The thoughts, stories and advice of Bill Riddell.

The Brightside of Illness

June 30th, 2008 Posted in advice, goals, illness, personal

Today I want to share with you the worst and also most important time in my life. Rather than dwell on the negatives though I-m going to focus on the many positives that came from it.

Most people think of major illness as bad thing and at the time I did too. Looking back now spending almost 18 months of my mid-teens bedridden and in constant agony was probably the best thing that had ever happened to me.

It was the year 2000, Monday on the third week of school for the year and I was taking the bus home after a day of studying. The last class was a drag and I felt the onset of a monumental headache even before the bus arrived.

The hour long journey with 10 minute wait at the depot seemed like an eternity. My body was in revolt. A big band played in my head while the rest of me felt exhausted and limp.

A typical 10 minute walk from the bus stop to my home took almost an hour as I struggled to put one foot in front of the other.

I collapsed in bed and there I spent the bulk of the next year and a half wracked in agony. My joints swelled with inflammation and were in constant pain. Walking more than 100 meters spiked my pain level for days.

School was largely put on hold. A teacher came to my home twice a week to tutor me on maths, which I hated, as well as a bit of English, which I loved and excelled in. There was no classroom, no friends and no other subjects. It took over 18 months to return to full time study.

But rather than focus on the negatives today (I will write more about the illness in the future) I-ll discuss the life changing positives that came from it.

Most importantly it truly forged my personality. I don-t dwell on the negatives or feel sorry for myself. There is always someone out there in a worse state than you – no matter how bad things are it could always be worse so quit complaining. I-m continually up-beat and positive, a smile is never far away. I appreciate everything I have and know that if there is something I really want I have the drive to push through and make it happen.

At my worst I was referred to a hospital pain management group ran by a doctor, physiotherapist and a psychiatrist. Basically when your sent there it means doctors have given up finding a diagnoses and rather than find out what is wrong with you they just try and make life a little easier for you and to make you push through the pain so you can lead a more fulfilling and regular life.

It was a brutal time pushing through a lot of physical and mental pain and anguish. Although I hated the experience I did learn a lot of important lessons from them that apply to life in general as well as overcoming chronic pain.

One was the importance of meditation. The psychiatrist talked me through a very simple mediation technique which I was incredibly skeptical about at first. Although perhaps this was just the anger I felt towards her at the horrible things she said to me (though sadly she was not the only medical practitioner to do so) and the evil anti-depressants she prescribed which robbed me of all emotion, good and bad. Since then I have practiced mediation daily and swear by it to relax and yes even to calm high pain levels.

The doctor and physiotherapist also talked me through the process of breaking through pain barriers. After walking like an 80 year old arthritis sufferer and narrowly avoiding being confined to a wheelchair I struggled to walk that few extra meters each day. Before the illness I was a competitive swimmer who trained 5-6 days a week as well as playing other sports, after I had lost almost all muscle tone and put on a lot of weight (which is just coming off now). Picking up the bar without any weights on it was a struggle for months. Within six months of recovery I was walking and swimming for hours and getting back some of that muscle.

Exploring different treatment options opened my mind beyond the western world and the established way. So desperate for answers and relief I tried all sorts of eastern and alternative treatments including acupuncture, (fire) cupping, gua-sha, lymphatic drainage, MORA Therapy / Bio-Resonance medicine and more.

With all that time spent bed ridden I had a lot of time to think and to dream. I considerd everything I wanted to do when I finally could free myself from that bed and I began to create a list of everything I wanted to achieve in my life. An ultimate life time to-do list – I-m glad to say I-ve already achived quite a few of them.

While I was sick I developed a great passion for car racing and the goal of racing was one of the main things that pushed me to continue. I also received some great advice and inspiration from two very high profile racers who I probably owe my life.

My passion for reading and writing grew even stronger. Although I could barely write due to the pain in the joints of my hand and holding a book open was also a struggled I continued to do so as much as I could.

Due to the development of those two passions I completed some great work experience while I was at school. I worked with Australia-s most successful racing team and then joined 7 time world champion Valentino Rossi-s team when they won the world championship in Australia. They were incredible experiences and I would never have even dreamed of doing them let alone having the determination to make it happen had I not gone through the illness a few years earlier.

Beyond all of that I became incredibly close to my family. I couldn-t have gotten through it all without my parents and even my sisters tireless support. My extended family was incredible as well, grandparents, aunts and uncles and my cousins. Serious illness not only puts tremendous strain on the individual – the family suffers so much as well.

I also learnt to really appreciate my true friends. After I got sick all of my high school friends quickly forgot about me, when I needed them most. When I returned to school I was incredibly skeptical of those around me and did not really trust anyone. Although I hung out and socialized with a lot of people I really didn-t have any true friends. After high school I studied in Melbourne for two years where I quickly found a handful of great friends who stand by me to this day.

Health is also something I very much appreciate. I’m still in quite a bit of pain everyday, it hasn’t gone entirely but I manage it well. This year I’ve finally began to turn the tide after a few years of neglect. A healthy diet and exercise program compliment the tecniques I’ve developed over the years to manage my condition.

Major illness is a terrible thing. The physical and mental torture I went through is not something I would wish on even the most evil people in this world. But few other things in this world could make you as thankful and appreciative for even the most simple of pleasures and everyday things we take for granted. The simple ability to walk a few blocks or write a letter to a friend is truly a privilege, enjoy them and all aspects of your life. Even the hardships. They will make you stronger, wiser and more caring.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

Thanks for reading this. I hope you all try to always look for the positives in life.


P.S. I really recommend you check out this wonderful new eBook, A Brief Guide to World Domination by Chris Guillebeau. This great (and free) book will get you thinking for yourself, planning your life and making a difference in the world. And don’t worry, it wont turn you into a ruthless dictator.

  1. 6 Responses to “The Brightside of Illness”

  2. By Arun on Jun 30, 2008

    Great Post. Putting a positive spin on things really brings to light all of the good fortune we each have despite our individual hurdles. There’s a guy named Sean Stephenson who is an absolutely brilliant speaker and really defines this thought process.

  3. By Andrew McMillen on Jul 5, 2008

    Great post, Bill. Thanks very much for sharing.

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