Thistle Foundation 

On the 23rd of April 2015 I went for a one on one consultation at The Thistle Foundation after about a year of not really doing anything after college ended. Thistle is a charity that supports people living with long-term conditions.

When I got there I sat down at reception and waited nervously. I didn’t really know why I was there. Not an a dismissive way, I honestly just didn’t know what I should do, what my priorities should be. I suppose that’s why I was there.

When the woman came down to fetch me, we walked through a cafe-looking “hub” area then a gym, with people who were working to improve their situation. It was already a good start and we hadn’t really even talked yet.

So we got to the room and sat down. I was asked “what matters to you?” rather than “what’s the matter with you?”. I had no idea how to answer. What was the matter with me had pretty much been the deciding factor in most things I’d done since I was 14. I knew I didn’t want to still be on the crutch but beyond that I had no real aspirations or goals and just realising that for myself, in that room was probably as important as any answer I could give.

I was told about a few of the courses that Thistle offers but despite knowing that I wanted to come back, I couldn’t decide on what to do.

I did go back. In fact, as of now, I’ve been going back at least once a week for almost 3 years. First for support, I did a 10 week lifestyle management course and by week 5 or 6 I felt comfortable enough to try and go to Thistle without the crutch. It went ok so I tried it again and it went from there.

When the course ended we discussed what I should do next, eventually settling on an exercise based course since I was trying not to use the crutch.

That lasted another 10 weeks and featured support from 3 of the physiotherapists I’d worked with over the years. It was really weird, I felt like so much had changed since I saw them last.

I got to be like,“Look, no crutches”

My friend got a job in America coaching tennis over the summer so a couple of friends and I decided to go and visit. For me it was also a perfect opportunity to test my new non-crutch-needing skills.

When I came back I started volunteering at Thistle. It gave me something else to focus on as I tried not to rely on the crutch and the regularity and routine helped me with my fatigue problems, which I was struggling with more than usual due to being more active.

When I returned, Thistle had gone and got itself a brand new, amazing centre of well-being. (Photo by Rachael Cloughton)

I helped on the same exercise course that I’d just completed myself. I really liked it, using my experience to help other people. No one was there for the exact same reasons I was but there were similarities. And even when there weren’t, it was a nice feeling to help however I could, even if it was just showing them how the gym equipment worked.

The exercise course was coming to an end and I wasn’t really sure what to do next. Should I do some more volunteering, go back to college, start thinking about a job etc…

I found out that there was going to be a volunteer day out as a way of Thistle saying thank you so I decided I should go. It was to Jupiter Artland, an outdoor art gallery and it was there I first met William, Clare and Rachael who worked in the development team at Thistle.

We were talking about films and I mentioned that my brother (who studies digital media and interaction design at uni) and I just made a video promoting my friends tennis coaching.

That was it for a few weeks. I kept doing the exercise course and going out for walks without the crutch. Then I got a text from Rachael – she wondered if I’d be interested in working with them on putting a video together for Thistle.

So over a year, 9 videos and a handful of audio clips later, here we are! The reason I’m writing about all of this now is that as of the 3rd of April, I’ll have moved from going there for support, to volunteering with them to being a paid member of the team I’ve loved being part of as a volunteer. I think it’s a pretty cool journey and one that I’ll never stop being thankful to Thistle for.
If “all” I got out of coming to Thistle was the confidence to stop using a crutch that I’d needed for the best part of a decade then that’d be more than enough. But my life has got better in so many more ways than that since I went to that appointment in 2015.

For more info on what Thistle do go to http://www.thistle.org.uk

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