Being diagnosed at the age of 39 with stage 4 endometriosis was devastating. It sent me spinning. Would the pain ever stop? Could I live a normal life? Could I have more children? In the spring of 2016 I had surgery to remove as much of the endometrial lining from my organs as possible, but it couldn’t all be removed without damaging my bowels.
Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition where the lining of uterus that is normally shed during menstruation, grows on organs outside of the uterus. Its main symptoms are severe pelvic pain, often infertility, bowel problems, pain during sex and others like fatigue and depression. There is currently no cure, though medication, surgery and lifestyle management can help. Though there has been growing awareness1 there is still so little said about endometriosis. Surprisingly, one in five UK women suffer from it2, which is the same number of women who live with type 2 diabetes in the UK.
Previous to my diagnosis I was working as a freelance journalist, but the severe pain I experienced during 2015 forced me to take almost a year off. I was at a point in my life where my ongoing pain issues wouldn’t to work to someone else’s hours or demands – I needed to set the pace myself.
As well as this, I realised I needed a side project – a new challenge that would take my mind off my new diagnosis and to learn a few new skills to go with it.
And so Rock Paper Roses was born. I started with the phrase ‘rock paper diamonds’. I decided I liked the alliteration of ‘rock paper roses’ instead, so it stuck. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a fun little play on words of the game ‘rock paper scissors’ of course.
I spent about four months sourcing products, designing the logo and website myself, and got myself on an ecommerce platform. I was up and running by August 2016. Working for myself means I can set my own hours and deadlines. We bootstrapped- funded the business which means today I am not accountable to investors or shareholders- a pressure that I can’t work to. I cover all my costs and rarely do I ever dip into my savings anymore. This gives me the freedom to run the business at a pace that works for me.
But I have had to accept that my business won’t grow fast as I’d like it to. I can’t do the entrepreneur thing of working all hours, going to all the networking events, doing every pop up market and pushing, pushing, pushing myself- my body simply won’t let me. Truthfully there are still days where I can just about do the minimum which is get my daughter to school and back and put together some kind of dinner for us all.
What’s worse, is when pain flare ups are caused by overworking and more specifically pressurising myself to do better, be better in my business. I think the inner- bully is someone we can all identify with right? I’ve learnt to quieten her though. Self-compassion and acceptance are becoming my new friends! And through them- as well as regular medication, ongoing specialist appointments, working with a pain management clinic, changes to my diet, rest and exercise, I’m learning to manage my pain levels. I have long periods where I don’t have pain at all.
Though I am passionate about growing Rock Paper Roses, I am learning to manage my own expectations and realise that growth in business should never come at the expense of your physical or mental health.
Self-care tips that have helped me achieve balance:
* Go to bed 30 minutes earlier on weekdays: I sometimes wake up during the early hours of the morning due to pain or anxiety. This little tip means I bag a bit of quality sleep early on
* Being in nature: never underestimate the power of a long walk to clear your head of all the business fog! Cardio also keeps low mood at bay
* Deep breathing: increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Don’t dismiss this one as new age- it has been game changing for me!
* Let go of one thing, every day: I carried all kinds of mental and emotional baggage around without realising the effect it has on my health and pain levels. Decide you’ll put down one thing daily- you actually will sleep better at night
* Acceptance: a slow revenue month, follower count not growing fast enough, suppliers not delivering- choose to say it’s ok, I will sort it without letting it overwhelm me
* Reach out: your support network is paramount to managing it all. Have different people you can lean on at different times to spread the burden