was needed to fix it and how long the recovery was going to be.

As I lay in the hospital that night and for the next 24 hours there are many funny moments that helped me ‘make light’ of my experience.

Firstly, painful as it was – my only concern that night was how an earth I was going to straighten my hair for the next few weeks with a broken arm, it only occurred a few days later that I wouldn’t actually be able to drive and that straightening my hair was going to be the least of my worries!

Secondly, the realisation that for the last 20 years I had private medical insurance through work and that only 10 days earlier I had left my job to start a new one in January, so I had no medical cover.

Oh the irony of never having anything wrong with me and then the only week in my adult life without medical cover, I get attacked!

Then the one friend that was with me in South Africa had a deep fear of hospitals and frankly looked more sick than me at times but her love and kindness was second to none and she stoically stuck by my side throughout.

Finally the police – who came to take my statement; imagine me drugged up on morphine – struggling to keep my eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time and a policeman who was almost illiterate and who took over half an hour to write just a few words after each question.

After much debate it was decided I would be better off going home for the surgery in case of any complications and also to be nearer to family and friends.

In contrast to the men who did this to me, the staff at the hospital showed me nothing but care, compassion and support. They patched me up, dosed me up with morphine and helped get me a flight home the following day. I was a sorrowful sight and I couldn’t believe that this had happened to me.

I was met from my wheelchair at London Heathrow by Mark and my friend Gillian. I looked like a victim and I felt like a victim.

But the relief of being home was overwhelming. I realised that none of my family knew and as the hospital took care of me; my friends took care of everything else.

I was finally operated on New Year’s Eve – multiple pins and metal work were put into my left arm and I began my journey of recovery – a new year, a broken me, but a new era.

The physical aspect of healing, whilst hard and long was the easy part. I had always been fit and strong and to suddenly not have the use of one of my limbs, and for it not to respond however hard you tried to move it, was strange.

But it also made me realise how lucky I was to have a body that was for the most part fit and strong and with my usual determination I set about doing everything and more that was asked of me by surgeons, doctors and my wonderful physiotherapist Mike Banks.

By focusing on the physical aspects of the healing – it gave me something positive and active that I could do to help myself. It was not without its setbacks – I had to have another operation but sure enough step-by-step and almost 1 year later I had the full use of my arm back.

I worked hard and I have so much gratitude to both Mike my physio and Rob my trainer, for their patience, kindness and encouragement over that time.

The emotional part was much harder and longer. I still have flashbacks and moments when I am fearful. But they become less as more time passes.

Fortunately most of us don’t expect these types of events to happen to us, so we spend our lives living in what I can only call a certain naivety and trust.

Yet when something like this happens, that sense of naivety is gone. It can never come back. There is always a certain amount of fear that something may happen.

And you are always in a heightened sense of alertness. Sometimes that is good – it acts as a protection mechanism, but sometimes it simply means you stop doing things because you are fearful.

Simple things like walking from the train station to the car park – is that man that you see every day actually an attacker in waiting? Is it safe to go on holiday as it might happen again?

These are mostly irrational fears that I never thought about for a second and now I evaluate nearly all the time and yes – sometimes the fear does stop me from doing a few things.

Of course I saw counsellors to help me work through the process and again they were wonderful and helped me recognise the feelings that I was going through and normalised some of my fears.

But most of this healing has to come from within. I don’t know how and where it came from but I found an inner strength that kept me going on the darkest days.

The event that happened awoke my spirituality, the finding of my soul and to this day, I believe that at that moment of my assault my Guardian Angel was with me – for I walked away with some broken bones and there are many that don’t live to tell the tale.

But this is not really a story about my attack. The attack is only context for the journey I then set out on – both of recovery –  physical and emotional and finding my ‘joie de vivre’ once more… although it took some time!

To take a step back from the assault, to that point in my life I had always been ostensibly ‘fine’ and to many, I am sure I appeared as successful, independent and strong.

I had left my husband, was bringing children up on my own, had a great job, a nice home and enough financial independence to enable me to have a reasonable life. I never asked for help, as I saw it as a sign of weakness in myself, and battled on every day.

As I look back now some four years later, I recognise I was depressed and sinking further and further into it every day. To such a point that I can remember not really wanting to wake up in the mornings and hoping that I might just die peacefully in my sleep so I didn’t have to keep going.

The assault in South Africa was my wakeup call…

In that moment when I thought I was going to die, I knew with absolute clarity that I wanted to live, more than I have ever wanted anything in my life.

That may sound a strange thing to say – but until that point I am not sure that I knew that, as life had become just too hard to deal with every day.

As I reflect back on that time in my not so distant past, I have come to realise that it was actually one of the best things to have happened to me. Yes really.

Up until that point I was living my life half asleep, miserable and ungrateful despite all the many wonderful people and experiences in my life. I was just too wrapped up in my own despair. Too blind to see and appreciate all that was around me.

It is said that things happen for a reason, they might just not be clear at the time. I believe there are many reasons this happened to me. If you have ever read ‘The Secret’ or understand the ‘Laws of Attraction’ then you will know that the thoughts you put out every day attract those very experiences.

I had unwittingly ‘attracted’ this event to myself on many different levels. On first realisation, that is a scary concept to believe that we have the power within all of us, so great, that our thoughts make our reality.  Used in a positive way we can indeed be masters of our own destinies.

So here are the positives I have chosen to take and build on from my experience. Nothing earth shattering, just simple things, that when you pay attention to them every day, make life ever so much more joyful.

Lesson 1: Be grateful 

Gratitude can transform your life. There can never be too much gratitude in this world.

To this day I am thankful to the many people who aided me in every aspect of my recovery and are still with me on this journey. From my family and friends, to health experts and specialists, I am truly grateful.

There are too many to mention them all by name but they know who they are and the part they played. Suffice to say that the support, comfort, love and generosity of them all was overwhelming.

I know now how much I am loved by so many people.  Take a moment each day and appreciate all that is good with your life.

Lesson 2: It’s OK to ask for help!

My mantra in life had always been ‘I’m fine’ and rarely sought help or support from those around me. I am sure the assault was the universes way of telling me; at times I need to ask for help.

In such a severe lesson I had no option but to ask – I needed help in so many ways and sure enough, it was all provided.

And now? Yes I am independent and can manage many things on my own and I think this it is the one lesson I am still learning – but I am getting better at it!

Lesson 3: We all have inner strength

More often than not we think of strength in physical terms, big muscles, and powerful bodies – but there is also an inner strength.

It is perseverance, courage, resolve and composure – qualities that help us endure when times are tough. It represents the energy of quiet determination.

We all have the inner strength to endure and triumph and it will see you through the hardest moments.

Lesson 4: Be forgiving

Getting angry is easy when events go wrong. I truly forgive the men that assaulted me … and in part I think I may even understand why.

It does not mean that what they did to me is ok, but more that I am no longer willing to carry around anger in response to their actions.

But I think more importantly, I have forgiven myself, found compassion and reached acceptance. It’s a much more positive route which has helped me re-build my self-esteem and find more harmony in my life.

Lesson 5: Be aware of your thoughts

Your power is in your thoughts.  Ask yourself if in one day you think more positive thoughts than negative. Your thoughts and your feelings create your life.In every moment of every day there are two paths you can take. Make sure your thoughts and feelings reflect your true intentions.

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make our world’’.

 (Buddha c. 563 –c.483 BC)

And I for one know this to be true.

So why me? Maybe I was just in the wrong place and the wrong time, but there has been too much good that has come from one horrible event for that to be true. It was sent as a blessing in disguise. The disruption to my world occurred because it was needed.

My world today is a different place to where it was 4 years ago and I am glad – just glad to be here. I know this is simply the beginning of my journey – into a new era of my life.

Whatever you are, or whatever has happened, just be glad. Be glad because you are here…
Just be glad and your fate will change; a new life will begin and a new future will dawn for you.

(Christian D Larson 1874 – 1954)

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