When Jenna Forster was downed by lyme disease five years ago, she knew it would be a life-altering condition – what she couldn’t know were the positives that would come out of coping and carrying on through adversity.
Her book, One Woman’s Life Lessons, has emerged out of that experience.
“It changed me,” she said. “I’m a different person now. I wanted to put some of the things I learned down.”
She also wants people using the book to set some of the things they are learning down. One Woman’s Life Lessons is not a book that speaks at you; it’s more a responsive dialogue in writing, with Forster’s observations in the form of short passages on one side of each spread, room for your thoughts and insights on the other.
Forster was training for a half-marathon near Shawnigan Lake, where she lived, when her lyme disease struck.
“I was running down a trail and my left leg just went out from under me and stopped working,” she said. “It took 25 doctors and specialists to figure out what was happening.”
Lyme attacks the nervous system. It’s hard to diagnose, often being mistaken for other ailments, so it was a couple of years, and a trip to California, before Forster understood what the problem was. Then the real work began.
“When I started writing this book, I could be upright for about two hours every day, so I had to be very clear about how I used my energy,” Forster said.
Now she’s walking again, has adapted to lyme’s four day cycle, and is back working as an executive coach. “From where I was, that’s a huge improvement for me.”
A theme of Forster’s book is the preciousness of life, and how we need to focus our energy, not dissipate it by trying to ‘people please’ too much.
Before lyme struck, Forster was spreading herself thin and running herself ragged. “When I thought about it, when I had to stop and think about it because I wasn’t able to do those things anymore, I realized that the reason I was doing a lot of the things I was doing was for the proof of others.”
Not any more. “I know how I want to spend my time; and I know what I want to focus on.”
That’s the positive that’s come out of the negative. “I would say that this book is because of lyme disease… everything in this book is because of lyme disease,” Forster said.
It brought home lessons she might not have learned for years. “I may have been aware of it before, but because of the extreme nature of what I found myself in… that’s what created this book.”
Forster chose young artist Kelsey Primrose to illustrate One Woman’s Life Lessons.
Primrose is going into Grade 12 at Ladysmith Secondary School and intends to get a Bachelor of Arts degree when she graduates. But she also wants to pursue a career in nursing. “Either one would make me insanely happy,” she said.
For her working with Forster has taken art to a deeper place. “It’s definitely given me more experience. It’s not just me, sketching on a piece of paper,” she said.
Conveying the kind of feelings and discoveries Forster wanted to share with her readers has been a process of exploration for Primrose.
For her part Forster enjoys working with teens. ”I like to build confidence,” she said. “That’s a big part of this for me, to allow somebody who’s got the talent to express themselves, and really put themselves out there.”
Asked about the ‘mindset’ people should have using her book, Forster said the first thing to do is to let go of a mindset, and just be with it.
“If I can plant a seed by saying something in here, then whatever comes up, they can go with it and write whatever comes up for them.”