I got some stories to tell,
And I don’t know if anyone knows them,
So before they throw me in my coffin and close it,
I’m gonna expose it, I’ll take you back to 2012, into the past I am going to delve,
Before I ever had an award-winning cyber security career….
I have adapted the above words from the song “Cleaning Out My Closet” by Eminem as the opening to this post. I want to show you all that despite how bad things might get in your life, despite how much you think you want to leave this world, that things will NEVER get better, they will. Or if they don’t, I want to show you that despite what happens to you, that it is possible to adapt and live your best life, and that it is possible in the words of Maya Angelou not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style. So, as it says in the words above, I’m going to take you all back to 2012.
As Big Ben chimed to welcome the new year, I smiled to myself. I was happily married to my ex-husband (or so I thought). I’d joined his cyber security software development business a couple of years earlier and it was doing brilliantly. Sure, things weren’t perfect. My ex-husband and I were going through ICSI treatment to try and have a baby and I was due to start my first cycle of treatment for this in early March 2012. I’d had 6 previous miscarriages all around the 6-week mark, and after god knows how much poking and prodding and every test imaginable in that department we were told that the only way we could have a baby together was to try ICSI treatment.
We’d been through a rough patch for a few months which knocked me for six, but we had a holiday in Florida in late January/early February 2012 and I thought we were back on track. That said, I had a lot of gut feelings that something still wasn’t right, but I brushed them all aside and thought that it was just the pressure of work and the business.
However, Saturday 25th February 2012 is a day I will never, ever forget. We were 10 days from starting our first ICSI treatment cycle.
It was a normal Saturday as far as I was concerned. I got up, took our dog Curley for a walk and then I was about to go food shopping to Tesco’s with my ex-husband. Instead, he was sat on the arm of our sofa when I came downstairs ready to go. The words he spoke cut me like a knife straight into my heart.
“I’m so sorry, but I don’t love you as a wife anymore, and I’m leaving.”
When he said those words we had been married for 16 years.
I stood as if I was frozen in time. It took me a while to fully process what he had just said. The next hour was a huge blur, but I vaguely remember begging and pleading with him to not go (not my finest or proudest moment, that’s for sure), to reconsider, that I would do absolutely ANYTHING to change and make our marriage work. I suggested marriage guidance counselling, I said I would go on courses to change myself and I would give up things I enjoy doing and focus all my time and attention on him. But no – his mind was made up.
He threw some clothes and a few of his personal items into a bag and rang his Mum and Stepdad to come and pick him up. At that moment it dawned on me that this wasn’t just something he had decided to say to me and do that day. He had PLANNED it. It then dawned on me even further that the gut feelings I had about things not being right for a few months leading up to what he did to me had been spot on. It wasn’t work or the pressure of the business that had changed him. Something else had, but I couldn’t work out what it was.
Within 40 minutes his Mum and Stepdad appeared and he was gone.
I’m not sure what I did after that, again it is all a blur. I think I rang my parents and they came straight over. We were all in complete shock. I do remember that I had arranged to go out with a friend for dinner that night as it was her birthday, and I still went out for that and didn’t say anything to her about what had happened as I didn’t want to ruin her birthday meal.
I was absolutely devastated. I thought my life was over and that I would never recover. Worse still, I had put everything work and career wise into helping my ex-husband develop his business, so not only was it the end of my marriage, it was also the end of my career at that point. I had quite literally lost EVERYTHING.
I met up with my ex-husband the following week and he said his mind was made up, he wasn’t going to come back and he put a settlement offer in front of me for a divorce. I consulted my solicitor to get the ball rolling, but things were happening so fast, I felt like I was on a huge rollercoaster ride that wouldn’t stop and one that I had no way of getting off. I didn’t want any of this at all.
One of the hardest things I had to do was ring the Priory Hospital in Birmingham where we were due to have ICSI treatment and tell them that my husband had left me so I had to pull out and cancel it. I so wanted to be a mother, and it broke my heart to have to make that call. Little did I know that with my ex-husband leaving me when he did, he would potentially save my life.
I went into survival mode over the next few weeks and I also realised that if I was to have any hope of ever being happy again I had to learn to love myself first and foremost. If my ex-husband didn’t love me anymore, I had to do it for the both of us. I went out for long walks every day by the River Severn with my dog Curley who my ex-husband left with me. I set about transforming my house into a home just for me. I took up tango dancing lessons (something that was completely out of my comfort zone) and I threw myself into working on a project to showcase the new library that was being built in Worcester, The Hive. I had amazing friends who all rallied round me. And then something happened to me out of the blue that I didn’t expect in a million years.
I got a message on Facebook from an old friend, Russell. He used to work with my ex-husband in Birmingham in the early 2000’s, and I met him through my ex-husband. We were all great friends and used to do a lot together, but when my ex-husband changed jobs in 2005, we all lost touch. My ex wasn’t very good at keeping in touch with people he used to work with – once he moved jobs, he moved jobs. I couldn’t justify keeping in touch with Russell, and I missed the times that we had as a group. We had a lot of fun doing things like going to Cadbury World in Birmingham, the Autosport Exhibition, Rockingham Race Circuit and the Leicester Space Centre. In January 2003 we went to a Star Trek exhibition in London where there was a recreation of the bridge of the Enterprise in The Next Generation. We were told not to sit in the Captain’s chair, but I did sit in it, and Russell got a quick photo of me in it. It is one of my most treasured photos.
I wrote back to Russell and explained that Ian and I had separated, and we began messaging every day. I invited him to come and see me, as he was living in Birmingham then, and on 6th April 2012 we met up for the first time since 2005. We got on SO well, like a proverbial house on fire, and ended up getting together. Eventually he moved in with me.
The divorce from my ex-husband came through in August 2012 and I got my decree absolute. He got together with my best friend from school who I recruited into the business as our Sales Manager. It took a huge amount of persuasion on my ex-husband’s part to even give her a chance as our Sales Manager, and they ended up getting married. I have my own thoughts, gut feelings and theories here, but as the line goes in the film “Forrest Gump”, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
Despite all this I not only survived, but I thrived. Russell and I were very happy, and he helped me to see that there are still some lovely, generous and kind people out there. My friends were such a great help and support, and I picked up career wise too. I took a short contract at a locally based national charity, but I knew I wanted to stay in cyber security, so I got a corporate job working for BT on their Assure Cyber product. Slowly but surely I began to get my confidence and self-esteem back after it took such a huge knock.
Russell and I got married on 6 April 2013, a year to the day that we met up again for the first time in years. In May 2013 I was stunned but over the moon to find out that I was pregnant. It was a very fraught time because of my previous early miscarriages, but I got to the 6-week mark, then the 8-week mark, 10-week mark and finally to the 12-week mark – I couldn’t believe it! Due to the previous miscarriages I suffered I had a scan every two weeks to check how my baby was developing, and every time I saw my baby on the scan monitor my heart would fill with love. My dream was going to come true – I was finally on my way to becoming a mother!
When I attended my 20-week scan in early September 2013 Russell and I were thrilled to find out that we were having a son. But our world completely fell apart when we were told that he had a severe cleft lip and palate. What followed was a myriad of appointments, more tests and more scans, and I was also told that my unborn son had a type of talipes (club foot) that meant it was very unlikely that he would ever walk.
While I was reeling from finding out that my unborn son would be severely disabled, I was betrayed by a set of people who I brought in to help me with a literary festival that I founded, and who showed their true colours as bullies. Their actions and behaviour were cruel and unjustified but having caught me at such a vulnerable time, I had no fight left in me. I let those bullies win by handing over what I had created to them, which was my idea, and walking away from it. Bullies should NEVER win, but NOTHING was as important to me as my unborn son and his care and needs at that time. Had I not been reeling from finding out about my unborn son’s disabilities, I would not have walked away from what I had founded and started, I would have stood up for myself and I wouldn’t have let the bullies get away with what they did to me. As a result of this and what happened I do not trust people easily, and today I am a very guarded person.
I then prepared for life as the mother to a son who had significant disabilities and would need round the clock 24-hour care. But on 29 November 2013 my son Francesco “Frankie” Enrico Ventura, who I named after my Dad, was stillborn, and my heart was broken all over again.
Yet again I felt like I didn’t want to live, or to go on without my son. I had prepared for a life of being a a full-time mother, but instead that was cruelly taken away from me and I became an empty armed mother instead, and the member of a club that I never wanted to be a part of. As the line goes from the song “Hotel California” by The Eagles, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Worse still, tests revealed on my son after he was born that he had an extremely rare duplication on his chromosome 15, which was on the maternal part of his chromosome 15 i.e. from me, and it explained the cleft lip/palate and talipes (club foot). Had he lived not only would he have had those physical disabilities but he would also have had severe learning difficulties, been non-verbal and had severe autism. As a result of losing Frankie I was diagnosed with PTSD, and to this day I have flashbacks to his birth at the most inopportune times that take my breath away.
In the year that followed after I lost my Frankie I had a further four early miscarriages with Russell, and eventually I was diagnosed as having a condition called hyperfertility at Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. I was told that had I had the ICSI treatment I was due to have with my ex-husband it would have very likely been fatal, as my hormone and antibody levels were already in overdrive from the condition, causing the embryos to be “attacked” and I would miscarry as a result. I would have been at huge risk of ovarian hyperstimulation, which is a complication of IVF/ICSI treatment, and the treatment would not have worked for me. My ex-husband potentially saved my life by leaving when he did. I was put on a course of progesterone and steroids to try and dampen down the extra hormones I was producing, but it didn’t work, and I was very ill on the treatment. I then had to make the heart-breaking decision to accept that my journey to becoming a mother was over. I was approaching my mid-forties, and I felt my time had passed on the motherhood front thanks to being diagnosed with hyperfertility. I had been through enough.
I threw myself into fundraising in my son’s memory for the Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s bereavement suite for grieving parents to improve it, but within 6 months of my losing my much loved and much wanted son Frankie my father-in-law Allan passed away in horrific circumstances when the fact he was riddled with cancer was completely missed by doctors.
Then my cousin Brenda passed away.
Then my cousin Tony passed away out of the blue age 57 of a heart attack.
Then my beloved German Shepherd dog Curley passed away age 12.
I felt like I was attending a never ending long line of funerals and the bereavements were relentless. In early 2015 I began to notice some worrying things about my beloved Aunty Maria that pointed to her having dementia. In November 2015, after I witnessed the most horrific things with her as a result of the dementia she had, she passed away and I was devastated yet again. My Great Aunty Gert also passed away the following year, but she reached the grand old age of 98. I honestly thought she would be getting a telegram from the Queen for hitting the ton, but it wasn’t to be. I just couldn’t take the sheer amount of death, grief and loss that was happening to me so I sought bereavement counselling, which helped me a lot.
In 2017 my Dad was suddenly struck down with seizures and diagnosed a couple of months later with temporal lobe epilepsy. Overnight he went from an active and independent guy to one who was reliant on us all for getting from A to B. He developed other health problems as well and declined cognitively, mentally and physically. What was thought to be motor neurone disease with associated dementia turned out to be an ultra rare neurological brain disease called CASPR2-antibody encephaliltis, for which he is about to embark on autoimmune therapy treatment for. It has been devastating to lose my wonderful and amazing Dad to this awful neurological brain disease.
In 2018 my beloved Uncle Vincenzo passed away age 89, and last year my cousin Maxine passed away age 42 from bowel cancer leaving behind her 3 children all under 10 years old. It was one of the saddest funerals I’ve ever had to attend.
So you can see just how much death, loss and grief that I’ve been through and the myriad of other things that I have had to deal with. I knew that I could either survive, or I could thrive – and I decided to thrive. Somehow, despite it all, Russell and I are still together, still smiling and still laughing. Somehow, I’ve managed to forge ahead with my career in cyber security and in 2015 I left behind my corporate job at BT to work remotely from home.
It was the best decision I ever made. I founded the UK Cyber Security Association and today I work with some of the world’s top companies to deliver their cyber security awareness strategies, most recently I worked Pinsent Masons solicitor’s in this area. I’ve become a cyber security industry thought leader, author, blogger and keynote speaker. I’ve won numerous awards for my work, had numerous articles published in various magazines and trade publications, attended and been a speaker at various events and conferences and I am currently writing a book called “The Rise of the Cyber Women.” I love what I do and wouldn’t want to do anything else.
In June 2018 I was diagnosed as being #ActuallyAutistic
, and SO much made sense about why I am the way I am. The pieces of the jigsaw finally fell into place, and having spent my entire life masking my condition and the fact that I am different to everyone else I made changes and adaptations to my life in the light of my diagnosis. Those changes have helped me greatly in my day to day life. I have endured much in the way of bullying, not just in the workplace but in other areas of my life as well, and it is soul destroying. I let bullies win once, and I refuse to let them win over me EVER again. Bullies should never win!
The point of this post is to let you all know that no matter how bad things get, no matter what happens and how devastating it is, there is a way out and you will learn to live again. Even if you think things will never get better, I promise you that they will. You will not be the same person though, you will be forever changed, and I can’t stress that enough. But you will learn to get through life with this new “normal” for you. I am not the same person today as I was in 2012. Back then I was carefree and trusting, today I am much more guarded and I don’t trust easily.
Despite it all I still have some lovely friends in my life, I have my family, I have my soulmate Russell, I have my dog Poppy who is an amazing therapist, I have a beautiful home, food on the table and I feel well and truly blessed. What I have learnt is to let go of all the things I can’t control, to forgive all those who bullied me, betrayed me and did me wrong (karma will do its job there, and in fact in a couple of cases I’ve been very lucky in that I have been able to watch) and to live day to day and for the moment. Things can change in the blink of an eye, so it is vital to enjoy what you have and what you do, and don’t worry about the things that you don’t have. Life is fragile, precious and should be cherished.
On Saturday 25 February 2012, the day that my ex-husband left me, I thought my life was over. On Friday 29 November 2013, the day my much loved and much wanted son Frankie was stillborn, I thought my life was over yet again. I’m here today – eight years since my ex-husband told me he did not love me as a wife any more and left me – to tell you that that was not the case. My life was not over, far from it, even though it felt like it was. Yes, all those things happened to me, yes, they changed me, but I am surviving and I am thriving. And that is all any of us can do.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wonderful husband Russell. He is my soulmate and partner in EVERY way. After I swore blind that I would NEVER work with anyone I was with relationship wise in a work situation again, I now find myself doing exactly that. Together we are unstoppable, an amazing team and we are definitely a dynamic duo! Sure, we have moments where we totally get on each other’s nerves – you can’t go through what we have without that happening – but I’ve learnt not to sweat the small stuff and just let it go. Does it really matter if he leaves things in the sink without them making their way to the dishwasher, for example? I surely don’t think so! One of the most surprising things I’ve found is that it turned out that Russell and I thrive best together
So why did I decide to share what is essentially some quite personal things that are part of my life journey? I am sharing all this in the hope that it helps anyone who is going through tough times to know there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. But I also decided to share it because I remember how devastated I was when my ex-husband told me out of the blue that he “didn’t love me as a wife anymore” and that he was leaving. It is a feeling I hope that I never have again.
I suspect that many of you will know that feeling of devastation when something happens to you that changes your life and your world completely. I know first-hand and from bitter experience how overwhelming it all feels. You will think that life will never be the same again.
To all of you reading this I will say one thing – if things aren’t good right now, I promise that they WILL get better. I promise that you will learn to live again, and you will thrive again.
You can’t control the things that happen to you – boy do I know that one first-hand. I’ve had SO many course changes, direction changes and moments of “oh my god, what the hell is going to happen next” that I’ve lost count. Seeing my Dad so ill with CASPR2-antibody encephalitis has broken me, and I wish I could wave a magic wand and make him all better, and for all his health problems to be resolved, because he is my world. But I can’t, and I can’t change what has happened to him. But I CAN control how I deal with what happens to me and how I move forward with my life, and do the very best I can to look after him and support him through his illness.
Don’t ever look at what you have lost, or at how much you have been hurt and betrayed. Not everyone is a bully or is intent on hurting you. It took me a very long time to realise that, but thanks to some truly amazing people in my life who I am proud to call my friends I learnt to trust a little bit again. I say a little bit because I will never be the person who I once was, who took people at their word and who thought their intentions were good, when it turned out they weren’t, and I got burnt. Instead, I chose to learn from those things and put them firmly in the past where they belong.
My advice is to choose life, whatever it throws at you. Start anew, begin a fresh chapter, take those scary first steps – even if they are only small ones. Likely as not they will lead to new and more beautiful destinations. Those small steps that I took back in 2012 certainly did that for me.
Keep going, keep smiling, hold your head up high and NEVER stop. Don’t look back. Most importantly, keep being YOU. Keep being your beautiful, amazing, awesome and brilliant self. And keep thriving. Always continue to thrive
Finally, I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who stuck by me, for being there for me and for all your love, support and help. If you are in my life as a friend, even if you are one of my online friends and we’ve never met in person, please know that I value your friendship and support more than you know. You all rock, and I’m so grateful for all of you. If you need any help, support or just someone to lean on and talk to, I’m there. Let’s keep on rocking life together.
This week I shall drink a toast to my ex-husband. That might sound strange, but I am so grateful to him for setting me free, and for leading me to where I am now despite all the grief, loss and trauma I’ve been through and for potentially saving my life as we didn’t go through that ICSI treatment. I’m grateful that by him leaving me I found my way to Russell. He is my soulmate in every way, and I can’t imagine my life without him. My ex-husband saved me more than he will ever know.
8 years ago I thought my life was over. Since then I have made it my mission in life not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style. If I can manage to do that no matter what new challenges and trauma is thrown at me, I will be truly blessed.
If I can do it, so can you….I promise xx