Can I Have a Purpose with ME?

Hello and welcome to Believe in ME with Rhona Barton. In this week’s episode I’m going to be chatting to you about Purpose. That’s purpose with a capital P. I used to wonder if I could have a purpose in life if I had ME. If you’ve ever thought that, then welcome, join me. That’s what we’re chatting about today.

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Let’s jump straight in and start with the question of, what do I mean by Purpose?

Nothing quite like starting the podcast with a philosophical question! Right, I suppose, if I was to meet you on the street and ask you this, you may ask something like “You mean my life purpose? The reason I’ve been put on Earth?”. To some extent, yes, I do mean this. But, as ever, in the realms of ME, is that something we can still contemplate?

A sense of purpose to some people means dedicating yourself to something (such as a cause) that goes beyond yourself. It’s a goal that boosts you and motivates you in life. It gives your life meaning & direction and inspires you to make a significant contribution to the world.

Now I’ve mentioned before that my big plan in life was to go into Hospitality Management and take over the World! I was quite adamant that my purpose in life was to work my way up to Hotel Manager for some of the biggest hotel chains across the planet. That’s what I was passionate about and that’s what I trained for.

Clearly, ME came along and had other plans for me. My purpose in life was stopped before it barely started! I was lost in terms of my career and what I thought I would do in life. And it sucked! I’d spent the previous 6 years of my life already working towards this goal and going through the required learning in an educational setting as well as on the job. I was, quite frankly, paying my dues and then Labyrinthitis and ME came along and pulled my feet out from under me. It was nothing short of rude!

What was I meant to do now?

Have you ever felt like that? Have you questioned your reasoning for being?

Especially if you’ve had to give up what you enjoyed due to your health? I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this.

I know that because I’ve spoken to others about it. We’ve shared our experiences, we’ve shared our confusion, our anger, our frustrations but we’ve also shared our successes. Our happiness and our joy at knowing that things didn’t end.

So, how do you find your purpose when you live with ME? How do you find what works for you?

First of all, don’t panic! I read an article a year or two ago, based in the US, that said only 25% of American adults can say they have a clear sense of purpose. That’s great. Good for them. I’m happy for you but let’s look at that for a moment. 25% of them have a purpose. That means that the other 75% are still trying to find their purpose or meaning in life! 75%! That’s huge!

That same article found that your purpose changes through your life and that continuous growth and progress can help us stay connected to our passions.

When I read that, it reinforced a sense of relief, or maybe it was more of an “ah ha!” moment for me. You see, when I lost my connection to Hospitality and my health took a tumble, knowing what I was going to do with my life when I was better, really wasn’t a priority for me. Let’s face it, when you’re struggling to find the energy to breathe or to tolerate light or sound or smells, the last thing going through your head (certainly the last thing going through mine!) was, “what will my life purpose be when I’m fit and able again?”

Let me tell you a secret. My life purpose has probably changed about 4 times! And it changes because I’ve changed! I’m not the same Rhona I was pre-ME. Post ME Rhona is more adventurous, more courageous and, believe it or not, more stubborn than Pre-ME Rhona.

Pre-ME Rhona would never have contemplated travelling offshore to work on oil & gas platforms and in various (slight dodgy but don’t tell my parents!) countries that are in the middle of local wars, gun fights and come with kidnapping warnings! Pre-ME Rhona would never have thought of starting her own business, more than once, and trying her hand at new things just to test the waters and see if it was something she enjoyed.

Pre-ME Rhona was cautious and careful, but she was also very young. Barely into her twenties when her world was flipped upside down. So, what happened? How did Pre-ME Rhona turn into Post-ME Rhona?

Post-ME Rhona is, if I do say so myself, confident, self-assured (most of the time) and willing to try something new. Thanks to both her ME and post-ME experiences, Post-ME Rhona has a purpose again.

Post-ME Rhona is going to stop referring to herself in the third person as it’s annoying!

Here’s how I did it. I tried different things!

I spoke last week about Dream Building and Day Dreaming (if you haven’t listened yet, don’t worry, it’s available for you and you can catch up whenever’s good for you!). Part of that story was how I found an interest in Complementary Therapies through an evening class at my local college. A number of factors aligned to help me make this discovery. My health, although poor, was stable and I was able to work the evening class (and everything involved around it) into my baseline activities. The college was close by and I was able to count on my parents for lift to and from the class. My class tutor had experience of ME and was able and willing to make the adjustments I needed. I could learn from my wheelchair and I could get myself onto and off the treatment couch as they were height adjustable. My classmates were understanding and worked with me and my limitations. It was like a perfect storm of positive experiences that opened this up to me as an option for a hobby and later, a job.

Part of this whole exploration for me was being able to see and embrace the challenges that came along. To look at them as opportunities, not just for me, but for those around me, to learn from. I persevered in spite of failure on occasion and took on-board feedback that was given. Once I treated my first client, things felt right. Things clicked into place for me and I was then determined on finding a way to make this massage therapy hobby into a career. Anybody who has built a business will tell you it can take about 2 years to begin to see things turn around and it was true for me and A-Rhona-Therapy. But it worked and I was able to name my own hours and work around my own requirements. I trained in a number of disciplines and even gained my training qualification so that I could teach others, some of the therapies I have come to know and love.

Over the years, and since meeting my partner, Colin, I have moved home and have had to move job. I packed up my therapy clinics and travelled the 150 miles north and away from my family and friends.

I took on a role as an employee in an Oil & Gas company and knew after about 6 weeks that it wasn’t for me! I stuck it out for just over a year though until I was approached by a training company and asked if I wanted to work with them.

Delivery training, helping others gain that “ah ha” moment, was something I’d come to enjoy and I now had a reasonable understanding of Oil & Gas, so moving to a training company within Oil & Gas seemed a natural pivot. I very much enjoyed it and, before long, I was travelling across the globe to delivery training and carry out Audits for Competency Management systems. Oh goodness, the people I met and the cultures I experienced were like nothing I’d imagined before. These differences felt like they fed my soul. I was enjoying myself, learning new things and I was extremely grateful for all of it. Again, I felt like I’d found my purpose.

And this is where I began to see a bit of a pattern. So far, each of these roles had a common thread to them. Each of these roles, from Hospitality to Massage Therapy to Training & Development (and even Auditing), all fitted a theme that seemed to sit so nicely within me. It was Service. Serving others – you could look at it as Customer Service if you like. It was about helping others find their own “ah ha” moments.

That’s been my purpose in life from the beginning, but I just didn’t know. We all face struggles in life. For most of you listening to this, it’s likely to be ME. For other people, it may be chronic headaches due to eye-strain that is relieved via Indian Head Massage, it may be struggling to progress in their career until they complete a company mandated qualification, it could even be worrying about an upcoming Audit! Everybody has their own issues that they are dealing within daily.

How you transform these struggles into purpose is up to you.

For me that’s meant changing my business to now focus on Coaching others with ME and enlightening Companies who wish to support their staff with ME/CFS/Long-Covid get back to work. It means working on this podcast.

So instead of asking the big philosophical question about “What is my life purpose?”, why not ask “What can I do with my time that is important?”

That brings me to a few points from today that I’d like you to take away from this:

1. Develop a growth mindset – a growth mindset allows you to look at challenges and view them as opportunities, it helps you keep doing even when you may fail so that you can learn and accept feedback.

2. Practice gratitude – cultivating gratitude can make you more generous and lead to acts of kindness, which in turn, contributes to finding a sense of purpose.

3. Turn your struggles into purpose and repurpose your past experiences.

4. Explore your passions! If you’re not sure what your passions are, ask the people who know you well.

5. Practice self-acceptance and self care. Accepting your limitations can help you be kinder to yourself when things go wrong. Instead of beating yourself up about failures, take some time to work through your difficult emotions and give yourself a break!

So that’s it for today everybody. I’ve shared my thoughts around whether or not we can have a purpose with ME. In doing so, I’ve chatted about what that looked like for me and how things changed as I changed. I’ve also given you some key take-aways which I hope help you realise that you can have a purpose with ME.

Thank you for listening. Please review, share and follow Believe in ME with Rhona Barton via Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you find your podcasts and remember that you can sign up to my mailing list by visiting my website at

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