A senior reporter at last -overcoming the hurdle

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It’s been more than a week since my last blog. For that I can only apologise, but life has been rather chaotic over the past few weeks. I hope you are all well (as well as you can be) and none of you are reading this from the sorry prison cell of the hospital bed.

Last week I told you all about my celebrations following my surprise journalism award, and how humbled and shocked I was to be recognised for my role in the newsroom despite all my forced sick days (when I say forced I mean being told to leave as I’m so ill they can’t
stand to watch me battle through the pain anymore), time off following my surgery and slow return to the front line following numerous complications and a body which simply refused to heal.

I know I told you all I wouldn’t go on about this anymore, so I won’t. But something appears to be in the water right now. Indeed a person in the media company I work for, who also battles with Crohn’s, said that I appeared to be being looked after by “a very good fairy”… I’m just hoping my fairy godmother sticks around a bit longer to get me through Christmas – a dreaded time where my illness always raises it’s ugly head and lands me with a surprise vacation in hospital.

This week I passed my senior reporting exam. The news came to me during a bit of a delicate moment in the office, and was dampened by the fact that we were dealing with something which could ultimately have had serious implications. My editor told me just at a moment when I was sure I had, once again failed. He did that trick, you know the one where you look serious and upset as you deliver news only to change into an expression of joy and say “you’ve passed”. I was ready to burst into tears before he said those two magic words. I just don’t know what I would have done if he had told me I had failed and would have to take it again. Needless to say he would have had to send me home…. If I’d failed this time I don’t think I could have had the strength or determination to do it again.

I’m no quitter, but my senior exams have been a huge hurdle for me to overcome. I’m not blaming it all on my illness – as I don’t really believe it can stop me advancing if I really really battle through – but this exam has been the bane of my life for almost two years. The system has been against me, meaning that since the first day I misheard a figure during the news writing exam after a solid week of less than 3 hours sleep a night during a very bloody and painful flare-up, I have had this exam hanging over me stopping me passing Go and collecting my £200 – instead sending me straight to jail.

I took the exam twice. Both times were incredibly frustrating and stressful, and each time I failed the pressure I put myself under got considerably worse. Funnily enough the part of the exam which I seemed simply unable to pass was the part which should have been a piece of cake…the news writing exam…basically what I do every single day – but something about the exam situation made it become an enormous task which I quite simply couldn’t pass. I think I always put myself under too much pressure. I passed my law and editors’ panel first time round with no trouble whatsoever…but when the time came to sit down and write, the stress, combined with my deep fatigue, made it impossible for me to succeed.

According to Trinity Mirror law if you fail your senior news writing exam you have to wait six months to give it another shot. Rules are rules. But in my case this caused chaos. After waiting six months, I would no doubt be in the middle of a flare when my test popped up again. So I failed a second time. Then, when the third opportunity came round I was in a hospital bed awaiting having my bowel removed, I couldn’t even eat soup let alone travel to Liverpool and take an exam, so I didn’t take it. This meant waiting another six months. Personally I think that’s a little unfair, but rules are rules and there is only an exam day every six months for a reason – so I had to sit tight in the hospital knowing that my illness had well and truly scuppered my career and stopped me getting a very much needed pay rise. That will always stick with me as a dark day.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t passed this time round. I suppose it isn’t worth thinking about, but even now, a few days after being given the news, I can feel the relief lifting like a great weight off my shoulders. My illness is not helped by stress, in fact I would go as far as saying it is seriously exasperated by it. And knowing that I no longer have that hanging over me makes me feel around a stone lighter. I was worried that if I failed I wouldn’t be able to take it for another year; due to having to have another load of surgery in the coming months I would probably be on the operating slab during the next examination day – something I just couldn’t bear to comprehend. Now I no longer need to worry. It’s all over, finally I can just get on with doing the job I love without worrying about exams or ticking boxes.

It may be a small thing to most people but to be able to officially say “Rachel Flint senior reporter” is worth more to me right now than any trophy, award or title. That tiny addition to my job title is like me sticking two fingers up to my IBD and saying “you didn’t kill my dreams, not for one second”!

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