Overcoming the struggles of life

Sonia Kokkalos thinking about overcoming the struggles of lifeFrom time to time this blog will feature articles from clients talking about overcoming the struggles of life that have been thrown in their path. 

These stories will hopefully inspire you to take a fresh, re-energised look at your own challenges so you can overcome them.

The following story is by Sonia Kokkalos, Managing Director of Team Results.   Her ability to overcome a debilitating back injury to manage a successful business whilst juggling the roles of wife and mother is highly inspirational.  Here’s her story.       

Amy: What’s the biggest hurdle you have overcome in your life?

Sonia: Throughout my life, I’ve had many hurdles to overcome, some a little painful to discuss.

However, in saying that there is one that I can discuss which I know a lot of people can relate to.  In January of 2012 I suffered a debilitating back injury.  It stopped me in my tracks, had me bed ridden and home bound and drugged up with pain killers for 3 months.  Then I endured a year of rehabilitation and recovery.  My L5, S1 discs in the spine prolapsed, compromising my sciatic nerve in the right leg to such a degree that I lost all strength in the leg and couldn’t place any pressure on it for fear it would collapse.  Running and even brisk walking were out of the question!  I was told by my neurosurgeon that I was a prime candidate for a back operation if my leg didn’t improve through rehabilitation and physio.  A back operation would mean having the discs removed and the spine fused.

I was told that back operations can be more trouble than they are worth.  I was determined that I would get through this. 

Amy:  How did you get through it?  What worked?  What didn’t help?

Sonia: I decided that I had to fix ‘me’ by exploring all avenues beyond accepting that a back operation would be my saviour.  Through sheer will power, a never say never attitude, my GP weaning me off my pain relief and inflammatory meds, reading up on my condition (knowledge is power), looking for the positive in everything and a desire to be the type of mum that could still do things with her kids, I embarked on a strict regime of physio, acupuncture, osteo and pilates to strengthen my core. 

What worked for me was the combination of all the above.  When I had a good day, I had less of one thing, but more of another.  The constant (unless my physio decided otherwise at that time) was Pilates to strengthen my core to protect my spine.

What didn’t help was pushing too hard on the great days when I felt like I could do anything once again.  I paid the price for pushing too hard, cursing my inability on my bad days.  My back would ‘talk’ to me through being stiff and in pain every so often.   For every step forward, sometimes it felt like two steps backwards, but at least I was taking those small steps forward!

After 12 months of the physio, acupuncture, osteo and pilates regime I regained full functioning and strength in my leg and back.  I avoided having to endure a back operation.  I still have numbing in my toes on the right foot which could be permanent damage from the nerve.  However, I don’t live in pain now and I can pretty much do any physical activity I need to, including picking things up and running.

Amy: What lessons did you learn from that experience?  About yourself?

Sonia: Overall I learnt that the body has a mind of its own and that it does talk to you, so listen to it.  Before this experience, I did have on and off back pain, which was most likely from having my children, and that would last for a few days but would then subside, which of course I would ignore.  Around Christmas 2011, my husband wanted me to help him lift a piece of furniture off a trailer.  Something in me said, ‘no I can’t do this’, even though I felt strong.  My back felt like it was a weak point at that time, something I couldn’t explain but could feel.  Suffice to say, my husband cursed me when I adamantly said I couldn’t help at the time (he then realised why when my back problem reared its ugly head in January of 2012).

I also learnt that as a busy mum, wife and career driven woman, I just had to put myself first, accept my reality, and be a little selfish for me.   I also realised that I can bounce back from setbacks and I have a high emotional threshold (something, in reflection, that has been with me all my life where I’ve had to learn to be a survivor).

Amy: How do you stay positive when life gets tough?

Sonia: Knowing that regardless of who is in my life and what I’ve accomplished or what I feel I haven’t done, I am the one who controls me and my decisions.  I have the freedom of choice to make them and to decide how much I will contribute to me and life in general. 

Amy: Who inspires you and why?

Sonia: My business mentor who has also experienced physical setbacks, but also has had enormous success at the same time.  My kids also inspire me to be the best person I can be.  If I can’t be their role model in life, who can?

Amy: What advice would you give to someone who is finding life tough?

Sonia: Never compare yourself to others.  You are unique – there’s only one you.  Take a ‘helicopter’ view of your life right at that moment when life does get tough.  Look down on it and see what you’ve accomplished up to that point.  Sure there will be things that you wished you had done or still need to do, we all have that, but we can stop and take stock of our lives at any given time.

We can all strive for goals and success which I instil in my clients, but we must ‘celebrate’ our own successes and what is good in our lives.  We must also recognise the times when we may need help (be it medically or not) and accept in ourselves that we can be fragile, but never broken.

Also, seek out a mentor if you don’t have one.  They are there in your corner to support and vouch for you along the way.  You don’t realise how important they are to get you back on track when you feel like life is swallowing you up whole. 

The old saying, ‘life is never easy’, is true.  But it would be totally boring if it was a breeze!

We are in our own driver’s seat of life, so plan your trip well so you can arrive at your destination. 

You are allowed to take more than one trip in life to explore what else is possible.

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