Aged 40, Nicky Marshall suffered a stroke because of a bend (or DCS, decompression sickness) while on a diving trip in Devon. She is now an author and in-demand facilitator and keynote speaker, inspiring people to live a life they love through her growing business Discover Your Bounce.
Nicky, how are you and what are you up to today?
Nicky Marshall: I’m well and happy, thank you. Our publishing and wellbeing businesses are keeping me busy in a good way and I’m getting back into 5k training – with a lot of walking!
You suffered a stroke during a deep-sea dive in 2010. Talk us through that day.
Nicky Marshall: I had started a new holistic business venture and had been working 80-hour weeks. Despite all my wellbeing knowledge, I was only sleeping about four hours a night and wasn’t taking care of myself as I was so focused on my dream business.
My husband and I were both scuba divers. He had booked us a weekend away diving to relax, but even as we were about to leave, I was trying to finish the company newsletter. When we got to Lundy we did two dives when I felt really unfit and out of practice. My mask leaked and we were swimming against the tide for a bit. On the way up the hill back to the campsite I completely lost my breath and had to rest. Then at 4am the next morning I woke with real breathing difficulties.
What happened next?
Nicky Marshall: Thankfully one of our diving party, Helen, was a GP so we went to see her and she quickly realised I was unwell, though I didn’t realise the severity of my condition at the time. Just as she was saying I needed to get back to the mainland, the Devon coastguard arrived by chance. They were out on patrol and had decided to come and say hello. I really feel that someone was looking out for me that day!
They took me across to Ilfracombe, where the Harbour Master called an ambulance. I was driven first to Barnstaple hospital and then to the Diver Diseases Research Centre (DDRC) in Plymouth, where they diagnosed a muscular, skeletal and cerebral bend. I had 14 hours of recompression but after treatment, I still had numbness and weakness in my left arm and leg and my memory and speech were also affected.
What happened to your health in the few months after the bend?
Nicky Marshall: The effects of a bend can take around six months to disappear, so I didn’t worry at first. After a while though my pain was affecting my sleep and got worse, not better. I still had numbness in my hand and weakness in my arm; nothing seemed to be improving and so my GP referred me to neurology for a consultation.
Can you tell us what happened when you visited the neurologist?
Nicky Marshall: It was only when the neurologist did a full body examination that the full extent of my injury became apparent. I had no feeling in the left side of my face or torso, so it appeared that the bend had affected my whole left side. And as I had a numb left hand I hadn’t noticed!
When he told me I’d had a stroke due to nitrogen bubbles in the brain, I cried and so did my mum, who was with me. He said how I was feeling in eighteen months’ time would be how I would stay and that any recovery I made in that time would be the maximum I could expect. He also said I would never dive again.
I went home and sat in the dark for three days. I gave up. It was the thought of giving up the business that seemed to fire something up inside me. I realised that through my holistic therapy work I had seen amazing recoveries, so now it was time to work on myself.
But that wasn’t the end of it, was it?
Nicky Marshall: I battled the pain and insomnia for five months and then developed very high blood pressure. That was a very poignant moment; I had already had one stroke and didn’t want another.
I knew I had real work to do to get my health back – no more working ridiculous hours, less coffee, less cake, less wine. More sleep, more exercise and more balance. I called my plan to get healthy Operation Goddess!
Tell us more about that.
Nicky Marshall: I have always valued holistic therapies, but perhaps on some level, I didn’t feel I deserved the time and attention. This time I had Reiki, Reflexology and Aromatology – a high dose of neat oils that allowed me to reduce my painkillers after the first treatment and stop completely after three. I also took the time to plan my nutrition and hired a personal trainer who was an ex-marine – that was an extreme move in hindsight!
Your life was hectic before your stroke, but you didn’t feel you could slow down. What was happening in those months before?
Nicky Marshall: I’m a passionate person and always jump into everything I do. My nickname was ‘The Puppy’ as I’m always so enthusiastic. I had made huge life changes to be happier and thought the fact that I was doing what I loved would keep me healthy. I felt like I was ‘winning’ when I was awake at 4am, getting ahead of my day. How wrong I was!
It sounds like it was a huge wake-up call. What has the stroke taught you?
Nicky Marshall: I think I have learned to (mostly) be patient. I have learned to have more gratitude and to welcome a peaceful life. I still say yes to lots of opportunities, like speaking overseas and writing books, but I now make time for sleep, fitness and recovery
I learned the hard way to not take my health for granted. My daughter made me see I could have died that day; I have such an amazing family and a life that I no longer assume will always be there.
What prompted you to write your book Rescued by The Coastguard: A Journey of Bouncing Back?
Nicky Marshall: I started writing the book in the hope that it would help other people and I know from the people that have been in touch that it has helped in all sorts of situations. In reality, it helped me come to terms with what happened to me; it was very cathartic getting everything onto paper.
You are now 100% better and have even been diving since. Why did you decide to dive again?
Nicky Marshall: I felt that to be fully recovered I needed to get back into UK waters. I dived in the Scilly Isles and have dived overseas too. I only do one dive a day and make sure I am rested before and after. It did take me a long time to put my head under the water and I had vivid dreams of being stuck in the seaweed at the bottom of the sea – my subconscious trying to keep me safe I suppose.
Looking back, how has your life changed since the stroke?
Nicky Marshall: So much has changed. I now run three businesses and manage that with much less stress. I have an amazing business partner Sharon and a team that helps us. I have become a fitness nerd: I swim, I go to ballet and Dancefit. I have run a 10k and enjoy running – something I avoided for years. I prioritise sleep and mostly get nine hours a night, which has really helped me through menopause, as well as good nutrition – I even cook now, something I avidly detested!
I never take my health or my life for granted. I make sure to have time for my family and friends and now have three grandchildren who I adore.
If I get an opportunity for an adventure I’m there. I know I deserve to have a good life and hope that rubs off on the people I meet.
During the pandemic, I went live in our Discover Your Bounce Community on Facebook every day for four months, trying to be positive and share wellbeing tips. I couldn’t do that if I wasn’t feeling 10 out of 10 myself and I’m so grateful that I get to do that.
It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years, remember that.
The Kindle version is available for a limited time at 99p.