Juliet Greenwood a woman of substance
Written by Maggi Summerhill
Juliet is a woman of immense strength and determination, who has fought a battle against the physical pain and mental anguish of ME for over ten years and come out a winner.
I first met her in New York a few weeks back and today we are sitting on the side of a mountain in Wales, she in the north and I in the south. Wearing wooly socks and clutching a steaming hot mug of coffee we ignore the wet and windy weather outside and settle down for a good chat.
Juliet is originally from Worcestershire where she grew up with her brother and teacher parents.
’I had an alternative education’ she reveals. I went to the Rudolf Steiner School and in the summer my parents who were teachers took my brother and I touring Europe in an old camper van. This was in the 1960’s, a time where you, if you stopped in a forest somewhere you were liable to be woken in the middle of the night by men holding guns. ‘
The unusual upbringing exposed her to other cultures and stirred an interest in the differing lives people live and resulted in an early fascination with history. But it also meant she felt slightly like an outsider and books became her mentors and friends.
‘They taught me about myself and shared human experience.’ She acknowledges. ‘That’s how writing became my passion.’
But Juliet believed becoming a writer was an ambition to far.
‘I was brought up to view writers and artists as a different species; not like us. To be worshipped from afar.’ She muses.
She became a teacher and pursued her other dream; to own a house. But just as she was about to enjoy the fruits of he labor, a little cottage with a huge garden right on the edge of a village in Snowdonia, she became ill with glandular fever which led to ME also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. She was in her mid 30ies and went from healthy and fit to suffering painful aching limbs and unconsciousness.
‘I could only concentrate a few minutes at the time, the rest I was asleep or in a foggy haze – it was scary.’ She admits.
But this was in the 1990’s before ME was properly recognized, the doctor soon refused to sign sick notes and Juliet was left in a terrible state with no income, neighbors she hardly knew and few friends.
Juliet believes ME have been the worst and the best thing that have ever happened to her. She was destroyed, brought down to a level where she had nothing left but a determination to stay alive. That determination led her to write, a few words every day just enough to stay awake at first and it worked. Having rediscovered her passion for writing she soon was staying awake longer, she was dealing with the pain and started to feel connected. Writing her way through her trauma and feeling of loss, she managed to build enough physical and emotional strength to get involved with a charity working with local kids one hour a week. The work was story telling and puppet plays.
‘It got my brain back in gear.’ She says.
But it would be another four years before she was back to health and during these years she confirmed her writing to be the greatest therapy and losing her wariness she started building on this, entering short story competition and later as she gained confidence, wrote novelettes and stories for magazines.
Juliet’s energy returning, she used her creativity and a hitherto undiscovered talent for raising money through grants, to set up a small award-winning charity taking storytelling and performance projects into the local community (www.storipen.co.uk). She didn’t stop there but went on to help other community groups, including an intergenerational oral history project and an award-winning film and music project (tapemusicandfilm.co.uk) working with people recovering from problems with drugs and alcohol. Finally she is writing a book. ‘It has taken me ten long years to get my health and fitness back’ she acknowledges.
Juliet fought physical pain and chronic fatigue, alone, in a new place with her writing and sheer love of life as her only weapons. As a reward she has received her health back and is doing what she loves: ‘Working with my editor on my first novel ‘Eden’s Garden’ (Honno Press) I finally realize I am one of ‘them’ and ‘them’ are really us; we are all human beings with a story to tell.’
Juliet reaching the top of Snowdonia again
‘Eden’s Garden’ is out in spring 2012 and is not about ME but stems from Juliet’s experiences. The book is about women growing older and wiser and how life-experience that breaks you apart can be the very thing that makes you a human being.