Handling a rare illness and keeping on top of her career, Abbie Parrish has done it all! In honor of world health day 2021,I have had the honor of interviewing Abbie about her experience to shed light on an issue that isn’t spoken about, which could potentially help others in the future.
What is your background story and when did you find out about your illness?
"I found out about my illness in Jan 2019 after being poorly for years with no explanation. Finally, they diagnosed me with a rare disease called Cholesteatoma which had formed a tumor in-between my ear and skull. As they hadn't realised what was going on for years it had caused significant damage and had eroded away part of my skull, eroded away a hearing bone, and had attached itself to my facial nerve."
Were you worried if it would/could affect your career?
"I wasn't worried at first because even though I had been given the diagnosis, because I had felt unwell for years and had still managed to have an amazing career I didn't think it would be any different. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I didn't realise how far gone I was until I started being in horrific pain. I ended up having to take some very strong pain meds (8 tablets a day) which meant suddenly I was constantly living in a world of fog. The moment I started feeling not my sharp energetic self at work I absolutely panicked and thought it was going to be the end of everything I had worked so hard for.
I was having to deal with the physical illness as well as the mental strain. As a very career-driven person in her 20's who still had aspirations and goals in her business and personal life...the whole thing was very hard to digest. I was also missing a lot of work due to being in and out of hospital for tests and scans. I remember feeling so angry and so deflated as I had worked so hard for where I had got to and it was all being pulled away from me, and it was completely out of my control."
How did you manage your career around your illness? Did you have to make any changes?
"Honestly, I had to give in to what was happening. I was working crazy hours trying to make sure I was on top of everything, I was having to triple-triple check everything I was doing because of the brain fog. Anytime I wasn't at work because I was too sick I was constantly worrying about work it was a vicious cycle. Finally, I listened and gave in. I was in a lot of pain at this point and I was using work as a distraction because I thought if I gave it up it would be a downward spiral.
It was the first time since I was 16 I hadn't worked and it was really scary. I only lasted 7 weeks off work but it was enough time to get my mental health back on track. My operation was successful and after my recovery, I was back at work, even better than I had been before. Because of what I had been through my aspirations only grew, so I decided to move on from my current workplace into a bigger role.
This was in March 2020, so we all know what happened then! I was made redundant, and at the same time, I was told I had to go back in for surgery to make sure the disease hadn't come back. Lockdown 1 was bitter-sweet for me. It gave me more time to recover from the really intensive surgery, but I had felt like I had already been in lockdown for a year because I was trapped into thinking my clock was running out. So I got my freedom and then we got locked down again"
Did you find it hard to balance your work life whilst ill? How did you resolve it?
"I wasn't the type to sit around and wait for things to fall into place for me. That's why I started Marketing Smartly, My unfortunate health had taught me that anything could happen to anyone at any time and it also meant that If I was ever sick again I had the flexibility to work when I could. The tumor did return and I had surgery again in October 2020."
What were your coping mechanisms surrounding working when ill?
"I listened to my body, when it was time to rest, I rested and on days I felt good I smashed it out. I had to learn to let go a little in business and put my health first, which was really difficult for me to adjust to. I surrounded myself with family, friends, and my pets. Even though I could tell everyone was just as scared as I was, having people to talk to about anything other than my illness helped"
What changes do you think need to be made?
"I found that during my illness because I had something so rare there were no support groups for me. Nowhere to go and no one to turn to. The only thing that saved me was a Facebook group that connected everyone with the disease across the world. Talking to people who understand you is priceless. The NHS really needs to look into this illness more and provide more support.
I also think when people in the UK talk about mental health and illness a huge factor that's missed is people who are hard-working, driven people that get stopped in their tracks. This needs to be spoken about more."
What would your advice be to someone who is going through a similar situation?
"The advice I would give is - If you are like me and extremely career-driven, it's something that is NOT talked about enough. Yes, you can get support financially from the government if you are sick but we were not the type of people who want that. You are going to feel really angry and like you've been cheated at life. You're also going to feel really sad for yourself one day and then pretend it's not happening another, and all of that is ok! You have to listen to your body and you have to keep fighting. That's what I do every day, and nothing stopping me"