My Why: A Behind the Scenes Account
March 2006 was a date that I will always remember… Within 24 hours my world came crashing down and all I knew no longer existed.
Questions became a regular part of my psyche “Who was I?”, “What can I do with my life now?”, “I am a complete failure…”, “A nobody….”, “Why didn’t I die…?” These lasted for days, months, even years. The odd situation even throwing them back up, spiralling my mind into a steady downfall until managing to pick myself back up again, a quicker process than it once was.
What questions do you constantly ask yourself? When do these questions trigger unexpectedly? How comfortable are you with the person beneath your skin? What parts of you do you really love? What parts of you do you hate? Who are you?
You see I nearly died from a genetic heart condition that I knew little…. well I say little, but I actually knew nothing about! Bang, Monday morning the pain struck like nothing I experienced before, a crushing pain right across my chest, suffocating me as I struggled to put one foot gingerly in front of the other.
Have you ever experienced a life of death situation? How did it make you feel? What changes did it bring in terms of how you live your life? What came up for you in that moment of despair?
Holding my mothers hand was the only comfort I had, holding it tight, squeezing until I felt the coldness of her palm in mind. I saw the pain and anguish in her own eyes as she told me not to worry… Her voice did not carry the same strength as usual, this time it had a distinctive tremor to it… THEN…. the pain vanished!
Rewind to Saturday morning… Mum and I had an argument over something, nothing I can remember so probably pretty trivial. I had decided to hit the gym and pushed my body to the limits through the anger and frustration of what had happened 30 minutes earlier. My personal coping mechanism for venting and regaining a sense of perspective and balance!
How did/do you cope with feelings of anger, frustration, and emotional triggers? What do your coping strategies give you? How successful are they in bringing balance back to your life?
Rugby had not been moving in the right direction as fitness stayed static and I had struggled to keep up with the pace. I had made the conscious decision to join the Armed Services. Monday morning all had changed… wires coming out of my chest, people frantically running around after me, then “blue lights” all the way to the hospital!
Fast forward to that dreaded diagnosis… Rugby at any level was not an option nor was any form of high intensity physical activity. My identity was shattered, physical activity was all that had driven and motivated me not only in terms of ambitions of turning professional but pursuing a career as a Physical Training Instructor with the RAF or joining the Royal Marines.
What have you lost since your life-changing diagnosis? How have you coped with your change in identity? How could you cope better with what has happened to accelerate your life in the right direction?
The question of “Who am I?” exploded in my brain. Panic ensued before the realisation of what had happened set in igniting the emotional turmoil and deep rooted depression that readily correlated with thoughts of suicide.
Enduring those dark day and nights felt like I was being choked of oxygen. I felt isolated and alone, totally misunderstood by family, friends, and medical professionals who kept saying “You are so lucky to be alive”. Lucky for what…? To live in a body that was not made for sedentary based work, wishing I was dead on a day to day basis captured by fear and the reality of what living with a potentially life-threatening heart condition meant for my future.
What questions did you ask yourself? How did you respond to your life-changing circumstances? How did your emotions have an affect on your day to day living and personal relationships?
I wasn’t lucky… I was just a prisoner within my own physical form devoid of knowing where to turn and what to do next. Medical staff put me in touch with a person who had an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD), a device to kickstart the heart when entering a dangerous cardiac rhythm, to help get my head around the shock of what had happened.
Unfortunately I had no similarities other than we both had this devastating condition. He was an office worker who enjoyed exactly the same career, interests and lifestyle as he had previously… My polar opposite making me feel even more angry, frustrated, and isolated.
Emotionally it was a rollercoaster but after the initial shock I think things became harder the longer time went on rubbishing the saying “things get easier with time”. Vicious emotions stood out that were against my character and had slowly turned me bitter and sour.
I hated the fact that people could do sport, pursue military careers, jog, exercise, go to the gym and do all the physical things that I was no longer able to pursue. My own bitterness even spilled over into my personal life. I resented my partner joining the gym! It was like a dagger to the heart and how dare she have a life of her own when I had no control over mine.
How did you feel about others who either abused their bodies or could do what you no longer could not? When did you feel at your lowest? How did you overcome these new life challenges? What did you learn about yourself?
Months later my emotions changed to feelings of deep isolation as none of the players, coaches, or management team contacted me once I had left the club. Everyone just got on with training and game day on a Saturday. Momentum never changed for them whereas my life had come to a standstill.
Loneliness created the manifestation of demons coming into my mindset. I felt like a complete failure, not good enough, and just wanted to end things. Those closest to you never understand what you are truly going through.
You put on a brave face and become institutionalised through the masculine environments you have been exposed to as a child. Revealing my deepest fears, anxieties, and insecurities would be a huge sign of weakness as I felt I could cope alone. When anyone asked “How are you feeling, Ian?”, I would respond with a simple “I am fine?”, which was completely untrue.
Loneliness exacerbated thoughts of wishing my life had ended back in March 2006 as dealing with the internal day to day hell gave me a bleak outlook for the future. Trying to find myself and who I really was as a person never materialised as I hanged onto the old identity.
What were the biggest changes for you personally? Have you ever felt isolated as a result of your trauma? How had your character helped or hindered your transition after life-changing trauma?
Partying, drinking, fighting, and sleeping with women was all part of the persona and failed attempts to try and fit in and feel normal, not for anyone else but myself. It was a period totally out of character as I lost my ability to love and care for anyone else. Instead I believed everyone in the world was against me or did not appreciate how it felt to be me.
How did you try and hold onto the old you? What was the most frightening thing you had to face as a result of your life-changing trauma? Who had you become?
December 2006 was a massive turning point in my life. Unexpectedly a woman I was seeing gave birth to my son, Jerome Guyah-Low weighing 6lbs. This was a magical moment in my life and a time when I found the ability to love and care for another again. My son gave me a meaning and purpose to live again, connect to who I really was, and address the core values that had gone missing months previously.
My journey had not been a smooth transition, struggling with ideas about what the future would hold, what I could possibly give to a world in which I now felt lost, pushed me to really reflect on the mistakes that I had made and the phenomenal learnings I gained around who I was as a person. Now I had a small baby who relied on me to guide them through the often challenging and winding roads that life presents.
Rather than being devoid of my emotions and carrying a cold and heavy heart, my son unforgettably gave me the strength to be warm, open up my heart, and feel the vulnerabilities that comes with the responsibility a child should bring.
What has helped you move forward? On a scale of 1-10 (1 – still stuck and 10 – Where I want to be) where would you be right now in terms of the person you hope to be since your life-changing trauma?
Remarkable change occurred as I dug deep within myself, contributing to the writing of my own auto-ethnographical account as part of my P.hD thesis, and opening up my heart to the awareness that I was not the only person experiencing life-changing trauma whether physical, health related, or through disfigurement.
Unpacking all my emotional baggage was a great starting point sparking the impetus to build a powerful community of like-minded individuals who would support, challenge, and skyrocket the lives of others in similar positions to themselves.
Experience of my own personal journey, the difficulties encountered, my playing experience as a high performing athlete, and work as a Performance Psychologist has given me the deep, raw, and unregulated insights into creating an awesome environment that empowers people to become incredible versions of themselves through unleashing their breakthrough mindset.
What previous life experiences allowed you to move forward despite life-changing trauma? What are the key strategies you would tell people to use so that they can cope best with life-changing trauma? What has been the biggest positive turning point in your life that you would share with others?
Class of Courage evolved as a means of creating an epic environment where people of like-mind and experience could come together, share ideas, stories, and coping strategies whilst providing awesome insights that could supercharge and surpass the envisioned futures of everyone within our tribe.
I wanted to gift people the opportunity to step outside of the darkness and into an inspirational space where they felt comfortable disclosing their deepest fears, and being part of something really incredible, transformational, and empowering. My idea was to create a tribe of people who loved hanging out, socialising, yet ignited high impact through powerful shifts in mindset.
I wanted people to see their outlook of the world through a different lens and push the boundaries of our limitations together.
Class of Courage is about giving back to others and allowing them the dignity to a smooth transition irrespective of the life-changing trauma they suffered.
My mission is to bring those individuals who are ex services, athletes, police, fire, ambulance crews, those involved in national disasters, road traffic accidents (RTA’s), and/or individuals with health conditions together under one umbrella. My aim is to develop them personally through high quality life-changing experiences and content.
Life-changing trauma never leaves you but in my own experience it doesn’t have to define you. There will always be setbacks but it is the learning on our journey together that will make those setbacks bounce back opportunities as we strive to “Find Your New Awesome”.
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