Having thoroughly enjoyed exploring the mindsets of fighters through the Gladiator series of interviews, I want to explore resilience by looking at people who have overcome various challenges. As Rocky once said – it is not about how hard you can hit that makes you special but how hard you can be hit and keep moving forward.
I hope these interviews inspire and provoke reflection. To start the ball rolling, allow me to introduce you to somebody I got to know gradually through my business connections and who has lived a very interesting life. I give you Jenny Jones.
Name: Jennifer Douglas nee Jones
Occupation: Director of Alice James
Hi Jennifer, thanks for being the first to take part in the Butterfly series of interviews, where we are looking at self-transformation through adversity.
Tell us about your situation, what you were doing and who you were before events outside of your control made that life difficult.
Calendar and “Page 3” model. Busy, fun life, loads of personality, independent at a young age due to my occupation. Privileged to travel to some beautiful locations on shoots and meet and mix with people from all walks of life.
That all sounds exciting. Then what happened?
Amazing and exciting but I was young and stupidly gave it all up for a jealous boyfriend – what did I know? But circumstances happen and a little while later I took ill and was bed ridden for 8 months while my weight went down to 3 stone. I could not tolerate food or drink and constant vomited everyday.
You’ll be burying her then
The pain in my stomach was excruciating and eventually a hospital appointment was arranged. It became so bad that my parents called for a private appointment. The doctor arrived walked into the bedroom looked at me and called an ambulance. Without examining me he told my parents I had crohns disease.
They told him my appointment was in a few months and he replied: “You’ll be burying her then.”
That’s an incredibly low weight to get to without getting medical attention. Why were medics not called sooner, and what was going through your own mind during that time of deterioration?
I was being diagnosed with Cystitis and IBS by my own GP. My parents were being advised to feed me plain foods and complan drinks, unaware of how dehydrated I was. I had no idea, if I’m honest, what was going through my mind. I was barely able to walk or tolerate the pain. I think Cancer was my only thought.
So once the doctor had said you only had months what happened then, and did things get worse before they got better?
I was admitted straight to hospital, given fluids and the tests began. I could say yes things got worse due to the roller coaster of emotions I was feeling; relief, tiredness and being scared. The tests were vigorous and invasive and I was too exhausted to contemplate the whole effort around me to diagnose the illness and I suppose keep me alive. I didn’t even imagine the impact of stress that all this was causing my parents.
What was going through your mind while all this was going on? What mental strategies did you use to get through each day?
To be honest I still thought they were going to discover Cancer. I was already emotionally and physically exhausted, just wanted to make the unbearable pain go away and actually sleep. Mental strategies I don’t recall. They came later on when the disease was diagnosed and medication started.
Tell us about the worst point and how things started to get better, including the mental strategies that came into play.
I think the worst point was the last test before I was diagnosed. I won’t go into detail but the pain ripped through my body and at that point I really did think I wouldn’t recover. Once the results were concluded and diagnosis confirmed I was immediately prescribed steroids. Within a day I was able to tolerate food and drink.
I felt like a human guinea pig
My friend visited me with a guy that also had Crohns. My ridiculous question to him was “will I be able to run?” – I’ve no idea why I asked him that!!! The pain eased and my eating improved as time went on. I was in more of a relief period than a mental state. If it had not been for my parents I have no idea how I would have coped early on.
Later, I was prescribed a drug that is prescribed for kidney transplant patients. As they don’t know what causes Crohns they don’t know what drugs can help. That was when I felt like a human guinea pig.
How long ago was that? Tell us about your road to recovery since.
Wow 25 years ago..scary!!
Well, Crohns they can’t cure. They can help relieve the symptoms but not omit it.
A year after being diagnosed I lost my parents on the same day. I was still in the early recovery days and my whole life fell apart. My boyfriend at that time wasn’t the most supportive of human beings, as it turned out. So as well as fighting for recovery I was now in a new place battling for survival and grieving.
During the few years that passed, after losing my parents, I was still attending monthly clinic appointments. During the visits I was asked various questions on the state of my health like “do the tips of my fingers tingle?”. I found this rather odd and decided to question the medication. My friend is a pharmacist and he researched the drug for me.
Let’s just say the drugs would have caused me more damage than the disease, and that was the point that I threw them all away and never returned to the clinic. My diagnosis was mild. I’ve been fortunate enough not to undergo surgery and I only have to omit certain foods from my diet that cause me to have attacks. Since being diagnosed I have had around 10 attacks, three being quite bad and an ambulance has been called.
I’m not blasé about my health or what I have. It was my choice to stop taking medication and I do know a serious attack can kill me. I’ve been very lucky as I know Crohns patients that have undergone surgery, at least three times and need the medication to survive.
How important do you think mindset has been in bouncing back and living without medication?
Bouncing back? I’ve not had much choice Martin. Either give up or carry on. Life goes on as they say. One thing I can say is I always said having this disease wouldn’t stop me, and it hasn’t.
I have met other sufferers who are also meds free. Yes, it’s a mindset. I don’t wake up everyday and think ‘I have Crohns disease’. Not many people know I have it – they will now though. People say I’m strong a fighter etc. Maybe I am, maybe I’ve had to be. We all need a hug now and again, even me.
I always said having this disease wouldn’t stop me, and it hasn’t
Well you are a fighter, speaking of which; when we first chatted some time ago now, you had said you trained in Goju Ryu karate to black belt, which is a real achievement for anybody who knows the ins and outs of traditional Goju training. What do you do now in terms of fitness, health and well-being? Any chance of a return to martial arts?
Thank you Martin. I’ve been thinking for a while to return to Goju training but have not had the time. I think early 2016 I will definitely return. At the moment I try to get to the gym at least an hour a day and a bit more over the weekend. I find spending 30 mins plus on the treadmill helps me switch off and focus. I eat a diet of foods that I know don’t affect my Crohns and do my best not to stress, but we all do don’t we?
What advice would you give to anybody who is currently struggling with any form of serious ill health or hardship?
Advice I can’t really give as a professional and we all cope in our own way in difficult circumstances. If someone is experiencing health problems I urge them to seek medical advice as soon as possible and get the best advice they can. I connected with fellow crohns sufferers after a few years of being diagnosed and I found sharing fears and thoughts with them eased my own concerns. Again any hardship whether it be illness, financial or family matters don’t hide away. There is a wide range of specialist advice avaliable. Www.citizensadvice.org.uk Www.womensaid.org.uk Www.family-action.org.uk
As I always say “come out of the shadows”
What aims and goals have you set yourself for the future and where do you see yourself in 5 yrs time?
After gaining my strength and dealing with the loss of my parents I went back to work. At that time I was working in a Casino. Had great friends and working nights helped with the burden of being alone for the first time in my life! A couple of years passed and I knew I had to move on.
Changed companies and that is where I met my husband. His life story was very much similar to mine and we built a new life together. My mind is always active and I was striving for some kind of fulfilment.
Discovered a small empty shop and developed into a sandwich bar. That led to another shop and eventually a Bistro,which I eventually sold as my daughter was a home bird and the juggling was becoming too much. Luckily, before selling the business I had met a few property developers and my interest in property development grew.
I invested the profit and developed a few houses and bought and sold at the property auctions, then the 2008 Tsunami hit!! I still have a small property portfolio which are in trust for my children. My love of fashion took over and it was only when I was asked to dress a presenter at the MOBO awards that I eventually realised my path. My first collection sold out and the feedback was tremendous. I moved onto another two collections and then my son had a bicycle accident and I ceased production and stopped working.
This all may seem alot in some eyes but I have always worked and I am easily bored. This is normal to me. Whilst rebranding at the beginning of this year I knew I needed more fulfilment. I didn’t want to just develop a new brand and design clothes. Looked at a few charities and Women’s Aid struck a chord as it also has a personal story behind it.
I’ve been inspired by a young girl called Evie James
The Women’s Aid campaign is big on my agenda and I aim to highlight the charity on the high street. I’ve been inspired by a young girl called Evie James. Evie suffered 11 years of domestic violence and was fortunate to escape and write her book -Wish. She’s now penning her second. We speak often and I was overwhelmed by her words during our last conversation. She said to me “you inspire me” and I was greatly moved and humbled as this strong, intelligent woman that has suffered more than I can imagine thought that of me. Not only am I humbled by Evie but Women’s Aid is actually a personal quest.
My late mother suffered domestic violence in her first marriage along with her three children. She was lucky enough to escape and start a new life but the sad part is it was never discussed and the children at that time were never counselled. My siblings have suffered greatly and bear the scars mentally, unfortunately. If the campaign can just reach out and highlight the fact that support is available and you are stronger than you think, anything is possible.
Thank you, Jenny
I am very grateful to Jenny for taking the time to talk about the hurdles she has overcome and her current campaigns. Her website is currently under reconstruction but if anybody would like to know how they can be involved in her work with Women’s Aid or to find out more about her latest fashion lines, drop me a line.