Saturday 16 December 2017


IN MY work I tell people to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again. It's a mantra my mum repeated to me when I was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia after I suffered seizures following a car accident when I was 19. She knew I had it in me to get past the misdiagnosis and get on with dealing with the correct diagnosis of epilepsy, because she had seen me get back up on my feet before.

I was 15 and weighed five and a half stone when I was admitted to hospital suffering from anorexia. The doctor told my mum I had a week to live if I wasn't treated immediately.

I was great at hiding my condition. I wore baggy clothes and made it look like I was eating meals when I wasn't. It was when I went clothes shopping with my sister and she saw the state of my body that my parents discovered the full extent of how I was starving myself.

Anorexia has a competitive streak to it, and fortunately my parents had the wisdom not to allow me to be admitted to an eating-disorder ward. I think being with other anorexics would have compounded the problem. As it was, I lost six more pounds during my first stay on an ordinary ward.

My GP and my mum developed a diet to build me back up again, and my family and friends all got involved in getting me out and getting me interested in other things. I had a six-year battle to get myself to a good body weight and a good place in my head.

I'm blessed with a brilliant family, which is the reason I find it hard to talk about what led to my anorexia, because I don't want to cause them any more distress. Yet, with their support, I am able to speak about the fact that I was raped when I was seven years of age by a guest in our home.

At the time I told no one. For starters, I didn't have any understanding of what had happened to me, or words to explain what had been done. I coped by blanking it out of my mind.

I eventually told my mum after I was admitted to hospital with anorexia. It was devastating for everyone, and my mum started to sit at my bedside every day and read from self-help books to me, telling me I had it in me to make something great of myself in spite of what I had suffered. It's then that my interest in self-help and self-motivation began. Anorexia is a misguided attempt to gain some control of your life. You feel you can't control outside events or feelings, and so you begin to control the numbers on the scales, by making the numbers go down.

What happened next was influenced by the fact that I had already been through so much. When I was 19, I was travelling in a car when a car went into the back of us, and I hit my head on the front seat.

Afterwards I wasn't feeling right and instead felt detached from my surroundings. But I knew it wasn't anything psychological because, at that point, I had a pretty good idea of how my mind worked. My doctor heard 'detached feelings' and immediately sent me for psychiatric assessment.

After a 10-minute conversation with me and a 15-minute conversation with my parents, I was handed down three possible diagnoses -- schizophrenia, manic depression or post-traumatic stress.

I was in hospital for three months and put on medication. If you do not have a psychiatric illness and are put on psychiatric medication, you very quickly begin to look like you are mentally ill. I was dribbling, and at times incoherent. It was a very degrading experience.

I remember being in a psychiatric ward during the millennium celebrations, and looking out at fireworks and, because I'm naturally bubbly and outgoing and love fireworks, the sense of loss at being detained in there was overwhelming. I resolved to get out.

Again, I owe a huge thanks to my parents who had the wherewithal to get a second diagnosis from a consultant who looked at me from a neurological point of view rather than a psychiatric one.

A brain scan showed my brain was bruised following the car crash, which explained why I was having fits and feeling detached. I was, in fact, suffering from complex partial epilepsy as a result of the crash. Two weeks after being put on appropriate medication, the symptoms lessened dramatically. After six weeks I was seizure free.

I could have been angry over what I had been subjected to -- in fact I was, and very upset. But in terms of getting on with my life, and doing something positive with what I had, I was again drawn towards self-help and self-motivation, and to turning my life around for the better.

I completed a degree in psychology and qualified as a counsellor and as a trainer in neuro-linguistic programming. I also, as a lover of self-help books, whether they focus on the personal or professional, resolved to meet as many of the motivational writers I admired as possible.

I handwrote letters -- so much harder to ignore than an email. I went to their seminars and sat in the front row and darted up on the stage after the talk and asked to meet them. No one ever said no.

Now I'm an international motivational speaker, and have shared stages with Bob Proctor from The Secret, and Mark Victor Hansen from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

I wrote a bestselling property guide a few years ago and have decided that the next step for me is to write my own motivational book, inspired by my life story. I believe it will help people move forward after a trauma.


My networking business, Success In Doing (www.SID.ie), also has the same practical hands-on approach when it comes to helping business people connect with each other.

I share my skills with fellow businesspeople on how to visualise what they want, how to focus on goals, and how not to get bogged down by negative people.

Pain is pain, no matter what the source. I've been through what I've been through, and now I have a career I love as a speaker and a boyfriend I love.

People who come to my seminars have been through their own stuff and I believe it's a shared belief in taking a positive approach in life, which helps us change the outcome of our lives.

In conversation with Anna Coogan. Donna will speak at the Transforming Your Life and Business! seminar on Saturday, February 18 at The Red Cow Moran Hotel. For more information, log onto www.amiando.com/KPMCVPM

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