Monday, 29 February 2016

INSPIRED BY... HOLLY CROUCH OF THE HOLLY DAYS




The inspiring person I've interviewed for today's post is Holly Crouch, writer of the blog The Holly Days.

Holly is someone I have been talking to online for quite some time now. When I first started seeking out people in a similar boat to me, Holly was one of the first people I came across. She was friendly, kind and supportive from the very off. When we were both having trouble navigating the confusing world of disability assessment, talking to Holly was a great source of comfort.

The thing I find inspiring about Holly is her passion for what she does. When Holly talks about beauty or fashion, just how much she loves it always shines through. When I read this post about how she had to give up her Beauty Therapy training course my heart broke a bit for her but her resolve to channel her passions in a way that fits in with her life as it is now is amazing to me.  She makes me want to work out what makes me feel that enthusiastic and pursue it however I can.

Holly answered a few questions for me and I've popped her responses below.

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What are you most proud of?

I'm most proud of managing to work part time. When I finished Uni my health took a real turn for the worse & after taking a couple of months off work to rest I did start to feel like I wasn't going to manage to work again, but my part time job in a clothes shop means the world to me & it makes me feel so much better to get out the house, be around people & wear a nice outfit/put some lippy on.


Who/ what do you look to for inspiration?


I look to other spoonies* on Twitter, Instagram & blogs for inspiration. The spoonie community has been such a life line for me & I always feel so proud when I see other sufferers manage to achieve something. Blog posts which share coping mechanisms etc give me new ways to think about being chronically ill & I've got a folder of positive quotes saved on my phone which I've come across online & I like to have a read through them whenever I'm having a particularly difficult time.


When chronic illness feels like a bit like a cloud, what's your silver lining?

This is a hard one as I'm not feeling my most positive atm..but I would say how it's taught me to appreciate the little things, like on Friday I had a really challenging day & having a bowl of Heinz tomato soup for lunch really comforted me & was just what I needed - a bowl of soup never meant as much to me before I became ill.


What would your advice be to someone who has recently fallen ill?

My advice would be to think about adaptions you can make to your life so that you can manage your illness - this is one I still battle with now as I'm a nightmare for thinking I can do things that I can't & then making myself more ill as a consequence. If you learn to pace, priories & accept your limitations, being chronically ill is much easier to handle in the long run as you'll feel better in yourself. I would also say engage with other sufferers online or at a local support group so you know you're not alone.

*Spoonie = chronic illness suffer. Read Christine Miserandino's 'Spoon Theory' here


Places you can find Holly

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Thursday, 25 February 2016

INSPIRED BY... JENNY HELEN OF JENNY HELEN, MY SPOONIE LIFE



In this post, I will be sharing the answers the lovely Jenny Helen gave to my 'Inspired by..' interview questions.

I've got to know Jenny over the past couple of years through social media and her blog Jenny Helen, My Spoonie Life. In this time, Jenny's health has unfortunately deteriorated a great deal and she has had to put her University studies on hold.

Not one to be be defeated by illness though, Jenny remains one of the most positive people I know. I am constantly impressed by the way in which she selflessly uses her limited energy reserves to campaign for M.E. Awareness and writes insightful posts about her experiences. While I am no longer so significantly affected, Jenny's last post 'Hiding away, dealing with pain' really struck a chord with me. I felt she summed up my past experiences perfectly. I think that talking so openly and honestly about the realities of illness is incredibly important and I have no doubt that other's find great comfort in reading Jenny's posts.

Jenny is endlessly kind to and supportive of others - traits which I admire in her immensely.

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What are you most proud of?


I have achieved almost nothing since my recent relapse, I had to leave uni, I have lost friends, I have had to give up hobbies. I am proud that those things do not define me, I enjoyed them, but I am still me. I am proud of the way that I have adapted, and he fact that 'failure' doesn't hold me back.



Who/ what do you look to for inspiration?


The online community, honestly there are so many people online who have changed my life in so many ways. I am inspired by others who are living their 'best life' despite chronic illness, it inspires me to do the same. Faye is a great example of this! I am also inspired by campaigners and researchers who fight for better treatment and understanding of chronic illnesses, there are so many people who write off chronic illness as a 'life choice' or laziness. Nothing will change unless people ask for it!


When chronic illness feels like a bit of a cloud, what's your silver lining?


My illness makes me make the most of things. Without realising it every day I am reminded of my limitations, this makes me really go for the things which I am able to do. It also makes me want to do all those things that i have always said "one day I will do" because I know that life is short and we only have now and all that has passed. For example I might have said one day I will write my friend a letter telling them how much they mean to me, or one day I will buy myself a record player. When we were younger my brother, sister and I always said that we would like to go on holiday together, this year we are going to actually do it.


What would your advice be to someone who has recently fallen ill?


Oh so many things... at the end if the day you have to do it your way. There is no right way to be ill. No one can tell you how to do it, in time you will work out what is best for you. Find people who will support you, it may take months to work out who is going to be there for you but it is worth the wait! Communicate honestly with yourself and others around you, don't say things that you feel you should say. If it means saying "I don't know" to every question, that's okay because you don't. Lastly I would say prioritise acceptance, don't wait for your illness to go away, spend time getting to know it and you will be surprised how much peace and joy can be found from letting go of denial.




Places to you can find Jenny





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Sunday, 21 February 2016

INSPIRED BY...STEPH OF BLOSSOM AND BLOOM SPARKLES



Today's person who inspires me is Steph who writes the blog, Blossom and Bloom Sparkles.

Steph's blog has a lovely mix of content. Her posts range from beauty to food to lifestyle and are always accompanied by the most beautiful photos. I love that Steph doesn't allow her illness to define her.

The thing that inspires me most about Steph though is her warmth. She's always there with words of encouragement for others and I was full of admiration for her when she contacted me about a Facebook group she had set up to support people with chronic illness. Steph has made an online community where people feel safe to chat about their symptoms, share their stories and support each other.

If you feel this might be of benefit to you, you can find it here. It is a closed group so posts are private and do not appear in people outside of the group's timelines.

Steph answered a few questions for me and her answers are below.

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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

THE PRINCE'S TRUST ENTERPRISE PROGRAMME: MY EXPERIENCE OF STARTING A BUSINESS WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS


In the Summer of 2015 with the help of the Prince's Trust Enterprise Programme I launched my gift box business, BearHugs

I recently answered some questions for the Prince's Trust about my experience. I thought I would share my responses here in case they are of help to others considering accessing the programme.

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What were your circumstances before coming to The Prince’s Trust? Have you had any problems that have affected you progressing?


Until several years ago things were very much going 'to plan’ for me. I’d graduated from university and moved to the Outer Hebrides to start a dream job in a dream location as a Speech and Language Therapist. I loved the work and, despite at times being challenging, it was very rewarding.


Unfortunately, not long after starting my job I started to notice a gradual decline in my health. Around a year later, I had to stop working entirely. My health deteriorated to the point where I was no longer able to walk, wash or, at times, eat unassisted. I was entirely dependent on others. I could only read or watch television for ten minutes at a time before feeling too unwell and having to stop. Seeing friends for just half an hour would leave me in bed for days struggling to tolerate noise and light. I recently found out that my symptoms have been caused by Lyme Disease.

I feel very lucky to have seen improvements in my health since then. I am now able to concentrate for far longer and leaving the house doesn’t leave me so ill. My mobility has been gradually improving, and while still significantly restricted I feel hopeful about the future.

Before coming to the Prince’s Trust, I had just moved back to Sheffield from the Outer Hebrides to access better health care. I was seeing some improvements and working on building additional activities into my life that gave me a sense of purpose. I was making jewellery, which I still sell and donate the profits of to the ME Association, and writing my blog about living positively around chronic illness.


How did you feel about life and employment/self employment?


When I had to stop working as a Speech and Language Therapist, I was devastated. I’d worked really hard to be able to get the job and took a lot of pride in my work. I loved working with kids, their parents and had fantastic colleagues. I had always considered Speech and Language Therapy a ‘for life’ career so when it was something I was no longer able to manage it was difficult for me to get my head around.

I knew that I needed to find something that I could get that feeling of satisfaction and pride from but that would also account for my new circumstances. Self employment was a bit of a dream for me and I had no idea how to make it a reality.


How did you hear about the trust?


I heard about the Prince’s Trust through my mum. People were fundraising for the trust in the offices where she worked and had leaflets about the Enterprise Programme. She mentioned it and I went straight to the website to register my interest.


How did you feel about the Enterprise programme prior to starting?


I was a little apprehensive about the Enterprise programme prior to starting. Leaving the house was still quite difficult for me at that point and I had no idea how I would cope health wise with attending sessions. I had no prior business experience and only the loosest of outlines of a business idea. I was worried that my idea would seem silly and that I was signing up for something that was a bigger commitment than I could manage. 


What was it like?


From the very start, the Enterprise programme was great. I attended an informal information session where I learned a bit about the programme and met other young people who were interested in accessing it. The session was laid back and relaxed. I came away excited and inspired.

I then attended an entirely free course which ran through a lot of business basics. With absolutely no business background, this was perfect for me and really accessible. I feel like I learned a lot about a variety of topics including book-keeping, tax, marketing and business planning. Attending the course was a huge personal challenge for me. There were times due to my health that I found it very difficult. When I was open about the difficulties I was having though I found the Prince’s Trust staff to be incredibly warm, supportive and accommodating. It was also lovely for me to meet other young people with a range of amazing business ideas and stories about how they came to be accessing support from the Prince’s Trust.

Following the course, I attended a follow up session with another member of Prince’s Trust staff, Chris. Again, I found this session relaxed, accessible and inspiring. I left extremely motivated to proceed to the next step in the programme, writing my business plan.

Over a period of several months, I had a series of one-to-one meetings with my assigned mentor, Greg. Greg helped me work through writing my business plan in a structured systematic way. This made the process far less daunting and kept me engaged and on track. Greg helped me to apply for a ‘Will it Work Grant’ which I could then use to test out my idea and see whether there was potential in my business. The fact that Greg and the Prince’s Trust had enough faith in my idea and planning to put money in was really important to me and helped a huge amount with my confidence. Working through the business plan a section at a time helped me to really get to grips with my business idea and what it would take to make it work. I learned a lot from analysing my market research and my period of test trading.

Throughout the time that I was writing my business plan, my health was variable. Greg was always extremely understanding and encouraged me to work at my own pace, ensuring that my health came first. If I wasn’t up to a face-to-face meeting we would rearrange or schedule in a chat on the phone instead. If I had to cut a meeting short this was ok too and I never felt that my health was an inconvenience.

Once my business plan was complete, I took it to ‘Launch Group’ where I talked through my idea and answered some questions about it. This was far less frightening than I thought it might be and it felt incredible to be launched as a Prince’s Trust business. It was also at this point that I found that I would be awarded a grant which I could use to fund some of the initial costs of getting my business off the ground. Again, this was a huge confidence boost and it was lovely to feel that the hard work I’d put In had paid off.



Everybody I’ve meant from the Prince’s Trust at every point in the programme has been lovely, open and supportive. At no point have I felt that my health could hold me back. My personal needs have been accommodated at every step and I cannot sing the praises of the help I’ve been offered more highly.


What do you think you’ve gained from being involved? Did it build your confidence?


I’ve gained more from the programme than I can really put into words. At a surface level I suppose I’ve gained a better understanding of what it takes to run a small business and how to write a business plan. On a more personal level, I’ve gained a huge amount more. Since starting my business, BearHugs, I feel that I’ve got my identity back. When I fell ill, I lost my job, my independence and a great deal of my social life. With that I also lost a lot of my confidence. Engaging with the Enterprise programme has helped me realise that my health doesn’t mean I can achieve any less. I may not be able to be a Speech and Language Therapist now but I can still work in a role that benefits others while bringing me huge amounts of pride and fulfilment. 



What was your favourite part of the programme?


My favourite part of the Enterprise programme would have to be working with my mentor, Greg. He has made the whole process relaxed and manageable for me from the very beginning. He’s been supportive when I’ve had setbacks and encouraged me when I’ve been less confident. I look forward to our meetings and always come away feeling positive and excited about what I can achieve.



What do you think you would have been doing now without support?


I have no idea what I would have been doing now if I hadn’t accessed support from the Prince’s Trust but it certainly wouldn’t have been running a business I can be as proud of as BearHugs.



What are you up to at the moment? 


After a very busy Christmas period, I’ve just launched my website bearhugsgifts.com. It all feels very ‘proper’ and I could not love it more. I find it so satisfying seeing the orders come in, building the packages and then hearing that recipients’ days have been made. I’m working on some extra special seasonal gift boxes at the moment that I’ll be adding to my shop over the coming months. 



Did the Prince’s Trust Help?


The Prince’s Trust helped a huge amount. The guidance provided has been invaluable and the grants I was able to access have gone a long way in helping me to make my little idea into a quite literally life-changing reality.


What are your plans for the future?


My plans for the foreseeable future are to keep pursuing BearHugs. I’d love to see my little business grow with me as my health (fingers crossed) improves. Building the business myself means that it fits around my life perfectly. Should I need to take a step back for a while, I can. If I want to take it forward and turn it into something bigger, that’s an option too. The ball is entirely in my court and it feels good to be back in control again.


What would you say to someone who was thinking about seeking support from the Prince’s Trust? Would you encourage them?

I would absolutely encourage someone who was thinking about seeking support from the Prince’s Trust to go for it. I can’t believe the level of support that is offered entirely for free. I think the Prince’s Trust is a fantastic charity and I would recommend it to everyone.


You can find out more about the Prince's Trust's Enterprise Programme here

You can find out more about my business, BearHugs, here



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INSPIRED BY... JOSIE OF SICK CHICK CHIC



I'm excited to have another inspirational interview to share. This time it's with Josie, writer of the blog Sick Chick Chic.

Josie inspires me for a whole host of reasons. To name just a few: she is resilient, she is enterprising and she has an effortless sense of style I could only ever aspire to have.

On her blog amongst a range of lifestyle, fashion and beauty posts, Josie raises awareness of Cystic Fibrosis, a life long condition she was diagnosed with aged two. The consistency with which she maintains blogs posts around frequent hospital stays is amazing to me.

Josie also runs an Etsy shop, FroJo designs, where she sells a range of fun, handmade cards. Watching her doing this around her illness has often encouraged me when running my own.

Having seen it give a second chance to people with Cystic Fibrosis, Josie campaigns for Organ Donation and encourages others to join the Organ Donor Register. You can do this here.

Josie kindly agreed to answer some of my questions. I've popped her responses below.

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What are you most proud of?

Getting people to sign up to the organ donor register. Even if I got one person to do it I'd be over the moon so the fact I've gotten quite a few to do it makes me feel very proud of them for doing it!


Who / what do you go to for inspriation?

People in similar situations to me have been a massive inspiration – to see others fighting on gives me a lot of strength. Whether they have cystic fibrosis (CF) like me or a different chronic illness they have taught me to keep on going and also that it’s totally ok to have a bad day. 


When chronic illness feels like a bit of a cloud, what's your silver lining?


My silver lining is that CF has made me appreciate life so much – I know it’s so cheesy but it’s helped me see how beautiful life really is and that the small, annoying things don’t actually matter at all. 


What would your advice be to someone who has recently fallen ill?


My advice would be to get online! There’s an amazing community there where you will get so much support from others going through the same thing – for me it’s been a lifeline. I’ve found Twitter and forums to be the best resources, yes there’s always going to be a few idiots with their silly opinions but on the whole I’ve found it an overwhelmingly positive place to be.


Places you can find Josie

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Sunday, 14 February 2016

A VERY BEARHUGS BIRTHDAY


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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

INSPIRED BY... PIPPA STACEY OF SPOONIE SURVIVAL KITS



I'm very excited to share the first in a series of interviews I will be conducting with people who inspire me.

Today's inspirational lady is Pippa Stacey, founder of Spoonie Survival Kits.

Pippa's non-profit fundraising organisation does an incredible job in raising money and awareness for chronic and invisible illnesses. By selling 'little bags of happiness' not only do Pippa and her volunteers remind spoonies (chonic illness sufferers) that they 'can do this' but they support charities which aim to improve the situations of thousands suffering from long-term debilitating illnesses.

Pippa manages this rapidly growing organisation and its online community while facing multiple health problems and completing a demanding university degree. I can't even imagine how challenging it must be. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Pippa's drive, determination and unconquerable kindness.

Find out more about Spoonie Survival Kits and order a 'little bag of happiness' here.

Having spoken to Pippa online for a while, I had the pleasure not too long ago of meeting her in person. She was every bit as lovely as I hoped she would be. Below are the answers she gave to a few questions I had to ask her.

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What are you most proud of?

I'm most proud of Spoonie Survival Kits and how it's grown. It was only intended to be a little bit of fundraising so for it to take off and become a full blown non-profit initiative has been bewildering in the best possible way! It can be a lot of work, especially with temperamental health and on top of a university degree, so I consider the running and constant growth of it as one of my biggest personal achievements.


Who / what do you look to for inspiration?


A lot of my inspiration comes from Spoonie Survival Kits too, namely the people who are involved in the project. As soon as I began sharing the initiative, I had so many people with chronic illnesses spreading the word, putting themselves forward and wanting to know what they could do to help in spite of their own struggles. That's what inspires me the most; people showing others endless kindness regardless of their circumstances, and that's something I now aim to do every single day.


When chronic illness feels like a bit of a cloud, what's your silver lining?


I can think of many silver linings but there's one that stands out above all others and if you know me at all, you'll know it's onesies. Onesies are magical creations and I must own them ALL, particularly if they resemble any kind of animal. Pyjamas and fluffy socks are a must too, and the biggest silver lining of chronic illness for me is that it's completely socially acceptable to own as many as possible. Seriously, if I haven't already got the point across, onesies are the way forward in life.


What would your advice be to someone who has recently fallen ill?


If I could give any piece of advice to someone who has just fallen ill, it would be this: don't deny your illness. It can be tempting at the beginning to do the whole 'THIS CONDITION CHANGES NOTHING AND I AM A COMPLETELY INVINCIBLE LITTLE SPOONIE WHO CAN DO ANYTHING' and run 23469373 miles and do a squillion new things and run for prime minister and so on. But trust me, this mindset doesn't work. Take some time to understand the situation, learn your body's limitations, start small and build it up as and when you can. And that's when you become a real invincible little Spoonie who can do anything.


Places you can find Pippa





Places you can find Spoonie Survival Kits






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Sunday, 7 February 2016

COMING SOON: PEOPLE WHO INSPIRE ME




There are a lot of people who, quite rightly, raise an eyebrow when a person with a disability is described as inspirational. Able-ism can be extremely damaging. Disabled people are often objectified in the media and on the internet to make non-disabled people feel better - the underlying message being "It could be worse. You could be them". When people are patronisingly congratulated on simply existing with a disability, it makes achievements seem beyond the realms of possibility and shocking.  That's not to say though that sometimes making it to the end of the day isn't worth celebrating when your body has battled against you from the moment you woke up.

I am about to start publishing a series of posts on this blog where I interview people who inspire me. I would like to preface this series with the caveat that I am inspired by anyone, disabled or not, who takes action to create positive change. I find that when I can draw parallels between the inspirational person's circumstances and my own, the impact is even more powerful.The people I am going to interview do all have similar circumstances to mine in one way or another. On a lot of occasions the similarity will be that we both have chronic illnesses. These people are inspirational to me because of their attitude, actions and adaptability, not simply because their health has been compromised. 

When I fell ill I was thrown into a situation that was overwhelmingly frightening and disorientating. The exceptional people I am going to interview have taught me a lot about resilience and reassured me in one way or another that it is possible to adapt, make positive changes and be extraordinary in spite of (not because of) the fact that you've been thrown a big curveball. 


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