All sorts of questions filled my mind. Was it curable, would I be able to continue travelling, would I be able to live a normal life, having kids and enjoying myself? Would I end up like the lady I worked with, who struggled a lot, tried not to moan, but couldn’t help it, not able to do normal things? I was scared, I was lonely, the other side of the world from home and all I wanted was my mum! I remember walking to the nearest park, sitting on a bench and phoning my mum, putting on a front and saying everything would be okay, when I felt the opposite!
I spent the next eight months in Perth, working several different jobs, trying to enjoy my time there, and going to seemingly endless GP appointments, expensive rheumatology appointments and trialling lots of different medication because I didn’t respond too well to a lot of them. I ended up on a very expensive drug that I had to keep in the fridge and inject weekly. I was set up with enough medication to get me through my travels along the south coast of Australia in our campervan, Sunny, until I got to the appointment that he set up for me in Sydney. It was a crazy journey to get to that appointment but that’s for another time.
At the Sydney rheumatology appointment, I was told that because I wasn’t Australian, they could only fund enough medication to get me home. That meant I had to get a GP appointment as soon as I was home to get referred to a rheumatologist and get back on the right treatment. Well, it took five months for the rheumatology appointment to come through, and another month to get the paperwork for the medication sorted, so the miracle treatment that had me hopping around the rest of our travels and off all the other drugs had well and truly worn off, and when I went back on it, it was no longer effective, which is pretty common with this medication. I was in a bit of a state!
What was worse was when I came to apply to join the police on the recruitment drive they were handily conducting on my return to the UK, I couldn’t even get past the first screen of the application process. The first question was: do you have any of these conditions, and they listed rheumatological conditions as one. I had to click yes, and the next screen told me that my application couldn’t proceed. My dream career came crashing down around me, and I felt utterly lost with no direction.
I spent the next month trawling through online job sites, and my mum was circling all of the jobs in the papers that she thought I might like. All of my experience was in admin and customer service, so a lot of my applications were within that industry, but nothing really sparked my interest and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That was until my mum pointed out a tiny ad in the paper for a book publishing company. It was for an admin assistant, and at the interview they said that it was a job role designed to dip into each department to allow the successful candidate to find their passion and work their way up through that part of the company. I was offered the job and was absolutely ecstatic! I loved books, but had never considered that they could be a part of my career.
I started at the bottom, quite literally! The office had the whole ground floor as a warehouse, with the first floor housing the open-plan office. I was to live in the warehouse most of my time, picking and packing books for orders coming in from distributors, bookshops and individuals, doing the administration for the company, including invoicing, then doing tasks for each department, such as stuffing mail shots for the marketing department and making proof corrections for the production department. It was with the production department that I really found my passion. Taking an author’s manuscript and turning it into something beautiful really appealed.
I spent six years at that publishing house, working my way up from the bottom to becoming the Group Production Manager, heading up the design teams across all of the imprints in the publishing house, including the self-publishing imprint. I loved designing book covers, interiors, the most challenging but rewarding being the picture-heavy coffee table books. I did talks about publishing at events and loved it, even meeting some lovely celebrity authors like Michael Palin! I also worked on a freelance basis editing books for them in my spare time.
Working there was not without its problems, though. An open-plan office with air conditioning in the summer and central heating in the winter meant that bugs were passed round extremely quickly. The way my medication works is to suppress my immune system, so there are less white blood cells to attack my body. This also means, however, that it is harder to fight off infections. I catch everything and then find it harder than others to fight it off. So, I was off sick more often and for longer than other staff members. I also struggled with the sedentary lifestyle of office life. Once I’d moved out of the warehouse, I was a lot less active, sitting at my desk in a chair for the majority of the time. This meant I got very stiff and my joints got more painful, as it is much better for my condition to be as active as possible. I was constantly worried about catching up, about how my absences were affecting my colleagues and the guilt was unreal. This, in turn, elevated my stress levels, which made me more prone to illness, so it was a vicious circle.