What health coaching is like for people with serious health issues

What health coaching is like for people with serious health issues

A former client, Wendy H., has graciously shared her health coaching journey to give you a taster of what it is like and how it can support someone to live well with the impact of the health issue they have. Wendy starts her story before we started working together, sharing with you the serious health issue she lives with and everything she tried to help herself before trying health coaching. She then shares what health coaching was like for her. 

I made very little changes to what Wendy wrote. I added in a word here and there and the titles, and moved some sentences. I also drew the pictures. At the end of this article I provide a link to the questions referred to by Wendy. They will help you think about your own situation and what you want to be different. There is also the opportunity to try coaching for yourself for free.


Return to wellness: My health coaching experience


When my life changed forever


It was 7 years ago – in another life – since I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis (TM), resulting in a weakened left leg with inevitable muscle wasting, dropped foot and a multitude of other symptoms associated with the condition such as bladder and bowel issues and fatigue.

I had always been sporty and active so over the past few years my rehabilitative journey took on a multitude of self-help strategies, importantly, finding out as much as I could about the condition.  I read books on neuroplasticity, brain training and mindfulness. I joined exercise programmes, the gym, saw a sports physiotherapist, neuro physiotherapist, trained how to do Nordic walking, which led to me taking up hippotherapy (horse therapy, or simply put, horse riding).

I have been measured for orthotic insoles and used a Functional Electrical Stimulation device (FES). I even went to acupuncture for weeks. I was on the verge of sinking into depression so was referred to a clinical psychologist, resulting in a short course of anti-depressants.


The irony….


Even after all this determination and sheer will power to get back to my previous life, it wasn’t really working.  I did a reasonable job at maintaining my physical strength. However, it seemed I was fighting a losing battle and began to feel ‘exercised out’.  I would put pressure on myself to exercise and scold myself if I didn’t.

I’d watch people running and walking in the street or on TV.  I found myself analysing their gait. How do they do this simple activity…. automatically?

I obsessed about how TM had affected me, was consumed with frustration, anger, loss, depression.

Finally, a few months ago I realized I had become STUCK.

After all this effort.

I was STUCK.

Everything became a mammoth task or a hassle. I’d stopped exercising. I became anxious and tearful.  I lost motivation, interest and confidence in almost everything. I couldn’t move on or come to terms with or adjust to how my world was now.

I still fretted about my past life. I was still angry and frustrated. This mountain was in front of me and I didn’t have the energy to climb it again.

Then it occurred to me – I had been focussing mostly on my physical state and been neglecting my mental health state. I really hadn’t learned how to adjust, accept or come to terms with this long-term medical condition Transverse Myelitis.

Picture of a person with a serious health issue stuck between their old life and the mountain (i.e. figuring out their new life)

Wishing for your old life but starting a new one feels like a large mountain to climb


You've done everything you can to live well w/ your #serioushealthissue #seriousinjury #chronicillness but you’re still stuck. Imagine this. A magic wand is waved as you sleep. In the morning, you still have the health issue, but… tell a friend


The turning point


At this time, an article in a newsletter from the Transverse Myelitis Society reminded members about a bursary to provide health coaching, guided by Barbara Babcock. I did have some apprehension and wondered whether this would be another fruitless journey.

However, having plucked up the courage to contact Barbara, she reassured me about the process and that we would have telephone contact at times to suit us both.  She also provided lots of preparatory articles and questions to think about prior to our first communication, so I felt somewhat relieved and prepared.


Health coaching journey – One of enlightenment, empowerment and self-awareness


Over the weeks that followed, my health coaching journey became one of enlightenment, empowerment and self-awareness.  I was amazed with how comfortable it was talking to Barbara on the phone and I soon realized that she didn’t put pressure on me to fulfil her agenda.

This was totally me guiding the script and pouring out my anxieties, stresses, frustration and anger. And importantly, we tackled the obstacles in my way, with a much more energetic and positive attitude.

I learned how to recognise my feelings within my body, not just the negatives, but the positives too.  It was frightening that I rarely felt these ‘positives’ because I had focussed on the negatives for so long.  It took practice, but I now consciously recognise when something feels ‘good’ and that this is the ‘anchor’ I needed.

I became more attuned to acknowledging anger and anxiety and importantly, how to manage, process and take control.  With Barbara’s guidance and simple strategies, I learned how to ‘feel’ where in my body the emotion was and what thoughts arose.

By simply giving the emotion a name and spending time with it, enabled me to process these thoughts and feelings.  This may sound daunting, but the nature of talking about your underlying feelings, in this safe environment, or writing them down was incredibly powerful.

Picture of a person writing about their feelings which is a powerful thing to do

The power of writing about your feelings.


The nature of talking about your underlying feelings in this safe environment of #health #coaching, or writing them down, was incredibly powerful. #serioushealthissue #chronicillness #spinalcordinjury #TransverseMyelitis tell a friend



Health coaching empowered me to focus on what I can do


My health coaching journey has now ended, but my journey to wellness and normality continues.  This is my new philosophy.

If you feel you have a mountain to climb or feel ‘stuck’ and have determination and the willpower to want to take your first steps, I would strongly recommend health coaching.

Be prepared to be open and honest and be aware that emotions may become overwhelming and distressful. And be prepared to work at it.

Barbara will pose unexpected questions and prompt when you are off your guard. If you expect Barbara to tell you what to do and how to do it, you will realise that this is not how it works and you will not reap the benefits.

I am learning to focus on what I can do now, and although I still have a mountain to climb, I can tackle it in smaller chunks.  I am more positive and less fatalistic. I am able to recognise anger. I am now able to move on. I am managing fatigue. I have resumed physical activities and registered for a one-mile open water swim.  I no longer feel ‘stuck’.

Wendy H, York


Picture of a person having found her path to wellness and a new normality because of health coaching

Finding your own path towards wellness and your new normality


What’s it like for you?


In what ways did Wendy’s story mirror your own or someone you know? How do you think health coaching could help you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you are living with a serious health issue, which may be a serious illness or injury or chronic illness, or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

You can also download the questions I sent to Wendy for her to think about ahead of our first session via this blog post.


Help with research on acceptance


If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.


Pass it forward


Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018


How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

A month ago I wrote a blog on the 10 ways in which a hobby can improve your mental health when living with the impact of a serious illness or injury.

But after writing the blog, I thought of something I did not address in it. It was a question put to me by someone living with a neurological condition.


How do I find the right hobby for me?

new hobbies after serious health issue

Finding new hobbies after a serious health issue changes your life.


Great question! You may not have a hobby or have found the right one for you. You could be busy with the routine of your health issue, work, family and/or life in general. Which is normal and happens to a lot of people.

But maybe you are at the stage that you like to find a hobby to give yourself a break from illness, family, work, whatever. Or you may want an activity just for yourself or to restore a sense of normality in your life.

So in this post I am going to continue the theme of how a hobby improves mental health by answering that question.


How do you find the right hobby for you?


First, a recap from the previous blog the 10 way in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life.


hobbies improve mental health

10 ways hobbies can improve your mental health


These 10 ways provide an insight into the criteria or questions you can ask yourself when selecting a new hobby. Not all may be a requirement for you. Nor are they all a requirement for a hobby.


1. You are interested in the hobby


The hobby has a decent chance of holding your attention and focus. This is particularly important if you are hoping for the hobby to provide a distraction from your symptoms for a time.


2. You can use existing skills which you value using


This can be a powerful reminder of your existing strengths, which we can sometimes forget about when we are in a difficult place. For example, I enjoy research because it allows me to use my brain in a way I value. A new hobby I picked up whilst seriously ill was genealogical research. Another advantage of that hobby was I wasn’t required to move too much, which was good because I couldn’t due to the illness.


3. You will be able to physically do the hobby or adapt your approach to it


Sometimes after a serious health issue, our bodies can permanently change and we may no longer be able to do previous activities or we must adapt how we do them. For example, a friend had a heart attack and due to having angina as a result, returning to their hobby of running was not possible. They chose a new hobby of photography as it would allow them to walk whilst taking photos.


4. The hobby can provide an opportunity to learn and get better


Learning a new skill or developing an existing skill further provides a sense of satisfaction and mastery, which contributes to improved mental health and quality of life.


5. There is an opportunity to achieve something


And do you value that kind of achievement? For example, knitting can result in a finished product like a scarf, hat, jumper or blanket that you can use or give as a gift to someone.


6. The hobby provides a sense of belonging


Does the hobby provide an opportunity to socialise with others in person? Or to connect virtually with people? Which do you prefer? As I said in the previous blog on hobbies, being with others fosters a sense of belonging, which can be very powerful as it reduces the isolation that can result from having a serious health issue.

However, you may want a hobby that allows you to be by yourself and that is ok too.

Sometimes this nature of belonging is looking after something or someone else, whether it be a child, plants, or a pet. Whatever it is, it depends on you to survive and flourish. The process of helping in this way can be very affirming of you and your abilities. This is powerful as often after the onset of a serious health issue, it is common to lose our sense of self-worth as we feel we cannot contribute or look after others as we used to.


7. Is the activity something you think you will enjoy doing?


When we enjoy something, we often relax. And relaxation reduces stress. A win-win all around.

hobbies improve our mental health

The impact of hobbies on our mental health is a virtuous circle.


8. What meaning does the hobby give you?


By ‘meaning’ I mean you value what the activity has to offer whatever that is, such as the activity itself, being with people, helping others, creating or collecting something, increasing your knowledge, playing a team game with others, just having fun or something else. Or maybe the hobby allows you to live a value of yours, something that is important to you. For example, baking could be expressing a value of creativity, or community if you share your bakes with others.


9. Does the hobby restore a sense of normality to your life?


A hobby can provide routine like ‘every Wednesday evening from April through March I go kayaking’ and this fosters a sense of normality.


10. Consider what you enjoyed doing in the past, what you are good at and passionate about


What we enjoyed doing in the past, and our existing strengths and passions can be the source for new hobbies. Even skills we use at work and our jobs can be used in a hobby.

Hobbies we had as a child may capture our interest again. Or we may adapt childhood interests to what we want to do now. For example, maybe you used to sew clothes but now you want to make quilts.

If you are skilled at organising events, many charities and local neighbourhood initiatives may require this skill. If you are an accountant, maybe you do the accounts for free for a local club or charity or bring that skill to a non-executive position of an organisation. You can channel a skill you use at work towards a cause you find meaningful.

If you are passionate about nature, keeping bees or letting a beekeeper keep hives in your garden, bird watching, or creating homes for hedgehogs in your garden can all become hobbies.

It might be possible to adapt your approach to previous hobbies so you can still enjoy them. For example, if you now have limited mobility and gardening was a favourite pastime, raised outdoor beds or potting and growing plants indoors could still allow you to enjoy the hobby.

Sometimes a hobby can grow out of another hobby. For example, a friend developed a passion for Word War I history whilst doing genealogical research. He has since contributed to his local council’s initiative to commemorate those from the area who fought and died in the war, and may even start leading tours of the battlefields in France.

So based on the 10 ways hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life, these 10 criteria and questions can be your starting point in finding new hobbies. Have fun trying out new activities in your search and when you find your hobby, share it here. I’d love to know what you choose and how you are finding it.


What’s it like for you?


Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result of your health issue? What influenced your choice? And how is it helping to improve your mental health and quality of life? Share below as your comment could help someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.


Pass it forward


Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017


Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury or onset of a long-term condition can take time and involve many mixed emotions. Your body has changed. Forever. You can feel it. You remember what you used to be able to do. And your body has that memory too.

You go to move in a way you want without thinking because it’s what your body does. So you think. But your body doesn’t comply. Or it does and you feel a lot of pain. You may feel betrayed by your body. You can’t trust it anymore. You may feel a sense of loss missing what you were once able to do. You may even feel anger.

I know the feeling. At times, it really sucks. I have osteoarthritis in both knees. Learning to trust my body again and what it can do now has been an ongoing journey. But I had a realisation about it whilst on holiday that has been so freeing, I want to share it with you. Keep reading to learn what it was, how it helped me and may help you.


Fear can get in the way of learning to trust your body


That was the first realisation. I had assumed my knees were no longer capable of hikes which involve a walk up a steep hill (steep to me, maybe not to others). I have missed hiking over the years. I used to do a fair amount of it when living in Central Asia where mountains were on my doorstep.

Central Asia Almaty Kazakhstan

Mountains outside Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo taken by B Babcock circa 1997.


This fear came about for several reasons. The long-term prognosis for my knees isn’t great based on the doctor’s verdict. I had become more tentative when I walk due to often feeling pain that can come on unexpectedly and for no obvious reason. So I take great care on uneven ground and when there is a high step. This is me being careful; I want to preserve my knees for as long as I can.

Yet I feel that carefulness morphed into a fear that wasn’t helpful. I feel at times I have chosen to let the fear hold me back, to give in and say no to activities rather than trying them to see what my body is capable of.


While on holiday, I had to face that fear and deal with it


I signed up my other half and I for a guided walk of the Mach na Bo (Plain of the Cattle) on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. The walk was deemed easy to moderate and would take 4 hours. I explained that I have osteoarthritis, checked if there would be any ascents and what they were like. I felt satisfied I would be able to do the walk and my husband and I would have a lovely time.

Just in case, I decided to bring the husband’s walking sticks.

Thank the gods I did.

It wasn’t until we had walked up the valley – an easy walk where I wasn’t using the walking sticks – that the ascent ahead of me became visible.

I expressed my concern. The guide was lovely and encouraging. My other half easily scrambled up like a mountain goat. I felt envious of his ability. But also surprised and proud knowing the health issues he has experienced. He was my example to aspire to on the walk. If he could do it, I was going to as well. (There is also a healthy sense of competition between my other half and I.)

I took out the walking sticks. I moved slowly and very very carefully. Looking over the edge, I could see that if I were to fall, it would be down a steep slope. I did not fancy that. I could feel resolve kicking in. I wanted to continue walking because it was great exercise, which I enjoy, in beautiful nature, which I also enjoy.

I got to the top. The ascent was approximately 330 meters. It may not be a lot for some people but to me it felt like a 1,000. I was elated with my accomplishment! (still am)


facing fear and trusting my body

Making it to the top of the hill on the Mach na Bo walk. You see that river along the valley floor? We walked along the trail next to it. Photo taken by the other half 2017.


Support is crucial when overcoming fear and learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury


I could not have done that walk without those walking sticks. They enabled me to such a degree I could not believe! They took the pressure off my knees. I am still amazed at how much that simple piece of equipment helped me. I had no pain in my knees the next day!

The guide was incredibly supportive and helpful in such a friendly manner. He encouraged me, often happily saying, ‘Ah, don’t worry about that ascent. It’s not very long! We’ll be there just around that corner!’ Then proceeded to tell a story from Celtic mythology in relation to the area we were walking through.

My other half was patient. That 4 hour walk took us 7 hours.


Willingness to ask and use support is important too


A willingness to ask for and use support, whether it is asking someone to offer their arm or using mobility aids, can get your farther than you thought possible.

But I know you may hate asking for help or using equipment. It can feel like you are giving in to the illness or injury. You miss your independence. You may feel that everyone is looking at you as you move along with your walking frame/sticks/wheelchair. It is a common reaction to your situation and understandable.

So many clients have spoken to me about how things changed for them when they learned how and when to ask for help and use support. That willingness can be developed over time. If that is something you want to explore further, I’ve written a series of four articles about why asking for help can be so hard.

mobility aids give you support

What the support of walking sticks enabled me to do. Photo taken by B Babcock 2017.


Keep fear in check by minding your thought patterns


We get so used to thinking, ‘My body can’t do this anymore…I am afraid of…’, I think sometimes we can lull ourselves into a trap of vicious circle thinking. The focus is on what we cannot do and possibly fear to such a degree there is no room or energy left to focus on what we can do or might be able to do.

I realised after that walk I had gotten myself into that place. I just assumed I could no longer hike up a hill without even attempting to hike up a hill. That fear was having a protective function – maintain my knees for as long as possible. But I had let too much fear creep in and take hold so I was making my decisions from that place. I didn’t learn I was mistaken until I was in the situation.

To double check if you are making decisions from a place of too much unhealthy fear, listen to your inner self-talk. If hear yourself saying something like, ‘I can’t do this, can’t do that…, My body is no longer capable…, Oh, that is not possible for me!’ stop and ask yourself these questions.


trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Keep the fear in check to help you learn to trust your body after a serious illness or injury. Photo taken by B Babcock 2017 at Annascaul Lake looking back at the descent.


So Barbara, are you going to walk up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike or Snowdon?


No, that would be way too much too soon. For now, I will go on these monthly walks a friend organises. I will use the walking sticks. In between those walks, I will continue to do easy walks in my local neighbourhood. A few times a year I will try a more challenging walk. Having a go, building up bit by bit, checking in with my fears, and asking for help will be my way forward in learning to trust my body.


What’s it like for you?


Have you overcome a fear as you learned to live with a changed body due to a serious illness/injury? What enabled you to do that? What worked and did not work for you as you learned to trust your body after a serious illness or injury?

If you are learning to live with the changes in your body due to a serious health issue and would like support to manage the fears and do what you want to be doing, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.


Pass it forward


Although these blogs are written in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a family member, friend or colleague would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

P.S. A big shout out and thanks to Kevin O’Shea of Celtic Nature Walking Tours for his excellent guidance and support during our Mach na Bo walk!

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

Make your New Year’s health resolutions stick in 2017

Make your New Year’s health resolutions stick in 2017

New Year’s resolutions are upon us. There is a lot of helpful advice out there on how to set resolutions. But keeping them can be the hard part. We may focus on making the change in January, it gets harder in February and by March we find we are not doing very much. Then the ‘beat myself up’ can start and sometimes it doesn’t end.

Stopping making the change becomes our preferred option so the self-battle ends. But then guilt creeps in. The what if’s, the could have’s, the feeling of failure, not being good enough, the hope… These feelings hang around in the background but are ever present.

Change isn’t always easy and straightforward and actually, that is really normal. Some stuff I learned about neuroscience explains that and I share it with you to help you make the change you want for yourself happen and stick.


How to explain when recovery from an illness isn’t possible

How to explain when recovery from an illness isn’t possible

This week I continue the theme of recovery in the context of illness focusing on how to respond to people when they ask questions or make comments. In this recovery series, I initially focused on the assumptions which lace the recovery process due to society’s interpretation of recovery. I then wrote about the different types of ‘recovery’ people experience depending on the illness they have/had. And how this may require redefining what we mean by well and recovering wellness in various facets of our lives within the context of illness. 

Maybe you got seriously ill a few months, a year, or sometime ago. You still live with its impact, whether it is visible or invisible. And through it all, you’ve had well-meaning people (or not) ask questions, give (unsolicited) advice, and make comments.

  • “What happened to you?”
  • “Oh, but you’ve recovered?”
  • Some variant of you looking well so your recovery must be good. (But on the inside you are feeling the opposite.)
  • And when you say your recovery is taking its time or there will be no recovery, you might hear:
    • “Why? Maybe you need to do XYZ, do more of ABC, stop doing DEF, be more positive…”
    • “You’re not any better yet? But you look well. You must not be working hard enough at your recovery…”
    • “Oh, I use insert-your-solution-of-the-month, it really works. Highly recommend it!”
  • “You shouldn’t be using that disabled parking bay/loo” or “You don’t look sick/disabled.”
alt txt="recovery"

Responding to the question: Have you recovered yet? B Babcock 2016

You feel yourself hesitating and wondering how to respond. Do you tell the truth, do you want to, will they get it? To answer their question truthfully, your response may take time, not be a straightforward yes or no, and so may invite more questions. You may not have the energy to educate someone by explaining, the energy to tell a stranger what happened to you, the energy debating with yourself how much to share, the energy to convince someone you know well that no, a recovery is not possible (despite how well you may look at the moment). And it’s ok to feel that way.

So how do you respond in these moments, if at all? Read on to find out.


Accessible loos for invisible disabilities – They’re coming to a supermarket near you #AccessibleLoos4InvisibleDisabilities

Accessible loos for invisible disabilities – They’re coming to a supermarket near you #AccessibleLoos4InvisibleDisabilities

Today I had planned to publish a post on how to respond to people’s questions about your recovery, which would have been the last in a blog series on recovery. You can read the previous two posts here and here. However something happened in the meantime and I’d love to share it with you. That recovery post is coming in two weeks’ time.

Maybe you or someone you know has bladder and/or bowel issues due to an illness that isn’t always visible – Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease,  DiverticulitisMultiple Sclerosis, Transverse Myelitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or another one.

Knowing where the loos are when you go out becomes paramount. It can even dictate where you are comfortable going. Because getting to a loo can become a sudden need and if there isn’t one nearby, this can be an issue. Or having the space and privacy to deal with a colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy bag, or to self-catheterise.

This is an important necessity for you. Your bladder and/or bowel don’t work like everyone else. Yet other people don’t readily know that because you look fine on the outside. So there can be the ‘do-I-or-don’t-I dilemma’ of using the disabled loo when you need it.

alt txt="bowel-urgency-stigma"

Sudden urgency and the do I or dont I dilemma. B Babcock 2016

There may have been times when you stepped out of the disabled loo and got a funny look from someone. Or they even said, ‘You don’t look disabled!’ You may feel guilty, even though you know you shouldn’t as you have every right to use that disabled loo. But the assumption that for an illness to be valid it has to be visible is rearing its ugly head again.

You want to explain, but talking about pee and poo issues is taboo. It feels like a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. That can understandably get you down when you are already dealing with an unpredictable bowel or bladder and possibly pain and fatigue too, and you are just trying to go out and have a nice time.

Well, things are starting to change for the better. Invisible disabilities are about to get more visible in a supermarket near you. Read on to find out more.


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