Unstoppable: How Maureen Sharphouse Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society for Over Three and a Half Decades Living With Disability and Chronic Pain
See Yourself as a Whole Person — Treat yourself holistically: mind, body, spirit, soul. See that they are all elements of you and interconnected; you must treat yourself kindly and nourish and feed each of part of yourself well. Don’t put all your focus and energy into one or two of them and starve or ignore the rest.
As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maureen Sharphouse.
Maureen Sharphouse lives with her husband, Peter, and their dog, Jackson, in the village of Milnathort, Kinross-shire, Scotland. She is a coach, mentor, writer, and speaker. Her international bestselling book “Unhackable Soul: Rise Up, Feel Alive, and Live Well with Pain and Illness,” and her 30-Day online “Unhackable Soul” course, a 30-day elixir to reignite the light within you, both launched in April 2022.
She lives with chronic and intractable pain due to the incurable rare neurological illness multi-site multi-system CRPS. Her physical health, however, does not define her.
Maureen’s passion is to inspire and help individuals live a unique legacy they are proud of. Her mission is to help them discover who they are beyond their physical body, live their best lives, and restore and unleash their soul’s fire and passion. Maureen’s vibrant enthusiasm for life is evident despite living with severe daily pain and complex ongoing health challenges.
She is a lover of morning sunrises, good coffee, fresh flowers in her home, and spending time with her much-loved family and grandchildren. She has been a Transformative Life & Mindset Coach, Best Life Living Mentor, Speaker, Writer, and Master Practitioner of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) since 2010. You can connect with Maureen at MaureenSharphouse.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Born and brought up in Dunfermline in Scotland, I attended Glasgow University after leaving school. I studied hard, gained a Master of Arts degree, and with big dreams and goals, excitedly looked forward to enjoying a bright and rewarding future. My future as I had envisioned it, however, got hacked. And life started to take me in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. I contracted a serious infection on holiday in Mexico at around 30 years old. Despite medical interventions, my body struggled to recover fully, and progressive neurological symptoms, excruciating muscle spasms, and severe nerve and bone pain became my constant companion. I did all I could to continue to make the very most of life, enjoyed raising a family, and continued to follow a career path; however, I became too ill to work in 1998, and in the last 35 years, I have never woken up to a day free of central and autonomic nervous system dysfunction, along with intractable nerve and bone pain.
It is only fair to say that my medical file is complex and makes for lengthy reading. I have been given many diagnoses over the years, including Multiple Sclerosis (MS). However, rather than MS, it is now believed that in addition to arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and bi-lateral neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), I have the rare and incurable condition of full-body, multi-site, multi-system Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) which, due to its intensely high pain levels, is commonly dubbed “the suicide disease.”
In a life-defining moment in 2002, the horror of a lifetime ahead of pain and illness hit me. On that bleak November morning, all became clear for me: while I was physically alive and breathing, on the inside, I felt numb and dead.
I was only 46 years old and felt I hadn’t fully lived. At that pivotal moment, I yelled, “Enough is Enough!” and decided to do all I could to live my life with more comfort, peace, and joy despite my ongoing challenges. I dug deep for strength and courage and committed to doing all I could from that moment to crack open the darkness and let the light stream back in.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?
Yes, of course; I am an open book and believe in being real, true, and authentic. We all go through challenges in life; there is no shame, guilt, or blame in becoming ill or disabled. While fighting against your illness or doing your best to ignore your pain or disability may feel like it’s the only or best solution to you for a while, it is not how you will find lasting peace with your situation or live with continued enthusiasm and zest for life. Fighting against something feels like fighting. Battling something feels like a battle. Rising from within your circumstances to embrace life and be all you can be comes from the quiet acceptance of what is.
In truth, acceptance is empowering. When you accept what has happened to you as fact and let go of all judgment as to whether it is fair or unfair, good or bad for you, developing and maintaining an “unstoppable” mindset becomes much simpler. Facing the truth of your circumstances (and the person you are being within those circumstances) is the best possible place from which to craft meaningful and positive change. Moving positively forwards as unstoppable in the direction of your heartfelt desires comes from freeing and unleashing your soul and spirit to live with purpose and enthusiasm for the life you have available right now.
Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness ?
Despite not having had a pain-free day in the last 36 years (CRPS is dubbed “the suicide disease” due to its intense pain levels which are rated on the McGill pain index as being more severe than the pain associated with natural childbirth without preparation, and the amputation of a finger or toe without anaesthetic), having mobility impairment (necessitating the use of a wheelchair for any distance of more than a few yards), a permanent stoma through which I irrigate my bowels daily, the need to self-catheterize my bladder, the inability to digest solid food (hence living on a liquid diet only), and complex neurological dysfunction and impairment, I am an accomplished pianist and have had a career in music teaching and in real estate, raised a family (I am a wife, mum and “granny”), served on the Board of Trustees for a large charity for five years, and have successfully undertaken a wide variety of professional training courses in the mind, motivational, hypnotherapy, and personal development fields. Since 2010 I have worked with clients worldwide as a Life Coach and Mentor, NLP Master Practitioner, Motivational Speaker and Writer. In addition, I have written a best-selling book, “Unhackable Soul,” which incredibly hit the Amazon bestseller list in the states this year shortly after its release at #1 in Personal Transformation & Spirituality (above the incredible Gabrielle Bernstein at #2 and Brené Brown at #3), #1 in Pain Management, #2 in Faith & Spiritualty, #2 in New Age Self-Help and #3 in Family & Personal Growth. I have also written, developed, and launched a 30-day “Reignite the Light Within” online course associated with my book. And I am delighted that I can now share with you that I am a 2022/2023 Scottish Prestige Awards winner and am being formally presented with the Scottish Prestige “Life Coach of the Year” Award next month.
What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?
Over the last three and a half decades, I have learned a lot about living with pain and illness. It’s only
fair to say it hasn’t always been the smoothest of journeys. What I have come to know for certain, however, is that when it comes to living well with pain and illness, the following things really help:
Build a Strong Team Around You
Develop a supportive network of people around you who believe in you, your dreams, your hopes, and your abilities — and who will stand strong by you in your desire to embrace and live your life fully. Let them know how much you appreciate them and how much you value the part they play in your life.
Be Your Own Health Advocate and Guru
See your physical and mental health as being your responsibility — not the responsibility of your doctor or any other health professional, family member, colleague, or friend. It is your body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. While it is important to be open to the knowledge, experience, and advice of health specialists, ultimately, it is up to you to educate yourself and best understand your health condition to look after yourself well.
Stay on Top of Current Research
Keep researching treatment options and new developments regarding your specific health condition, and be sure to share and discuss your findings with your doctors. Even if your doctors have told you there is no effective medication or cure for your health condition now, it does not necessarily mean there never will be.
See Yourself as a Whole Person
Treat yourself holistically: mind, body, spirit, soul. See that they are all elements of you and interconnected; you must treat yourself kindly and nourish and feed each of part of yourself well. Don’t put all your focus and energy into one or two of them and starve or ignore the rest.
Develop Comfort and Coping Practices
Be open-minded to trying things that may help you. You may be able to effectively distract yourself from pain by listening to music, watching a film, visualization, meditation and mindfulness, pottering in the garden, going to a support group, taking a drive in the country, doing a little cooking, or picking up the phone to talk with a friend — the list is endless! Utilize the things that help you positively and beneficially and have the courage to minimize or park the rest.
Expand Your World — Do Not Keep Your World Too Small
Reach out to others and enjoy their company on the days you feel up to it; be productive and still go places and actively do things. Focus on doing what you can do — not on any limitations your illness imposes on you. Showing up filled up and participating as fully as you can in life will bring you more feel-good feelings than isolating yourself and retreating from life or withdrawing into your shell.
Be Open to Conventional Medical Practices as Well as Complementary Treatments and Therapies
You are an individual and unique. Therefore, remain open-minded regarding treatments and therapies that may help you. Accept that no one size fits all or is the perfect treatment that will work for everyone, but the options are plentiful. If something interests you or feels right to you and is unlikely to do you any harm, be willing to try it and trust that you know your body best.
Trust Your Voice (And Do Not Be Afraid to Speak Up!)
Doctors are not God; they are human and can have their off days like the rest of us. However, any doctor who is rude, arrogant, or condescending to you — dismissive, uncaring, judgmental, not understanding your condition and how it affects you, or accusing you of exaggerating your pain — is not the right doctor for you. You deserve the best care and treatment, including a doctor on your side who wants only the best for you. Be prepared and willing to change your GP if need be or change your practice until you find a doctor who fully supports you. Seek another opinion from a different consultant if need be. Trust your voice, speak up, and be heard.
Befriend Your Body; It Is Not Your Enemy
Work with your body, not against it. Your body is part of you and not the enemy. Take quiet time regularly to ask your body, “How can I best serve you? How can I best help you? What do you most need from me today to help you experience greater comfort or function best?” Ask, listen, trust, and respond. Get to know your body well and confidently act on its needs.
Feel It, Heal It, and Let It Go
Your body has enough to contend with without adding negative thoughts and emotions for it to deal with as well. If need be, allow yourself to grieve; feel angry; acknowledge regret, guilt, or blame; question “why me?”; or spend a short while feeling sorry for yourself and in victim mode. You are human, and it is natural to feel these emotions and work through these things. Hanging on to negativity, however, does not help. A negative mind will never bring you a positive experience of life.
Pay Little Attention to Discouragement
See that a bad day is simply a bad day and does not necessarily need to turn into a bad week, bad month, or bad year for you. Reminding yourself that you only ever must deal with the moment you are in now can help you get through those more difficult days when darkness descends.
Respect and Protect Your Own Space
Protect your space and establish your boundaries when it comes to the advice you may receive from well-wishers — for example, “Have you tried XYZ yet?” “My friend had that and says she’s cured now.” “Perhaps you should try some exercise or get out more.” Offer the benefit of the doubt to people and believe they have offered their advice with the best intentions. Listen and take on board any advice you feel may be helpful. Park the rest, however — and do not feel bad about it. You alone are the expert on your own life.
Spend More Time in Your Heart, Less Time in Your Head
Avoid complicating life by overthinking every decision, action, communication, or thought. Keep things simple (and a lot less tiring and stressful) by thinking less and feeling more. Learn to trust your intuition: the essence, truth, soul, and heart of you.
Believe and Know You Can Handle It — Whatever ‘It’ Is
Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it will not get you anywhere. Live with faith and trust. Believe and know that you have all the power within you to deal with whatever life brings. One moment, one next best step at a time, is all you ever need to focus on.
Find Your People; Connect with Your Tribe
When it comes to chronic pain and illness, unless someone else has “got it,” it is unlikely they will truly get you. Join an uplifting and positive support group where you can mix with others who clearly understand the pain and challenges you go through without the need for you to be constantly explaining your illness or talking about or focusing on the problems you have. Alternatively, find and work with an inspiring personal coach or mentor who has experienced similar things or walked the same path you are on.
Always Remember Life Is Precious
While death may be the destination of your physical body (and you can rest at peace in the knowledge that your spirit and soul will live on), when you wake up in the morning and find you are still breathing, rise and give thanks. Know that your job on Earth is not yet done!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My father, Bruce, died at only 59 years old, some 30-plus years ago. However, the unconditional support and love he gave me while alive continue to shape who I am today. He encouraged me to be me and follow where my heart takes me. He inspired me to make the very most of life by making a difference in some way to others while I am here in human form on Earth. His final words — “Life is precious. Life is short. You owe it to yourself to live it fully, for none of us know how much time left we have on this Earth” — have been the catalyst to my making many meaningful and positive changes in my life. Although my father passed in 1991, I feel his presence daily. My father, Bruce, continues to uplift me and has played a significant role in strongly shaping who I am today. I am also grateful to all my family, especially my mother and my husband, Peter; their love keeps me strong when I am weak.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have worked with clients all around the Globe over the last 12 years, helping them craft meaningful and positive change in their life, and delivered a wide variety of talks and workshops both online and in person, including to several charities, support groups and members of the chronic pain community. I have written many articles for the media — and do my best to help submit valuable content for the media’s audience wherever possible. I have grown a fairly large following on social media and regularly post uplifting, educational, and inspiring content, taking time to answer all comments on my posts, and private messages from my posts, personally. The online community I have grown is a community that cares — and I have developed meaningful and beautiful relationships with many of my “followers” around the Globe irrespective of race, creed or religion. I approach all I do professionally and personally from a place of service and freely give of my time when my health and diary allow to those who have reached out to me personally for a safe, non-judgmental listening ear, advice, guidance, help or support.
My husband and I also regularly donate to several charities monthly. For the last decade we have sponsored a young lady in Africa, allowing her to have a good education and go to school.
The thing to remember about “success” is that it can mean so many different things to different people. So it is important not to let society or others’ definition of success define what it means to you. Success does not need to be determined by a job or career title, financial wealth or stability, lavish lifestyle, or material possessions. Real success is achieving success on your own terms.
For me, that means living with love and joy, being a lighthouse and leader to others, experiencing inner peace and contentment, and making a difference in the world while I am here in human form on planet Earth. Looking back, I want to know that I have made a difference in some way to others by being here. I understand pain, life’s challenges, and the difficulties of living with a physical disability, and being a lighthouse to others puts my pain to purpose. Every morning when I wake up, I remind myself that as I am still alive and breathing, I must treat this day as precious and embrace each moment as it arises, as my work on Earth is not yet done.
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.
1. Not all physical limitations or disabilities are visible. Be kind always. You never know what someone is going through. You have no idea how difficult a night they may have had, how much pain they are in, or how challenging or exhausting just getting out of bed and dressed today may have been for them. Drop the opinions and judgement. Recognize that you do not know what you do not know. Be loving and kind. Treat others with the same understanding, compassion, and respect you would like to be treated with yourself.
2. Do not stop inviting your loved ones, family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors who live with a chronic health condition, disability, or physical limitations out for coffee or lunch and to events and social gatherings. It hurts! Being disabled does not mean we are defective and that we don’t value relationships and companionship; we have no desire to be the gloom and doom that “spoils” the joy and fun of the night; we still want to participate in life as fully as we possibly can — and want to experience as much as humanly possible that joy and fun too! It may not be easy for us — in truth, it can be logistically difficult and, at a functional level, painful and exhausting. But that is no excuse to leave us off the social gathering guest list. Our physical limitations may mean we cannot join in with everything (and that’s okay), but do not decide for us by not inviting us at all! And if we accept and then have to cancel attending at short notice because we do not feel up to it on the day, be non-judgmental, compassionate and understanding — and keep inviting us to future events. DO NOT cut us off. When our health doesn’t permit us to join you physically in person, then be open to having a video phone call or Zoom call at a time that works for us best.
3. Adults with chronic health conditions and physical disabilities are not children or babies, so do not automatically treat them as such. They are adults with vast amounts of life experience and wisdom (and desires, likes and dislikes, passions, needs, goals, and dreams just like you) so please treat us as adults with the respect we deserve. There is no need to talk down to us, use simplistic language, or automatically (without asking us) dive in to cut up our meals for us, speak to shop assistants or waiters on our behalf, or answer questions for us. By all means, take time to learn about our illness and how it affects us. Ask us questions to better understand our needs and how best you can perhaps help us. But speak to us on equal terms. I wouldn’t speak down to you. There is no need to do it to me. My husband was once pushing me around a supermarket in my wheelchair when he was asked by a lady on a stand promoting a well-known cake brand and offering samples, “Do you think your wife might like to try a piece of cake?” It was as if I was invisible; she looked straight past me to favor starting a conversation with my husband, who was behind me pushing my wheelchair. My husband replied, ‘I don’t know if my wife would like to try a piece of your cake. Perhaps you might like to ask her yourself?” Please speak to us directly and not through a third party!
4. Be patient. Please do not get frustrated at our slower pace of doing things or our need to use a lift at the far end of the department store instead of what you may perceive as the convenient stairs that perhaps lie ahead. Do not shout at us, tell us to get a grip, try to rush us, or push us to do things we do not feel up to doing on the day, or undermine the severity of our discomfort by telling us our pain can’t possibly be that bad, that your auntie had the same thing and is “cured now” after trying some special diet, that your friend has healed herself by having some form of therapy. You may mean well — and we get that — but many physical illnesses, disabilities, and health conditions are life-changing, debilitative, progressive, and not fixable or curable. Many of us must accept that fact and live our best lives with pain, illness, and disability as our constant companions 24/7. Unfortunately, for many of us, there is no rest or respite from it. We cannot leave our pain at home for the day while we pop out to go shopping or do something else. Where we go, our pain and disability go too. And that means what may seem simple or straightforward to you may be a complete logistical nightmare and physical challenge for someone else!
5. When you see us laughing, smiling, experiencing joy, being happy and content, exuding a deep inner peace, do not presume that means we are fixed, cured, or better. And do not presume that we are no longer in pain or struggling with physical challenges. It means that we are choosing to embrace our life wholly and completely in acceptance of our truth and reality — and to be led by spirit, not by our wound and pain. It means that we understand that if we can do all we can to keep our soul vibrantly alive and well, we can continue to live a deeply enriched and enlivened life despite our physical difficulties or limitations. It means we are choosing life and not existence. Having fun, being happy and having success in life are not exclusively available to the physically fully fit and healthy. And so, do not question or judge our happiness. Be happy with us and for us. Laugh with us, experience joy, sit in silence and peace with us — and hold us in your unconditional love and keep us strong on the days when our pain consumes us, and we cry tears and are weak. Remember that living with pain and disability is not a life choice we have made; we have had to learn to accept and befriend our body and not see it as our enemy. Wellness is often about keeping your soul and spirit healthy, even when your physical body is injured, deteriorating, aging, or impaired in some way. Living well happens when you develop an Unhackable Soul — the ability to see the beauty in imperfection and to rise, enriched by truth, and start each day anew.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Oh, my goodness, that’s such a difficult question. I have so many quotes that I love and that resonate deeply with me. So many of them I share in my best-selling book “Unhackable Soul: Rise Up, Feel Alive, and Live Well With Pain and Illness” — and even then, I couldn’t include them all and had to trust my gut on which ones to use and where. To pick one favorite “Life Lesson Quote” to share with you now, above all others, is hard, so I will trust my gut again and see what arises. And here we are: “The difference between a good life and a bad life is how well you walk through the fire” (Carl Jung).
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Barack and Michelle Obama. Although I live on the other side of the Globe in Scotland, I have always felt drawn to them at a deep soul level. There is something in each of their eyes that inspires and reaches out to me in a way that is hard to fathom or explain. I ask no questions. I am aware in life that we do not always need to have all the answers and understand. I trust that if it is meant to be, in God’s perfect timing and in his perfect way, we will have the opportunity to meet and serve each other for a higher good.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Unstoppable: How Maureen Sharphouse Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society for Over Three… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.