Kirsty Young reflects on having to step down from radio work

‘It grinds you away, you lose your sense of self’: Kirsty Young reveals that having to step down from radio work due to chronic pain caused her to question her identity

  • The 54-year-old hosted nearly 500 editions of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs 
  • She left the show to undergo treatment for fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis
  • She said: ‘It grinds you away, you lose your sense of humour, you lose your sense of self’ 
  • Kirsty is now feeling ‘much better’ and reflected on returning to broadcast 

Kirsty Young has recalled how having to step away from broadcasting for a few years due to her chronic pain condition caused her to question her own identity, saying ‘you lose your sense of self’.

The 54-year-old hosted nearly 500 editions of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs between 2006 and 2018 before having to leave the show to undergo treatment for fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

Appearing on a special edition of the castaway programme airing on Christmas Day, Kirsty told Lauren Laverne, who took over her presenting role, that she is now feeling ‘so much better’ and reflected on the experience of returning to broadcast after her break.

Tough: Kirsty Young has recalled how having to step away from broadcasting for a few years due to her chronic pain condition caused her to question her own identity

Kirsty explained that she originally spent a year seeing different specialists trying to work out what was the nature of her condition until she found a ‘brilliant’ professor of rheumatology who diagnosed her.

She said he also warned her that she had to take her condition ‘seriously’ and reduce the stress in her life alongside the medical treatment if she wanted to get better.

‘It was said with extreme kindness but it was just a moment of absolute reality and clarity, and I remember I pulled my car over and just had a good old, to use a good Scottish word, a good old greet (cry) and I thought ‘right, well, them’s the facts and you’re really going to have to think about this’,’ she said.

Health: The 54-year-old hosted nearly 500 editions of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs between 2006 and 2018 before having to leave the show to undergo treatment for fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis

‘I’m very aware in talking about this, people sit opposite physicians and get diagnoses that are much more serious than the one I got, but it’s a very painful thing and I was in pain and a chronic long-term pain condition is an absolute pain, literally and metaphorically, to deal with.

‘It grinds you away, you lose your personality, you lose your sense of humour, you lose your sense of self. There’s all sorts of things that go with it. It’s awful. So I had to take it seriously if I was going to get better. So, I did.’

Kirsty admitted that she felt ‘very shaky’ having to leave her broadcast job, which she ‘absolutely loved’ and had intended to do until they made her leave.

She added: ‘I thought if I’m not that, what am I for? What is a Kirsty for? I did feel that.

Exit: Kirsty admitted that she felt ‘very shaky’ having to leave her broadcast job, which she ‘absolutely loved’ and had intended to do until they made her leave

‘That was ridiculous, obviously, because to use that well-worn phrase, ‘The cracks are where the light gets in’, and all sorts of other things happened that were good things.

‘At that moment, you kind of lose yourself. And when you’re in chronic pain, you sort of lose yourself anyway so there’s a lot going on.’

Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body, according to the NHS.

Rheumatoid arthritis is described as a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints.

Journey: Appearing on a special edition of the castaway programme airing on Christmas Day, Kirsty told Lauren Laverne, who took over her presenting role, that she is now feeling ‘so much better’ and reflected on the experience of returning to broadcast after her break

After taking a number of years out, Kirsty was able to return to present BBC coverage of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year as well as the closing moments of the late monarch’s funeral at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

The broadcaster said she wanted to find the right words to end the programme and sum up the magnitude of the historic day but admitted: ‘I did really have a bit of a moment. It was emotional.’

The special episode also marked the end of Desert Island Discs’ 80th year, with Young having interviewed 496 castaways during her time on the show.

Reflecting on the programme’s appeal, she said: ‘I once described it as (having) a sort of hammock-like quality, just to fit itself around the person who is there.

Love: Reflecting on the programme’s appeal, she said: ‘I once described it as (having) a sort of hammock-like quality, just to fit itself around the person who is there’ (pictured with David Beckham on the show)

‘So, therefore, if it is a sort of Premier League footballer or if it is an astrophysicist, their music and the amount of time you spend talking to them, and then also the ways in and the ways out of the museum, are sort of beautifully soft and comfy.

‘So, people come into the studio and they’re kind of surrounded by their own bits of furniture, and the music, so they’ve got the comfort of that familiarity, and also whatever they choose gives each programme a unique flavour.’

The full interview with Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs will air on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds on Christmas Day at 11.15am.

WHAT IS FIBROMYALGIA?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition defined by widespread pain and fatigue.

It affects up to 2.7 per cent of people worldwide, with three women suffering for every one man, studies suggest.

Fibromyalgia is often triggered by a trauma, such as a car accident or childbirth, as well as infections. Why this occurs is unclear.

The discomfort tends to be felt as aches and burning from head-to-toe.

And the fatigue ranges from feeling sleepy to the exhaustion of having the flu.

Severe sufferers are often unable to work or socialise. 

The pain can be worse at some times than others and may change location, such as becoming more severe in parts of the body that are used the most.

Other symptoms can include headaches; IBS; diarrhoea or constipation; poor concentration; dizziness; allergies and stimuli sensitivity, such as to light or heat.

Studies suggest the average patient waits five years to be diagnosed, which is thought to be due to X-rays and other medical tests not picking the condition up.

It is generally defined as pain that lasts for more than three months and affects 11 or more out of 18 tender points when pressed.

Treatment aims to relieve pain and aid sleep.

Source: Fibromyalgia Action UK  

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