#Human courage

#HumanCourage: Julia van Reek

posted 15-11-2021

She calls herself a CRPS warrior, and Julia is so much more than a fighter. She is open, vulnerable, smart, strong, loving and a source of inspiration and courage for others. In 2015, she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). In 2020, after years of living with intense pain in her leg, her right leg was surgically removed. Now she finally feels like herself again and is ready to live life to the fullest, together with her loving support dog Guus.

What makes you the person you are today?
When I was younger, playing sports was important to me. I was a high-level goalkeeper for two different hockey teams and had double training during the week and two games on Saturdays. I was fanatic. Until I first started to experience pain in my right knee. Everyone thought they were growing pains or just a mild knee injury, but the pain prevailed. It even got worse and spread across my whole leg. It felt like it was burning and knives were stabbing into my flesh. Even the slightest touch was agonising. For years, the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. Until 2015. They diagnosed me with a post traumatic condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). That’s when my life changed.

And still, I made sure my condition would never fully define me. I’m caring and thoughtful to others and the world around me. I’m someone who draws energy and strength from supporting others because I know how important it is to receive love and encouragement. I see life as a journey that brings me closer to who I am. And I believe we need to let go, appreciate and enjoy the little things in life, and find the spark inside ourselves to be truly happy. This is an endless journey of getting to know myself better and living life how I’m supposed to.

What have you learnt in the last couple of years, and why is that important to you?
I’ve learnt how important it is to listen to your body. No matter how you look at it, you’re the most important person in your life. For that reason, we need to listen and take care of ourselves. Be kind to yourself and others, fight for what you believe in, and appreciate and celebrate the small wins. With self-awareness, self-perseverance, and appreciation, you have a strong foundation to help and support others too, and to be truly happy at the same time.

Can you share a moment or experience during which you showed human courage?
16 November 2020 was the day I had my right leg surgically removed. I fought so many years to have this surgery done, and when the moment was finally there, I felt relief, disbelief, excitement, and uneasiness. I always tell myself 'if life challenges you with setbacks, challenge yourself to be stronger'. Over the years, I have learnt that being strong is not only to fight and keep going, but it’s also about accepting and letting go. Although the amputation made me feel anxious and insecure, I knew it was the right choice. Understandably, my doctor didn’t want to go through with it. No one knew whether losing the leg would relieve the pain. But I wanted this to happen. I wanted to be able to make my own choices and removing the leg that didn’t feel like mine was one of them. Amputation was a conscious decision; I saw it as a chance to start a new chapter.  

Looking back on what you’ve been through, what would you want to share with people going through rough times?
I would tell them that no matter how difficult and heavy life can be, you should never forget that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you can’t find that light, know you can also be your own light. And be kind to yourself. All your thoughts and emotions are valid and should be embraced. Both positive and negative.

My best friend and support dog Guus has helped me realise that. He gives me the power and courage to process all setbacks. He warns me whenever I’m about to have a pain attack, wakes me when I have nightmares due to PTSD, and supports me in every way possible. With his unconditional love he reminds me to be kind to myself and others. I know not everyone has someone like Guus, therefore I would like to take this opportunity to remind others to be kind to themselves.

What’s your dream, for today, tomorrow or in a few years?
I find it difficult to dream big. For years, I dreamt of a life with less pain and that came true, so now I live more in the here and now. Appreciating the little things that are possible. I have small day-to-day goals. Last week, I went climbing in an indoor space, I’m learning to longboard and surf, and I’m getting into athletics. For me, it’s important to focus on and appreciate the small wins.

For us, Julia is a source of inspiration. Her perseverance and kindness have touched us because we believe it’s important to stand for the things you believe in, and to celebrate smaller achievements too. Julia’s spirit aligns with our values. Where we work on humanising organisations to turn business into a force for good, with humans right at the core. Those who are willing to do things differently and fight the right fight. Right on the frontline, with us.

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