The Phone Call That Convinced Me to Stop Working and Take Care of My Chronic Illness

Sometimes we all need a push, a nudge from the universe to trust our own inner wisdom. For me, a phone call was the catalyst to propel me to forward to follow my own journey to wellness and healing.

After spending more than half of my life looking for answers and a name to call the constant pain I have felt since my teens, suddenly in one moment, by answering my mobile, could I have an explanation?

It was a Monday morning in December 2013. I was sitting at my desk at TV3 television network feeling the pressure. I was mid-shoot for a one-hour festive TV special called “Coming Home for Christmas.” The whole show had to be filmed, edited and delivered to air on Christmas Eve. Coupled with that I had my weekly radio show on Sunshine 106.8, various voiceover work, and as it was December, I volunteered to cover a few afternoon shifts on a charity radio station called Christmas FM. I was snowed under.

A number flashed up on my mobile and I recognized it immediately as St. Vincent’s University Hospital. Much to my surprise, it was my doctor. I have been seeing my doctor for many years for ongoing pain management procedures; however, I had never received a call from him, so in hindsight I should have probably listened a bit more carefully or maybe even asked a few questions, but I just said “Yes, yes, em yes, OK, great, thank you, see you on Friday… bye.”

I did manage to scrawl “Chiari malformation 1” which he told me was a rare brain disorder and my recent MRI scanned showed I had it. As if that wasn’t troubling enough, the MRI showed more cervical disc degeneration.

The phone call was brief but the impact was huge, not because of the diagnosis but because of what I did next. My gut instinct kicked in and I listened — it was like an inspirational poke prompting me to make a change. So I did something unplanned and very out of character. I asked my line manager at TV3 if I could apply for three-month leave. The chain reaction began. I had the email confirming I could take leave starting in January.

woman sitting on hospital bed wearing hospital gown
Andrea in the hospital.

Knowing I would have this time off seemed to push me through December. My pain level was very high, but knowing some downtime was ahead was a real motivator to keep going for those last few very busy and taxing weeks of work.

During those weeks I ignored my new diagnosis and what it would mean for my life and me. But something seismic had shifted inside. I realized I felt numb to my life; I was just going through the motions, feeling totally out of balance. In truth, I was at breaking point, taking pill after pill to mask my pain. I desperately struggled through work only to crash and burn at the end of every week, and I had no quality of life. I was hopelessly trying to stay afloat despite the tsunami of excess — too much pain, too much work, too much stress. Life was becoming too much and I felt I was drowning.

I knew I couldn’t change the destination of my life overnight, but I was willing to change the direction and explore calmer waters. I wasn’t quite prepared for the voyage of discovery and transformation I was about to embark on, guided only my desire and belief that I could “heal” myself back to perfect health, happiness and overall wellness and balance.

In January 2014 I took three months leave from my employment and began a much more important daily job — self-care.

I had spent my whole working career being dedicated and determined, achieving and completing many goals with real passion. So I decided to apply those same qualities to the well-being of my mind, body and soul. It wasn’t all calm waters — change represents uncertainty, and whether it’s planned or unplanned, it can be very uncomfortable. Embrace the unease and use it to re-examine your life and consider what direction really matters most — for me it was my health.

My advice: Listen to the inner you and make a shift. Be willing to let go of what no longer serves you. Situations, relationships, jobs, hobbies and places all have expiration dates. If something no longer feels good, don’t be afraid to get rid of it. Sometimes by letting go, we are free to explore and manifest brilliant new possibilities.

andrea hayes wearing a blue sweater

Follow this journey on Andrea Hayes.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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