A feisty and rebellious child, Jackie Coventry’s incredible journey has led her through many a dense forest, but her determination and resilience brought her to a place of love, mindfulness and healing
My left leg was amputated when I was just 11 days old. Apparently, I made medical history, which my mother used to relate to me with great pride. I had blood clots in both my legs. They saved my right leg and my left leg was removed below the knee. I learned to walk at 11 months using a rather unattractive prosthetic leg. I now have that prosthetic on my hall table under a glass dome!
My parents had a very robust and positive attitude towards my situation. The word “disabled” was not permitted at home, and I was encouraged to do everything that able-bodied children were able to do. If I fell over, for example, I was told to get up again! Self-pity was never an option.
Interestingly, I don’t ever remember being bullied. Well, actually I once remember a boy riding past on his bike as I was walking to school when I was about 12, and he called me a “one-and-a-half-legged creature”. I thought that was rather absurd. I think I just laughed. I was a feisty and determined child. Sometimes I was told I was belligerent, which I loved.
When I was eight years old, I remember my father telling me that I probably wouldn’t be able to use roller skates when I asked for a pair. I replied: “Of course I can!” and demanded a pair. We lived in Matlock, a hilly part of Derbyshire, and I used to terrify my parents by jumping off the wall outside our house and racing down the hill on my shiny new roller skates. I still love that memory.
I had many surgeries as a child to manage the rapidly-growing bone of my stump in order to avoid rubbing and pain from the prosthesis, and I attended many hospital visits to have new legs made as I grew older and taller. This wasn’t always an easy part of my childhood, but I learned to deal with it by just getting on with it. It helped me to develop resilience and determination, but it might have also been helpful to talk about things sometimes – something not encouraged in those days.
Adolescence was tricky, not helped by the fact that my father was the headmaster of my school. I didn’t have boyfriends and I thought it was because of my leg.
I made up for that later.
I had wanted to be a nurse from the age of six, but I was told many times that I wouldn’t cope with the physical demands. Naturally, that made me even more determined. I qualified as a general nurse and eventually became a Senior Sister in the assisted conception unit at Basingstoke Hospital, which made me immensely proud.
By this time, I had met and fallen madly in love with my insanely clever and funny husband, Stuart, and had three wonderful boys. We lived in Hong Kong for three years, which was exciting, colourful and not without its problems for me. I loved it.
Daniel, our eldest, was a spirited and highly intelligent child, and extremely challenging. He was expelled from kindergarten at the age of three for biting the teacher. I was devastated at the time, but of course, it’s a funny story now. He has since gone on to qualify as a doctor through Oxford University, which is rather satisfying.
What I am most proud of is his amazing capacity for empathy. However, we had some very tough times and I often felt out of my depth. At 19, he was eventually diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This was after many years of seeking help. A history of defiance, as well as failing to achieve his full potential, plus many school exclusions along the way, had taken its toll on my marriage and close relationships, and in particular, his brothers. His frustration with the world and its (often) unsupportive systems had led him to use drugs as a coping mechanism. He was pretty angry for a very long time and I was often the main target of that anger.
My husband Stu is a beautiful, wise and funny man, but he coped with the situation by going to work and leaving a lot of the emotional side of the situation to me. I often felt unsupported and very alone.
Mindfulness, the lack of judgement, and loving kindness towards myself, has healed me in so many ways and helped me to live a happier and more fulfilled life
In addition, I had a lot of funding issues for my prosthetic legs, because the government was beginning to make a lot of cutbacks, which I found intensely difficult. I also found it difficult to admit how depressed I was becoming. My programming kicked in. Ironically, by then I’d left the health service, having been made redundant while I was on maternity leave from my Nursing Sister’s position. It resulted in a tribunal, which I lost. It was an extremely painful time. I felt rejected, unwanted and so very lost.
I trained as a counsellor and entered another highly rewarding but challenging career while juggling the demands of three fabulous but naughty boys. I worked with the charity Relate as a senior counsellor for several years. I loved it, despite its challenges. I became the domestic violence coordinator and I believe I was good at my job. I eventually left and worked for the youth offending team, supporting families of young people who were offending. This was partly triggered by Dan’s challenging behaviour and frequent brushes with the law. Again, it was rewarding but challenging work.
During this time my mother was diagnosed with early dementia. She was in her 60s and lived more than 200 miles away. I was constantly torn between my family and career demands, and many family disputes over how to best care for my mum. My dad eventually became very sick, after many years of taking care of mum and her increasingly complex needs.
Eventually I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition involving extreme pain, fatigue and neurological symptoms. I felt like a complete failure and a burden on the people I loved. I had always fixed everyone else. Soon after the diagnosis my pain specialist referred me to a wonderful woman, Anne Walters, a consultant psychologist who introduced me to mindfulness to help me cope with the effects of my condition. It was life changing in more ways than I was expecting.
Through mindfulness, I’ve learned to own up and accept my tendency towards depression, something I had previously been ashamed of. I’ve also learned to take care of myself with love and compassion, which is something I’d considered to be self-indulgent in the past.
Mindfulness means paying attention, on purpose in a particular way without judgment. It is the lack of judgement coupled with loving kindness towards myself that has healed me in so many ways and helped me to live a happier and more fulfilled life.
I decided to train as a mindfulness teacher with Bangor University and I now run a variety of courses from my home in Hampshire, and in Morocco (another passion of mine!). By teaching mindfulness, it helps me to continue and develop my practice. I’m such a rebel, I know I would procrastinate otherwise! I love my students and feel blessed to be doing something I love so much that nourishes me rather than depletes me. I never thought I’d start up a business at my stage of life and have so much fun doing it. The saying, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” comes to mind.
I feel so blessed to be doing something I love so much, that nourishes me rather than depletes me. I never thought I'd start up a business at my stage of life
I started two years ago with “an introduction to mindfulness day” in a beautiful tranquil setting in Essaouira, Morocco. (I am also in the process of setting up an association in Morocco to help amputees.) It’s a wonderfully relaxing place. I fell in love with it five years ago. It’s also a fun place to learn about mindfulness and to explore the culture and amazing magic there. I aim to run at least four retreats a year from there, as well as continue to build my retreats and classes from home.
I feel people need a safe and nurturing place to explore or revisit mindfulness. People are often struggling with some painful and traumatic difficulty in their lives and my practice is formed with an intention of love and healing.
You can find out more about mindfulness at Jackie's Sky Garden Retreat in the beautiful and tranquil Hampshire countryside.
Jackie’s story is a powerful reminder of the importance of managing your emotional wellbeing. Her natural resilience and family support has enabled her to live a very full life despite challenges. Her growing comfort with acknowledging and being with emotions in a mindful way has clearly helped her overcome her depressive tendency.
Finding your own unique blend of self-help and support is important when facing long-term adversity and coming to know yourself more deeply.