Learning to live life differently: Lesley's story

By Lesley Bird,
updated on Mar 7, 2023

Learning to live life differently: Lesley's story

It took Lesley Bird over a year to feel free from the effects of work-related stress. Then, what started as an earache led to pneumococcal meningitis which changed her life forever

I have always been a perfectionist. I was the oldest of five children, with a mother who returned to work. I helped take care of my siblings and when I was older and had my own three children, I promised myself I would always do everything for them, and do it perfectly (in hindsight perhaps not a good thing!). I kept my home perfect and the children always looked immaculate and when I started my career, once the children were all in school, I had the same attitude in my approach to work.

Once my children were young adults I took my career more seriously, I became a centre manager where I worked. After about five years the organisation was taken over by a charity and I was given five centres to manage, with less staff totally than the one I previously had. The area that I worked in was very deprived and the safeguarding issues were huge. There was not enough support for the families that I was working with and I felt they were being totally let down.


Lesley with her husband

The buck stopped with me and this was where my stress and anxiety started. I was working from 7am until 11pm at night. I couldn’t sleep and was continuously waking, checking emails when I did. Every day I left earlier to make sure I was at work first as then I couldn’t be interrupted and could get more done. My husband used to ring me daily to remind me to come home. I just couldn’t switch off.

During this time my daughters both gave birth to very premature sons. One was born at 30 weeks and was initially fine, after spending 6 weeks in NICU he came home. Shortly after this I found him lifeless in his moses basket. He had contracted bronchiolitis and ended up in PICU on life support. I had absolutely no support from work, and felt hassled into returning as soon as possible. Six months later my youngest daughter had severe preeclampsia, resulting in my second grandson being born at 28 weeks. He also was very poorly and spent 4 months in NICU. Again, I received no support at all from work.

In June 2015 the stress at work had reached its peak. I felt there was no solutions being given to the problems we faced. I was just totally exasperated and exhausted.

I went to the GP, he was very understanding and prescribed me sleeping tablets and signed me off work for a month. I was so anxious to be off for this length of time but he insisted. This led to me being off work for a year and then I took early retirement with redundancy. It took me this whole time to recover and learn how to relax and not keep going over and over the work issues in my head.

From the beginning of 2017 I finally started to feel free from all the pressures of work and enjoying things again. I started looking for a job and supported my daughter with childcare. Throughout all of this time my one release was supporting my sister’s dance school. I love everything about it and it was the only thing that made me relax from the pressures of work.

On the 24th February 2017 I drove myself, my daughter and my granddaughter to a competition in Yorkshire, a 6 hour drive away. It was while we were there that I commented to my daughter how I had never been happier. I don’t recall much of that weekend.

We returned on the Monday and I had to stop a few times on the way home, apart from using my inhaler for my asthma a bit more regularly and feeling tired I felt ok. On Wednesday 1st March I had an appointment to see the nurse at my local GP practice for my 60 year check-up. All was well but I mentioned I had a dull earache, I was prescribed antibiotics and returned home. I suddenly felt very unwell and was complaining of a headache and needed to use my eye mask as the lights were too bright. I then went to bed. I don’t remember any of this.

On Friday the 3rd March I was admitted by ambulance and after a few hours in resus was sent straight to ICU. My immediate family was called to a side room and were told to prepare for the worst. I was placed into an induced coma and when they tried to remove me from it they were unsuccessful due to my heart becoming unstable. I had to be resuscitated twice. I was in a coma for 8 days. I was later diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis.

When I began to come around I was totally unable to do anything for myself. I could not move without equipment, needed feeding and was incontinent, which later, I felt was really degrading, like I had lost all my dignity. I could only mutter a few words and couldn’t remember some family members. Each day though I was so much better than the day before. I mastered something new each morning. One morning I was drinking from a Sippy cup, the next morning pouring my own drink.

When I was able to say a few words I was totally convinced I was dying and had cancer. This had always been my fear since losing my dad young, I needed constant reassurance that I didn’t, and was in fact recovering. I had daily physio that was exhausting. I was constantly told by visiting consultants that they couldn’t believe the improvements I was making, leaving a few literally gobsmacked. I was in ICU for a total of 18 days.

I was then moved to a general ward and it was the second day of being on that ward that I lost my hearing. Initially the ENT consultants were not too worried, it could have been trauma, but after a few tests it looked like it would be long term. I was using an audio box and writing messages on phones to read.

I had made such a miraculous recovery that after two weeks on the general ward I was moved to a rehabilitation centre. I hated it there, I was in my own room and after the constant one to one care it just seemed so lonely. But I later learned this was the idea, I needed to keep making myself heard and visible in order to aid my recovery. I was still on intravenous drugs and had physio every day, I was able to sit outside in the sunshine and learnt to walk again with a frame. I was absolutely desperate to get home. I was missing my grandchildren immensely and I had only seen them for a few minutes a couple of times.


Lesley with her grandchildren

I finally got discharged on the Easter Saturday. I had spent 6 weeks and two days in hospital. I spent Easter Sunday at home with all my family. It was wonderful. I even helped cook some of the dinner.

Since the meningitis I have lots of ongoing issues, I have had many falls due to brain damage on the right hand side of my brain and so I have weakness on the left side of my body. My life has changed beyond recognition. I have totally lost my independence and rely heavily on my family, especially my husband. For months I needed help with washing and dressing and was so frightened of falling, I can now dress myself. I hate that I am currently unable to drive but hope that one day I am able to again.

Becoming registered disabled is very hard on my self-esteem. I’m currently on anti-depressants, I tried to come off them however was suffering with panic attacks so decided to stay on them for the time being. I’m also scared of falling ill again so have become obsessive with hand washing and keeping things clean. I still get constant earaches and tinnitus. I also have a poor memory and rely on my diary a lot. I hope to have reflexology as I have lost feeling in one foot but it is incredibly painful as the toes are fixed due to nerve damage.

I’m beginning to accept it and learn to live my life the best I can and enjoy spending as much time with my adored grandchildren, who have been the best medicine I could have been prescribed

I am getting support from a hearing therapist and learning to sign and strangely enough always seemed to have the ability to lip read which has come in handy. I have support from Headway and regular hospital visits.

I am so grateful to still be here. To have the support I do from my whole family is amazing but life is so very different. Learning to live with being deaf is the most difficult, but as hard as it is I’m beginning to accept it and learn to live my life the best I can and enjoy spending as much time with my adored grandchildren, who have been the best medicine I could have been prescribed.

If you are managing significant life changes and would benefit from the support of a therapist, visit Counselling Directory for more information

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