Being a woman in a man’s world, doesn’t just refer to business. When it comes to our health system, medical research and how our practitioners approach patients, there’s a gaping gender gap.
And it was this gap that led to me suffering an array of chronic health issues.
At 29, I was told by my haematologist that my haemochromatosis (inherited iron overload disorder) would not have negative effects on me until menopause. At 37, another haematologist compared me to a 55-year-old man and said I was fine.
Eight years after my initial diagnosis of haemochromatosis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis I was back at my GP’s office trying to work out why I felt so unwell. I was experiencing chronic headaches and fatigue. I had put off going to the doctor for a long time; telling my husband I was fine and myself that I did not have time to deal with it.
I was so focused on everyone else, I put my symptoms down to stress. I kept thinking, I am just tired, work is busy at the moment. Things will settle down, then I’ll feel better. But I didn’t.
My GP sent me to my Endocrinologist, who confirmed all the thyroid medications were doing their job. A new haematologist looked at my test results, compared them to a run of averages, based on a 55-year-old man, and told me the haemochromatosis couldn’t be the problem.
Trust your instincts and don’t back down.
I knew something was wrong.
At the same time, I was losing the ability to advocate for myself in appointments. By this stage I had quit my high-pressure sales role and taken a role with less responsibility (and pay) but this hadn’t fixed the problem.
When I told my female endocrinologist, I was being compared to a 55-year-old man, (I was 37) she did a double take. It was then that she did something that saved my life. She picked up the phone and called my haematologist’s office.
It must have been divine intervention because his receptionist put her through while I was in her office. She questioned whether I looked like a 55-year-old man and insisted on a more thorough investigation and consideration of the fact that illnesses affect women differently.
Thanks to her advocacy, I finally got into a hospital program for Venesection – blood letting to reduce my iron load – every 4 weeks for a year and a half. By the time I finally started treatment, I already had liver, pancreas, and gall bladder damage, leading to diabetes as a direct result of the iron overload.
It’s easy to look back on these years and say I would do things differently, fight harder, go to the doctor earlier, trust my instincts and my body more. But all I can do is look forward. I hope that by sharing my story, other women trust their own instincts earlier, fight harder for the diagnosis they need or listen to their own bodies more.
Send your energy into that which brings you energy.
For me, finally having the right diagnosis, and the right treatment, I was able to look forward. Albeit now with a chronic health condition that impacts everything I choose to do. My energy is now a precious and limited resource that requires daily management.
With limited energy, I need to make thoughtful decisions about how I spend it. Professional achievement is a big motivator for me, and I’ve always had a desire to be successful. So, I choose every day to put some of that pot of energy into my own business.
Deserved Luxury is mine from the ground up and provides me with an enormous amount of personal satisfaction, which in turn helps keep my ‘cup full’ as they say. Recognising my ambitions and the positive impact they have on my life, the drive they provide in the morning to get out of bed, is as important to me as a good night’s rest and eating right.
In this world of self-care promotion, I’ve learnt the hard way that self-prioritisation isn’t selfish, and that what we choose to prioritise is an individual choice. With a chronic health condition like mine, of course rest and practical self-care are important, but mental health prioritisation is important too. And for me, that includes following my ambition and growing my business.
I could have surrendered into illness and relied on others, but that’s not who I am. I am resilient and I am more than a chronic health condition. I am a mum, a wife, and a businesswoman. It might look different now, but I can still do it all.