Since Her Near-Death Health Battles, Inspirational Speaker Monique Hohnberg Now Empowers Others To “Rise Regardless”

By Natasha Zolotareva

Australian former film journalist and now personal development leader Monique Hohnberg is no stranger to going through life with high levels of uncertainty. In her early 20s, like many young people, she was living every day to the fullest, including hitchhiking through Europe and England. But unlike many young people, Monique also had to deal with a life-threatening diagnosis.  

At the age of 22 one of her eyes had suddenly become half blind. She was told she’d be in a wheelchair within 2 years. While Monique was living her life to the fullest, her symptoms were getting worse. It took almost 6 months to get a correct diagnosis – a cyst on her pituitary was pressing on the back of the eye and crushing the nerves. After another check-up, she was scheduled for emergency brain surgery which came with a long list of disclaimers: the chance of sight loss, brain damage, fertility issues, and shortened life-span. The cyst was sitting 1 millimeter away from a blood vessel and if it grew and pressed on the blood vessel Monique would not survive.

The surgery went well, however, there were 3 weeks of life-threatening complications afterwards. Being faced with the ultimate uncertainty left its mark on Monique. 

“The big thing that I learned from the brain surgery is that I was just going to do what I love from here on in,” said Monique. “I had seen it clearly – you can die at any moment.”

Living through the pandemic and global changes of 2020, many of us are seeing our lives disrupted in major ways for the very first time. It seemed as everything was going well before something beyond our control shook up our lives. Monique is very familiar with this feeling and because of what she went through is now aware more than ever that nothing is ever certain in life. But it is no longer a thought that gets her depressed. Quite opposite, in fact. The idea that you can die at any moment has become the fuel for the inspiring work she does today.

Hungry for life, Monique was not going to settle for anything less than her true passion after brain surgery.

After her recovery she was expected to continue on the path laid out for her. After 3 internships and graduating university, there was a post-graduate corporate job waiting for her. Instead, she decided to get a job as a dance instructor, which really upset her parents. But it opened the doors for her to work on film sets. During this period, she felt electricity running through her body, giving her a definite sign – this was the right place for her.

From there, Monique threw herself into a new career in film journalism. Simultaneously, she took up acting and auditioned for some supporting roles, and began writing her own scripts. Her journalism career allowed her to network with Australian celebrities, media personalities and get invited to the hottest parties around. During this time, Monique became the youngest person ever to set up a government funding department for films and digital media, and create a women’s film conference which took place in various cities across Australia.

It seemed like her health problems and near-death experiences were behind her. But out of the blue, in 2001 at the age of 27, Monique was given another diagnosis. Glandular fever and chronic adrenal fatigue had her in bed in no time. The illness put a break on Monique’s perfectly-crafted life. She had to drop out of her masters program, separated with her partner at that time, her finances dwindled, and the industry party invites stopped coming.

Her social status turned to be just another one of those temporary “props” that her illness wiped out completely. Once again, Monique was alone to deal with her health, but she also had the opportunity to redefine herself despite the challenges. She pivoted to a job in film journalism, as it allowed her to work freelance and take care of her health at the same time.

She would go through periods of improvement, only to completely relapse after. The journey to complete recovery took a full 16 years.

“I tried everything to get better. I don’t have a full pituitary as some of it was removed in surgery. It was like my body was stuck in that place – it forgot the times when it existed without the illness and I was struggling to make my body unlearn to be sick,” said Monique.

This was a very dark time for her, but she learned a lot about herself and grew in ways she never expected. A few years into this latest health battle, Monique started tweeting from her sickbed. She would share details about her journey and also about her new life philosophy – “rise regardless”.

“I was on my bed, sick, fired up with anger. I was not going to accept this as my life. I wanted more, I wanted better, so I made a loud and clear declaration – I knew I deserved more,” she said.

On Twitter, Monique spoke more about creating the best quality of life regardless of circumstances and the message resonated with her rapidly growing follower list. After experiencing success, social status, a high-flying life and losing it all, she could relate to people on all levels. Still fighting for her health, Monique openly spoke to people about her challenges. It was her way of inspiring others not to give up, as more and more people would share their own struggles with her.

When Monique finally became symptom-free in her 40s, the biggest question for her was about her identity. Who was she now? Having spent a third of her life on a sickbed, she knew that was not how she wanted to be defined. She still remembered fun Monique who hitchhiked through Europe. The brave Monique who became the student body president in her first year at Leeds University. These brighter moments were not going to be drowned out by the darker ones.

The cumulative effect from years of health struggles was her newfound ability to speak to those fighting challenges, and inspire to rise regardless, which has now become her personal and professional motto. 

Monique turned her story into the  “Rise Regardless” course that she teaches today at seminars. Just after launching her website, she received an invitation to teach it at one of the leading retreat centers in Greece.

She doesn’t just base her authority on the pains of the past. Instead, she lives her life as a creative entrepreneur, indulging in her passion for photography and art, and uses her Twitter platform for social activism, where she has over 230,000 followers. In early 2020 when Australian forests were on fire, Monique used her account to bring awareness and push government officials to take action to stopping the fires and help those at the epicenter of the blaze. This is who Monique is today, and although her past and her health battle has defined her, it has become an important part of her identity and fuel to help others.  

She often asks people who attend her seminars: “Will your circumstances define who you are?”

Monique’s story is a great reminder to reflect on how the conscious decisions we make in our lives daily play a role in defining who we become tomorrow. We don’t all have to face a potentially near-death experience to truly discover our potential or find our path in life. Monique believes it’s all about the growth mindset. 

“If you ask for growth, you might be given an opportunity to grow through inspiration. You also might be given a chance to grow through pain or a crisis – such as illness or loss. We become so comfortable in our lives, believing that certainty and stability are a given. Often, it takes a serious traumatic event to shake us up and help us open up to growth. However, having gone through major health complications, I now know – even if life is giving you a challenge – it’s up to you how you are going to deal with it. Whichever cards you’ve been dealt, you can always rise regardless”. 

You can learn more about Monique’s story by visiting her website, or check out her Rise Regardless seminars here.

Natasha Zo | Photo by Kersti Niglas

Natasha Zo is a former journalist from Siberia turned international media relations specialist and a freelance writer. Known for her connector skills, she has guided a number of authors to Amazon bestseller status. Natasha has lived on 3 different continents and previously volunteered in Central America, managed a high performing marketing team in Asia, and taught public speaking to refugee teenagers. She is motivated by telling the stories of health and wellness leaders and inspiring conscious entrepreneurs.

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