With a busy social life, a great job and having just met her husband-to-be, Mike, Karen Cripps – then in her early thirties – had everything to live for. Then she was struck down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME.) Here, she tells how travelling and starting up her own blog have helped put her on the long road to recovery…
BY KAREN CRIPPS
Name: Karen Cripps
Blog: The Reinvention Tour
Hey, I’m Karen Cripps, I’m 41 and I live in Nottingham with my gorgeous Husband. I write at The Reinvention Tour, about coming through the other side of a chronic illness and transforming myself into something new and sparkly and amazing.
Eight years ago life changed dramatically for me when my fast-paced life (think big corporate job, studying MBA part-time, gym addict, busy social life) got stopped in its busy tracks. One day I was rushing from one meeting to the next, discussing change management plans for an organisational restructure, the next I was too weak to get out of bed.
I had recently met Mike – my now husband – at work. We were still in that sickly, smug, in lust-love stage, and were not going to let my misbehaving body get in our way. We thought I was ‘just’ burnt out and that a change of scenery would be the perfect tonic, so off we went in a motor-home, round Eastern Europe for six months. Unfortunately, it did not make me better, but it was an amazing experience, and we even got married in Slovenia.
When we came back, I eventually got a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There is no conventional treatment for CFS, but I read that people did get better, and I was determined to be one of them: I’d always got good grades as a student, I’d been good at my job, I was damn well going to be good at recovery. (Oh, how naive I was.)
As conventional medicine wasn’t able to help me, I turned towards alternative health. I tried all kinds of treatments in my desire to get well (some definitely verging on the crazy). But despite my determination, it took years to see any improvement.
What has been the hardest part about being ill?
In the first couple of years, I struggled enormously with the loss of my career and financial independence. Having a good job was a huge part of my identity, and I felt bereft without it. But I also knew how lucky I was to have someone to support me – both financially and emotionally. If it wasn’t for Mike, I would have had to move back home, not what you want in your mid thirties (or what your parents want!).
But I did adjust, because you have to find a way to focus on the important things: like getting well and making the most of the life that you do have. The severity of the illness fluctuated from one day to the next. Sometimes I was able to lead a small life, and I would soak up as much life as possible during those times. Other times I was stuck at home for weeks on end, struggling to move from the bed to the sofa, and struggling to hold onto my sanity.
How have you kept you going?
The other point of respite for me has been travelling. Despite my health challenges, we have travelled extensively over the last eight years (including Argentina, China, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Russia, and Vietnam). It’s been our way of holding onto ‘us’, and having a shared experience outside of the illness. I couldn’t have done any of this without Mike, who did everything for me: all I had to do was turn up, and sometimes that was enough of a challenge! And when we reached our destination I would have to take lots of rest. But it has always felt worth it; a way of reclaiming some life from the overbearing CFS.
Why did you start blogging?
About three years ago my health started to improve. I wasn’t well enough to go back to work, but I wanted something to focus on outside of the illness. I fancied having a go at writing, so I set up a blog, writing about my recovery journey. I knew straight away I had found something special; I quite simply fell in love with writing. And at the time it was a perfect arrangement for me as I could fit blogging in around my health challenges.
Tell us about The Reinvention Tour
I treated my blog as a writing apprenticeship, and as an opportunity to develop my writing skills. As my health – and writing – continued to improve, I started writing for other people and I set up The Reinvention Tour. I mainly write lifestyle, travel and personal development pieces. Life fascinates me, so there’s always something to write about. I write once a week and recent posts have covered: meeting an Internet friend in real life, whether wearing a onesie is bad for your relationship, a volunteering programme in Colombia, and whether you ever feel like a grown-up.
The Reinvention Tour has been running for about a year. It’s only small – it has about 1400 views a month – but it has a lovely group of loyal readers who come back often. My goal is to use The Reinvention Tour as a platform to take my writing forward. My health has continued to improve and I feel ready to have a go at being a freelance writer.
What’s next for you?
My life may not have turned out how I expected, but at the risk of sounding like a self-help cliché, I have emerged happier from this experience. I won’t lie, CFS has pushed me to the edge on many occasion, but I’ve also learnt to appreciate life in a different way; the old me was too busy being busy, and took many things for granted. And getting the chance to reinvent yourself at 41 is a pretty amazing opportunity.
Now all I need to do is find lots of people to pay me to write – wish me luck!
* Karen Cripps has written articles for Action for ME, Vagabundo Travel Magazine, Change Your Thoughts, Life Skills Magazine and others. To commission a piece contact Karen here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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