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Meet Karen, The Woman Who Beat Sepsis & Came Back Stronger

You'll be hard-pressed to find more people with the energy that Karen possesses. She's a motor, a workhorse, and somebody we are incredibly proud to have as a part of our family. If you need a little motivation today.

Karen kindly shares her story about how she kicked the ass of a life-threatening illness and came out on top.

This is what made me get into fitness...

I was that kid in school that hated P.E. I hated being forced to do netball (I still shudder at the word “pivot”) and hockey (always in winter, why?!), and although I had a natural talent at running it was never picked up on or encouraged by the teachers because I wasn’t one of the sporty, 'popular' kids so I just didn’t bother. When I was growing up my dad was an amazing runner, and I still regret not picking it up sooner, but we had a couple of years of running together until I got too fast and he had a tantrum (just kidding Dad you’re still speedy!).

I started running at 23 purely because I was putting on weight. I had finished Uni and got into a relationship and all we really had in common was food. I was also a Special Police Constable which although meant long shifts on my feet it also meant takeaways and snacks at all hours of the night. So yeh, I was getting a bit chubby. So I downloaded Couch to 5k and started running. After the 12 week program, I ran my first 5k in around 35 minutes and I was hooked.

After a couple of years of road running (lots of 5k runs, a few 10k’s and 2 half marathons), I did a few obstacle course races including Reebok Spartan race and through that I eventually discovered CrossFit. The second I walked into a box I was hooked. I know my family and friends thought it was going to be another of my fleeting interests, but 5 years later I’m still going strong. I love everything about my sport. I have gone from having a bit of dislike of my body, especially my big belly and hips and my chunky thighs, to being so proud and confident because no matter what it looks like it’s strong and capable. My belly has become my power source, and my chunky legs have given me a 90kg back squat!

My relationship with fitness changed drastically this year. I was struck down with “a touch of sepsis” in June 2019 and my world changed forever. In the space of a couple of hours, I went from being fit, capable and active in life, to fighting to stay alive. You see, Sepsis doesn’t care how fit you are, it will take you down in a matter of hours. I was training 2-3 hours a day, planning my next competition season holding down a busy full-time job and social life to being unable to walk or get up the stairs without being in pain and breathless. Training for me has now moved from being competition ready to being life ready and to keep fighting the post-sepsis syndrome that plagues my daily life. Most people, and most Doctors believe that once you have the antibiotics and the infection that caused sepsis is defeated, that life goes back to normal. It doesn’t. I have constant foot pain now, most likely a result of damage to my circulation and nerves, and I’m always battling fatigue. One of the most frustrating symptoms is commonly called “sepsis brain”. This is a fog that descends on your mind and affects your cognitive ability to an embarrassing degree. I forget words, phrases, conversations, plans and I often have to ask everyone around me to give me a hand with remembering something. I will often say a phrase so confidently I don’t even realise its wrong until I’m told. It can be mortifying! Alongside that, I have “wobbly days” where I feel like I’m a bit drunk and can’t focus on things in front of me. This can make me very clumsy and self-conscious. I don’t really want to have to constantly tell people about me being sick, but sometimes I feel I need to so people understand I’m not being lazy, or stupid. I am sick.

Talking about my Mental health struggles

I think I have always struggled with anxiety and depression, even as far back as being really young, but back then there wasn’t really aware of these conditions, especially in children so I just carried on. I have spent most of my adult life on some form of medication and I have recently completed my second round of cognitive behavioural therapy, and I am due to be referred for one-to-one high intensity cognitive behavioural therapy. Hopefully, this will help address some of the larger issues that can’t be addressed in group sessions.

My sepsis diagnosis has defiantly had an impact on my mental health, there were some really dark days after I got out of the hospital, including a lot of survivors' guilt, mainly due to other people’s comments. My plea to everyone is if someone you know has been really ill and recovers relatively well please do not tell them they are lucky, or that it could be much worse. Hearing “this person had the same as you and lost 2 legs so you’re super lucky” is like a punch to the face. Saying things like that is an awful thing to hear, and can affect how that person is feeling in their recovery. Yes I have all my limbs, yes I wasn’t in intensive care, but please don’t belittle what I went through and what I am going through. It’s akin to telling someone with depression to just cheer up, or get over it. It doesn’t work and makes that person feel worse.

What BeDefiant means to me :

Karen is strong in all sense of the word

It means looking adversity in the face and coming through the other side. It means pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and achieving something new. It means making decisions that benefit you, even if they are hard to make. It means not listening to the voice inside your head telling you negative, untrue thoughts. My top tips for improving mental well being :

  1. SLEEP. If I don’t get enough sleep my mental health declines quickly. My anxiety is amplified and my focus goes out of the window

  2. Daily movement. I hesitate to say exercise as for some this can have negative connotations or feel out of reach. But if you can move for a few minutes, this will definitely help in improving mental health.

  3. Talk to someone. Anyone. I spent years not telling anyone how I felt, for fear of being called weak, or not believed, or worse still put away in an institution. Now I tell most people of my physical and mental health struggles. Not to provide excuses, but to outline what I battle daily. I also hope that by being open I can help someone else to be open, even if it is just with themselves. The more we talk and share the more we normalise mental health struggles, and quite often, we realise we are not alone.

  4. Find your tribe. I have found a really strong community in the BeDefiant family, and in the CrossFit community on Instagram. People who lift me up, provide solid advice and challenge my thinking are key in keeping me level.

  5. Be selfful (not selfish). Being selfful is partaking in activities that are purely for you and you alone. Whether this is going for a solo walk, going to see that play no one else wants to see, or clearing out your following list of Instagram so you only follow pages that make you happy!

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