Holding On To Hope
Holding On To Hope
Mike Rolls was a sports-mad 18 year old when he contracted meningococcal septicaemia – one of the deadliest diseases on the planet – on a football trip. “One moment I’m tearing around a footy field, fit as a fiddle … the next, I’m waking up after a five-and-a-half- week induced coma, unable to move,” recalls Rolls. When Rolls regained consciousness, he learned he had lost his right leg, half his left foot, two fingers and part of his nose.
In addition to these external injuries, Rolls suffered horrific internal trauma, including kidney failure, liver failure and multiple bleeds on the brain. His parents were told he had a five per cent chance of survival. They were told several times to say their goodbyes.
“That five per cent figure popped up a long time after I was in hospital. While I knew I was in a bad way, I always had an underlying belief things would improve, a level of optimism that remained. Every time I had a major setback it was a case of, ‘Right, what can we do to overcome it?’, rather than falling into a state of helplessness,” he says. Rolls attributes his optimism to a combination of feeling there was unfinished business, and his family’s support.
“There’s no such thing as a personal or isolated crisis – when something happens to an individual, it’s felt by everyone – family, friends, community. These supports were what kept my chin in the air, bumping me back on track when I felt I was sliding into a very dark space.” After a painfully slow recovery and eight years of living with a leg that would not heal, Rolls made the extraordinarily difficult decision to have his remaining leg amputated.
“Sometimes when we are faced with a tough decision, it’s normal to choose the path of least resistance. It’s also normal for that issue to keep rearing its head. I did that for too long, I went about my life ignoring the myriad issues that leg had burdened me with. I became a professional at making excuses about why it ‘wasn’t that bad’ until the day came that I guess I’d had enough,” explains Rolls. “It might appear ‘radical’ but I needed to move on once and for all – enough was enough – and there was only one path that could take me forward.”
Rolls says it was by no means a rash decision. First he had to get his head around what the change meant. Then, after educating himself on the risk, he knew he had to be able to look back (regardless of the outcome) and say “it was the right decision at that time”.
Of course, the decision to have his remaining leg amputated was going to have a huge impact on his life. “The day I got home after the operation on my second leg, I plummeted mentally. That doubt came screaming back and the few tiny benefits of my old situation now appeared to be the size of a mountain. It was all false and understanding that this is a normal part of the change process was key”.
Rolls surrounded himself with all the support he had. “Eventually those dark days dispersed and opportunities took their place.” Rolls has since used his experience to develop a practical methodology based on the principles of proactive resilience. As well as achieving personal accomplishments such as representing Australia in golf, Rolls also works as an inspirational speaker and ambassador for Interplast and Limbs 4 Life, and as a mentor and counsellor to young people after illness or injury and is the author of Ditch The Dead Weight (Murdoch Books).
“Proactive resilience refers to the things we can do in our day-to-day lives that prepare us for what tomorrow will bring,” explains Rolls. “One of the trickier aspects to life is we can’t always predict what is around the corner. We may be faced with a challenge at the drop of a hat and being ready for anything is what proactive resilience is all about.” To develop proactive resilience, Rolls follows three principles: adopting a ‘challenge mindset’; ‘ditching dead weight’ and ‘challenging toxic beliefs’.
“We form beliefs through experience. Sometimes we can outgrow them – just because they may have once been helpful, doesn’t mean they will continue to be,” says Rolls.
Rolls is also a big proponent of sport: “Sport has taught me many valuable lessons. Being competitive was at the cornerstone of my climb back to health and I view sport as a mental health tool.