Exactly three years ago today, I was lying in a hospital bed in London. The most poorly I’d ever been; I couldn’t lift my arms or sit up unaided. A week earlier, a doctor had confirmed that I had Pulmonary Hypertension. I’d never heard of it, and I wasn’t ready to learn about it. I was happy to finally have a diagnosis, but I didn’t want to know the details. I wanted to put my head in the sand. I wanted to sleep all day and not think about it. Over the following week, the PH specialist nurses, Carl and Lisa, would visit me daily and gently drip feed me information. Slowly. A little bit at a time. They’d leave, and I’d fall into Phil’s arms and cry. Each new drip-fed bit of information was like a huge hammer… slowly bashing down and destroying the life I had created and the future I dreamed of. I’d pick myself up daily, only to have the next bit of information told to me, and with it, more of my dreams bashed to rubble. Falling down, getting back up, falling down, getting back up. It was a daily struggle for that first week, as I learnt it was progressive, incurable and going to take my life. No more skiing, badminton, hill-walking, biking, jogging. No more flying, working in Africa, backpacking around the world. I wouldn’t be a teacher again. I wouldn’t get the chance to be a Mum. My future scared me. Everything I had imagined for my life was changed and was now not possible. I couldn’t see how I was going to get back up and carry on. It was the lowest point of my life.
Then Phil sent me a card. He’d found it in a little gift shop on Kings Road, during one of the rare times he’d escaped from my hospital bedside. The words on the card read: “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails”. Those words spoke to us both. It was an energy-saving light-bulb moment for me. Phil had spent the past week, trying to get me to see that we could get through this, we could work out a way to live. But it wasn’t until I’d read and re-read and thought and talked and processed those words, that I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly I could understand what they meant, and how true they were. I have PH. It has happened. We cannot stop or change that. But we could adapt to the change. Life was not going to carry on as before, but a new alternate sort of life was going to happen instead. We were not going to have the future we had planned and dreamed of, but instead we would get another future. A different journey- no worse, no better -just different. And that is how I coped. Those words pulled me from my dark hole. Those words helped me see the years ahead, not as a shattered mass of rubble, destroyed by the hammering of the past few days. But instead as a new sculpture, being built from the remains.
And so over the last three years, we slowly rebuilt our life. Each time we worked out how to adapt and change to the situation, each time we worked out a new way to do the old things we used to enjoy, each time we adjusted our sails… it was a small triumph. I couldn’t walk, so we got a mobility scooter. I couldn’t camp, so we bought a campervan. I couldn’t have children, so we welcomed a dog into our family. I couldn’t go hiking in the mountains, so we searched out accessible country paths. It wasn’t easy: there were times when we still mourned our lost dreams, but we kept repeating the mantra. “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails”. Those words were the lifeline that helped us through that difficult time. And they continue to help us to this day.
Sometimes you hear a saying at just the time you need to hear it. It sticks with you, becomes the mantra for your life. I am thankful that Phil wandered in to that gift shop exactly three years ago today, and found the words that I so desperately needed to hear.