Sometimes life forces us into a position where we need to make firm and decisive decisions. Those decisions can entail anything, but a common theme is that they tend to be big and they tend to be scary.
Heather Cook of Parrys Fine & Country knows exactly what it is like to find yourself at a crossroads in life – selling homes means that she meets people confronting one of life’s biggest decisions on a daily basis. Here she talks frankly about a far more personal decision that she recently had to make regarding her own quality of life as she looked towards the future.
“When you are running a business, you get used to the process of decision making – it comes as part and parcel of the job. Sometimes those decisions are made almost unconsciously using instinct and gut, while at other times you have to really set your mind to it: weigh up and assess, consider and reflect.
Back in 2010, I had a horse riding accident, which resulted in a spinal injury: one of my disks had collapsed. I had minor surgery to create space between the collapsed disk and nerve, but three years ago something shifted, leaving me with severe and chronic sciatic pain that impacted quite heavily on my day-to-day life.
Suddenly, I had to confront being limited physically, not something that sat well with me. I sought the advice of medical professionals and orthopedic consultants to see what I could do. I started working on gaining better mobility and began practicing yoga and working with a physical trainer, concentrating on my body and what I needed to do to find a level of comfort in my daily life.
Despite my efforts, I was only ever able to do about 50% of what I’d been able to do physically prior to my accident. Life became all about pacing myself and working out what I could and couldn’t do. I kept a retractable walking stick in my handbag and I struggled mentally with the idea of being reliant upon it, but it was my security and on the days where the pain was almost unbearable, it allowed me to walk where I needed to go.
I had to pace myself at work and know that at times, when the pain was severe, I was irritable and not a particularly happy person to be around.
Lockdown came earlier this year and everything paused. I was forced to slow down. I have three wonderful dogs and live in a rural area and the glorious spring and early summer sunshine was beckoning to me. But I could only ever manage twenty minutes walking, despite wanting to do more. I started to practice yoga quite seriously and on some days I was able to do an active workout. On other days, I had to stop when simply stretching was as much as I could do. Whether it was a good day or a bad day on the pain scale, I found, for the first time in my life, that yoga was becoming essential not only to me physically but to my mental wellbeing as well.
Having got myself into a good mental space, I went to visit a spinal surgeon who explained that, short of surgery, we were running out of options. If I didn’t want surgery, I’d need to come to terms with gradually being able to do less and less and confront the prospect of living on painkillers for the rest of my life. We had explored all the other options, including nerve block injections, to no avail.
I was quickly coming to the point of having to make a decision about lumbar spinal fusion surgery. I am the type of person who will tend to look at a situation, make an assessment, deduce a worst case scenario and make a decision based on whether or not I can live with that worst case scenario playing out. The consultant was reassuring and confident. I had a 75% chance of improving my pain and so I took the plunge, deciding then and there that if I was going through with it, he could be the one to operate.
When you own a business, you have to find ways of fitting your life around it. I needed the timing to fit in with the business, so I began planning for a November operation as this is traditionally a quieter period for estate agents. When you’re somebody who always likes to be in control and do everything yourself, relinquishing that control can be difficult. However, the knowledge that this was major surgery and that recovery would be a slow process, allowed me to reflect and permit my fabulous team of colleagues to step up to the plate.
The team at Parrys, in both the Abergavenny and Monmouth offices, have been a fantastic support. This year, Steve Meade of Agency Mentors had been doing some work with the business and I asked him if he would join us as a consultant to support me and work with Ben Watkins in Abergavenny and Gemma Povey in Monmouth. Knowing I had a strong and committed team behind me allowed me to feel confident in taking a step back, to commit to surgery and to focus on my recovery.
The day of the operation, 14th November, arrived. I was full of trepidation and fear but determined to approach it with as much positivity as possible. The surgery was a success and I was out of recovery and achieving my personal target of being able to watch Strictly Come Dancing later that same day, albeit with a cup of tea rather than a G&T!
I am so very fortunate to have a fantastic and supportive husband and family. I have been able to continue to work in the business, albeit remotely, alongside the team. COVID 19 had forced us to deal with more day to day work remotely via Zoom, telephone or e-mails so the ‘new’ way of working was perfect timing for me.
I am now two weeks post operation. It has not been without its struggles. The pain is more than I anticipated and I am not able to do as much physically as I thought I would. My challenge is in stepping back and allowing myself time. Mentally I am in a great place and time away from the office has helped me work on the business strategy for 2021 and beyond.
This year has been such a difficult and challenging year for us all, but it has also been a year that has allowed time for reflection, of identifying what’s really important in life: friends and family and learning to be a little bit kinder to ourselves. These past few months have taught me to seize opportunities when they come along, to overcome the scary what-ifs and sometimes to go right ahead and take that risk.”