Coronavirus Outbreak 2020: This Too Shall Pass

Coronavirus Outbreak 2020: This Too Shall Pass

I’ve seen and heard some pretty harrowing things this last week or so when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak. And yet somehow I have to have faith and believe that things will get better one day.

 

They won’t be the same. I am sure we will all be forever changed as a result of the events of this year so far. It isn’t over yet and more is to come.

 

My heart goes out to:

 

– all the key workers in the NHS, supermarkets, carers, delivery drivers etc – you are all putting your lives at risk for us
 
– the families of those affected by coronavirus, and who have lost loved ones to the disease
 
– everyone else who is doing their part and helping in the fight against this awful disease
 

– all of those who have been furloughed or who have lost their jobs due to the virus

 

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make everything okay again, as it was before the virus came, but I know I can’t.

 

I am very lucky, I know that. All I have to do is stay in my own home apart from my daily bit of exercise to walk my dog Poppy and to do 1 food shop a week on a Saturday for myself and my parents. I hate leaving the shopping on their doorstep and not being able to see them. I am thankful to all my friends on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn who have taken time to chat to me on messenger and who have been checking in on me and my parents to see if we are okay. It means the world to me. I miss my family and friends, but I’m lucky to have Facebook messenger and other online tools to be able to speak to them and even see them on video.

 

It is truly at times like this that you realise what is important, that you chuck out what isn’t important and you get to see first-hand who is there for you and who isn’t. People show their true colours in a time of crisis, and I’ve certainly seen that with some individuals first-hand since the coronavirus outbreak happened. Good riddance to bad rubbish is what I say to that!

 

I hope with all my heart that this too shall pass and we will all be able to see each other again, hug each other and tell each other we love each other. Let’s all try to hang on in there and do what is being asked of us by the government to try and halt the spread of coronavirus. I know how tempting it is to go out on a lovely day like today, but we mustn’t.

 

We all have to keep calm and carry on as best we can, and as hard as it is. In the meantime, if any of you need to talk or just want to vent, chat or catch up, I’m there for you. Send me an email, find me on social media, and get in touch. Please don’t feel that you have to go through these crazy times alone…you don’t.
Coronavirus Outbreak 2020: Why I Am Self-Isolating as Much as Possible with No Symptoms

Coronavirus Outbreak 2020: Why I Am Self-Isolating as Much as Possible with No Symptoms

In early January this year news began to circulate about a new strain of coronavirus that was sweeping across China, and that originated in the province of Wuhan.  Dubbed COVID-19, this strain was deemed to be more contagious and deadly than previous strains of the virus. China moved quickly to contain it, but with international travel today it was inevitable that it would spread across the world. Unfortunately, it has spread globally, and at a rapid pace. As the news began to report more and more cases of the disease worldwide, and with so much still unknown about it, how it spreads and how to contain it, I began to get very anxious about it.

First Thing First – What Exactly is COVID-19?

According to www.nhs.uk, coronavirus (or COVID-19) is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It is not yet known exactly how it is spread from person to person, but similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Unlike other flu and cold viruses’ symptoms of coronavirus have 3 distinct areas including a fever, cough and shortness of breath. However, it is still very hard to distinguish coronavirus from other flu and cold viruses.

Current guidance for dealing with the outbreak includes:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Don’t touch your face or eyes if your hands are not clean

Those with underlying health conditions and the elderly are most at risk from coronavirus.

At first, government advice was to self-isolate at home for 14 days if you developed a cough, fever or shortness of breath, or if someone in your household developed symptoms. But as the outbreak has progressed, government advice is now to self-isolate for 7 days with ANY symptoms that are cold or flu like.

They also said that anyone who could work from home for the foreseeable future should work from home to help contain the spread of the virus. I’ve been working from home since 2015, and I am already used to doing this with no problems.

The Global Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

Most countries in the world are now affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but the epicentre of it seems to have moved from China where it originated to Europe, and in particular, in Italy. Italy is currently on a complete lockdown, as is Spain, and other countries are following suit. Last week the coronavirus outbreak was officially declared a global pandemic.

Panic buying in the shops and supermarkets has been seen all over the world, with people clearing the shelves of items such as toilet paper, tinned food, pasta, UHT milk, rice and other non-perishable items. I’ve seen panic buying first-hand where I live in Worcester, with huge queues at supermarkets and people literally grabbing what they can off the shelves as if they are preparing for Armageddon, a nuclear war or the end of the world. It really is truly frightening.

My Personal Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

On Sunday 1 March 2020 my Dad, who is my absolute world, was admitted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for tests and treatment after being diagnosed with an ultra-rare brain condition called CASPR2-antibody encephalitis on 8 January 2020. Due to this diagnosis my Dad is at HUGE risk as he falls into the “high risk” category due to his underlying health conditions. I am sure that if he contracted coronavirus, he would have NO chance whatsoever against it.

When he was admitted the number of coronavirus cases in the UK was still relatively low. Due to him being so far away from us, my Mum and I decided that we would visit my Dad twice a week. It is an hour and a half or more to get to the John Radcliffe Hospital in the car from Worcester and the parking there is atrocious. Instead we decided to travel by train and then a taxi or the bus when we visited my Dad.

My Mum and I made 3 trips by train and bus to visit my Dad while he was in hospital, and by the third trip I felt like I was playing Russian roulette with coronavirus. People had learnt NOTHING and were coughing and spluttering away without covering their mouth or using a tissue. By this time the death toll was up to 10 and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases was around the 750 mark, with 7 confirmed cases in Oxford.

While other countries including Italy and Spain moved to lockdown to try and contain the spread of the virus as well as cancelling mass gatherings including sporting events and conferences, the UK took no such stance. The USA closed its borders to people travelling there from Europe, and from tomorrow it will close its borders to people travelling there from the UK and Ireland.

Our government will possibly be taking other measures to contain the spread of coronavirus such as asking the over 70’s to stay at home for up to 4 months, but so far they have not closed schools or banned mass gatherings. Some have been cancelled or postponed anyway, for example, the London Marathon due to take place in April has been moved to the Autumn.

After my last visit to see my Dad in hospital in Oxford last Wednesday, I took the decision to self-isolate myself as much as possible to try and mitigate the possibility of contracting coronavirus.

Why Have I Decided to Self-Isolate Without Symptoms?

Before I go into why I have made a decision to self-isolate myself as much as possible, I should say that what I am doing isn’t necessarily right for everyone. However, I think we all need to weigh up our own personal risk factors when deciding what is best for us on an individual basis in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

I have made my decision due to my Dad’s poor health from CASPR2-antibody encephalitis, and because he falls into the high-risk category for contracting coronavirus. My Dad is my absolute world, and while I know I could potentially fight off and recover from coronavirus, I am sure that my Dad with all his underlying health problems would stand no chance against it.

Until further notice, I will NOT be doing any of the following things:

  • Travelling on any kinds of public transport including train, plane, bus, tube or taxi.
  • Attending any cyber security or work-related events, conferences or meetings.
  • Going to Costa coffee for catch ups with my friends.
  • Going to the cinema with my friends.
  • Eating out in restaurants with my friends.
  • Going into town shopping, or to Malvern retail park shopping.
  • Going to the gym.

As I work from home anyway, I will be able to continue everything I am doing with my work with the one exception in that I have pulled out of being a speaker at some cyber security related events and conferences. For example, I pulled out of speaking at this year’s Cloud and Cyber Security Expo and the Think Cyber Security for Government event. I’ve also been asked to speak at some other leading cyber security events and conferences, but I’ve said no to them all. I do wonder if they will go ahead in the light of the coronavirus outbreak, as many have been cancelled or postponed already.

I am always happy to take part in any online or virtual events and conferences (in fact, I’m taking part in one led by Infosecurity Magazine on 25 March) or have meetings via video call, Skype or Zoom instead of face to face. The next speaking engagement that I have in my diary is 28/29 April for the Identity and Access Management Summit event, but I will monitor things closely and if the situation is still bad with the coronavirus outbreak I will cancel that too (I have already been in touch with the organisers about it).

I had SUCH great plans for this year in terms of keynote speaking engagements and other speaking engagements, especially as I had to put these on hold last year to look after my Dad. But the risk is just too great, events and conferences are being cancelled and postponed left right and centre, and it is far better to be safe than sorry. If I can do them virtually or online, then great, but if not – they don’t happen. It is as simple as that.

The ONLY things I will be doing during this period of self-isolation are:

  • Walking my dog Poppy 2 – 3 times a day. I never encounter anyone on our walks, she still needs her walks and I need a bit of fresh air. Sure, someone could have gone past where I walk who has sneezed who has coronavirus, but I’ve deemed the risk to be a small one.
  • 1 x weekly food shop (as my husband and I still need to eat) early on a Saturday morning. That said, after yesterday’s experience of the weekly food shop, I am considering whether to do my food shopping online for a bit. I’ve never fancied doing that as I like to choose the items myself, and I am very funny about sell-by dates and always like to get fresh items with as long a sell-by date as possible. I can’t control that with online shopping.
  • Checking, if needed, on my parents (especially when my Dad is out of hospital as he is due out any time now). As I will only be doing the above two things, I have deemed the risk of checking on them low. However, again I will monitor this risk and I might have to take a further decision not to check on them.

I get that to some people this all might appear extreme. If you think that it is, that’s fine. I have weighed up my own personal risk to coronavirus and made my decision to self-isolate as much as possible accordingly. Of course, I will monitor the situation and make any changes based on how things go over the next few weeks.

Luckily my husband and I are home bodies anyway. We prefer being in the comfort of our own home, and he already goes out far less than I do and works from home like me (we are lucky enough to have an office at home each). For my husband self-isolation has already been a way of life for a long time.

If I need anything, I will order it online as far as possible. I will limit visitors to my home as far as possible. When deliveries arrive, I will keep a distance when answering the door. For now, my home is my castle – in more ways than one.

Ironically, my husband and I installed a home gym in January this year. In February we installed a home cinema system complete with retractable large screen and projector for films. At the time my husband said that if ever we are stuck at home, we have everything we need here to keep us busy and entertained. Little did I realise that a few short weeks later I would be making the decision to self-isolate in this way. We literally do have everything we need at home to self-isolate as much as possible and to ride this coronavirus storm out. We are very lucky indeed.

During this period of self-isolation I will be motoring on with the UK Cyber Security Association and working on that, and I have some plans for interviews, content, videos and podcasts under the UKCSA banner which I will get underway in the next few weeks. I will finish proof reading and launch my book “The Rise of the Cyber Women” (I had to put the release date back slightly as so much of my time last month was taken up with getting my Dad in front of Professor Sarosh Irani to be treated for his CASPR2-antibody encephalitis), attending to lots of small things that I have been putting off at home and enjoying my home cinema system and home gym. I have plenty of things to do, plenty of things to be getting on with, and I know I won’t be at all bored!

I have also made a decision to change the membership model of the UK Cyber Security Association slightly to being a virtual one with all future employees being based remotely from home and all events taking place virtually. That may change when the coronavirus outbreak is more under control, but for now it is definitely the right thing to do.

I know that I can’t control everything. Despite my best efforts I could still contract coronavirus, as so much is still unknown about it and how it transmits from person to person. But I am safe in the knowledge that even if I do contract it, I have done all I can to try and mitigate my risk of contracting it. And that is all I can do.

What are you doing to mitigate the risk of contracting coronavirus? Do you think the outbreak is a big storm in a teacup? What do you think about all the panic buying that is going on? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave me a comment below!

8 Years Ago I Thought My Life Was Over: Instead I Thrived

8 Years Ago I Thought My Life Was Over: Instead I Thrived

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
 

Online Trolls Need to be Stopped…Here’s Why

Online Trolls Need to be Stopped…Here’s Why

I have to admit I am not a fan of Love Island as a show, it isn’t my cup of tea at all. That said, I am aware of the show and was aware of Caroline Flack as the host of it.

 

To hear she has taken her own life age 40 is just awful, and on the back of hearing about my friend Kieran a couple of weeks ago this has really affected me.

 

When will something be done to stop people writing and spouting off pure vitriol online at others? When will something be done to stop these awful people who think it is perfectly acceptable to write words to others that are cruel, damaging and in the majority of cases absolutely untrue? When will we all stand up and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?

 

I have been subjected to the most vile abuse online, including comments that are completely untrue about me, so I know what I’m talking about. I know how soul destroying it is, and believe me I also felt like I no longer wanted to be here as a result, but I rose above the comments from the online trolls, as hard as it was to do. The line in the song “Cleaning Out My Closet” by Eminem is particularly true for me, “Have you ever been hated or discriminated against, I have…I’ve been protested and demonstrated against.”

 

In the culture of “celebrity” that we live in today, the media seems to think it is perfectly acceptable to write whatever they like about people, and this applies to anyone who dares to put their head above the paraphet even a tiny bit to raise awareness of something that is important to them. The moment someone does that, they are considered “fair game” by the press in a bid for them to get more clicks, likes and most importantly – more money and more profit. In turn, opening up comments to the general public on online articles has created a whole new can of worms whereby people think they can act as judge, jury and executioner and that there will be no consequences whatsoever of their actions when they post negative, harmful, untrue and nasty comments about someone online. Unfortunately, there ARE consequences – as the passing of Caroline Flack has clearly shown.

 

 

Something MUST be done to stop this kind of online abuse. I would disable and ban any commenting on newspaper websites for a start – you only have to look at the Daily Mail online to see the level of nastiness that people think is perfectly acceptable to write with no consequences for what they write and their actions. But there are consequences and casualties – Caroline Flack being one of the latest ones. And the likes of the Daily Mail Online and The Sun does NOTHING to police these disgusting comments by members of the general public. Would these people say the things they say online to someone’s face? I surely don’t think so!

 

How many more deaths have to happen before people start thinking more about the consquences of their actions when posting vile and abusive comments online to others? What can be done to stop this kind of vile abuse online ? I don’t know what the answer is, as policing everything online would take such a huge amount of resources. Everyone has the right to express their opinion, but they do NOT have the right to be nasty and abusive. What a sorry state the world has become today.

 

Please, if you are reading this, think before you type. Please be kind. Please STOP before you post something to someone and think about how you would feel if you received the words you are about to post.

 

Kindness should prevail….always.

#RIPCarolineFlack

My #10YearChallenge: 2009 – 2019

My #10YearChallenge: 2009 – 2019

This is me with my ex-husband Ian in December 2009, and me with Russ – my second husband – in December 2019:


It has been pointed out to me that my smile in the photo with Russ exudes happiness and positivity compared to the one with my ex-husband where I don’t look happy, and my smile looks forced in the photo and not real. And yet, I’ve been through SO much in the last ten years that I am amazed I am still standing, let alone smiling, looking happy and radiating positivity in the photo with Russ.

But you know what? Despite it all, despite EVERY single event that has happened to me, whether they were within my control or out of my control, I am happy today 😊 I am happy because I got through it all, I was resilient and I refused to give up. I am a fighter and I not only survived it all, but I thrived despite it all.

So exactly what has happened to me in the last ten years since the photo was taken of me with my ex-husband? As the line goes in my favourite film from 2019 “Rocketman”: “There are moments in a rock stars life that define who he is”. The same is true for me – there have been lots of moments in my life in the last ten years that have defined me and made me the person I am today.

Here is a list of those moments – the moments that define me and that made me who I am today:

✅I moved to a new house where I am now in 2009.

✅I lost my beloved dog Howie to old age in December 2009 when he was 14 and a half.

✅I founded and launched the Worcestershire Literary Festival in 2011 and came away from it in 2013 when I was pregnant with Frankie. Since then it has sadly become a shadow of what it was when I launched it – it has gone from having over 100 events over 10 days to having approx 7 events tiny events over 7 days.

✅My ex-husband left me 10 days before we were due to start ICSI treatment to have a baby together after I had suffered 6 early miscarriages on 25 February 2012.

✅My ex-husband and I got divorced the same year.

✅In an unexpected twist, I got together with Russ after knowing him since 2002 in April 2012. I first met him through my ex-husband as they used to work at the same company back then, and we got back in touch with each other on Facebook a month after Ian had left me.

✅Russ and I got married on 6 April 2013, it was one of the happiest days of my life.

✅I found out I was pregnant in May 2013. Despite having had 6 previous early miscarriages I made it to the 12 week scan and incredibly to my 5 month scan.

✅ During my 5 month scan I was told that my unborn baby had a severe cleft lip and palate, and would need lots of operations, care and treatment throughout his lifetime. I found out I was having a boy and we named him after my Dad – Francesco “Frankie” Enrico Ventura.

✅ A few weeks later I was told that not only did Frankie have a severe cleft lip and palate but he also had non-positional talipes, which meant it was very unlikely that he would not walk. I prepared for life as the Mum to a son who had significant disabilities and who would need 24-hour round the clock share. I shut down everything I was doing work wise to get ready for this.

✅I stopped feeling Frankie move on 27 November 2013 when I was 33 weeks pregnant with him. I was told the following words that would change my life forever: “I am so sorry, but there is no heartbeat.”

✅My much loved and much wanted son Francesco “Frankie” Enrico Ventura was born sleeping on 29 November 2013.

✅I had to walk out of the Worcestershire Royal Hospital without my son, and arrange his funeral which took place on 5 December 2013.

✅Tests on Frankie after he was born showed that he had an extremely rare chromosome abnormality – he had a duplication on his chromosome 15. I was told that not only did he have the physical disabilities of a severe cleft lip and palate and non-positional talipes, but he would have had severe learning difficulties, autism and it was very likely he would have been non-verbal. I got into the medical record books because of his rare chromosome 15 duplication – 1 in 300,000 babies have this – yet it had to be MY son.

✅Following Frankie’s birth, which was extremely traumatic as I was induced and left in agony for hours on end, not to mention traumatic as he wasn’t born alive, I was diagnosed with PTSD. To this day I still have flashbacks at random times to when he was born and the devastation I felt that he had been born sleeping.

✅After I lost Frankie, I went through many close family bereavements one after the other….my father in law Allan, cousin Brenda, cousin Tony, my beloved Aunty Maria, my Uncle Vincenzo, my Great Aunty Gert and Cousin Maxine. It seemed like just as I got over one funeral, I had to get ready to go to another one. It was relentless.

✅I had a further 4 early miscarriages on top of the 6 I had with my ex-husband and was diagnosed by Professor Jan Brosens and Professor Siobhan Quenby at the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital with a rare condition called hyperfertility, for which there is no treatment and it explained my previous early miscarriages. I was told that it was a “fluke” that Frankie had got past the 6 week mark at all due to my condition and thank GOD I didn’t have that ICSI treatment with my ex-husband and that he left me when he did, as due to that underlying condition it could have potentially been fatal for me.

✅After I was diagnosed with hyperfertility Russ and I decided that enough was enough with trying for a baby. I was 43, he was 46 and we felt that it would be unfair to have a baby at our time of life. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never be a mother.

✅I witnessed the horror that is dementia before my beloved Aunty Marie passed away in November 2015 when she was diagnosed with it. Dementia is such a cruel illness, and it took me a long time to get over what I had seen and to come to terms with losing her, as she was such a big part of my life.

✅My beloved Dad got ill in October 2017 when he was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy out of the blue. Today myself, my Mum and my husband are still navigating through this as he has developed other health conditions including possible frontemporal dementia and motor neurone disease, for which we are waiting to hear from his neurologist about. This has brought me and my husband many significant struggles and challenges.

✅I lost my beloved German Shepherd dog Curley to old age in 2015 and rescued my German Shepherd/Husky cross dog Poppy 3 weeks later in July 2015. The reality though is that Poppy has rescued me. I don’t know what I would do without her, she is the best therapist and because of her I get up every morning even when I don’t feel like doing so to take her for her morning walk.

✅When I rescued Poppy, I decided to come out of corporate life and work remotely from home. This was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I can’t imagine going back to working full-time in an office now.

✅Russ and I have been tested to the absolute limits and how we have endured everything we have been through and are still together I do not know. There were times when I honestly didn’t think we would make it. But we are still together, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without him. He is a saint to put up with me, he is my rock and my anchor.

✅I’ve been bullied, hurt and cruelly betrayed by people who were masquerading as “friends” in my life. They are the WORST kind of people and they have been removed from my life never to return. Despite this I still have some great friends who deserve to be in my life, but as a result I do not trust easily today.

✅Despite all the above I chose to survive and thrive, and not be a victim.

✅I founded a charity called “Frankie’s Legacy” and raised much needed money for the bereavement suite at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital to benefit other couples who lose their babies to stillbirth.

✅I became an award winning writer and blogger and launched my blog “Cyber Geek Girl”.

✅In 2018 I was diagnosed by chance when I was asked to take part in a study as being #ActuallyAutistic, which explained A LOT about why I am the way I am.

✅I forged ahead with a career in cyber security following the time I spent at my ex-husbands company before we separated and divorced, and I founded the UK Cyber Security Association.

✅In addition to the UK Cyber Security Association I undertook content marketing and cyber security awareness consultancy work for various organisations, which I still love doing.

✅I attended many cyber security conferences and events as a keynote speaker and panellist.

✅I became an advocate, awareness raiser and campaigner for neurodiversity in cyber security, for women in cyber security and for the importance of cyber security for everyone and of staying safe online.

✅In 2019 I won four, yes four, industry awards for my work in cyber security and I was a finalist for many others.

✅I’ve been published in numerous cyber security trade publications and magazines.

✅I qualified as a Reiki healing practitioner in October 2019.

When I read all this back it feels so surreal, like it all happened to someone else and not to me. I am amazed I got through it all, but I did. The last ten years have been some of the toughest I have ever known with many challenges, twists and turns. But I have proved that I am strong, resilient, a fighter and a survivor. Not only have I survived it all, but I have thrived. And I will continue to thrive.

Advice to the me in the photo in December 2009…..

What would I tell the me back in 2009, the one stood next to my ex-husband? The one who had just started out in cyber security in my ex-husband’s company, who had not long moved to a new house and who was excited for what 2010 would bring? Here are a few things I would say to her:

✅Don’t make work the only important thing in your life in the absence of being a mother. Life has SO much more to offer.

✅Don’t think that you have failed by not being able to do the one thing that you think you were put on this earth to do – which is to be a mother. You will blame yourself for a long time, you will beat yourself up over the loss of Frankie and go over and over what you did “wrong” and what you did to cause his chromosome abnormality. But it was a one-off, unexplained, “de-novo” as the genetic counsellors told you. Nothing would have prevented it.

✅Stand up to those who bully you and to those who hurt you and betray you. You are shocked when it happens to you, but you are worth far more than you think.

✅You can do ANYTHING you want and anything you set your mind to. Don’t stay in jobs you hate or do work that doesn’t excite you or thrill you. You are FAR more capable than you realise, and it is only in 2019 that you start to understand this when you win four cyber security industry awards for your work with the UK Cyber Security Association.

✅Get rid of those masquerading as “friends” sooner than you do. You will have a strong gut feeling about those people – don’t ignore it.

✅Forgive those who treat you badly, who hurt you and who betray you. Karma will get them all eventually, and in some cases you will be very lucky to be able to watch when it does get them.

✅The most important things in your life are your parents, your husband Russell (you don’t know it yet, as you can’t imagine being with anyone other than your ex-husband, but Russell will become the most important person in your life), your dog Poppy and the few friends you have in your life who you trust despite the hurt and betrayal of ex-friends who are no longer in your life.

✅You will make some amazing friends online via Facebook and Twitter, some of whom you won’t get to meet. But they are still just as good friends to you, and you can’t imagine your life without them.

✅Make memories while you have the chance. They will last you a lifetime.

✅You will know everything there is to know about arranging funerals and what to do when someone dies. You might laugh at this now, but people will start turning to you to help them when they lose a loved one and to help guide them through the myriad of things that need to be done on a practical level after death.

2020 and beyond for me…..

So, what do I think 2020 and the future holds? What things will I accomplish?

Firstly, I don’t do new year resolutions. After all that has happened to me in the last ten years, I think that making new year resolutions is pointless. That is not to say that I don’t have goals – of course I do and there is lots I still want to do in my life, especially in my work in cyber security. If there is one thing that I have learnt it is that tomorrow is NOT guaranteed, so I only live for the 24 hours that are in front of me. I enjoy that time, I savour it, and I make memories.

I do know this for sure – 2020 will be a very tough year for me. There is no getting away from that. I will take some deep breaths, hold my head up high and be ready and prepared for the challenges that 2020 will bring to me, especially with my Dad and his health, as if the specialists are right about what he has, he is only going to go one way and he’s going to need me more than ever. To be there for him and be what he needs me to be, I need to put myself first more and look after myself, as I cannot pour from an empty cup. I can’t possibly look after my Dad if my own resources are depleted. I need to pull up my big girl pants for 2020 like never before.

So this year I will look after myself and nurture myself more. I will exercise more (and I have a very nice home gym for this purpose now). I will eat better and do my very best to have breakfast every day, something I am hopelessly bad at. I will make sure I get enough rest and sleep, and not push myself too much with my work. I will learn to say NO more – and mean it.

My advice to you all in 2020 and beyond…..

If there is ONE thing that I can tell you, it is to make the most of every second you have, and every day that you have, for life can change in the blink of an eye. I had NO idea back when this photo of me was taken with my ex-husband in December 2009 how much my life would change and how different things would be for me exactly ten years from that point. My life has changed in ways I would never have foreseen.

I would also say to you don’t take your health for granted, it is VERY precious indeed. I cherish each day that I still have my health, for I could wake up tomorrow and it could be gone. I’ve seen that happen first-hand with my Dad – he went from being well and able to being reliant on us all to help look after him practically overnight, and he had had no retirement to speak of to enjoy himself. Sadly, he has proved that when your number is up when it comes to your health, your number is up, and there is nothing you can do about it. As the quote goes from the film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”: “You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went, you can curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.”

I am VERY blessed indeed to have my soul mate and love of my life Russell, my parents, amazing friends (now that I have got rid of all the ones who were masquerading as friends), my wonderful dog Poppy, a roof over my head, food on the table, warmth and everything I could ever need. I am truly rich because of all these things.

I learnt one thing for certain over the last 10 years. NOTHING is guaranteed, life is WAY too short and VERY previous indeed. I do NOT intend to waste a second of it. In the words of the song by Elton John: “I’m still standing, better than I ever did, looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid, I’m still standing after all this time, picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.”

Here is to the next ten years, whatever they will bring…and to life ❤️❤️ xx

#2009vs2019
#10YearsAgo
#10YearChallenge
#TenYearChallenge

Remembering Freddie Mercury on the Anniversary of his Death

Remembering Freddie Mercury on the Anniversary of his Death

On this day in 1991, my idol and #LoveOfMyLife Freddie Mercury passed away from AIDS related pneumonia aged just 45 years old. As a huge fan of Freddie and of Queen I felt the loss of Freddie profoundly. I couldn’t believe that he had gone, and I still can’t believe it to this day.

While Freddie may have left us way too soon, I am so grateful to the remaining members of Queen, in particular Brian May and Roger Taylor, for keeping Freddie’s memory alive and strong. They have brought Freddie and Queen to a new generation of fans and Queen to the masses again the release of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I know I have seen it a gazillion times, but that film has changed my life. Ever since I heard the quote “fortune favours the bold” in it I knew I had to #BeMoreFreddie and follow my dreams. Fast forward a year and I’ve done and achieved things I never thought possible. Fortune really does favour the bold. Queen’s songs are my anthems, in particular “We Are The Champions” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

I have written a few blogs on how much Freddie Mercury and Queen impacted on my life, and how they made a strong impression on it. The links to my blogs are below:

https://lisaventura.co.uk/memories-of-queen-and-freddie-mercury-inspired-by-seeing-bohemian-rhapsody/

https://lisaventura.co.uk/fortune-favours-the-bold-how-the-film-bohemian-rhapsody-changed-my-life/

https://lisaventura.co.uk/5-life-lessons-from-the-queen-biopic-bohemian-rhapsody/

https://lisaventura.co.uk/review-bohemian-rhapsody-the-movie/

Thank you Freddie and Queen for being such a huge inspiration to me. Through you I have learnt to take more risks, that fortune favours the bold and that we should all make an impression darling!

RIP Freddie…..I still love you xx

#FreddieMercury
#FreddieForever
#Queen
#QueenForever
#LoveOfMyLife
#AlwaysReadyForFreddie