What you might not know about long-covid

What you might not know about long-covid

I’ve just staggered home from a 5-minute walk. I felt like I was going to collapse, with jelly legs, chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath. This is actually a relatively ‘good’ day – often I’m housebound with fatigue and a range of other symptoms. Lately, my face has been going numb and my mouth doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with what I want to say.

So I’m writing about it instead… for me, and for all the people around the world with long-covid.

Some things you might not be aware of:

  • Over 65 million people across the world have long-covid (royalsociety.org)
  • Numbers in Scotland are believed to be over 187,000 and rising (Scottish Parliament debate on 13th March 2024)
  • Very few regions in Scotland have dedicated support, with some clinics only being set up in the past few weeks. Expertise is sparse, with mixed reports about support from GPs. I am fortunate that mine has been supportive, although not fully equipped to refer me due to lack of a coordinated service until now.
  • 40% of people surveyed who are living with long-covid said the condition affects their ability to work at all (chss.org)
  • The covid virus has been found to leave traces in the body, for example in the brain, gut, heart, and blood. It can also cause micro-clotting and reduced flow in the blood vessels, causing worsening of post-viral symptoms (royalsociety.org)
  • In a recent study of cognitive and linguistic difficulties by Professor Louise Cummings, only 1 of 37 people in a sample group have returned to their previous role, and even then, that person has had to reduce their hours to part-time (via The Long Covid Podcast).

Today is exactly 4 years since I had covid for the first time. It’s also long-covid awareness day across the world. In this blog, I aim to raise awareness of what it can be like to live with the condition, and in the spirit of inclusion, suggest some ways to offer your support and understanding to people who are affected. I also want to make it clear that there has been a woeful lack of national support for the condition itself.

My early experiences

I didn’t have to go into hospital when I first had the virus, although I was very close. I had heavy, crackly lungs and a high fever, and couldn’t breathe very well at all. The NHS was simply too stretched and had to hold off new admissions unless absolutely necessary. I consider myself one of the lucky ones… well, maybe at the time.

I have been living with long-covid ever since, and although I’ve made a partial recovery three times, my most recent infection in February 2023 has had a devastating effect on my life.​ For the time being, I can’t work at all, my social life has pretty much disappeared, and I can hardly go out or do basic things at home. Sadly, this is not my first experience of chronic illness as my husband was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) in 1997 and hasn’t worked since. He regularly points out that there are some days when I am worse affected than he is, which took me a while to get my head around.

Symptoms can include extreme fatigue, high and low blood pressure, palpitations, brain fog (I mean total blank, not the kind people joke about), hormonal imbalances, nausea, dizziness, digestive issues, and visual and hearing impairments, to name a few (Note 1).  

As well as having many of the symptoms above, I’ve recently been diagnosed with: 

POTS (Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), where the autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysfunctions and heart rate increases on standing or sitting upright to compensate (Note 2). This can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain and cause dizziness or fainting. Some patients have irregular heartbeats and other cardiac issues – I’m awaiting a cardiology appointment to investigate this.

MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome), where a type of immune cell is sensitive and easily activated, affecting a variety of systems in the body due to histamines and other substances being released. All of this can lead to inflammation. MCAS is thought to affect up to 70% of people with long-covid.

I’ve also had PEM (post exertional malaise) since the start, where I become ill and/or fatigued from even a small amount of physical or mental activity. The effects can last for several days or weeks. Even this short blog took nearly a month to pull together, a bit at a time.

How to better understand someone with long-covid (or any long-term condition)

These suggestions are based on my personal experiences and opinions, and from my perspective as a professional coach. Use your instincts based on how well you know the person.

Be curious about how it is for them, regardless of whether you ‘get it’. Imagine what it’s like in their shoes, without judgement or giving your opinion on what they ‘should’ be doing. Well-intentioned friends and family may suggest that getting out and about and involved in things will help. It can be very detrimental, and pacing is critical. In the majority of cases the person will have explored a range of solutions and are likely to be acting on several of them. 

In mindfulness we talk about having a ‘beginner’s mind’, which can be a useful frame if you don’t have personal experience of chronic illness.

And it may not be appropriate to talk about it, for example if you’re at a social gathering it may not be helpful to ask a lot of questions, but if you’re sitting having a coffee together to catch up, it might be more conducive.

Ask open questions, ​which help to build understanding and place the focus on the other person, and how it is for them. Listen fully to what they’re saying, and the way they’re saying it.

Just be there. You could simply say “I’m here for you”, “if there’s anything I can do…” and offer to be a listening ear, if they ever feel like talking about it. And sometimes it might just be sitting watching a movie together or dropping off a meal to show you’re thinking of them.

Don’t just take my word for it

I also want to bring in the experiences of people I’ve met whose lives have been turned upside down after having covid. Here’s what they want you to know…

​”I live day to day, not knowing if I can walk a distance, even between rooms in my house.

I cannot go out on my own often as my energy can drain so quickly that I could be caught out, unable to get back home. Therefore I am now fully dependent on my friends/family for help and support.”

“Something most people take for granted is being able to get out of bed and shower or wash daily. That is now a major task for my friend and requires a lot of pacing and planning.

Her bed is her best friend at present.​ Life is passing her by on a daily basis, she can see life outside her window but cannot be part of it. Cognitive function has been taken from her and what she could do​ she cannot even think about now.”

“I would like people to know​… we live day to day not knowing what part of the body will be affected by LC. For example, heart palpitations, hearing problems, visual disturbances, living with chronic pain on a daily basis. Basically fear of the unknown.”

“The look of contempt and disbelief on health professionals faces, colleagues and so called friends.”

“I get fed up with friends asking me constantly “when are you going to get better?” Even though I’ve explained that some days I can walk well, other days I get tired with just going up my stairs. Many of my symptoms are unpredictable. I think that unpredictability is the hardest bit for non long covid people to understand.”

“That I’m still me but I don’t feel, function, respond or behave like me. Ask : how would you feel if that was you?”

“I normally explain it to people who don’t have a clue what long COVID is, I tell them, think of when you have flu symptoms but never getting rid of it”

“I think the worst thing for me after the pain and emotional stuff was feeling massive imposter syndrome if I felt a little bit better. Also all the pushbacks in 2020 about it not being a thing.” 

“So many people say to me ‘You look fine’ or ‘I’m glad you’re a bit better’ when I didn’t say anything of the sort. It’s very frustrating and demoralising.”

A glimmer of hope

Above all, I’d like to highlight how proactive, positive, and supportive the communities of people I’ve met with long-covid have been. We have depended on each other, in the absence of structured support, and I have found a range of information and solutions to help me navigate through this. Some are holistic and therapeutic, some practical or medical, and often focused on self-care and quality rest. Overall, the understanding of​ how it is for people in a similar position has spurred me on the most. Special mention for my local group in Falkirk, which is run by inspiring and generous people who are significantly affected themselves. And thank you to the members of Long Covid Scotland who represented us at the Scottish Parliament yesterday, despite a limited response from MPs.

Shared experiences have helped me to come to terms with where I am now, be in the present, and recognise just how much I AM doing (and have been doing) which is helping me. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions from anger and frustration to grief and joy, and I am still hanging in there. If you know me, you will be aware that I don’t give up easily!

I’ve also realised that it’s never ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. Even on the days when I am floored with fatigue, and hardly able to string a sentence together, I can still laugh and smile here and there. And if it all feels like too much, I give myself time and space to be present with those feelings. 

My family and close friends have been very supportive and understanding, for which I am eternally grateful.

​I hope and believe that I will recover one day. I continue to adapt and am focusing on accepting how life is for the time being.

My final message is about action. It’s time for our governments and a unified health service to acknowledge and address long-covid as the significant issue that it is, for individuals, families, and communities, not to mention the financial impact. This is not going to go away. And although it’s starting to gain a small amount of traction in the different parliaments in the UK, it MUST be focused on results and meaningful support, urgently. There are plenty of people with long-covid who are willing to raise their voices when they have the energy to do so, and I am one of them.

Notes:

1. Many of these things can affect people with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia as well, although I don’t have the knowledge or experience to expand on this.

2​. Information is from Dr Claire Taylor who is a leading authority on long-covid and a consultant for the World Health Network.

3. Other links:

https://www.bps.org.uk/research-digest/updates-long-covid-and-brain

https://royalsociety.org/blog/2024/02/is-there-hope-for-people-with-long-covid/

Find calm and focus – 4 steps to overcome stress

Find calm and focus – 4 steps to overcome stress

Walking towards the edge of the Avon viaduct, my easy stroll along the canal has just changed its tune into gripping fear. The calm and focus I had as I walked among the trees, and admired the reflections on the water, has disappeared.

The last time I walked over here, my fear of heights hit me like a sledgehammer and my sister had to take my arm to walk to the other side. I made the mistake of looking down the 100-feet drop. My head swam at the vast gap between me and the ground.

This time I have a bouncy labradoodle, and I know from experience she’ll sense if I become anxious.

Do I turn back?

No. I can do this.

What’s next

Taking a deep breath, I focus on the path ahead and notice how solid the stone feels below my feet. I think about the techniques I’ve learned to help me connect with a resourceful state. I focus on the outcome of reaching the other side smoothly and calmly.

Continuing with the deep breaths… I place one foot in front of the other. Strong, solid, and calm. I repeat these words with each out-breath: strong, solid, and calm. And it has a transformative effect to the extent that I feel meditative and uplifted by cool clear breaths. I notice a slow, steady rhythm to my movement. I even cheerfully say ‘hello’ to a man walking a sheepdog coming the other way.

As I reach the other side and step off the viaduct, I experience a feeling of celebration and courage, as if on a voyage of discovery, and I’m overflowing with positivity. I’m excited by what I’ve discovered on the other side of my fear. No big deal in the whole scheme of things, but I feel like I’ve proved something to myself.

Lessons learned

I find life is like that, too, and I feel enriched through personal growth each time I step out of the other side of challenges which may initially have brought fear. I often take time to reflect on what I’ve learned, and in this case I have the ideal opportunity to test and integrate the learning as I have to make it back the other way across the viaduct again!

Same as before, I bring myself into a resourceful state by focusing on the outcome (not the problem!) and saying the positive mantra in my head. I glide across with ease and grace. What could have been a fight-or-flight adrenaline rush has instead become a confidence boost.

And I’m reminded how much our thoughts and beliefs shape our experiences, something I’ve learned through NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and which has opened up my world to infinite possibilities. My connection to real-life experiences of building resilience, mindful living, connecting with creativity, and living with purpose, have helped to deepen my experiences and my relationships.

4 steps you can follow

If you want to feel more calm, confident, and focused when you’re experiencing fear, here are four simple steps for you to try:

Pause

Slow down your thoughts and body movements and pause in-the-moment so you can take a step back. If your mind is still busy, picture a giant ‘pause’ button in front of you, and imagine clicking on it to completely pause your thoughts and emotions.

Notice

Where is your attention right now? Are you focusing on the fear and what could go wrong? Observe with curiosity; with a ‘beginner’s mind’.  Simply acknowledge what comes up and how you’re experiencing it just now, without judgement or telling yourself off. You might have a mental image, or sounds, or physical feelings and emotions. This is natural, and we’re wired to respond to what our subconscious perceives as a threat. When we understand this, and acknowledge it, we then have a choice as to how we respond. We don’t have to engage with it.

Breathe

When we are having these natural, unconscious reactions to fear, all sorts of things can happen which are not helpful to how we would consciously choose to be. We might notice an increased heart rate, breathing is shallow and faster, we may start to sweat or have cold hands.

The first thing to do to ease this is to take a deep breath. Notice how the cool, clean air feels as you breathe all the way in through your nostrils… and the warm air as you release a relaxing breath all the way out. As you focus on your breathing, notice how your body softens, allow yourself to let go, and the tension starts to drift away. Ideally, do this for at least 2-3 minutes, regularly, for lasting results. 

And if you find it a challenge to be still, moving around can help. Go for a walk, run, dance, do exercise of any kind that suits your fitness level. Or do something creative. The main thing is to change state to a more resourceful and connected way of being.

Focus

Now you’ve cleared some headspace and calmed the fight-or-flight reactions, you can choose what you want to focus on, in line with the outcome you want. And your brain has more capacity for thinking, now that you have more oxygen and fewer stress hormones running around!

You could bring a specific goal to mind, or simply imagine being peaceful and positive, or calm and focused. Notice what words come to mind for you.

Tune in to your senses

And now vividly imagine that as if it’s already happening, for example:

  • See an image in your mind’s eye; the colours, shapes, light, and shade. What can you see happening around you, and in the distance?
  • Hear any sounds, and their tone, pitch, rhythm.
  • And what are you saying to yourself?
  • Notice sensations in your body, what success feels like, any emotions that you’re experiencing now you’ve achieved your outcome.

What you focus on you get more of. What do you want to create more of in your work and home life?

Keep practising and, over time, you will form new habits and patterns of thinking to bring about more of the results you want.

Reflections

Bring to mind something you are holding some fear about at the moment, or where you find your mind is busy when you think about it. Go through the four steps above and notice the impact of taking a few minutes to reset.

If you like, you can go through this by listening to a guided meditation with me.

This blog was originally published in September 2019, and features in my book ‘Roots for Growth’ with the title ‘The other side of fear’.

EFT Tapping – An easy way to restore calm and balance

EFT Tapping – An easy way to restore calm and balance

EFT Tapping changed my life. Well, it was ONE of the things that changed my life!

I first experienced EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy) around 15 years ago after a traumatic event. Afterwards, I felt anxious, lost, and for a few weeks I was physically ill. Within two days of my first session I made an almost complete recovery. Within a week (and after my second session) I felt a new lease of life. At that point, I knew I wanted to learn this technique.

I also used EFT for a positive outcome: I was asked to speak at a conference in the main arena of the EICC (Edinburgh International Conference Centre). No pressure! And it was in front of a brand new group of directors of our business unit. Because I was able to release my nerves, I spoke with confidence and clarity to several hundred people and got amazing feedback afterwards. This experience was instrumental to me becoming a speaker as part of my work.

So let’s delve into it and explore how it can help you.

What is EFT Tapping?

EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Therapy, said to be originated by Roger Callaghan as Thought Field Therapy (TFT). Then Gary Craig developed it as a simpler method in the 1990s. It’s a natural, holistic method where you tap on acupressure points to stimulate energy meridians. Chinese medicine and other holistic healing techniques such as acupuncture and shiatsu refer to the structure of these 12 meridians in the body.

What happens in an EFT session?

My main practice with one-to-one clients is coaching: I ask questions in a facilitative style and listen intently to pick up on what might be significant for them. However, sometimes we need something more targeted if someone is particularly distressed, anxious, in pain, upset, or overwhelmed. They may even have low energy, be close to burnout, or feel like there’s no hope.

Firstly, I explain to the client what EFT Tapping is and how it works, and check how they feel about trying it. I then outline the steps of the process:

  • We identify the issue and come up with a short statement we can use and repeat.
  • I ask how distressing it is at the moment, out of 10, with 10 being the worst it could be. This is to get a starting point for us to work with.
  • We begin tapping the hands together in a particular way and repeat the statement 3 times.
  • We then tap round the acupressure points from the top of the head, on the face, and down to the torso. These connect to the meridians whilst naming the feelings and emotions.
  • Finally, I ask the client to take a big deep breath in and out, and imagine releasing the feelings and emotions. Often there is a significant shift in the body and energy. I describe it like blowing the problem away.
  • We usually repeat the cycle another once or twice, checking in on the score out of 10. Sometimes we adjust the statement for how the client is feeling now, if they signal that to me.

If you know me as a coach, you will be used to me working mainly with outcomes rather than spending a lot of time on problems. I’m usually an advocate for “what you focus on, you get more of”.

In contrast, this technique is deliberately different as it involves naming, acknowledging, and releasing the issue. I find it works very well with the majority of clients, with results in 20 minutes or so.

A few people have felt so relaxed afterwards they wanted to sleep. Others have said they feel light and energised. Many feel able to take action or communicate something important, especially when it relates to their needs.

A word about professional boundaries at this point. If we reach the limit of my professional expertise, for example if there is a trauma comes up where I think the client needs specialist support from another qualified practitioner, I will signpost appropriately and make sure they’re ok before we finish. This has only ever happened once (and I couldn’t have foreseen it), but I think it’s worth saying. I have a duty of care to everyone I work with and I follow a code of ethics.

EFT Tapping for day-to-day life

Once you’ve learnt the technique, you have an amazing tool that you can call on any time. You can also use tapping as a form of proactive self-care. I know some people who do it every day to release any tension they may be holding.

It’s great for restoring balance, or if your energy feels a bit ‘off’. I’ve used it myself or with clients for a multitude of pressures in life, e.g. work, financial concerns, parenthood, or other caring responsibilities. It promotes a natural healing process for mind and body. I find it much easier to be compassionate, solve problems, be confident, resilient, and calm by using EFT.

There is a sequence to it, which becomes much easier once you learn it. Hence the title of this post! It can be quite a journey working through the emotions AND it can bring greater ease to life the more you use this technique. I have used it with people from all walks of life from sports to art, science, and senior leaders in Executive Coaching sessions.

Stimulating the vagus nerve

And here’s the science bit… EFT Tapping is a way to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a vast network which runs from the brain to the intestines, unconsciously sending and receiving signals about what’s going on. It’s a vital part of the ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ of the body. And it’s no accident that we talk about what our gut is telling us – it actually IS sending signals, constantly!

I have been reading up on this recently as it is helping me to deal with long-covid symptoms. Things like viruses, daily stresses, world events, and emotional issues can feel relentless at times. Basically, when the nervous system is triggered too frequently, it affects our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which automatically runs things like breathing and digestion. And in turn, it depletes our energy if our system is under attack.

Stimulating the vagus nerve is a fantastic ‘antidote’ to stresses and strains on our mind and body. It overrides the fight-or-flight responses – and the longer-term effects of that. Instead, it puts us into rest-and-digest mode which is restorative for mind and body. This is vital for long-term health and wellbeing.

The great news is, there are multiple ways to stimulate the vagus nerve… from breathwork and movement to singing and chanting. And EFT Tapping is a way to get a good dose of this in one go, to help you on your way.

Are you interested to know more? Feel free to book a complimentary chat and we can take it from there (no obligation of course). We can discuss a package of shorter sessions or incorporate this into a personalised coaching programme.

Mindful Living and its place in mental health

Mindful Living and its place in mental health

Mindful living is something that you may hear described differently, depending who you’re speaking to. I find that it’s interpreted or applied in a variety of ways. Wellbeing practices have become so widespread in our daily lives, there are many different ‘flavours’!

I’ll start by explaining what I mean by different aspects:

Mindful living

This a term I use to describe a way of living your life, which is conscious, aware, and present. It’s accessible and follows simple principles. These include tuning in to your senses, practicing gratitude, spending time in nature, and being thoughtful and compassionate with yourself and with other people.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of awareness, with quality attention placed on something in an intentional way, without judgement. Contrary to popular belief, it is not ‘clearing the mind’ or emptying your thoughts. It’s simply observing what arises with curiosity, and knowing that thoughts come and go like weather patterns.

Meditation

Meditation is a mind and body practice, and has a spiritual focus for many. Its purpose is to bring about a state of mindfulness, which could be by sitting in silence, following a guided meditation, or a simple activity in a mindful way.

All of these have featured in different cultures and civilisations since the beginning of time. That’s because they work! Human beings are complex and we can train our mind just as we train our bodies.

Why are these important for mental health?

The more you invest time and attention in mindful living, mindfulness, or meditation, the more benefits you will notice. Even in 8 weeks, with consistent practice, the structure and function of the brain begins to make positive changes. Neurons fire differently, and reactions follow different pathways in the brain, known as neuroplasticity.

We live in a world where our attention span, mental health, and wellbeing are challenged by a variety of factors. These include:

  • Our natural fight-or-flight reaction – you know that feeling when a stressful moment hits, or you get a fright? Your heart begins to pound, maybe you’re short of breath, sweating, and so on? Your nervous system is doing what it was designed to do in ancient times. It’s for survival against predators or other threats to life. And research has shown that emotional threats have a very similar response to physical ones, which happens automatically. No wonder life can feel stressful at times!
  • Vast volumes, types, and variety of information are constantly coming our way via the technology we carry with us pretty much all the time. We get a dopamine hit with each notification, for example from social media. And hey presto, it can develop into a habit of mindlessly scrolling.
  • We have a tendency for mind-wandering, which is linked with both of the above. Did you know that a US study revealed that, on average, our minds are wandering 47% of the time? An example of this is when you’re doing a simple daily task and your mind is on something in the past or future, like ‘did I lock the front door?’ or ‘what will I have for dinner?’. The effects of this are even more pronounced when our minds are occupied by more major life events, which could also be creating stress hormones.

The good news is, we can address the adverse effects of these things with tangible benefits for physical and mental health.

However, there are some exceptions such as certain mental health conditions. If this applies to you, speak to your health professional before trying out meditation.

And whether you have a diagnosis or not, please do reach out for help if you need to (which I did). It could be the day you change your life forever.

What mindful living means to me

When I first began to learn about NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), I discovered a level of self-awareness and awareness of others which was far beyond anything I’d encountered before. I found that I was imagining or remembering situations or outcomes vividly through the senses as if it was happening ‘live’ in that moment. From training in NLP, I discovered valuable perspectives which opened doors and built my resilience, and then I found the courage to change my life.

This took a big leap of faith because I’d increasingly found it difficult to balance work and home. My husband’s illness was progressing in devastating ways. Frankly, it challenged my mental health so much I wasn’t sure I would ever be the same again. My husband has been medically retired since 1997, so I felt the weight of the decision heavily and was anxious about the risk to our finances.

After much soul-searching, and a big, deep breath, I took a different path. And what a difference it made.

After working with NLP for a couple of years, I became aware of various parallels with mindfulness. I began to develop meditations and visualisations through reading articles and books on the subject and practicing regular meditation from a variety of sources. I gained a qualification as a meditation teacher. During this time, I also committed to continuing to learn and apply NLP as a way of life, which naturally began to develop positive patterns of thinking and behaviour. Soon afterwards, I also studied Jikiden Reiki, which is a gentle healing modality working with energy.

Some quick tips you can try for yourself

Here are some of the things I do, which are simple day-to-day adjustments.

  • Practice being in the present moment. Simply focus on exactly what is happening, and be aware whether you’re focusing on what you intended (or not!). Start with a few times a day for a minute or two, and then do it more often and for longer. If you notice your mind wandering, gently guide yourself back. Be kind – it does not help if you tell yourself off!
  • Tune in to your senses – Whether you’re out in the woods or standing at a bus stop, notice what you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and even tasting. This cultivates a quality of awareness which gently trains the mind to be more focused. It’s also a great technique for reducing anxiety as it gives the brain and the mind something else to do.
  • Leave your phone in another room in the evening, on silent (if you can). Allow yourself a quick check once an hour or every two hours. Put it somewhere other than the bedroom overnight. Some people tell me they need it for an alarm: I use a sunrise alarm clock which feels far more natural. It can also be used as a light box over the darker months.

You can even jot down some notes or use a journal, if you like. This can be helpful to notice and appreciate your practice developing over time.

In my book ‘Roots for Growth’ I expand on nine principles for mindful living. I may run a few posts about these on my Facebook page or Instagram if you would like to follow me there. I also write about personal experiences which have significantly shaped my life, and share professional insights on a variety of subjects around how we think, beliefs we hold, and how to follow our own wisdom to navigate through life.

And if you would like to experience a meditation, visit my resources page for some examples. Do remember that it may not be easy right away. If you notice your mind wandering or struggle to sit still, simply notice, and gently guide your attention back. Noticing in itself is a sign of success, and will ultimately support your mental health and wellbeing by investing in a consistent practice. Mindfulness practice has even been linked to improved memory, less likelihood or severity of chronic health conditions, and youthfulness… I’m still waiting for the benefits of that one :-)!

If you would like to chat about how all of this can help you, feel free to book a discovery call. My coaching sessions often include tailored meditations to settle into the space, or to close off at the end. I bring meditations and mindful practices into development programmes and workshops as well. I’d love for you to get the benefit of this!

Phenomenal Woman – speaking up and standing out

Phenomenal Woman – speaking up and standing out

A few days ago I embarked on an adventure in a lovely little place in the heart of Cheshire, on a course called ‘Phenomenal Woman’. This was ‘take two’ as I had been too unwell to go in March, when I had originally booked. I wasn’t even sure until a couple of days before if I’d be able to make it this time. However, I was determined, and I’m so glad I did!

In this blog I will share the magic of what happened when this unique group of women came together with Catherine Sandland from White Hart Training. It was a course in public speaking and the stories of resilience I heard will stay with me for a long time.

The start of the story

I have a variety of experience in public speaking and it’s something I enjoy very much, especially since I found that when I share my story it encourages other people to do the same. And storytelling is so natural to humans, it has connected us through the ages.

My main reason for going was to gain expertise in crafting a talk that would have even more impact, and also to deal with the emotions that I see in the audience in-the-moment, which happens every time when I tell the full story of my life.

We gathered in a bright, welcoming, and stylish venue called the Joshua Tree. It’s a centre built and run by an amazing charity who support families affected by children’s cancers. Talk about a sense of perspective – and what a friendly and supportive team.

We each took our seats to get started, and Catherine started to tell us stories to give context for what we were about to experience. Suddenly I had one of those moments when I just knew I was in exactly the right place at the right time, as if it was already laid out on a path for me.

What I learned

I could write a whole blog about the valuable things I learned and experienced. For now, I want to focus on a couple of things which were significant for me.

1. Structure

I’m fairly experienced and confident speaking to groups. But I realised that I have mostly developed what I do and how I do it by trial and error. I have also watched and listened to people who are great at public speaking. However, there’s nothing like immersing yourself with an expert. I gained huge insights from the guidance on structuring a talk. The icing on the cake was the specific feedback from the trainers and from each other.

It was helpful to learn engaging ways of hooking the audience into the story. Then structuring what follows helps to focus on valuable messages and flow. Most importantly, these techniques are tried-and-tested, and are based on the quality of talks like you see in TEDx events. I now feel I can stand up alongside accomplished speakers, as well as continuing to develop and polish my skills.

2. Settling the audience and bringing them with you

I mentioned that I have found it a challenge (until now) noticing people’s emotions when I talk about a devastating moment in my life. My husband Alan was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) just 3 days before we got married. I’m sure you can imagine that an audience will have a range of reactions. Some of them are pretty emotional.

I learned that I had been dropping that bombshell (my words for it!) too early in the talk. People had barely settled in and then I gave them something significant to process! Instead, I enjoyed telling a sensory-rich story about when I arrived at Linlithgow Palace. I spoke about my long bridal gown with the velvet bodice. I felt like Mary Queen of Scots as she swished along the ancient flagstones hundreds of years before. Then I spoke about the two nights of celebrations we had planned – and boy did we celebrate!

And when it got to the moment of explaining the diagnosis and the effect it had, I was ready.

I took my time.

I paused and breathed to give the audience time to process what I had said.

What difference did it make?

The difference was remarkable. I really got into my stride, and enjoyed delivering the talk even more than usual. And the applause, tears, and hugs afterwards helped me to confidently integrate my new skills and experiences. It meant a lot that a few of the women in the group told me what had been going on for them at the point that they were emotional, which was a deeply moving combination of their experiences and them relating to mine. This sharing was a precious gift.

I’m now excited about developing more opportunities to speak at events, conferences, and webinars. I have a transferable way of crafting and delivering a variety of talks. It’s a great platform for sharing my messages around resilience, mindfulness, and NLP. It will be useful in my role as an ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland, as well as being a great complement to being an author.

I learned loads from listening to each phenomenal woman telling their stories of resilience, wisdom, passion, and purpose. We are all connected in our willingness to stand up and speak out. And I feel there will be a lasting bond between us after what we have shared.

A phenomenal ending

Catherine closed the event with a beautiful reading of the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. I thought it was a perfect choice as we each prepared to embark on the new beginnings this will bring. The emotion in the room was palpable and we agreed to stay in touch.

Thank you to Catherine Sandland, Ashley Costello, and Sue France for this incredible experience and the feedback, support, and encouragement. You were all phenomenal too!

PS – the next course is in March if you are interested to find out more!