Faced with one of the most challenging health journeys we have featured on the Shift Series Lottie Ryan did an unexpected thing. She used her own healing steps (not once, but twice!) to pull herself out of the darkest pain and despair and then cast a gorgeous feminine light on how to walk forward from illness with grace and incredible gumption.
Lottie is a powerful speaker and writer whose work has been featured on the Huffington post and beyond and whose passion is to inspire women of the Chronic Illness community to find their way forward in beauty and light and more.
I know you will love her charm, wit and strength as much as I do. Such an honor to welcome Lottie here to the Shift Series.
In gratitude and more…
Lindsay and Charlotte talk about Finding Grace (and Femininity) in healing from Chronic Illness.
Tell us a little about yourself
Well, I’m first and foremost a wife, and mom to two brilliant boys aged 11 and 8, but aside from my family I’m also committed to supporting women with chronic illness to create the life they really want despite it all.
I’ve lived with chronic illness in the form of Ulcerative Colitis (I’m now a JPoucher), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Migraines, Sleep Apnea and GERD for 17 years, and have been through and learned a lot over that time.
I launched Who’s That Lady in June this year, 2014, to support women with chronic illness to create the life they really want despite it all. I’ve been beautifully overwhelmed by the response from hundreds of women. It’s been the most invigorating and astounding experience of my life to date and I feel as though I’ve finally found my path and am exactly where I should be, doing what I should be doing. It took a few years but I finally got the message!
My other big passion, which greatly influences my work with women, is vintage, and I’m often found studying vintage fashion, styling vintage fashion shoots and modeling as a vintage pinup. This is where I get my inspiration and creative passion from.
Tell us about your path to creating your business and your vision
I’ve been writing on and offline for many years; blogging, copywriting and so on, but not with any particular purpose. I started blogging with purpose about vintage lifestyle about 6 years ago and that inadvertently tracked my wellness journey and the steps I took to recover from my first surgeries.
I started to document these steps, and talked about them on my blog LottieLoves (which no longer exists) and the response was amazing. It became obvious that the steps I had taken were not just healing for me but healing for others too. I decided to stop blogging and to write the steps up into a book.
Then I got sick again last year right in the middle of this endeavor and it threw me off course for a while which I talk about in more detail later.
My second major recovery saw me use these steps again and it became obvious I needed to share them with people. I knew how to blog but I didn’t know how to make it a business that earns money but is soul centered and heart lead. So I researched, took a few courses and in June of this year felt ready and able to launch Who’s That Lady – and here I am.
Tell us a little about yourself and your philosophy on wellness:
Gosh, I’m not sure I’ve thought about it being a “philosophy” but I believe women, healthy or chronically ill, are not good at putting themselves upfront and center in their lives; often putting their needs well below those around them. When living with chronic illness it’s common for women to feel an awful lot of guilt around being a burden, which stops them from giving themselves the self-love and care they need to make their lives better.
About 6 years ago I realized I was guilty of this. The irony being that my world has to and wants to evolve around me, and if I’m at the center of it holding no value in myself, I and the rest of my world quickly starts to disintegrate. Once I acknowledged this and started to understand how important I am, I started to care for myself better.
For me it’s come down to self care, love and appreciation which, granted has taken me on quite an extreme journey from pilled up to vintage pinup – I can’t do anything by halves! However, the small steps I took to get there, including really simple, practical things like daily showers, wearing minimal makeup, actually brushing my hair, made such an enormous difference that I feel compelled to share my story and encourage other women with chronic illness to take small steps to care for themselves and in turn bring about the life they really want.
Yes, I talk makeup, clothes and all that jazz, which isn’t for everyone, but many women hold their confidence in their closets and rather than denigrate that I choose to embrace and use it. This approach has kept my 16 year marriage strong, my relationship with my kids strong and my life moving forward despite the many scary down times brought about by my chronic illnesses. I’m told it works similarly for other women and long may that continue.
What was the catalyst in your life to fuel your commitment to wellness?
My most recent catalyst was definitely my surgery last year, June 2013. I’d had major surgery 5 years previous to remove my colon (large intestine) and rectum, and to form a Jpouch.This, was an almighty surgical ordeal, covering two surgeries and 6 months with an ileostomy bag. It was dramatic, I nearly died, and it took a long time for me to recover from it.
I really thought I’d been through the worst experience I could ever go through without actually dying, so then, last year when things started going wrong again, I was devastated to find myself back in a place I had hoped so much, I would never have to be again.
Yet I was, and it was a huge ordeal, nearly killing me again, and this time leaving me with much more physical and psychological damage.
I was devastated. Yet, I’d survived and was super grateful for that. I’d been given another chance, yet this time I really struggled to pick myself up again, I was just full of fear and anxiety and deep, deep emotional and physical pain.
One day I remembered that I’d documented every little step I made in my recovery before which had already taken me to my first pinup shoot, completed, ironically, a few months prior to my relapse.
I read and followed those steps, and little by little brought myself back to life, back to real shiny life. I realized that I had some magic in my hands and that this experience had come about to show me the power in my steps and how they can help other women like me.
And so Who’s That Lady was born.
How do you stay healthy, resilient and vibrant?
Largely through my steps, which are actually small daily routines and Yoga! I remember a time not so long ago when I’d hear people spouting the benefits of yoga and I’d groan inside as it held no appeal to me.
Last year I was forced to look at options to bring me back to life after my third abdominal surgery destroyed my core muscles and caused me a lot of physical problems, leaving me with no strength and a dramatically reduced ability to walk or take part in any form of exercise. I knew I had to do something to help myself physically, or spend the rest of my life unable to do things everyone else can, and be miserable with it. So, I found an amazing therapeutic yoga teacher and I quickly became a convert. I now practice daily and am doing really well with my physical rehabilitation.
One of my major issues is fatigue as I don’t get good quality sleep so another important element is making sure that the things I do in life are driven by passion and joy and are always authentically me, as working outside of this equals stress and that makes everything worse, also, trying to be someone I’m not is too draining.
So here I am this quirky British mom, living in California, writing about chronic illness, vintage, and occasional random subjects like Minecraft, all whilst playing dress up and modeling my favorite vintage looks. I’m having a ball!
If there was only one thing a person could find the energy and resources to make a priority what would it be?
Seriously, there’s power in a shower! People too often underestimate the simple things they can do to make their lives better. So many women don’t take a daily shower let alone a morning shower.
This is about teaching them to put their needs first, as it’s so important. If the center of a world isn’t functioning well, the world soon breaks off from that broken axis, which can be terrible for all in that world.
A shower gives you five minutes to ground yourself, set your posture and your intention for the day. It leaves you clean and fresh which can be a challenge for those of us with chronic illness who sweat our way through the night and day, or, like me, have a bowel condition which pushes you right into the paranoid “Am I clean? Do I smell?” head space, which is just not worth the energy. It also makes sure we observe our bodies, touch our bodies and get in tune with them. The shower is where we pick up on lumps, bumps, rashes and all those little tells that suggest there’s a problem, and fast action can often stop a problem moving into crisis.
More importantly the act of taking a morning shower is telling the universe that you value yourself and know you’re important, which in turn means it takes you seriously and commends you for taking care of yourself. It’s about putting yourself first at the top of the day. It’s just five minutes yet that five minutes can set you up for a whole different, and far more special day.
I’ve had many nurses laugh at me (and get frustrated with me!) in hospital, as even after major surgery the first thing I want to do is take a shower, even if I have to crawl there and wrap various lines in plastic. Some days a shower can be the biggest achievement of the day, and that feels so damn good, because even when we’re down and out, we can still do something.
What is your favorite inspirational quote for wellness / awesomeness / thrival?
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘ I’m possible’”- Audrey Hepburn
Yep, I’m a walking talking cliche.
Lottie has suffered with chronic illness and daily pain for the last 17 years. She is a JPoucher as a result of Ulcerative Colitis, and has Fibromyalgia, Chronic Migraines, GERD and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. You can find her at www.lottieryan.com supporting women with chronic illness to create the life you really want despite it all.