By Laura Bland, 4th October 2018

My Invictus Hero

My Partners Injury Changed our Lives for the Better

My Partners Injury Changed our Lives for the Better

If you were to look at the family portrait I have sat on my mantlepiece today, you would never guess, that 10 years ago, our lives were headed down a completely different path. Looking back, I could have never guessed it myself – but then life never works out how you planned.

Today, I look at our little family and I could not picture it any other way. A decision my partner made would change our lives entirely – and in some strange way… it somehow made it better!

I never really sat and fantasised about a big wedding when I was a child, there was no picture in mind of a lush white wedding dress, no photos outside of a beautiful church. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to meet someone and fall in love, it was just that I could never picture that fairy tale day. I wasn’t wired that way.

It was the same with children, I wasn’t really the maternal type. In fact, I wasn’t really the domestic type.

When I bought my own place and moved out, I obviously changed, with no one else to rely on, the domestic chores fell to me.

I felt like I had things figured out; my own place, a career in logistics and a relationship with a guy I fell head over heels in love with.

It didn’t take long after Leigh and I moved in together for the inevitable questions to start. You all know the ones… ‘when’s the wedding?’, ‘are you going to have children?’ but I still couldn’t picture either of those things.

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Time marched on, as it always does, and we were happy. I was progressing at work, Leigh was looking to advance his rank within the Royal Air Force, and we were travelling a little and seeing some of the world together. We would most often spend weekends hiking and enjoying the fresh air.

We had the freedom to do what we wanted and we were making the most of it.

Early in our relationship, fate threw a spanner in the works and decided to change the path for us. It wasn’t until years later though that we would realise just how much things would change.

Leigh got injured at work, it was a stupid injury something that could happen to any one of us and yet it changed everything. He twisted his ankle, it sounds ridiculous saying that but it’s true, he twisted his ankle and then through misdiagnosis and an operation that caused nerve damage we were left with a life-changing decision to make.

As our relationship progressed and (much to the delight of my mother) we decided that we wanted a family. I was pretty shocked when we hit the jackpot pretty much the first month of trying.

But the pregnancy was not the only thing on our minds. Leigh was still suffering with his injury. A sore ankle was turning into the bane of our lives.

Gradually, Leigh’s injury started to take over our lives. He started with having mild pain, then periodic swelling and bruising to being in constant unrelenting pain which was so bad that he was using crutches to get around.

We were no longer out at the weekends hiking and exploring. For a man who had been so active both in his work life and home life, it wasn’t long before Leigh began to put on weight.

As someone who had always struggled with being the ‘chunky’ kid, he started to get depressed. He would be constantly angry with the world and he would be the first to admit that he wasn’t always the easiest person to live with.

By the time we had our daughter in the summer of 2012, Leigh had undergone 3 operations. The first operation was to try and fix the damage that had originally been caused when he twisted his ankle, and the other two to try and fix the damage that the first operation had caused. None of the procedures resolved the issue.

Here we were starting a new chapter of our lives with our beautiful daughter and yet I felt like a single parent.

With Leigh often knocked out by heavy duty painkillers, I dealt with the day to day chores and routines of being a parent, but I felt pretty alone at times.

Leigh was put on leave from the R.A.F as he could no longer perform his duties and for all intents and purposes, he was abandoned. Not a single person from his unit called or visited to see how he was doing.

15 years Leigh had served, he had fought for his country, put his life at risk, lost friends to war and yet they basically cast him aside and forgot about him. The rapid ostracisation didn’t help the bouts of depression at all.

After 11 months of maternity leave, I headed back to work. As much as I loved and adored our little girl I needed to get part of ‘me’ back.

It wasn’t just that I struggled with being the ‘stay at home’ type, honestly, I needed the conversation with other adults to help keep me sane.

Leigh was at home all day and his depression was getting worse, it was hard for me to see the wood for the trees. How could I pull him into a positive mindset without finding it for myself first?

My dad was an absolute legend during the tough times and so I wasn’t completely alone. With Leigh still struggling, he wasn’t able to physically look after our daughter, and so on the days when she was not in nursery, she spent one on one time with her grandad. They are now as thick as thieves!!

We had just settled into our new routine when things changed again. Leigh had been talking to the doctors about limb amputation surgery. He had done lots of research and knew that in America they were having lots of positive results with amputation in relation to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome which is what Leigh had been left with following his first operation.

I think for a long time I became numb to the situation and what was happening. We had been living our lives minding our own business and then all of a sudden, we were talking about cutting Leigh’s leg off. How had it got to this?

He didn’t get blown up, he wasn’t in a car accident or a motorbike accident, he twisted his ankle. How on earth did that lead to amputation?

Looking back now, I realise I was angry with the whole situation, and to be honest: I still am. I was numb, I was scared about what would happen ‘after’ but mostly I felt numb.

Leigh made a pretty quick recovery from the initial surgery and then it was all about learning to walk with the use of a prosthetic limb.

He would go away for weeks at a time for rehab and I’d be at home with our daughter juggling parenthood, work, the house and everything else.

To my delight, one thing changed almost immediately. Leigh was suddenly more positive about life and he seemed to come out of his depression overnight.

The pain that had been eating away at him for years was gone and it was as if he could see the world again!

The door on Leigh’s military career was closed for good and after serving for 17 years, he was medically discharged no longer able to perform his role. The transition from military life to civilian life wasn’t an easy one. Leigh hadn’t lost just his leg, in some ways he had lost his whole life.

Although his unit hadn’t been in touch there was one Warrant Officer towards the end who came to see us, he even came over to the hospital to visit after the operation and he made sure that Leigh got his long service medal.

17 years in Military life, with no expectation to leave was suddenly turned into a blank sheet of paper in front of him and he had no idea what to do with his life. Amazing things started to happen. Leigh’s new positive approach saw him being presented with opportunities that just wouldn’t have happened if not for that injury.

It seemed like taking physical action with the amputation allowed him to realise that he had an ounce of control back. This was something that he could deal with, a challenge that he could overcome, something that he wouldn’t be defeated by.

As I saw him rise to that challenge, I knew that I wanted more out of life as well, we had been knocked down, but we had bounced back up and it was time to start living again and not just surviving.

Leigh competed in the inaugural Invictus Games in London in 2014, and what an experience! He met and chatted with Prince Harry on multiple occasions and although it wasn’t the same as being in the R.A.F he was representing his country again. I’m not sure if he understands just how proud I am of him for everything he has achieved in the last few years or how grateful I have been to walk this journey with him.

We have a strong and courageous little girl. She knows that being different doesn’t matter and that’s because of how we are raising her due to the struggles we have faced.

As for me? My passion to do more and be more has been reignited and now I’m on a mission.

I might be mum, and I might be a partner, a cook, cleaner and the keeper of our schedules… but I am also me! Something I think is very important to remember. I found a slice of our lives to fit me into again.

I’ve spent some time finding out what that means, and I’ve learnt to make myself a priority. Leigh wasn’t the only one to put weight on when we couldn’t get out walking together, so I started with getting my healthy habits back and I focused on getting back into shape.

I realised pretty quickly that life is too short. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life working for someone else, I want to be able to take a day off to attend a school play or to watch Leigh in his latest adventures. I no longer wanted someone else to have the power over how I live and structure my life. So now I work every day to teach our little girl how to be healthy and happy and how to enjoy life, as well as helping other mums learn to put themselves first.

So, I am redesigning our life again; but this time out of choice!

I have set up my own business and I’m on a mission!

I aim to help as many people as I can to get fit and healthy from their own living rooms.

I’m helping women to take control of their own bodies again.

I am empowering women to be the best version of themselves…

…and that, in turn, is helping me to be the best version of myself and to lead a life by my own design.

So, it turns out, it may have taken losing a limb to cut out the dead wood in our lives and finally start living the best version of our new family portrait.

Note from The Editor:
Laura’s story was first brought to light with us here at The Glass House when we were asked to read and review an anthology of stories about inspirational Mumpreneurs.

Laura now runs a successful fitness coaching business. To find out more about Laura and her business you can visit her author page here, or alternatively, follow her Facebook or Instagram.

Laura is just one of 25 authors featured in the latest Amazon Bestseller – Mumpreneur on Fire 3 – a collection of awe-inspiring, gritty and at times often emotional stories from just some of the women who belong to The Mums in Business Association. The book puts the spotlight on 25 of their members and allows them to become the authors of this book by writing down their own journeys to success.

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