Episode 57 - Roger CheethamSurviving the unsurvivable - Making conversations about resilience count!
Roger Cheetham, Award-Winning Speaker & Resilience Specialist
Making Conversations about Resilience Count!
Giving resilience its real meaning – finding the positives in ‘hell’.
In this powerful episode of “Making Conversations Count” we’re talking about what is the real meaning of the word ‘resilience’.
“Despite the disabilities, the life-changing injuries, et cetera… it’s still one of the best things ever to happen to me in my life because of the difference I’ve been able make to others.…”
Roger Cheetham, Making Conversations Count (November 2021)
Surviving the unsurvivable
As an unexpected wave of events, including traumatic experiences, strikes our lives, we are often left wondering how will I get through this.
How am I meant to cope?
Will it ever end?
Am I going to survive?
The process of surviving hell is not simply about repairing the damage caused by the trauma itself.
It also involves building resilience.
Finding deep within yourself is that something which makes you able to move on with your life despite all odds.
What is resilience?
We can all think of resilience examples that we’ve witnessed in our lives, but as host Wendy Harris discovered, the one featured in this episode is next-level!
We can guarantee that you’re going to be blown away.
It’s really important that you listen, because once you have, you’re going to feel extremely empowered.
A difficult conversation that counts
As you will now know if you’ve listened before, we like to hear the pivotal moment as a raw and real-time conversation, while recording it.
We didn’t talk about Roger’s life before we recorded, yet Wendy says she can accept that she knew that his story was meant to be featured as it’s the very essence of the “Making Conversations Count” podcast’s theme.
Listen in to hear how Roger tells us all about how he came to be the inspirational speaker for our children and the entrepreneur he is today.
How we’re making the conversations about resilience count
Roger gets us thinking about what it can be like to be challenged in an extreme way in what you thought was your safe place.
When there are no signs or indications that anything is wrong.
Roger takes us on the journey with him as he recounts not just one conversation that quite literally acted as a turning point in his life.
Check out this must-listen episode now, as Roger tells the story of how he found himself mentoring ‘problem’ people and transforming their lives.
After you’ve listened, we think you’ll agree – Roger is the leader of resilience.
Listen to other episodes on your favourite platform…
Full Episode Transcript
Making Conversations Count – Episode Fifty-Seven
Wendy Harris & Roger Cheetham
18th November 2021
00:04:03: Approaching and maintaining resilience
00:06:45: Pivotal conversations
00:12:32: Enduring the darkest moments
00:15:09: Turning negatives into positives
00:21:31: The privilege of changing people’s lives
00:23:19: The unsolved crime
00:26:54: Final thoughts
Wendy Harris: I hope you listen to the Making Conversations Count show, because we have some fabulous guests who are the top of their game in their industry, and they share something deeply personal that created a turning point for them; their conversation that counted. Now, I have to say that our guest today really epitomises the values of the show. You know, and I say this often, I don’t want to know what that conversation that counted was before we record; however, I was aware that today’s guest has made their life around that moment.
I have the extremely humbling experience of bringing the conversation with Roger Cheetham to life. I’m not going to spoil it, I’m going to let Roger explain. We’re making conversations about resilience count, and I really, seriously would like to hear your thoughts and feedback after listening. Thank you.
So, what’s new, Wendy Woo? Well, I’m so glad you asked. We continue to chart, which is fantastic, and we continue to talk to some amazing people around the globe. Right now, I’ve got my head to the grind and I’m doing lots of projects with some exciting new clients, as well as launching a hybrid online course, where you can work with and without me. I’ll be bringing you more details of that as that develops. But now, it’s time to get back to the conversation with Roger.
Roger, you were recommended to me, I believe if memory serves, by Mandy, who says you’ve got a story that needs to be shared. So, I have had to be really, really good. I’ve not read your profile, even though we’ve connected on social media; I’ve tried to avoid looking to see, but I can see that you are a TEDx speaker, and I know that you go out and you make a difference to people. And I think that today, this episode’s going to be a little bit wrapped up with that conversation that counted, as well as what you do now. So, it’s not going to be the usual format, because I’ve got a feeling in my water that it’s all wrapped in one. So, do you want to tell us about what you do now and how you help, and how that journey has unfolded for you?
Roger Cheetham: I’d love to share that, Wendy. Yes, thank you, and it is all based on a life-changing experience of my own, which I’ll not give the game away by going into too soon in this interview. Suffice to say for now that I call on that life-changing experience, and have changed it from a negative, which happened to me, into a positive, not only for myself, but for thousands of other people I have been able to help around the world to improve their own level of resilience; and that has applied to individuals and organisations, from classrooms to boardrooms, whether that’s been in one-to-one conversations with small mastermind groups, classrooms, assemblies, etc, mental health week awareness initiative, crime and justice initiatives, right through to speaking from a physical stage, pre-pandemic, remember those days, when I spoke from a physical stage in New Delhi, India, for over 2,000 mainly ladies from over 120 countries and shared my own story of resilience with them.
Wendy Harris: Resilience is something that we’ve all had to tap into, certainly with the pandemic. It has affected every single human being on the planet in some way or another, and it’s something that I always liken to a well; it’s like water at the bottom of it and you have to still look after it, or that well will dry up. So, is that one of the teachings that you have in terms of resilience; how is your approach to it?
Roger Cheetham: Well, first of all, Wendy, I would love to congratulate you on the analogy of the well there. I may well be borrowing that one, moving forward, with your permission.
Wendy Harris: By all means!
Roger Cheetham: To me, I quite often, because I share this in classrooms, start with a dictionary definition. When you look at the dictionary definitions being things like, “The ability of someone to become strong, healthy or successful after something bad happens”, or even, “The ability of something to return to its original form after being bent, pulled or stretched, etc”, the issue I have with both of those is they really conjure up the impression of a parachute, as it were, that’s only deployed as we absolutely plummet towards the depths of adversity.
I prefer to take a more balanced view on resilience, seeing it as the ability to keep going through the difficult times, to bounce back from the hard times, and also to spring forward to the great times ahead. And I think quite often, that last piece is often missed out on the understanding of resilience.
Wendy Harris: Yeah. You see, as you were describing the formal definition, in my mind, my chemistry lessons were coming to mind, and how physical forms can change, because of heat or cold and this sort of thing, and return back to normal. To all intents and purposes, it doesn’t leave a mark. You don’t know if that water has been frozen. It’s only when steam forms that you know that that’s been reduced in some way and that it has changed, but it does go back to being water.
So, it’s a tricky one, isn’t it, because when things that are bad happen to you, they do leave an invisible mark, don’t they?
Roger Cheetham: They very much do, yes. And, to a degree, there are always things that we can influence and beyond that, things that we can’t. But what we can always control is how we react, how we view the things that are beyond our control, because our reaction to them is within our own grasp.
Wendy Harris: So, what is the conversation that you’re generally having with audiences; what does that feel like when it’s you on stage and you’re giving your keynote? Give us a flavour of that conversation.
Roger Cheetham: Certainly. Conversation very much comes into this, so obviously this is the podcast to be sharing this on. One of the conversations that I often share within my talk is a conversation that I wasn’t part of directly, and the reason I say that, bringing to light now my story, the conversation was between the trauma consultant and my wife, Claire, and was taking part beyond the cubicle curtain as the trauma consultant was totally unaware that the affect of the Ketamine had worn off and I was able to hear every single word, as he was telling my wife, Claire, that the chances were that I wouldn’t make it through the night. If I did make it through the night, there was very little chance they would be able to save my right, lower leg. And the best-case scenario was I was going to be with them for at least six months.
So, hearing that second-hand was a conversation that will very much stay with me. And what had led to that conversation was that, only minutes before, I had found myself laying in the road bleeding out, having been attacked by three unknown persons brandishing baseball bats and wearing full face masks. And with each sickening blow that they landed, as I lay there hearing the sound of my own bones break, each time I swallowed, tasted my own blood, I was having a conversation in my own head, as I fought to stay conscious, as I realised that losing consciousness would mean loss of life, because I would have had no way to even attempt to defend myself then.
That particular conversation was formed of two questions, which were, “Have you achieved everything in your life which you wish to?” and, “Have you made the difference in the world that you always intended to?” And when the answer, again obviously in my own head, to those was a resounding no, then that really gave me the hope to keep on fighting. Little did I know that within minutes, I’d be hearing the trauma consultant conversation, which was pretty much stripping me of any hope. But it was almost a case of getting in my retaliation in first to that conversation by having that conversation and having found those answers.
It was the three months that followed, in addition to a long list of ailments and permanent disabilities that I’ve been left with, as if that wasn’t enough to be dealing with, within one week of being in hospital, I also contracted MRSA, which meant that the majority of that three-month stay was all in isolation, which again was a real test of my resilience, to not only get through the six operations, each over 12 hours in length; but also, to deal with the loneliness and the isolation of that hospital room, between visiting times, and particularly overnight, and the mental health issues that go with the fact of knowing that three people have seen fit to try and take your life from you.
That has led to me sharing this story in many classrooms. And whilst the image may well be that you have in your head that that’s one person stood in front of a classroom sharing a story, so it’s more of a monologue than a conversation, the thing is by standing in front of classrooms, boardrooms, wherever the event may be, and sharing my story from such a place of vulnerability, it’s surprising how many conversations that instigates and how many young people suddenly feel like they’re given permission to share their deepest, darkest moments. And as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, you can sometimes physically see the relief within the young people, or the audience members, as they feel at last they have a chance to share that without feeling that in doing so, they’d simply be having a pity party, or a sympathy grab.
So, whilst maybe not the traditional conversation, as we know it, the three conversations there, between the trauma consultant and my wife, Claire, the one I had in my own head, and the one I have in classrooms and various other organisations where I share this talk in front of audiences, the conversation really is relevant.
Wendy Harris: It appears to me that it’s sheer willpower that has kept you here to be able to carry that conversation on, which is so in line with the values of the show, I can’t tell you, because it’s all about sharing stories, not just of the success, but things that have happened that have impacted, because somebody can take something away from that conversation and go, “I needed to hear that. I’m not on my own, I’m not the only one that’s been through this”.
Clearly, your personal experience is of the extreme, and I can’t imagine the dark moments that you’d have had whilst in isolation, so I can totally understand where resilience features for you in that conversation. What was it that really got you through the conversation in your head?
Roger Cheetham: So many things. I’m just wondering where to start with that one. The darkest times, in all honesty, wasn’t in that hospital isolated room, it was spending those three months plus having a dream and having an aim and a goal of being back home, and naively thinking that would be a return to normality. Obviously, in current times, we’re hearing a lot of talk about the new normal as we’re coming out of the pandemic step by step.
However, when I got home, it was a case of the grass wasn’t particularly greener, as if often the case, and even though you would find me waking up back at home, it wasn’t in the bedroom. Because of the severity of my injuries, I was waking up in the family living room, which was having to serve as my bedroom, bathroom and toilet. I was living life between bed, wheelchair and the dreaded commode. And I have to say, sharing that living room with my wife, Claire, and then 15-year-old daughter, Tash, who was studying for her GCSE O Levels at the time, was not just a test of my own resilience, and it was during some of the darker moments in my room where I would stare at the magnolia walls, reflecting my magnolia existence, and have the conversation with myself, “If this is all life has to offer, has it really been worth the fight?” still to be here, at that moment.
One of the things that kept going through my head, and I cannot to this day imagine where this originally came from, so I don’t make it up just to make it a fate, but it was a saying that, “People will do more for others than they will do for themselves”. And I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by claiming I jumped out of bed, which would have been a feat in itself, and say, “I know what I’ll do, I’ll go out there and become a multi-award-winning international speaker and make a real difference in the world”, but —
Wendy Harris: That’s a by-product, isn’t it; that’s just a by-product of you being able to go out and make that difference?
Roger Cheetham: That’s it. And I did realise that I needed to start turning this from that negative that happened to me, into a positive for other people, and that very much started close to home. As I said, Tash was studying for her GCSE O Levels at the time, and so many 15-year-olds would have thought, “What’s the importance of exams in the grand scheme of things, when we don’t know whether my dad’s going to live or not?” Tash’s view was very much that she would do everything that she could under the circumstances to add her exam results to the ever-growing long list of things that I’m proud of her for, and I’m able to share with you and your audience today, as one proud dad, that Tash left school, under those circumstances, with 11 GCSEs, all at Grade B and above, as they were graded back then.
So for me, initially, my focus was to match that level of commitment and to help Tash, as well as be there for Claire, who had been there by my bedside for three months, every day, with the exception of the ones I was in surgery. And then obviously, Tash got those amazing exam results and went on to get the dream job, being very much an animal lover herself, got the job as a qualified veterinary nurse, and still excels in that field to this day.
So, beyond there, I did originally want to work primarily with trauma survivors. One of the issues I discovered was that people were either still too raw, so they needed the professional help of our mental health specialists, such as the psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, etc, which I don’t for a moment profess to be; or, they had had issues in childhood, which again is not my area of speciality and I am not arrogant enough to think anyone that’s dealt with a trauma, I’m the ideal fit for them.
So, someone did suggest to me that I begin sharing this story in schools, and I was so glad I did, as I shared it with one group of what we could call year 6 students here in the UK; I guess elsewhere in the world, it would be elementary.
Wendy Harris: They’re 10-year-olds, aren’t they?
Roger Cheetham: That’s right, the 10-year-olds. They were a little bitter younger than the graphic version of the story that I normally share, but their head teacher, principal, dean, whatever you would call it, wherever you are in the world, had said that because they were quite a low demographic school, it meant that 95%-plus of their students had major life challenges, and therefore at 10 years old, were probably more streetwise than a lot of the 16- to 18-year old college students I would speak to.
So, I went in there, shared my story. There was a young man you would have found sat at the front, who I call Declan, for safeguarding purposes, it wasn’t his name. And, Declan, at the time I spoke to the class, had been labelled as a problem student and was on the verge of permanent exclusion. I went in there, shared my story with the class and Declan, when I asked for comments or questions at the end, was the first to raise his hand and say that because I’d shared what I’d shared, he wanted to share something with his class that he’d never shared before.
That was, until he was adopted at 18 years of age, he’d been so badly physically abused, he was left with permanent brain damage, and that was the reason why he was like he was with everyone. And given this was an area of the UK where sadly there is a strong belief that boys don’t cry, Declan was able to grab a box of tissues from his teacher’s desk and shed the whole eight-and-a-half years’ worth of tears pent up inside him, in front of all 29 of his classmates.
For me, that’s not only the power of this story, but it’s the power of having an open, honest and vulnerable conversation, taking the pressure off others to feel like they’re able to share their story too.
Wendy Harris: Absolutely. I’ve had a past guest, Taz Thornton, she would call it a “flip your negatives”; that’s one of her sayings. And, that’s exactly what you’ve done there. When you think back, and I don’t want you to relive the moments of the attack and things like that, the conversation that you had, those two questions that you had, have you done everything you wanted to do; and have you left the market that you wanted to; in actually fact, what you’re doing now is that, isn’t it?
Roger Cheetham: It is, very much so. I mean, one of the real issues I had during that prolonged period of isolation back at home, which incidentally was a whole year, was that I really felt like I had lost purpose. And because I’d been a publican, managing pubs and bars prior to my attack for over 13 years, life had had purpose, whether it was just a case of serving drink, crisps and food over the bar to people from the local area, or whether it was offering a listening ear to people who had had an argument with their spouse, or a bad day at work, or whatever it may be.
Wendy Harris: Giving them a safe place to be, really, isn’t it? I’ve worked in the pub trade years and years ago, and it’s a rewarding profession.
Roger Cheetham: Yet now, when I contrast that with the life purpose that I’ve been able to flip this negative and have now, and be able to go and share this story, never as a pity party or a sympathy grab, but always on behalf of people who aren’t yet ready to share their own story, who have a story, or who are feeling that they’re the only person in the world going through what they’re going through at the time, which was a recurring thought of mine in my darker moments, I have to say that having something now that I can use to be quite frequently life-changing for other people and I have to say, even on occasion, life-saving, and comparing that life purpose to how it was before, there really is no comparison.
Wendy Harris: You’re in a privileged position. It’s an odd thing to say, isn’t it, to come out of something so terrible to say that you’re privileged now. I can only liken it sometimes to the training that I do. I do a job, I show people and share skillsets. But because I’m dealing with people and because you just can’t avoid picking up on nuances, or using the experience that you have, it’s easy to spot where something’s not working and it could do better; or for the person, they’re not in the right place doing the right job.
There’s been times when I’ve been training somebody going, “Why are you doing this; you don’t even want to be here?” and it’s because they can’t admit to it. They couldn’t sit and have that conversation with anybody, because they thought they were stuck. And it’s when you can unstick somebody, it’s a by-product of what you’re doing, but it’s a privilege to have somebody’s future in your hands a little. It’s a big responsibility as well, isn’t it?
Roger Cheetham: It’s a massive responsibility, but it’s also, as you say, such a privilege and that is how I’ve very much, for a long while, seen what’s happened to me. And I quite often, within my talks, will say, “Despite the disabilities, the life-changing injuries, etc, it’s still one of the best things ever to happen to me in my life, because of the difference I’ve been able to make to others”. And, given that I’ve been married for 27 years now, and have a 23-year-old daughter, I’m always careful to say “one of the best things” to happen to me!
Wendy Harris: Or Claire will be after you!
Roger Cheetham: Or I think my own resilience really will be tested!
Wendy Harris: Just to bring the story 360, and what started with three thugs that were faceless to you, has anything happened for you to know that they have been brought to justice, or that you know that they’ve been taken off the streets, or caught; what’s the story there, do you know, Roger?
Roger Cheetham: We’re now more than eight years on, and to this day, the three perpetrators have not been identified, let alone brought to justice. And I have to share that I have never, ever, ever, at any point, wanted revenge. But in the early stages, I was totally focused on justice, wanting them to pay the price as, even though the case, had it been brought to court, would have been attempted murder, because of the lack of evidence and lack of resource, after just eight weeks, the attempted murder case was closed.
So, the perpetrators, after eight weeks, were home and dry. Me, as the victim, as I saw myself in the initial stages, effectively served a three-month solitary confinement sentence, as the victim rather than the perpetrator, and that really did have an impact on my mental health, particularly when I was waking up each morning, having written a complete A to Z straight of who the three attackers were, and a different three attackers each day, who the fourth person was that would have paid them to do that, and justifiable, in my head, motive as to why people should want to see me dead.
After going through that for a couple of weeks, it has such an impact on your mental health, when the three people who have tried to take your life, in your head, have suddenly magnified to nearly 50 people, you really do have to decide, in the interests of your mental health, that you’re going to draw a line under that and the police will either catch someone, or they won’t; but either way, draw a line and move on.
I’m quite often asked in classrooms, particularly now, “Sir, if you came across those three people, would you punch them in the face?” to which I very quickly respond, “Well, no, because violence is never the answer”. But I then surprise them further by going on and saying, “Should I come across the three people, my reaction would be to shake them by the hand and thank them for the positive difference in my life”, which takes us back to what we were talking about earlier, the difference of life purpose between serving pints of lager and packets of crisps over the bar, and getting out there, whether it be virtually in opportunities like this, or physically as the world opens back up again, and sharing this message as a positive message of hope with those whose lives I can either change or save with it.
Wendy Harris: Roger, I would have just asked you what you’d have said to them, and you’ve answered the question there quite succinctly. So, I’m not sure that I could be that big person, but then it’s not happened to me and you can never say until something happens to you. There are many topics like that we come across where we have an opinion until it happens, isn’t it?
All I can say really is it’s been an absolute pleasure for me to be able to give you the space to share that story and hopefully affect some change with the listeners. If they want to carry that conversation on, I’m going to do some research and point them to, if there are any charities that we should be linking them to, if they want to carry on the conversation privately. But if they did want to speak to you directly, Roger, where would the best place be for them to do that?
Roger Cheetham: Right, okay, well to keep things simple, as I’m a big believer in that, they can either email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. My website is rogercheetham.com; it doesn’t get much more simple than that. And also, breaking news, I’m actually involved with a couple of other people within the UK at the moment. We are just going live with our social enterprise, which is Survive Strive Thrive, so there will be more out there on the website and on social media very shortly. And that was me, coming together as a survivor of crime, along with a lady who was a serving police officer for over 30 years here in the UK, and also a gentleman with over 30 years of sitting on the bench as a JP, a Justice of the Peace, and we’re very much about first of all, deterring young people from entering into a life of crime; secondly, for those already on the edge of a life of crime, to hopefully stop them getting deeper involved; and also, for the young people who have already sadly become victims of crime, to support them with empathy, by pooling our experience.
So, that’s Survive Strive Thrive, and that is very much what we’re about. And I would invite your audience to keep your eye out for that, as we become more present online moving forward.
Wendy Harris: Roger, that’s brilliant. Everybody deserves a second chance, right?
Roger Cheetham: Absolutely, yes.
Wendy Harris: You’re an example of a second chance. We’ve all had second chances, so don’t be afraid to reach for that second chance.
Roger Cheetham: What a perfect way of summing that up, Wendy.
Wendy Harris: It’s been lovely to talk to you, Roger. Thank you so much for sharing your story. We will of course make sure that we keep updating the website with all of the details, as you’re releasing them, to be able to help as many people as we can. Thank you.
Roger Cheetham: Thank you, Wendy, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me on this show, and thank you to each and every one of your audience for hearing me today.
Wendy Harris: I do hope that you got value from listening to the conversation with Roger today. It’s an extraordinary situation, and I’m not sure I could be as big as Roger has been about what happened to him. But I am so glad that the world has people like Roger in it; that’s what makes this life such a wonderful and rich experience for us.
Do carry on the conversation with Roger, he’s doing some fantastic charity work. All his details are in the show notes, and they’ll be on our website, makingconversationscount.com. Next week, I’m going to be talking to Mike Pagan.
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We all have pivotal moments and Wendy manages to find the right parts, showcasing the reasons why someone is who they are.
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