'After life-saving surgery, I've learnt not to sweat the small stuff, and want to help others do the same'
Newry life coach Amanda Rafferty tells Lee Henry how a near fatal Strep A infection and then having to rediscover her confidence after being a stay-at-home mum have equipped her with skills to help others cope with crises.
It is testament to Amanda Rafferty's resolve in the face of illness, and her determination to take life by the scruff of the neck, that she is able to look back on a dark period with a smile on her face.
"I was always an upbeat person and a dreamer," says the 43-year-old life coach from Newry. "I just lost that sense of positivity for a while. Thankfully, I've found it again."
In 2014, Rafferty had what she describes as "a close call with the man upstairs" after contracting Streptococcus A, a bacterial infection often found in the throat.
"I took a sore throat, part of my soft palate turned black, and at that stage I really should have gone to the doctor but I didn't have time - another excuse us mummies often use.
"About a week later I took an intense pain in my stomach and my husband, Paul (54) took me straight to the local hospital, where I received emergency life-saving surgery. The Strep A had turned toxic and my body had gone into toxic shock.
"I was out of action for six months. I spent the first week in high dependency and when I got home I slowly eased myself back into the mummy role. It had been such a tough time for Paul and the kids.
"Their memories are mostly of me in the hospital. They often talk about all the tubes that were coming out of me.
"One of the toughest things for me to hear when I was in hospital was that my youngest daughter, Aoife, was sleeping at night with my watch.
"Paul did his best to distract her. I still haven't fully thought about how ill I actually was. It may be that I won't allow myself to.
"There are still times where I get emotional thinking about who would have given my kids cuddles at night."
Today, Amanda coaches women of all ages and backgrounds to overcome fears and fulfil ambitions through her 'Inspire by Amanda R' life coaching business, teaching individuals to "go for it" as they journey towards happiness.
Just a few years ago, however, having lost all semblance of self-confidence and become virtually reclusive as a stay-at-home mum, she found herself in need of help.
"I started working in a veterinary surgery when I was 18 and ended up staying for 15 years," she says.
"The craic with the staff and the clients was so good, but, like most people, I ended up just going through the motions. I had no reason to challenge myself.
"When Paul, who is a farmer, and I had our first children, James (16) and Emma (13), I continued to work part-time, but when Aoife (9) came along, I decided to be a stay-at-home mum.
"I realised when on maternity leave with Aoife how quickly children grow up and I wanted to experience each and every milestone."
Though Amanda enjoyed her time raising Aoife, experiencing all the little joys of parenting a baby as they morph into a toddler, with time, things began to change.
An encroaching sense of loneliness began to take hold.
"It was always the same routine," she recalls.
"Dropping the kids off at the bus stop and lifting them from school, the only people I ever saw in between were the baby and the other mums at the school gates. I saw my mum and dad, and my husband, of course, but often we don't tell everything to our nearest and dearest.
"Bit by bit, it had a knock-on effect on my confidence. I began to dread nights out and avoided people altogether.
"I felt that I couldn't contribute to conversations and I started to doubt myself, thinking who would want to hear my input on anything?
"I thought that my opinion didn't matter."
Her salvation came in the shape of an unlikely source - her hairdresser.
Despite how difficult it had become to leave the house, Amanda was determined to keep up appearances, and somehow made a regular appointment for a wash and blow dry.
"And it was my hairdresser who was my saving grace," she says.
"Through talking with her, I realised that soon the kids would be grown up and off to live their own lives and I would struggle to find my own role. That's when it hit me that I needed to do something. My hairdresser suggested that I go into personal shopping, but as my confidence was so low it took me a year to send off my application form."
Amanda was ultimately accepted into the Style Coaching Institute, a certified image consultant training scheme.
She began her remote learning from home in January 2011 and qualified with honours in September 2015.
It gave her a new sense of purpose, a new career to focus on. She had found her niche.
"It was a combination of personal shopping - advice, wardrobe decluttering, giving talks - and life coaching.
"Although I was struggling with my own self-confidence at the time, I still wanted to help others and I enjoyed that. I got a lot out of it myself.
"It was the life coaching end that I was, and still am, drawn to today."
With her own life seemingly back on track, Amanda put her new skills to work, deriving great satisfaction from helping a variety of clients from across Northern Ireland and some from further afield.
And then when she fell ill in 2014, her outlook on life shifted again. In time, as she convalesced and gained new strength, she learned to put things into perspective and today "no longer sweats the small things, and I only do what I want to do".
With that mantra in mind, last year she launched Inspire by Amanda R, her life coaching and mentoring business designed to empower women from all walks of life. She offers a range of services, from one-to-one mentoring sessions and group chats to seminars and digital modules aimed at encouraging fearlessness within the individual.
"I work with women both young and not so young, youth groups, schools and women's groups, to make 'what ifs' become realities," adds Amanda.
"I recently worked with a middle-aged lady who had lost all confidence due to weight issues and was in a controlling relationship.
"She took part in one of my group sessions and since then has lost weight and found her voice in the relationship.
"Another example is a new mum who struggled with baby blues.
"She related to a recent blog post I had written about the same issue and contacted me online through my website. Another girl in her 20s who struggled to even lift a phone to ring somebody, contacted me regarding one-to-one sessions. After a couple of chats, and with some online support, she went on to set up her own business, which is growing from strength to strength."
Now her own boss, working her own hours on her own terms, and with plenty of extracurricular time for family, friends and fun in between, Amanda admits she is currently as happy as she has ever been.
She is happiest, however, when helping others.
"When a client even says a simple thank you, or starts the whole 'It was all down to you, Amanda' thing, I instantly stop them in their tracks to remind them that I just gave them the gentle push that they needed. Ultimately, it was them who did the steering.
"For a lot of people, it's just knowing that someone has got your back.
"It's being able to write an email to someone and knowing that that someone is there to respond, to give you a little boost.
"I love seeing the moment that the penny drops and my clients realise they can do what they often thought they couldn't."
She is quick to reveal, however, that not every moment of every day is a walk in the park for her. There are still plenty of "trials and tribulations" that she contends with on a personal and professional level, even if she does now have the tools to tackle them head-on.
"Don't get me wrong," she laughs, "I don't get up every day and bounce down the stairs singing zip-a-dee-do-dah. Life can take over. But I can say that now I notice all the simple little things, like the leaves changing colour, and appreciate those things a lot more than I did before.
"I know how quickly life can turn on its head. I'm more realistic about what's important in life and definitely always carry my positive spark around with me as much as I can.
"I now look at each birthday and each day as a privilege."
With plans to publish a "words of wisdom" book in the year ahead, and lots of new clients getting in touch on a weekly basis, Amanda is owning her new lot in life, busy, happy and fulfilled.
And for those in need of a pick-me-up, she signs off as she does with each of her blogs: "Be kind to yourself. And stay inspired."