health

'Dear Andrew Johns, I know what it's like when the world suddenly knows you're ill."

Dear Andrew Johns,

The nation’s heard this week that you had a seizure in a coffee shop while you were on holidays with your family. And since then, you’ve explained to the nation that you’re being treated for a seizure disorder.

“I’ve got some medical stuff going on,” you told The Sunday Telegraph on Sunday.

“They’re seizures that have been going on a while. I’m seeing the right doctors and they are doing all the tests and have got me on medication.”

You knew people were worried, and you had to explain something very personal about yourself. You had to, because your seizure happened in a public place, and you were treated by paramedics in front of everyone. In front of your wife, Kate Kendall, and four-month-old baby girl, Alice…and a whole bunch of strangers.

Now, you’re a national sporting icon, and – haha – I am exactly the opposite of that. You and I would have very little in common, but I do know this:

I know what it’s like when the world suddenly knows you’re ill.

It happened to me a few months ago at work. I was so violently unwell, I thought I was going to die. I suspected what was happening, because I actually live with two chronic conditions – but I couldn’t speak to tell anyone.

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They had to call an ambulance, and my sister as my next-of-kin. Naturally, my two issues were discussed between my sister and my HR Manager. They had to be.

My Medicare, health insurance, and other personal details were accessed for me, via wonderful workmates who were helping me. Again, a necessity.

I happened to have my 11-year-old with me at work that day. My workmates were amazing with him; I’m so, so lucky. One guy, in particular, was brilliant with my son. Being a dad himself, he knew he had to protect my child from seeing what was happening – the chaos. The concern. The phone calls.

This man, Tony, sat with my son as I lay on the office bathroom floor, and made the decision to send someone with him separately to the hospital so he wouldn’t have to travel in the ambulance with me.

I understand Tony observed at the time my kid handled the situation so calmly because he’d “seen it before”. He was right. My son had seen similar incidents at home at other times. Which is why he was able to give anyone who asked him all the information they needed on what might be wrong with me. My medications, the fact I’d recently changed doctors, and was trialling a new drug.

In retrospect, what was I thinking? That I could manage this myself forever, and keep it totally private? That the  situation I have been living with for so long – which I thought I was in control of – would always be in my control?

Ha. Hahaha.

I was so loved that day. Nothing like the national outpouring of support you’ve had, Andrew, obviously, because I am literally no one – but still – I’d worried a lot of people. I got so many messages and calls and flowers and in return…I had to explain.

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I’m a pretty open book about many things, but my health issues – they’ve mostly been private, at work. But in the following days, as I handed thank you gifts to the girls at work who’d been my bathroom angels, I had to explain things I’d tried not to think about and deal with in my professional, ‘public’ life.

Because, as I think you might agree, Andrew – isn’t it enough that we have to deal with our issues ourselves – do we really need other people treating us differently, too?

Do we really have to explain how we live with our conditions, and how it affects our families – and our own fears for the future?

Turns out, if we’re loved (and you, Andrew, are vastly more than me) – yes, we do.

I had to explain to my bosses that I have endometriosis – which had suddenly gone apesh*t inside me, and morphed into Stage IV – and I would need a hysterectomy. Devastating news I had barely processed myself, and there I was, needing to keep others informed because they wanted to know how I was.

So, Andrew, I know that despite being aware you’re adored, and people care so, so much, suddenly having to explain a very private situation to people is far from easy.

I know how it feels to go from the person you were (in your case, a living legend), to someone people now view as “unwell”.

You don’t want to be Unwell. You want to be Andrew Johns. And I want to be Nama Winston. Because that’s who we are. We also just happen to be people living with crap like lots of people do, every day.

But this is what I’ve learned – now people know, we’re not less than what we were before; we’re more. We’re Andrew Johns, and Nama Winston: we’re brave and we do what brave people do – set an example of how to nail life, no matter what it throws at you.

If you’d like to hear more from Nama Winston, check out her stories, and subscribe to her weekly newsletter here.

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