Invictus: strength in pain

Jo is a primary school teacher and lives in High Wycombe, England after a nomadic childhood. When she was 23 an accident left her with nerve damage and chronic pain. 

I was born while my parents were at All Nations Bible College so I never had a time in my life before we moved all the time.

By the time I was three I had lived in four countries and countless towns and villages. My brother and I used to say we were “from the aeroplane”.

We lived for a while in Pakistan and I feel like it still courses through my blood but I think boarding school influenced me hugely. It gave me a fierce independence but at the same time left me often seeking reassurance that I am loved. We moved back to England so I could go to grammar school and I hated it until I was in sixth form when I met the girls who are still my closest circle of friends. For the first time I felt accepted for who I was. 

The worst time for me was the year I was 23. I'd left uni the year before and was working in dull, unstimulating temporary jobs. At Easter that year I learnt of the death in an accident of my first love. We weren’t talking after several bitter arguments but I still loved him. In the October of that year I broke up a fight between two fifteen year-olds. One was strangling the other and the boy being strangled reached for a pair of scissors. I was left no choice but to intervene before a serious incident occurred. Unfortunately, in the commotion I was knocked and fell against a table. 

A few weeks later I began to feel ill. I couldn’t say what it was – I just felt weird. At Christmas I thought I had the flu and by New Year I was in intensive care from an abscess and gangrene. They think it was the knock that caused it but they can’t say for sure. I was in hospital for three weeks and off work for a year and a half. I had daily visits from nurses and ten operations in total. Four years after getting ill I was finally diagnosed with nerve damage causing chronic pain and fatigue. 

They were dark times for the whole family. Although we knew I was defying the odds by living it was an awful time for us all. We were on a lot of prayer requests all over the world that year. I got through it with the support of my parents and friends. I took it one day at a time. I amazed doctors by always getting up and dressed every day. 

There have been many times when I thought I couldn’t go on. I suffer from depression which has been heightened by my illness. I'm not ashamed of it and hate the fact that it such a taboo. My illness has been hard for some people to understand and at times they get frustrated at me. I think I bring some of it on myself because I rarely talk about the pain so people forget it’s there. Once I got told by a nurse that I couldn’t be in pain as I wasn’t crying.

My parents’ courage and dedication to helping others has always inspired me. When I got ill Mum sacrificed a lot to take care of me. She did the evening nurse’s shift for a year and a half and held my hand through countless appointments and operations. 

My group of sixth form friends have spent countless hours beside my hospital bed, or sitting in my living room and in the pub with me. My girls are the thing that makes me happiest in life. They have taught me over the past 13 years that I am loveable for who I am and they provide me with the stability I crave. Several times a year I go to a cottage in the Cotswolds with them for a weekend of relaxing, good conversation and good food. We keep going back to the same place and it feels like home.

The poem Invictus by W.E. Henley has got me through some dark times. I have the word Invictus tattooed on my left ankle to remind me that I was lucky to keep my leg and more importantly, to remind me that no matter what happens to me I have an unconquerable soul.

I am the sixth generation of teachers in our family. I told my mum when I was three that I would be a teacher and then spent my teens and early twenties trying to escape the fact that people thought I was a natural born teacher. But when I got ill I realised that it was ridiculous to not even give teaching a try.

Walking up onto the stage to collect my teaching certificate was easily the proudest moment of my life. My parents were there to watch me accept it. That certificate symbolises my courage and perseverance despite the nerve damage and chronic pain. I fought hard for that piece of paper. There were times when I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew but the fact remains that I love teaching. When I am in front of a class I feel alive. I cannot describe the level of pride I feel when my pupils achieve their best. 

On Jo’s wish list

- happiness
- more time to enjoy the friends I have
- teleportation so I could see all my lovely friends and family all over the world
- financial security
- to be pain free
- no more war and hate in the world
- that everyone could coexist peacefully in the world
- equality, true equality regardless of race, creed, gender, sexuality
- for my kitten to stop biting me
- and for nice food to be good for you!

Jo’s advice

Do unto others as you would have them do to you. 

It’s the golden rule. Life is too short for bitterness and nastiness. If only people could live by it the world would be so much nicer.


Jo's links and resources