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.
What is your philosophy on healing or overcoming health challenges.
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.
How have you used adversity in your life to fuel your commitment to balance and wellness?
I can’t say I was good at this in the beginning, but I’ve definitely learned to use adversity to fuel my commitment to balance and wellness. It’s one hell of a learning curve but I think I have it sussed now.
Adversity can too often send life spiraling out of control. The key, I have learned, is to value the present, and keep things simple. Often, focusing on my breathing is enough to keep me grounded and stop me from spinning into a stress or drama cycle which only compounds my health problems.
I’ve also developed a number of wellness tools in the shape of exercise and short but consistent routines, which have self care and love at the heart of them.
I can’t always control the cards genetics and circumstance have handed me but by being constantly focused on balance and wellness I have some control over how they ultimately define my life.
How do you stay healthy, resilient and vibrant?
Through the above but more specifically, 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, 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 excited to say can now do a lot more!
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.
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!
What tips do you recommend for your clients dealing with / healing from illness?
I encourage people to never give up making plans. Once we get our heads around living with chronic illness it’s easy to give up on the future, or decide that things are too precarious so stop planning and just wait for the illness axe to fall. This is no way to live. Always make plans, because plans keep you focused on the future and mean you eventually get to enjoy get stuff that just can’t be achieved last minute, on a whim.
However, don’t get caught up in the end destination or the big picture.
People tend to get lost in the big picture: “I can’t possibly do that because my illness will soon stop me”, but the reality is that even healthy people struggle with this stuff, so if we just have our inner voice cheer us on rather than bring us down, and we focus on making tiny steps forward, one at a time, we will soon achieve things beyond our imagination.
Yes, things might get cancelled occasionally, or rearranged, but if we’re honest and authentic, and don’t run ourselves down, regardless of illness you can take small, simple steps towards the end goal and eventually get there.
I do this a lot:
Close my eyes. Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale whilst saying to myself “just.keep.going.’
I find it helps stop me from going into overwhelm, to stay focused on the present and make that next step. Try it!
If there was only one thing a person could find the energy and resources to make a priority what would it be?
You may find yourself frowning at this answer and wondering “Is that the best you’ve got?” but I’m all about keeping it simple and practical, and the single most healing thing a person can do for themselves every day is:
Take a morning shower
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 you to put your 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.
Obviously, a shower leaves you clean and fresh which is value not to be underestimated 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.
More importantly it 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, which so often fast action can prevent a 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 healing?
“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.