My Brain Went Haywire

Guest Blog written by:  by Martin Warrillow

The human brain can only be worked so hard. When it’s had enough, it goes haywire. The only job I ever wanted when I was growing up was to be a journalist and despite being born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus (Google it, lol…) I fulfilled that childhood wish to work in journalism.

I had 24 years on various local daily and weekly newspapers in the West Midlands, with most of them spent on the sports desk of a major regional morning newspaper.
We worked ridiculous evening shifts, starting at 3pm and finishing whenever we finished, which was usually between midnight and 1am.

We worked almost every Sunday (we did get Saturdays off, although some of us worked a Saturday to earn extra money) and we worked every Bank Holiday . Of course, this meant I didn’t get home until 1.30am or so and rarely went to bed before 2am.

With my wife waking at 6am to go to work, it meant I wasn’t getting a lot of ‘proper’ sleep. I was also eating ‘on the run’ and eating a bad diet. In hindsight, it was a recipe for disaster and in 2006-7, I started to suffer epilepsy. Gigantic ‘Fall out of bed, lose control of your bodily functions’ seizures.
I had at least ten of them and it took the doctors 18 months to work out what was happening. Finally, my employer paid for a private consultation with a professsor of neurology; to be honest, I think they were frightened about what would happen if something really dramatic went wrong and they were shown not to have fulfilled their duty of care to an employee.

I will never forget the day I sat in that consultant’s office and he said: “You don’t know how close you’ve come to killing yourself. Your eating and sleeping patterns are wrecked; your body clock’s shot to bits.”

Sensing disaster ahead, the company quickly took me off those shifts, put me on regular day shifts for a while and things calmed down. They put me on a veritable feast of medication and as I write, I haven’t had a fit since February 2010. But at the end of 2009, my department was the victim of cost-cutting in the newspaper industry as the internet took all their classified advertising and my job was made redundant.

I moved into the world of freelance journalism and got a decent annual contract editing the quarterly magazine of British Naturism. Yes, British Naturism, the organisation which promotes social nudity as a leisure activity. My wife and I had been naturists since stumbling on to a clothes-optional beach in Spain in 1991 so it seemed the perfect job. And indeed, I enjoyed it for the first three-and-a-half years until the 1% of the membership which voted in leadership elections decided to change the chairman.

The new incumbent hated me and office politics came to the fore. In the autumn of 2013, I decided not to apply for another annual contract but before I could leave, the organisation decided not to renew my contract – and told me in a two-minute phone call one Sunday night, a month before Christmas.

That decision took away 90 per cent of my income and over the next two weeks, I panicked about replacing it. I stressed too much, I worked too hard, I networked too much (at least five meetings a week) – in hindsight, I took my brain and body to their limits and beyond. Then, while I was crossing a road near my home on the afternoon of Monday December 16 2013, I collapsed without warning. I lay in the road helpless – paralysed down my left side, carrying a £2,000 computer in my right hand and with a 47-seater bus coming towards me. I’d had a stroke. At the age of 49, after two and a half decades in the high-pressure world of journalism, my body and brain had cried ‘Enough!’

It should have killed me but somehow the bus miraculously missed me (I am still convinced to this day that the driver doesn’t know I was there, because I was in his blind spot) – and I survived the stroke. I spent a month over Christmas and New Year in hospital (the first two weeks of it wholly paralysed down my left side), I was in a wheelchair for four months, on sticks for 18 months.

It took two years for me to re-learn how to walk (which I still do with a limp) and I have been left with long-term memory loss and balance issues. But at least I’m alive. I’ve been retired from full-time work since December 2015 but I blog about stroke education at www.askthewarrior.com
and I do talks about stroke education as ‘The Warrior’ – specifically emphasising the need for self-employed people to take care of their brains and bodies – no 20-hour days or 100-hour weeks! – and also to prepare financially for the life-changing event “which will never happen to me.”

I’m living, breathing proof that it can happen to you if you work your brain and body too hard. If I can help one person to avoid going through what I’ve been through, I see that as creating a massive positive out of a massive negative.

Thank you for reading,

Martin Warrillow

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