10 years ago Dawn was medically retired: ‘It was devastating,’ she says – ‘I wasn’t even forty years old.’ She’d been working as a homelessness officer with the council but the pain in her back made the job unbearable. ‘I’d already gone back to college to re-train so that I could find a career that could work alongside my condition,’ she explains. ‘So to have gone through all of that and then to have to finish work – it was horrible.’
Staying at home, things got worse. ‘I was going backwards and forwards to hospital, being treated by a medical model that wasn’t working,’ she says. Doctors seemed to have exhausted all of the options. ‘I’d just stay in my house all day – I wouldn’t even get dressed sometimes because of the pain,’ says Dawn. Things started to spiral: ‘people would drop by and invite me for coffee or for lunch, but I couldn’t face the pain of getting ready and because I wasn’t working I didn’t have much money anyway.’ Inevitably Dawn started feeling depressed and alone.
Today, it’s hard to believe how much Dawn has turned her life around. We meet at the end of the day in the Hub at Wighton House. Since 9:30am Dawn has been participating on Thistle’s ‘Making it Personal course’ - accredited training for practitioners in Health and Social care. It’s a full-on course and she’s taking part in the training for her job with the Living Well team, a Midlothian wellbeing organisation that delivers self management work in communities. ‘I’ve been working on the team for the last five months,’ says Dawn, ‘and I love it.’
So, how did she go from being stuck indoors, unable to face the world because of crippling pain to someone who now works to support others? ‘My friends and family think I’ve had surgery!’ she laughs, ‘but I haven’t – it’s Lifestyle Management.’ Two years ago Dawn signed up for Thistle’s Exercise Lifestyle Management course and the impact was huge. ‘I’d already done one self-management course,’ she explains, ‘but it was only on the second course at Thistle that things started to piece together.’
Thistle regularly runs free 10 week Lifestyle Management courses for people with a range of long term conditions. ‘They’re about you,’ continues Dawn, ‘but it was also massively helpful to be in a group – your peers bring a lot to it too and you find yourself with a network of people who support each other in between the classes.’ Dawn explains how one time she convinced a person on the course to come to the next session, which they were planning missing. ‘If they had missed it then they might have felt too anxious to come to the next class and then missed out on the whole course.’
For Dawn, supporting other people is hugely important and after the Lifestyle course she started volunteering at Thistle. Dawn attributes these early instances of supporting others as part of the confidence-building that got her to where she is today.
‘I’ve got a better mood – when I have a bad day and things flare up I don’t get upset – I stay positive.’ Dawn is still taking medication – that hasn’t changed, but her approach has. ‘I don’t let the pain control me,’ she explains. For the first time in a long time the future looks bright: ‘I’m just progressing, getting healthier, and developing more coping strategies. I’ve got a second chance and I’m not going to waste it,’ she says, more determined than ever.
In September 2016 Dawn was shortlisted for the Shazia Ahktar Individual Transformational Story Award.