The Grace of a Nightingale

We have a special blog post from author Mary Anne Willow, who is reflecting on her life, and how it has led her to releasing her first book.

*Trigger Warning* There are some strong and frank experiences discussed in this blog post, including domestic violence and sexual abuse.

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My story is both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary because I was searching for the same things many of us search for: love, understanding and purpose; and extraordinary because I had to go through hell to find them.

My life was turbulent. I was born in Yorkshire in a decaying northern town to a dysfunctional family 1962. As a child of three, I witnessed my father beating my mother as I clung to my baby brother believing we were going to die.

At the age of 7 my family moved back to my parents home town in north west England. Over the next 10 years I would face domestic violence and sexual abuse, maternal alcoholism, the agonizing death of my beloved grandmother from breast cancer and the sadistic teachings of my school teachers.

Growing up in a culture of misogynistic oppression, irrational hate and lack of female power, I escaped to Wales to work in a sea side hotel where I became enlightened by coastal beauty while ‘serving’ others.

Empowered by the respite from domestic violence during my Welsh working holiday I decided to return home and train as a nurse.

In the years that followed I worked and studied in some of the most prestigious hospitals across England. I constantly strived to reach my full nursing and academic potential and was awarded a distinction for a Master of Arts degree in Leadership and Management.

Despite my flawless career success, pain and suffering were constantly revisiting my life. Following a brief disastrous marriage I began to feel empty and lost. Haunted by the legacy of self contempt, guilt and shame from my childhood abuse I began to search for a deeper meaning to life. Then after I made an unplanned journey to see my brother who was suffering from PTSD following his experiences as a naval seaman during the Falklands and Gulf wars, my life changed forever. One brief desperate phone conversation with the Navy chaplain was the beginning of a journey of healing, hope and life long transformation.

In later years I had my self-esteem and confidence crushed by my father’s suicide, a further disastrous marriage and a near death episode following the insertion of surgical mesh, the biggest health scandal since Thalidomide. I live with the emotional and physical scars caused by this surgical procedure which has become the medical scandal of our age. But, despite everything, I have always remained determined to endure and to find something better.

I felt compelled to write my memoirs ‘The Grace of a Nightingale’ which describe my personal journey of self discovery falling in love with nature, animals, beauty and God. It is a heartfelt odyssey of survival. Even in my darkest moments, I discovered inner courage and faith, combined with a passionate appreciation of beauty in nature, books and music, which brought glimpses of light and hope. On my journey ‘mat carriers’, both friends and strangers, who helped me to triumph over adversity, have supported me. And, like all the best stories, there is a happy ending.

My book attempts to expressively and reflectively trace the stories of my life. In order to survive and thrive after abuse and loss, personal meaning must be made of what has been suffered.

The style of this book provides an aid to the grieving process as well as challenge social stigma and discrimination associated with mental health problems.

-We read to know we are not alone. William Nicholson, Shadowlands

All too often we can feel lonely and isolated by those who reject and avoid us. We find it hard to trust others, which just compounds our sense of rejection and abandonment. Negative self-images projected by those who stigmatise and discriminate against us are transformed within this book. Finding new images for yourself can empower and revitalise you. There is freedom from shame and humiliation as you discover new life enhancing ways to see the world around you.

Feeling lost and confused can be traded for new goals and inner strength.

-The suffering of pain and abandonment is overcome by the suffering of love, which is not afraid of what is sick and ugly but accepts it and takes it in itself to heal it.

Ilea Delio, The humility of God

This book shows how to overcome suffering. It is intended to honour and encourage you the reader as you search for healing and love.

Scotland's national programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination.

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