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Period Story Podcast, Episode 79, Amaia Arranz: Menstrual Cups Are The Most Eco-Friendly Period Product

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Amaia Arranz. Amaia is the CEO of Ruby Cup, an award-winning social business that works to combat period poverty around the world. 

In this episode, Amaia shares: 

  • What it was like getting her period as a teenage girl in Spain in the 90s 
  • How getting her period was a combination of being a part of a VIP cool girl club with a big dose of shame attached 
  • Some of the myths she learned growing up around tampons, virginity and sex
  • How menstrual cups work and exactly how to use one 
  • The social mission at the heart of Ruby Cup, including their buy one, give one model 
  • How they work with their NGO partners to provide menstrual education and to ensure there are the right conditions, including clean water, to use a menstrual cup safely
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Amaia says that if you are swimming and a wave comes, you don’t argue with the wave. You have to go with the wave. So if your period is coming, get angry, get pissed off, but it’s coming, why not go with it and see, maybe it’s not the worst thing to have a couple of quiet days once a month with your blanket and your movies and a huge bar of chocolate. 

Thank you, Amaia! 

Get in touch with Amaia:

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi Amaia, thank you so much for coming onto the show today. I’m really excited to speak to you, learn more about Ruby Cup, but let’s first get started with a question I ask all my guests. Tell me the story of your very first period.

Amaia Arranz:

Hi Le’Nise. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited about our conversation. My first period was, I think I was 13 or nearly 13 and I think I was the last girl in my class getting her period. And with all these things, you don’t want to be the first one, you don’t want to be the last one. So by the end I was really kind of praying for it because my friends were saying things like, oh, I have cramps, but you can’t understand yet. And so if you feel like a baby a bit, I just want to be a big girl like the others. But then my period did arrive and the first thing my mother said was like, oh my God, now you could get pregnant. And I completely freaked out because I was a very young child. I was nearly still playing with my dolls, not quite, but probably in secret sometimes. Nowhere near having sex, nowhere near having boyfriends. So when she said that, completely freaked out. I was like, what do you mean? It felt like a heavy fast track into something I wasn’t ready for at all. So even though the technicality of the physical bit I was ready for, I have another sister as well, that emotional side, that thing of, oh, now you are a woman. That completely, no, I wasn’t ready for that at all.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so you weren’t ready, but did you know when you actually saw the blood, what to do and what was going to come next?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I guess. I went to a very good school in terms of reproductive health education. I had a mom that told us about it and I had an older sister, which I think is always a massive factor. It’s also older sisters, they love to teach us things. This is a tampon, this is a pad. So I knew the physical bit, the bleeding, the pad, what to do. You have cramps and to be all coy in physical education class, oh, I cannot do it today. But I think, yeah, I knew that the physical technical blood part of it, but I wasn’t so prepared for everything else that comes like PMS or I don’t know, change in moods or how people might view you or how you might even consider yourself. Now you’re a menstruating woman or an adult let’s say.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Can you say more about that, the changes in how people view you and how you view yourself?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I think this is changing a bit now, but a bit slowly in my opinion, there is still this thing of, oh, now you are menstruating, now you are a woman. Well, you are not actually. Our periods are arriving, I mean in terms of population earlier and earlier, I think in the last hundred 50 years, on average it’s gone from arriving between 12 and 13 to 11, 12. There are many factors for this, it’s thought to be a higher consumption of meat, more processed food, pollution. We don’t really know why, but periods are arriving earlier when you are 11, 10, 11, 12, you are not a woman. And I think this concept that now you are a woman, the whole kind of connection between periods, reproductive health, sex, the cycle, you have to know that. I mean knowledge is power is your body. You have to know it and own it. But to have this kind of implication and now you are on your period, you are a woman, you are more up for grabs let’s say. Yeah, I don’t really like that. I think it’s very negative.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so for you, when you got your period, how did it change how you felt about yourself if it did in any way?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, as I said, I was very bookish, loved my dolls kid until an older age than average, which is absolutely fine. But then the other conversation you have with friends about tampons and pads and also bras and body hair, it is like one day you are literally playing with dolls or watching quite childish TV programs and nine months later you are talking about whether wax or shave your legs and tampons versus pads and different bras. And that’s fine because how your body and your mind and your soul are growing. But they think very often I felt a bit brought by what was happening around me rather than me feeling actually ready. And it kind of felt it was happening very fast. All these things are now, maybe nothing wrong with makeup or anything like that. I’m just saying that it seems that now puberty, teenage happens very soon and menstruation is a milestone that makes you go from feeling like you can still be a child to suddenly you are a young woman, which you are not at 12, 13 at all. And that can be quite disconcerting and especially if you take into account, the male gaze. I grew, I was a teen in the nineties, so all these things, Britney Spears being a sexy school girl and so on. It’s very confusing, what do you mean a sexy schoolgirl? What the hell is that?

So I mean, yeah, it can be a bit confusing that thing of supposed to be much more mature in terms of your sexuality than you probably are ready for. If you are, it’s fine. I’m not saying one should not do that if they feel that way, but I think teenagers are very easy to, you can get influenced very easily by the crowd, by TV, by culture, by magazines and all these things. And you may be feeling a bit like that you are forced or not maybe forced, but really encouraged to grow up faster than you really are.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I actually really agree with that. I think that there is this, along with this idea that having a period and menstruating and ovulating makes you a woman, which it doesn’t. There are so many things that make you a woman. It just feels like there’s this kind of expectation that okay, childhood is over time for the next phase. When I say this to my son a lot, and I don’t think he really understands it, but enjoy your childhood, enjoy not having any responsibilities, enjoy feeling free. Don’t worry about this and that ,your worries worry about what’s happening. Don’t think about what’s happening at school, think about your friends, but don’t rush for the future. And I do feel like there is this kind of acceleration happening. You see it on social media, on TikTok where it’s okay to experiment with makeup and all of that, but when you see these girls they’re like 11, 12 and they’ve got a face full of makeup, it’s very kind of jarring because you look at them and you think, you’re extremely young and it is great to experiment but don’t grow up too fast because basically I think what I’m trying to say.

Amaia Arranz:

I completely agree. I just want to clarify. I have nothing against Britney Spears. She’s fantastic. It’s more I don’t think I was portrayed not a sexy school girl. I completely agree with you. Also, there are things, I think it was a few years ago, I lived in the UK for a long time. I remember when I think it was Primark, suddenly they had a two piece bikini with a bit of how say, filling on the top area for seven year olds. The thing is this idea of, I don’t know, taking the fact that all children playing to be adults a bit and taking it to an extent that we’re pushing them into a direction that, I mean some will be ready, some are very mature and some are not.

But yeah, and also I think with social media and TikTok, this idea that you have to look at by also how you feel inside growing up I’m becoming more mature. I’m being ready to take on more responsibilities and being more responsible for your body and your sexuality and your fun and so on. It’s also that it’s mainly something happening inside in your personal development. It’s not only signaled by something physical like a period or having boobs or wearing lipstick and it’ll be good I think. My kids are very small, but I have teenage nieces and nephews and I do see that they could get a bit more support into developing the internal skills to cope with the facts of growing up.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And for you, once you got your period and then you kind of went into your teenage years, what was your experience of your period?

Amaia Arranz:

I was this thing really, it was this dichotomy. On the one hand you have a period, you’re a woman, you wear a bra and you epilatt and you wear eyeliner whole thing together, like being in this kind of secret club. We never tell the boys about these things and those pads going under the desk and it was something fun and cool about it. I mean, I do not have the bleeding. I didn’t have period pain until my late teens, but when I was 14, 15, 16, it was nearly something fun going to the beach. I don’t think I shot off today because I’m wearing a pad. But then at the same time there was this thing about how it’s like the secret being fun, but the shame also being very intense. I do remember it’s a secret, but it can turn into dirty shame quite quickly.

Once when I was, the first year I was menstruating, so 13, 14, probably like 14, my period was still quite irregular. So I never knew when they were coming. And then I got my period and I was in a school and I stained my jeans and it was literally the end of days, what am I going to do? Someone leave me a jumper, I’m going to have to go home in the middle of the day, change my whole outfit and probably get face surgery and change my identity. So know what? It was so embarrassing and it was like, I mean I realized thinking why do I have to feel so embarrassed about this? The boys are playing football outside and bloodiness all the time and they’re not going like, oh, I have a bloody trouser. This is horrible. So I was aware of that and I be like, I know this is really, sometimes if someone says something about period, people pull a face or say like, oh, it’s a bit disgusting, we don’t really need to hear about it.

So on the one hand it was like a path to a VIP cool girl room to have your period and be like a teen girl. On the other hand, there was so much shame about it about, I also remember when the first girls started using condoms, and this is really insane, but remember it was the nineties and it was in Spain and so on, and they were saying it’s a bit, not slutty, but oh, a bit too much a tampon, sorry, called tampon using tampons instead of pad like oh, you put it inside and I don’t know, there was this thing about it. And then yeah, mainly the thing about the blood being something super disgusting, not something you talk about and having to hide it not only by choice but also by not being disgusting. You hide your period, you hide your products and I do really wonder what it does to a young to be told that she might be smelly or dirty for a few days every month and her body is doing something that is going to be doing anyway, but you should hide it and only talk about it in.

So I find that not super great.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Where do you think this instinct, because this is something I hear a lot, this shame, I have heard a few of my guests say that when they got their period, they felt like they were in this club and it was cool and they thought it was so awesome to be able to have their tampons and their pads. But then the majority of my guests have talked about shame and where do you think this shame comes from?

Amaia Arranz:

I think the shame comes from the patriarchy, an ingrained misogyny in our unconscious about the female body. I think it’s, it’s just really screwed up the fact that we still live in a society that seems to value motherhood in women in a way it doesn’t fatherhood in men, you really, I mean I’m not saying anything this, but you really become a woman when you have a child. All the celebrities that haven’t had children being so pitied while the men are not and so on. So it’s like being a mother, it’s this really important thing in the life of a woman and what’s going to happen if you can do it or if you don’t want to do it, how suspicious, how weird.

At the same time, the same biological process that allow us to become women is disgusting and then in between period and pregnancy is the female sexuality, which is still surrounded by taboo and shame. So I think that’s what it is. I mean, I don’t want to get into massive conspiracy theories here, but I think there is so much fear and taboo and lack of acceptance around the female body that the period has become a bit of alike a scapegoat because it’s so visual, so bleeding, something you have to do every month, you have to do something to manage the bleeding coming out of your vagina. I think many people, many men are terrified of it because it also is a symbol of our power. We can birth life, we can have children. So I think that where it comes from, it’s too much. I mean I think it’s too much to bear in a way.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I agree. I think that these taboos, they exist in so many cultures and there’s the religious side of it, there’s also the cultural side of it and then there’s the whole idea, the patriarchal side of it. What do you think we need to do to move past these taboos, to move past this inherent feeling of shame that seems to permeate once you get your first period?

Amaia Arranz:

Well, I think proper period education is key. But you know what? I used to think, and I’ve been working in menstrual education for more than a decade and I felt so strongly like girls need to know about periods. They have to be empowered, they have to be told how to manage them, how to think proud of them and so on. What maybe the boys too, I mean, I dunno. I think sometimes when you are very passionate feminist, you’re like boys, men, you have enough attention, you have enough resources. But actually now I’m getting older and hopefully a bit wiser. I think generally young people are very lost when it comes to their bodies and their sexuality and we’re not giving them enough support. I think there is still this fear that if we talk to them about sex a lot, they won’t want to do anything else but have sex all the time or something like that.

So sexual education, menstruation, a two hour lesson in a school and that’s it. Like what? That’s not enough. It’s we going to keep on talking about this. So I think it’s education and then culture. For example, when I was in the nineties, all the ads for tampons are path, were like this beautiful models, actual models like roller skating, white shorts and being confident and beautiful and it’s like you, you are so separated, so away from that reality when you’re feeling bloated and tired and you don’t want to wear white shorts and you don’t want to wear rollerskates. I mean I think we need to have more thought of menstruation in books and TV series I is happening more and more and movies and just making the human body and especially for teenage people, sexuality, reproductive health period, something ongoing in a school. No one thing that they’re taught once about but something that have workshops, have role play, tell people about different products.

This is happening now. It’s so fantastic. I never knew until I was quite older that you could have anything back. Tampons and pads, I mean no one product is going to work for everyone until people are different products. If someone has a very heavy period, don’t just put them on the pill. Maybe there something else they can do. So I think we need to take more time and effort and care to educate people and create also a pop culture about it that it’s more, I don’t know, instead of asking all young, bright, lovely celebrities, if they’re going to have children, ask them about how they’re doing with their period, don’t ask another woman again, how is it being a working mom? I ask her, Beyonce, you’re jumping on the stage for five hours a day every day of the month. What happens when you’re menstruating on that stage? What do you do? How do you manage it? I mean, yeah, let’s get more creative with this.

Le’Nise Brothers:

That’s such an interesting line of questioning because yeah, you do see these athletes and actors, they’re doing these very intensive jobs and thinking about the heaviest day of your period where you do feel tired. Yeah. How do you navigate that? It’s so interesting to think about, but I do think coming back to this idea of education in schools, getting boys involved is so important. And I see this on my TikTok. I get a lot of questions actually from men around fertility. How do I help my partner? How do I know when she’s ovulating? How do I help her? And if we had this education earlier where it was all the kids in a classroom not separated by gender and they learn about the biological side of it, they learn what’s normal isn’t, that it kind of reduces a lot of the fear that you see with men around this.

Like, oh, well I can’t go to the shop and get tampons or pads. It’s weird. Or even when women having to hide their products because they don’t want anyone to see it because they think, oh well I don’t want anyone to know. It’s just all of this stuff starting really early in an age appropriate way. I think it’s so, so important. I do this, my son, I bring it back to him because I just think it’s so interesting. He knows the work I do and he hears me talking about it all the time. He hears my conversations and so he knows about periods, he knows about all of this. And I had to say to him, because his school just became co-ed, and I said, there might be girls in your school year who they might get their period if you see them and if they have a stain, offer them your jumper, make sure that they don’t feel embarrassed, let them know in discreet way. And he hadn’t really made that connection and of course he wouldn’t.

Amaia Arranz:

That’s amazing. I mean that’s the thing. It’s like imagine if every boy was told that if you see one of your schoolmates with stains or struggling or something, don’t laugh at her or don’t mock her. Just be supportive and nice. Imagine what difference that will make. I mean it’s amazing. Of course it starts at home as well. I should have said that as well, that parents could do some support on how to talk about these things. I hope this is changing, but I mean my dad will have never spoken to me on my periods. I mean, he’ll just, if my mom and my sister were talking about it, he just say, pull a face and walk away. So yeah, once again, it reinforces this idea that it’s a VIP club, but it’s kind of shameful depending on who you are with which, yes, I think emphasize that this dichotomy when you’re a teenager and things are either great or really bad, but it’s really good that you are talking to your son in that way because I think it’s the only way.

And also, I don’t know, you hear more and more women saying, I had super heavy periods of very painful periods. I was talking to this woman talking about periods at work who suffer from extreme anxiety from the fact that on the first day of her period she couldn’t move with the pain. She could vomiting pain and she had a very high pressure as well. So if she thought that her period might coincide with a presentation, she’ll be taking something for anxiety as well. It can affect you that badly. And if you go to the doctor and that doctor hasn’t got the resources or the training or the knowledge to help you, so many women end up finding they have endometriosis very later in life when they have fertility issues or polycystic ovaries or actually there was a way to make this better for them. That was just a contraceptive pill, no shade on the pill.

But there also other ways of addressing these issues and just doing, oh, periods are painful and dirty and it’s a woman’s job to put up with them. Well, maybe it’s not as any other thing that it’s making your life quality worse. It’s completely worth assessing and seeing if there’s a solution for it. But you cannot do that if you’re too embarrassed to talk to someone. I mean, there’s someone in my family, a teenager in my family who has a very heavy and painful period. And her mother is really trying to go to, the doctor has to check if everything is okay and she refuses if 16-year-old, she’s really even. She like, no, no, no, has embarrassing. I will never do that. And her mom who’s a teacher trying to encourage her and it’s like, wow, still no.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. Yeah. I want to go back to what you said about in your teenage years when girls were starting to make the switch to tampons and it was seen as slutty. I’ve never heard that. I just think that’s, and this is any kind of menstrual product where you have to insert it. There is a lot of misconceptions talking about how you lose your virginity and it’s just wild talking about it. But thinking specifically about the work that you do with Ruby Cup and menstrual cups, there is still a lot of fear around menstrual cups, the insertion, managing it. Can you talk about why that is and actually why menstrual cups are so beneficial?

Amaia Arranz:

When it comes to any product to manage your period that are used by insertion like tampons and cups? There is, I think there are two taboos about it. One is virginity, the hymen, might the hymen break, therefore break my virginity if I put a cup or a tampon in my vagina. I think here is, I mean at Rubycup we work with in many different countries with people from all kind of cultures and religions and we always come from respect and say, this is not for you. It’s not for you. And they’re this fantastic company that makes washable pads. You should speak to them, no pressure at all. But we also say your hymen is a very thin membrane at the end part of your vagina and it’s very flexible and it’s different for everyone. Therefore your hymen could break when you are playing sports or riding your bicycle or climbing a tree or doing a medical examination.

But if you haven’t had sexual intercourse, you are still a virgin. And that if you hymen breaks and you may not even realize when it breaks because it’s not like loads of liquid weight in the earth point we breaking. Many people never realize when the hymen break and if you haven’t had intercourse then you’re still a virgin. There are people whose hymen is so flexible like a spiderweb so to speak, that they could have sex, vaginal sex and the hymen not break the first, the second, the third time. They may never realize and those people have had sex even if the hymen is intact, so to speak. So hymen and virginity are not synonyms, so to speak. So if you haven’t had sex, and for example if your wish is to not have sex until you get married, using a cup or using a tampon is not going to destroy that wish.

It’s not going to stop you from being a virgin. That’s one thing. The other thing is if we only talk about virginity in terms of penis in vagina, that’s also a very narrow view of what’s having sex and intercourse, which is something else to conceal altogether. So personally I think virginity is a social construct in itself, but as I said, we always respect everyone’s wishes and beliefs. We just say that the same way that the cup is not might or not break your hymen, it might break doing sex or not, it might ride your bicycle or not. There’s something to know. 

And then the other taboo surrounding anything being inserted in your vagina, which I think is that taboo we had in the nineties, at least in my school, is that because it’s always been portrayed that sex and a woman’s arousal happens when the penis goes into the vagina.

We’re watching a movie and they kiss and then they’re having sex and she’s super, super, super enjoying it with a kiss and a penis in her vagina. So I think there is this kind of this remaining idea that a woman could get super aroused and super excited and have an orgasm just by having a cup or a tampon or anything going into her vagina. So I think that’s the query comes from thinking, oh, if I put something in my vagina, it’s going to make me really, really horny and maybe that’s inappropriate. We had in certain places, not our users, our program participants receiving a Ruby Cup, but their husbands concerned that the women were going to be using Ruby Cup as a sex toy and start neglecting them inverted commas. We have had this. So and then what we did in this case is that we said, okay, why?

How about we have some women, adult women, community leaders use the cup and then they can vouch for the fact that unfortunately Ruby Cup is not going to give you a million orgasms. So then ly, so that’ll be the best product ever then. So yeah, taboo, taboo of the hymen virginity and is a taboo, I mean, I’m sorry to say I think it’s alive for most women and why sex can be so disappointing for women at this start because most women do not go into the peak of their ecstasy. Yes, they’re having something put into their vagina. So I think that’s why I think it’s also important to talk about this. Yeah, education is key and also not only on menstruation but also on women’s bodies and trying to give ourselves permission to learn what we like and go with that.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And then regarding menstrual cups themselves, so something that I see and it’s starting, I am seeing a bit of a shift, but there is a fear about, because it feels, for some people it feels very different. They’re used to hearing about pads, hearing about tampons, oh cups, how does it work? And there’s a fear of it being messy. How do I actually get it in? Can you just talk a little bit more about that side of it? 

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, sure. I think something with cups, and I’m looking here for my own experience because I only started using cups in my early thirties. I’m 43 now, so I’m a cup user, but I did use tampons and pads for a very long time. I think it’s this idea you have to handle your own blood in a way. I think you still handle a lot of blood with pads and tampons, but there is something you don’t have to touch anything. And that also, for example with tampons, with applicators are so popular, at least in Spain, in the UK, some more people using the ones with no applicator. But in Spain, everyone, not everyone, but many people choose the ones with applicators. So you don’t have to put your fingers inside, you don’t get any blood in your fingers and all this kind of sanitized period. This is stay away from that witchy blood from my vagina kind of thing.

Okay. A cup is completely the opposite of that. You’re going to get close and personal with your blood and I think it’s amazing. It’s great. Okay, so for insertion, a cup, I mean we have lots of information and resources and videos in our website at rubycup.com, but basically it’s not that different to how you insert a tampon. What happens with the cup is that it looks like a small cup, but when you see it just like that, it looks very big compared to a tampon. So it can be a bit like what, but then you fold it and there are many folding method and when it’s folded, it’s actually nearly as small as a tampon with advantage that is made of very soft medical grade silicone. Whereas tampons, because they’re like cotton or the applicator is cardboard, they’re harder. So full look smaller, but they have bit rougher to an extent.

Whereas caps are very, very soft. So then you insert it in your vagina and then you let it to collect your blood while you menstruate and then you have to empty it. And this is the bit that everyone, including me, I mean I’m not looking down on anyone, it took me some time to get used to the cup. It is because then you do get very close with your blood because you have to take your cup out and especially at the beginning where you are still shaky and you’re still learning how long you can leave it for before it overflows. It can be a bit, oh blood everywhere and this can happen. But what happens after a while, you learn how to use your cup and you end up being able to remove it and empty it anywhere without even getting blood in your fingers. And it’s quite funny to see actually it’s not so much blood like this small cup full of blood and so on.

But what I was going to say is that it’s also interesting how we freak out about the idea of getting blood on fingers or making a mess in the bathroom. Most of us don’t bleed anywhere near as much as we think is the way tampons are that because they absorb the blood and they soak it up, it looks like there’s loads. But when you put in an empty container, it’s really not much. So even if you drop a bit of blood on the floor or in the bathroom, you can clean it up, it’s fine. It may happen to you the first few times you use the cup, but it’s just your blood. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not disgusting, it’s not horrible. Maybe interesting. Oh in there, oh it’s much darker or now it’s more red now it’s more brown. There is some, I mean I don’t know.

I really encourage people to try cups because I think there are a really fantastic product. They are the most eco-friendly product. They’re the cheapest product. But also because most of us are going to menstruate for about 35 years, we want to know what is there to know about all the products and then choose and maybe also explore one that makes us feel more like matey with our own body and our vagina and we’re, oh, now my cervix is a higher, now it’s a bit lower. I don’t know. I think there can be a lot of joy in it if you turn it around still thinking, oh my god, my blood, it’s fine.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I think that’s such an interesting way of looking at it. Looking at the number of periods that you have, how long? So I think it’s between about 450 and 500 periods across the course of your menstruating life. And if you’re going to experience something that many times, why not just embrace it? It might be painful, it might be heavy, but embrace the kind of process of it. And part of that is getting familiar with your blood. I remember when I first started using cups, I was really surprised not just by, I was surprised by the color, I was surprised by how I would fill a cup and how I would have to empty it and how working all of, but the other thing I was surprised about was actually the smell. It’s this idea that a lot of us grew up as we touched upon this in the beginning of blood and our bodies and our vaginas being dirty and smelly vaginas.

And I was like, this isn’t smelly at all. And I just thought that was really, really interesting. And actually using a cup has helped me understand my body a lot more and it’s actually changed my period. I started using a really hard, a harder cup, I won’t mention the brand, but I then switched to using a medical silicone and it just made my period so much easier. And it, I have mild endometriosis so my periods can be painful, but they are so much less painful and I put that down to not using your standard conventional tampons or pads, but also giving my body the opportunity to just let the bleed just go out rather than everything being absorbed, which is what happens with tampons.

Amaia Arranz:

I could not agree more. I could not agree more. It’s such a different experience. And the smell thing as well is very interesting because I mean smell is also smell. One day you get a bit sweaty and the other one goes MIA, it’s fine. It’s just a bit of a smell. But sometimes the smell we relate to pure smell is because most tampons are cotton, they have bleached the cotton and so on. There are a number of chemical products in there. I’m not saying they’re harmful, but they are in there. So therefore that has a chemical reaction with your blood. It’s having, if you sweat a lot and you wear a cotton T-shirt or nothing, even the smell is completely different to when you wear a polyester or lycra t-shirt. It’s kind of that comparison, if that makes sense. Yeah. I have never come with this before, but anyway, and I think that’s what happens with the cup because it just collecting your blood, not absorbing it. So the experience is completely different. And then in terms of, I think for me logistically, I had not thought about this, but with tampons, you have to have the right absorbency for that day because taking out a tampon that is not full, it is my friend says like licking a wooden spoon, so it’s

Le’Nise Brothers:

So uncomfortable!

Amaia Arranz:

We can’t have all the sizes at home and our back and at work it’s just a pain. The first time I went on a holiday with just my cup, there’s my little organic cotton little bag with my cup inside instead of lagging tampons. Oh tampons. So the tampons, my tampons and my paths and then you go to a bathroom and what do I dispose of everything. I mean just the experience is so much more pleasant and I really love what you said about embracing our period. This is kind of like hippie mindful saying about if you are swimming and a wave comes, you don’t argue with the wave. What are you doing here? You have to go with the wave. So if your period is coming, yeah, get angry, get pissed off, reach about it, but it’s coming, why not go with it and see, maybe it’s not the worst thing to have a couple of quiet days once a month with your blanket and your movies and a huge bar of chocolate. If that is what works your boat, go with it. Rather than trying to fight it and say, I’m not being as productive and not able to run 30 marathons these two days. Well maybe your body is not going to find that so horrible after.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that analogy, that metaphor. I think it’s brilliant. I want to just switch a little bit to talking more about Ruby Cup, the company. You have a model where someone purchases the cup and then another cup is donated. Can you talk a little bit more about where the cups are donated and why these places were chosen?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah. Well basically when the program, I mean Ruby Cup was always going to be a social business. It wasn’t something that came after. The aim was always to find those people that were facing period poverty. I know poverty means not being able to handle your period in a way that is safe or dignified, missing a school, missing work, lower self-esteem in certain parts of the world. It puts you at risk of falling into toxic relationships because you depend on your boyfriend to buy your pads and so on. So that was always the aim of the company and there was, I think it was in 2011, could it be, there was a small study in Kenya, in Nairobi, I think it was with 80 cups, I think they were Mooncup actually showing that the women were very receptive to using a menstrual cup. I mean we’re talking about caps are why well known now, but 10 years ago and in East Africa there were not known at all.

So there was always this concern that you’re going to go to people that to have a problem and you are going to offer them a solution they don’t want, which obviously it’s not the way to go. So basically the first solutions of Ruby cup started to happen in Kenya in 2012. That’s when I joined the company in 2012. Basically we teamed up with a number of locally based NGOs that were working. At the time, it was mainly school girls because there was this whole thing like 10 years ago about keep girls in a school, save a girl, save a generation, and so on and so on. This idea that if you are able to help a girl from dropping off a school or getting pregnant or getting married off at 12, if you’re able to keep her, let’s say, I wouldn’t say in the good and narrow, but let’s say in a school and safe for until she was 18, 20, that her future could have a completely different shape and she could be much more of an owner of it.

So we started distributing the cups mainly in schools, and this was in Kenya at Tanzania and Uganda. And those started in those countries basically because we found some really, really fantastic locally based partners that were super committed to deliver a product education support, peer support and network of trainers and make it long-term. They should really need to provide the person receiving a caup. If you’re talking about rural Uganda with education support, you have to have everyone on board, the school staff and the parents and the religious leaders and so on. So when we found this organizations committed to this, this was what we wanted and it was great because we’re also super committed to be accountable for our work. Something we do very, very thoroughly with our partners is to follow up with the people receiving a cup and collecting data whether they’re using it and if using it is a positive experience for them or something they have to because they have money for nothing else.

So our adoption rate across the board, then we started working in Malawi, then in Nepal then we have a number of projects in the UK, in Spain, but across the board our adoption rate is about 82%. This means that out of 10 people that receive a cup on day one, six months later that is still using it, eight out of 10 are still using it and we think it’s a very, very good result. In some cases can be like 95% or 75%, but we believe that we have created a system of education and peer support and continuity and sustainability that is really working and really allowing people that will otherwise be using newspapers and old socks or just sit and bleed on the floor. Now they have 10 years of fast free stress-free period, and also access to education about their bodies. We developed a really great, if I say so myself, training curriculum to support the NGOs we work with because we are nothing without them, that we are a tiny company but work with and now we work with some really big NGOs and so on, and we love it, obviously have so many resources and I take videos and we love it.

But to work with those small organizations that are there in the field helping every girl, every woman try to provide all the support they can and then them continuing the work. We wanted to also give them the resource of having posters and a handbook for the trainer and flashcards and things like that. So we’re very committed to the educational part of it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I love that. Education is so important to take the fear and the shame out of this topic. I wanted to ask more about the logistics side of the cups and in places like where you might be working with NGOs who are distributing cups in slums. So I interviewed someone earlier this year who has a charity that donates cups to Kibera, which is the largest slum in Kenya. And one of the issues that they faced in the beginning was the cleaning of the cups. They ended up having to work with a company that creates cleans water from rainwater and uses that as a way to clean the cup. Have you had this issue in some of the places that you work with?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I mean something we do with our new partners is either via a questionnaire, via an interview. We always do bit of a vetting process, like there are a number of questions we ask and resources that need to be in place. And one of them is how are you going to ensure that the users can use the cup safely? Are they going able to wash their hands? Are they going to be able to boil the cup? And we feel that if in an area they don’t have, because everything you need to use the cup safely. I know this is not available for everyone in the world, so I’m very respectful of that. The fact that many people don’t have even that much water, but is to be able to wash your hands, which hopefully you’ll be able to do regardless whether you’re using a cup or not.

And then one cup of clear water once a month that you have to able to boil. So of course gas or fire are involved, that’s what it is. And if that’s not available, if that’s not possible, we really ask the partner, the potential partner to take step back and see if that can be solved somehow. And this is an issue, it’s something super serious. We take it very, very seriously. And for example, some feedback we had, we worked with Save the Children in Northern Kenya a few years ago, and it’s a very, very dry area and we were very concerned about the water, but they were telling us the fact is that if you’re using rags for your period, you also have to wash those and that really needs out of water and soap. So they were like, okay, let’s see if we can redirect some of the water that’s being washed for washing to wash the cup.

And it was super successful that project. And then what happen is that a massive drought came in and then there was lack of water and food and medicine. So Menstrual Health project had to be parked because bigger, more urgent needs came into place. So it’s always a bit of a thing. We always try and ensure that, I mean we always ensure that our partners have resources at the time so that people using the cup can so safely. And it has happened that at some point, especially in certain areas, very dry areas, some refugee camps, perhaps the resources stopped being available and we have to stop the project because it’s not really, we want to do no harm, let’s say. Yeah,

Le’Nise Brothers:

I think that’s so important and so interesting because in these conversations about menstrual health, so for example, Menstrual Hygiene Day early, which is I think the 28th of May, there’s always, every year without fail, there’s controversy about the name. Why is it still menstrual hygiene? And I think it’s really a Western perspective where it’s not, periods are a hygiene issue because you need to have clean water and access to water to be able to wash your hands, to wash any menstrual products that you use. And some places they just can’t use reusable products because they don’t have the resources to be able to clean them effectively. So it’s very interesting to have a global perspective and also to hear how you as a company are tackling this issue. In terms of the cup itself. And you also do underwear. Where can people find the products and do you have anything coming up that you’d like to share?

Amaia Arranz:

Yes, thank you for asking that. Well, you can find us www.rubycup.com, and we have menstrual cups. We have a size small and a size medium, and there is a test that you can take and you take the test to see which is the size for you, and then you get a 10% discount. So do that. We also have Kegel exercises so you can work with your pelvic floor. And we also have Ruby cleans, which are small sterilizers you can bring about if you’re traveling or you’re on holiday or you are sharing house with many people it’s somewhere you can boil your cup without using a pot, let’s say. And there also have, we recently launched menstrual underwear. It’s called Flow Freedom, and well check it out because it has a very, very, they’re very comfy pants, but they also have a high absorbency. So literally you can go to the gym on your period with them and be fine. 

And then especially now for December, so okay, instead of doing Black Friday, we’re doing instead, which I think I’m really excited about is we’re going to double our donations in December. So if you buy one cup, we’ll donate two. So

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, that’s amazing. 

Amaia Arranz:

In a way, when you give discounts, you lose some profit margin. Okay, we’re going to lose it in the form of donations instead. So if you’re thinking of buying a cup, yeah, you won’t get a discount if you buy from us on Black Friday, but if you wait a little bit and you buy it in December, you’ll be able to help two people have 10 years of plastic free periods.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that. That’s amazing.

Amaia Arranz:

Safe periods, dignified periods. So yeah, check us out and we’re on TikTok as well and Instagram and yeah, just be in touch.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. What’s one thought that you’d like to leave listeners with today?

Amaia Arranz:

I would love for anyone listening here to take just a little cup of tea and sit down and think about your periods or their periods of the person they live with or their friends or family members. And try to turn the narrative from the menstruation being something bad and dirty and annoying and something that is always the butt of the joke to something that will be something that works with you and works for you. And that will be a time for yourself every month. And then knowing your cycle is going to make a huge difference. We don’t have no time to talk about this now, but know your cycle, track it, see how you feel at different moments of your cycle. And I promise, promise, promise, promise. Embrace your period, get to know it and it’s going to work with you, not against you.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that. Thank you so much for coming onto the show. I’ll put all the links in the show notes for anyone who wants to check out Ruby Cup.

Amaia Arranz:

Thank you for having me. Had a great day. And the time has gone by.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 72, Hana Walker-Brown: The Stories We’ve Told Ourselves Aren’t Always The Reality

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Hana Walker-Brown, a multi-award winning, internationally acclaimed audio documentary and podcast maker, creative director and author of the book, A Delicate Game, which tells the story of the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) through first-hand intimate interviews with sufferers and their families. 

In this episode, Hana shares: 

  • How lockdown led to her realising she might have ADHD
  • The value of Right to Choose in helping her get an ADHD diagnosis
  • That there’s no blueprint for ADHD but there are commonalities 
  • How having a diagnosis gave her an explanation for certain feelings and behaviours 
  • How she’s had to move forward with more grace and kindness 
  • Her new podcast Late to the Party, which is about navigating neurodiversity as an adult 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Hana says that the big things for her in getting through everything have been to trust and forgive herself. 

Thank you, Hana!

Get in touch with Hana:

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Website


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on to the show. Hana. I’m really excited to talk to you. But let’s start off by hearing the story of your very first period. 

Hana: Oh, gosh. So I was thinking about this and I mean, we can get into this, but I think I had a lot of kind of fear and shame about when my period might arrive. I was definitely like a late bloomer, I guess. I hate that expression, but that’s the first thing I could think of in terms of kind of my friends, like I didn’t have boobs till really late and I felt kind of like the child when everyone started to become like a woman, which is ridiculous because we were like 14. But like, so I kind of I wanted it, but then I also really didn’t want it. 

And I remember my parents divorced when I was four, and the thing I really didn’t want was to be at my dad’s house. And it came at my dad’s house and I hid it from everyone. I didn’t know what to do. And I, I think because I felt so much shame, I just didn’t say anything. And I had like two stepsisters there. One who is two years older than me. And I just remember being laughing, but I’m like, Oh, that poor girl. But I remember being in the bathroom of just being like, I just don’t know what I’m going to do. And looking in cupboards and stuff not being there. Yeah, it was not traumatic, but it wasn’t like, Oh yay, I’ve now blossomed. 

But yeah, so I remember, I think I just put tissue in my pants and I just got through the weekend and got back home and I don’t, I didn’t tell my mum for ages either. I don’t think I told anyone and I think my mum just found like sanitary towels I’d bought down and in the bin in the bathroom and was like did you start your period? And I was like, Yes. It’s such a I don’t know, I think, I don’t know where that came. I mean, now I can kind of look into it a bit more and that’s how I was feeling generally as a person was quite afraid to, to say how I was feeling and was kind of shut down a bit or told I was exaggerating or being dramatic. And I think when that sort of plays into you in that moment, I did feel like it was quite massive, but I was like, Can’t tell anyone. So yeah, it was all the things that I didn’t want to happen happened at my dad’s. I was alone and I didn’t tell anyone for ages about it. I didn’t even tell my friends about it for ages. 

Le’Nise: So how long did you keep it a secret from your mum? 

Hana: I think a couple of months until it came back. 

Le’Nise: Wow.

Hana: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And your mom. So she found this, the pads, and she was kind of like, why? Have you started your period? Yeah. And then what was the conversation like from there? 

Hana: Quite. I think she was shouting at me because she said. When you when you’ve used when it needs to go in a bag. It can’t just go in the bin. And I think I’d actually flushed something down the toilet. And that’s when it start. That was another thing, because I think she had to now in my remembering it, she had to call a plumber to come around. And that’s what was in the toilet. I didn’t know. No one told me. Like, I’m terrified. No one said right when it happened. It’s like I knew it was coming, but we didn’t kind of have a real you know, we knew what to use. I didn’t know that they couldn’t go down the toilet, you know, or we didn’t know how long we were scared about. What was that thing that everyone talked about? School like toxic shock syndrome. Like I was terrified of tampons. I was like, I’m going to die if I use this. So, yeah, it was like just feeling very ill equipped and rather than kind of being asking for help, I think I just sort of was like, Oh, just get on with it. Yeah. So yeah, I wouldn’t say like, I’m sort of laughing now, but I’m like, Well, what an entry? What an entry into this thing I’m going to have, you know, for the majority of my life.

Le’Nise: Yeah. And you know, the flushing the pad down the loo I, I laugh but I actually did that and luckily I didn’t cause any plumbing issues. But I think back on it now and yeah, no one, no one said, you know, don’t flush a tampon, don’t flush your pad down the loo. You can cause like, you know, a blockage. Um, but it’s funny how, you know, we learn these things. I think I just read it in the magazine when I was in my twenties, and it’s like, okay. 

Hana: Yeah, that’s it. I think because they only started putting signs in public toilets. But again, maybe in my late teens, early twenties, when it was don’t put sanitary products down the toilet. And I thought, Oh, that’s new. Maybe the systems have changed, maybe the piping’s changed. And I’m like, Oh no, it’s just like blocks everything. But yeah, that wasn’t a conversation. I mean, I think back to kind of sex ed even at school, it was just, here’s an egg, here’s a sperm where a condom or you’re going to get pregnant. That was it. And you’re like, Oh, no, it’s fearful. And again, with kind of tampons, I think we had like one session where someone came in and all we took was toxic shock. Toxic shock is that was the I don’t know, the only thing that was exciting to hold on to, but yet no kind of detail or information or actually space for people to share their concerns or worries. If you didn’t want to share in front of the whole class. I actually think there were even boys in that class. And that’s probably why we were just like, no one asked anything. 

Le’Nise: Because you embarrassed. 

Hana: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Okay. 

Hana: So it’s so. But like, now I’m like, Oh my God. Like this world that we would set up for, It’s like everything that is so kind of natural. The reason we’re all here, essentially, and we’re so ashamed of it. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And so you have this experience around your first period, a lot of shame, a lot of secrecy. And then finally your mum found out, you eventually told your friends, I’m assuming. And then what was your experience of your period like throughout your teenage years? 

Hana: I just hated it. I hated it. I think. It. It felt like it just got in the way. And I think also at that point, you know, I’m sort of, you know, you’re going through puberty at the same time your hormones are raging. And I just didn’t I didn’t feel good when I got to in the lead up, I did not feel good. And I just I hated that. And again, that was never explained. You know, again, we’d have kind of, I guess, very surface like PMS or oh, it’s her time of the month. But there wasn’t a kind of nuanced explanation of what was happening or, you know, what activities would be suitable around certain times in the cycle. And thinking about this Maisie Hill’s period book that I mean, I only read in my thirties, but I think those are the things that were missing. It was just like, you have to have this and also get on with it and not complain about it and not talk to anyone about it. And I think around that time, you know, you’re starting to like have sex with boys and all those things. And it just felt like it was the thing that was either annoying or got in the way or, I don’t know, I never embraced it. It was every time I was annoyed it was there. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. You’re definitely not alone. I think there is this you know, a lot of people are talking quite positively about their periods now. But yeah, even still, like with me, this is the work I do. And when my period arrives some months, I’m just like, I just don’t want to deal with this. I don’t, I feel quite negatively about it. 

Hana: Yeah, totally. I mean, I’ve, I think I do. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I think now having the knowledge and the awareness of what’s going on, like I really suffer the two or three days kind of preceding it. And every time I Oh God, every time I like, I’m so unhappy everyone hates me. And then I’m I know when it’s coming because I’m not really a big scroller anymore on Instagram, I realised it’s kind of detrimental to my health, but I’ll be on there like looking for a reason to feel bad or going, you know, just. And that’s the thing that catches me. And I’m like, Here it comes. Because every time it’s the same pattern and even things like, Now stop putting meetings in on those days, stop doing social things on those days because it’s like I’m not my best. And rather than be like, No, I can power through this. It’s fine, as if I’m some separate entity to like what’s going on in my body. I’ve just gone, okay, you just don’t need to see people in those days. In five days time, you’re going to be great for the meetings. And then but in those days, just, you know, clear the deck, do what you need to do, light exercise, you know, all those things that actually do help, you don’t want to do a lot of them because, you know, I’m still convinced that I’m stronger, capable and powerful, which I am. I’m all of those things. But on those days, I just need a rest. 

Le’Nise: How long did it take for you to realise that? 

Hana: 30 years. I say no less. I know. Like when I get it. When I was like 15. Yeah, about 20, 25 years, right? Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And you still. Do you feel any resistance still? Okay. Actually, I know what’s best for me during these couple of days, but I really ‘should’ be doing this. 

Hana: Yeah, and I have done. I definitely feel that resistance. I think that comes down from again, there’s a lot of things are kind of reconciled within the last couple of years about my sort of productivity and how. You know my external output. I just thought that was so much more valid than how I felt internally, like what I could produce and create and put out it win. And I’m sort of pedalling back on that and going, Oh no, that’s not what’s important. I’m important. 

So there’s still that resistance, cause I think that’s a lifetime of learning that I’m trying to kind of unravel. But even like there’s been a couple of months in the last six months where my period’s come twice in a month and I because they’ve been short, so they sort of come for a few days and gone and I’ve been like, Great, but why do I still feel shit? And then it’s then I’ve started to feel sort of really low again. I’ve been like, Well, it can’t be that because I’ve already had it. But then it comes back. So I’m like, Well, this is a really annoying pattern that just sort of surfaced and I don’t know if that’s stress or what that is, but even that I, I was sort of on a train back home last Friday and I was so emotional, like biting back tears on the train. And I thought, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to speak to anyone, If anyone asks me how I am, I’m just going to burst into tears. And I said, This doesn’t make any sense. I’ve just had my period. It’s it must be me. I must be mad, crazy this. And then I got to the house and I had it again and I was like, Oh, you need to just trust that this feeling because I know what it is, it’s just when it catches your guard or if it’s out of the kind of the rhythm of the cycle, I suppose it, it must be something else. But it can be quite intense on those days. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, that, that’s interesting. Trusting yourself that, that idea that, you know, you’ve spent so much time tuning in and seeing these patterns and trusting what your body is telling you. 

Hana: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: You talked previously about reconciling a lot of things over the last couple of years. So one of those you talk another one of those things you talk about is ADHD and your journey towards getting a diagnosis. And I think this is so interesting because, you know, there is a lot more conversation over certainly over the last year about ADHD, especially in women. And I just want to talk a little bit about what that journey towards diagnosis looked like for you. 

Hana: Yeah, it was it was intense. It was, I guess. All things considered, the journey has probably been about ten or 12 years, but kind of that initial ten years was me seeking help for something I didn’t have the language for. 

So I’ve had chronic insomnia since since I was a baby apparently. My dad told me recently that sometimes they’d come into my room in the morning and I’ll just be stood in my cot waiting for everyone. And he was like, We just didn’t even know if you slept. I wasn’t screaming or crying. I was just like, awake, waiting for everyone else to wake up. So I say, yeah, for my whole life. And that was sort of never addressed, really. I think my mum had asked me if I wanted to see a doctor when I was like 13, 13, what am I going to say? No, I’m fine. 

So I’ve had this insomnia and also this like just relentless, I thought, creative process in inverted commas, where I work crazy hard all through the night, burn out, be on the floor and then get up, do it again. And I just thought that was, you know, sort of romanticised it as this like bohemian, creative, You know, when you’re being self expressive, you have to give everything and suffer. You know, we see it all the time. And that was just the explanation I gave myself, which now I’m like, What? Just what? Come on, that’s ridiculous. 

But so I was sort of going to see doctors on and off. And every time it was sort of take this antidepressant, take this anxiety medication. And I knew I could be depressed and I knew I could feel anxious, but it wasn’t like my baseline. Like it wasn’t it didn’t feel like that’s what it was. So I never took these things unless it was sleeping tablets, which they’d only give sort of a couple now and again. And that was great because I could have a good night’s sleep. And then it did come to a head for me in lockdown, but not in the same way it did for other people. I think. I don’t use TikTok and a lot of ADHD discourse happened on TikTok, which was amazing because people didn’t have references for what they were feeling before. I didn’t I wasn’t aware of all of that going on. In fact, I was actually aware of this kind of, just the amount of people coming forward. I think I was kind of in my little world, but all the things that I had kind of unknowingly done to keep myself, you know, level were suddenly taken away. So, you know, exercise, going for long walks. And I couldn’t sit still at my desk in my house all day, like being constricted in that way. And and things just started to kind of amplify and swell. And it’s almost like. I don’t know. It’s like you’re a sausage in this very tight skin and you’re pushing against it the whole time. It just feels so uncomfortable. 

And then I moved to Spain in after the first lockdown, because, I mean, why not? And also I feel that was a kind of a running away from the issue. And I feel the issue was being in London and being living with the person I was living with. And I thought, I’ll go to Spain, it’s sunny. That will help. And it did on the most part. But we we had a curfew in Spain a lot of the time, and I was living on my own for the first time. So not a lockdown. But if I wasn’t staying at a friend’s, I had to be in by a certain time at night and no one to go out in the street to try and kind of curb the virus. And so I spent a lot of time on my own and a lot of time facing a lot of stuff. I didn’t have anyone to kind of project on to. Well, there was no one to sort of. I guess minimise some of that or distract me from that. 

And I remember I called my doctor because I thought I’m genuinely I thought I’m just going to be one of these women that goes mad. That’s just it. Like people will say, Oh, she gave it a good go, but in the end she just went mad. And that will just be what happens to me because I, I was overwhelmed with all of these things, which I now understand are like pretty common ADHD symptoms. And it was a friend that was having an autism diagnosis around that time that said to me, I really think you should look into ADHD. And it was not even on my radar. Like I knew my brother probably had it, but he was incredibly hyperactive, Can’t sit still, quite disruptive, but wasn’t kind of naughty and in a malicious way but just couldn’t like just wouldn’t was restricted by the systems that we had, you know, in classrooms in school. So that was my only reference. 

And then I started kind of really reading into this and it’s like, Oh yeah, I do that. Oh, yeah, oh yeah, I do that. And it was like, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. That’s when I started looking on kind of Instagram. That’s when I started finding TikTok. And I think I, I have this and I remember calling my doctor and she said to me, Everyone thinks they have ADHD, Hana. And I was like ok, help, please help. And she said, no, she wouldn’t have referred me. And then I miraculously found out about right to choose as I hung up the phone and her feeling like no one’s going to help me, I’m totally alone in this, someone had posted about Right to Choose, which is basically a referral letter from your doctor to have a private, a psychiatric assessment and to get a diagnosis.

So I called my doctor back and she was I thought she was annoyed that I had found this because then because I’d asked for it, I was she was still in Southwark where I was living before was in Spain, and she had to then take it to a board. That’s how it works. If someone asks, you have to take it to the board and then they fill your records and they decide whether they will essentially, essentially comes out of their pocket, not their pocket, but that sort of practice pocket to refer you. So. A few weeks later, I got a call from her. No, she wasn’t going to back me. But then a month after that, I got a call from this woman called Joanne, who had who was a doctor who’d been in that briefing where they looked at my files, and she just said categorically. I think she even said I would bet my license on you having ADHD or something. So. It’s like, I don’t know. Just so like. I just felt someone had finally seen what I was trying to say. And I didn’t have a language for this before. So it couldn’t, you know, maybe it wasn’t that, but it just felt like in that moment, like just the strength of her belief in me, was so amazing. And she was she’d never met me, but she was like, I’m going to refer you and I’ll back you and I’ll get you and the diagnosis. 

So that’s how it kind of all started. So I owe that woman a lot because I was I was not in a good place during that kind of period, as a lot of people who went through this weren’t. Because I think in that time we all realise those things and all those things even knowingly kind of done to cope. And the masking thing, you know, the masks that we’ve put on, the masking behaviours we’ve adopted, they all just fell to the ground because we, the world wasn’t the world that we’d lived in. So yeah, I think it was very intense. And then. My diagnosis happened quite quickly, was maybe a couple of months. I scored very highly. Not that it’s, Oh me, I’m like achievement, like come grades, which is part of my makeup as well. But I was like, Wow. And my psychiatrist said to me, I don’t know how you’ve done this for so long. I don’t know how you’ve done it. And I think that’s quite common for a lot of people to hear. And it’s like. I knew that I. What differently to other people. I knew I had incredibly low self-esteem. I knew that there was this kind of conflict between what I was able to do and achieve in inverted commas and how I felt about myself. I knew that that I looked to people who were achieving way, way less than me, and they were so hyped on themselves. And I was like, Wow. How do you do that? Even sleep, you know, as a kid, I was like, When did everyone learn to do this? I didn’t. I was in that sleep class where people were taught how to do this. 

It was so, you know, a lot of the time feeling really less than. And to suddenly to kind of have an answer that isn’t just, oh, you’re just you are less that actually it’s like, oh, no, I have this thing that means the way that the world is built and set up isn’t always the best way for me to move through it. So, you know, it’s about not kind of being accusatory or that dwelling in the past. But actually for me it’s like now I know how am I going to work in a way that that serves me rather than always fighting against this box that the I’ve just never fitted. 

Le’Nise: You talk about some of your symptoms. So the chronic insomnia, the the need to to move and how movement is kind of a meditation for you. Can you talk about some of your other symptoms because someone might be listening to this and thinking, okay, hold on a minute. That, you know, is this something that’s going on for me? So for someone who might be listening and thinking that, what are some of the other symptoms that you experienced? 

Hana: Sure. And I should just preface that with I think one of the there’s a great things about Instagram and Tik Tok is that people are aware that what they’re going through is universal to the to a high degree. But sometimes when we get stuck in like these are the five symptoms, if you’ve only got three and yours might be slightly different, it doesn’t mean that, you know, someone said to me the other day, I just don’t feel ADHD enough because their symptoms would be very different to kind of what’s constantly being peddled out. So there are commonalities 100%, and that’s very humbling to realise that you’re not the only person going through this, but. I’m not a blueprint for ADHD, so that’s not what you were implying. But I just want to preface that because I don’t want people to feel like they don’t have a they have a bit, but not that I think, you know in yourself what you have. And I think it’s important to talk to other people about it because, you know, what you start to see emerges is the differences which, you know, you might have just written off because no one else has them. 

And but for me, which I think is quite common for everyone, the the number of tabs that I have open in my head at any one time, it blew my mind that. Neuro. I guess neurotypical is not a term I particularly like that. It’s a good way of just explaining the difference. Someone who does not have ADHD can think of one thought and just do it, and then they’ll think of another thing. I have like a hundred things in my head and I they’re all sort of fighting for attention. And it’s so difficult to figure out which one to pick. Someone said to me today. It’s like they’re at a shop counter and everywhere the queue is like five deep, but people keep swapping places. So you think you’re serving the person at the front, but then they’re at the back and the person at the front and he’s like, And then a camel walks in and you’re like, I bet sort that, you know, it’s just it’s chaos. And sometimes I really pride myself on my ability to manage all of those things, but sometimes it’s just gets so much. You have to just press off like your computer overheats and you just press off, burn out like rest, whatever. And it’s constant. It is this constant just battle for your attention. 

And the sleep is a massive one for me. I had this thing for ages. I used to call it my stretchy, so my brother had a Stretch Armstrong doll. I don’t know if you know those, but it was like basically a man in his pants and you could stretch his limbs. Yeah. And I felt like I would get this kind of feeling in my limbs that I felt like I just needed to be stretched. My everything needed to be stretched. And actually what I needed to do is go for a run or go for walks. I had all this built up energy and my hyperactivity was often in my brain, but I can have those outbursts of just kind of need to go, need to move. Which again, I just thought like, what am I stretchy? And I remember like being in bed with a ex boyfriend. And I’d be like, It’s almost like if you ever watch a baby when it’s realised it has arms and it’s just like punching around just to see how it fits. And he’d be like, Are you stretchy? And I was like, Yes, I’ve just got to be, just baffling stuff that I thought, I’m just quirky, I’m just weird. Like, this is just me. 

The self-esteem, massive one. Like imposter syndrome, which is, you know, a medical syndrome. And for me, I always thought the that just meant you felt you were lucky to be somewhere. Oh, it was a fluke. And I’ve never felt like that. But what I didn’t realise that tied into that was this kind of inability to celebrate yourself and overcompensating because you never feel like enough. Like always seeking external validation, being afraid to ask for help because you don’t want to be kind of found out. And that could be it’s not. I guess not an assumption, but a lot of people with ADHD experience that. And the more I’ve looked into it, I found, wow, that is kind of really where I’ve sat for a long time. And things like rejection sensitivity. So things feeling, emotions, like I feel everything very deeply, which I’ve always liked, because I think it has afforded me the career that I have. 

And I should say that for all the things that make life very difficult, there are some amazing symptoms and behaviours that I have. So, you know, really deep empathy for other people, creativity, really vivid imagination. And I was going to say luckily, but it wasn’t lucky because I’ve. I’ve done it, but. I harnessed all of those things to build a career. And I think that’s a real. It’s a really sad thing when people are kind of in these careers that are like 9 to 5. If you have ADHD, it’s very difficult to even sit at a desk for that long or you’re doing something that you’re not interested in and it’s very boring because that’s that was like a desirable career when we were at school or at uni, and that’s what you are funnelled into. Whereas I’ve sort of rejected all of that and built my own thing based on those strengths. So I feel, I do feel lucky actually in that respect that I was able to do that. 

With the rejection sensitivity and what is so interesting is, you know, which I guess everyone gets, but it’s like if someone doesn’t message me back before, I’d be like, well, they hate me. It was like so extreme. Or if, you know, I have very different groups of friends, but if two people decide to go for dinner and they haven’t invited anyone else but they haven’t invited me, I’m like, Well, they hate me. I say, Wow, this is intense.

And sensory overload. There’s things like, I didn’t realise, but if a restaurant is very overly chaotic, if there’s kind of there’s music that you can’t quite hear it, there’s a conversation happening over there. There’s maybe the traffic behind me. I can never sit with my back to a window if I’m in a cafe or restaurant, if there’s noise behind me, like I need to see where it’s coming from. So I’m not thinking about it cause it’s so easy for me to get pulled out of. You know, the one thing I need to be doing, which is engaging with the person in front of me, which is usually the last thing I can engage with, and then I have a real thing again. It’s quite fun once you find out, you know, diagnosis and then you can start to really examine and explore these things. 

So I have a really thing with texture of food. I hate watery food, like I’ll have soup, but if there’s water like surprise water, there shouldn’t be water there, like pasta. Or if a sauce is too watery with pasta, I have to drain it. And I realised this is so well, pointless. But with like pho, like it like Vietnamese soup. I’ll let it sit in the water for ages to get the taste, but then I’ll drain almost all of the water out and just eat the vegetables because I can’t deal with having the two together. So, you know, there’s some heavy behaviours. There’s some fun ones. It’s some weird ones. And I think actually, rather than hiding them or pushing them away or pretending they’re not there, I’ve had to kind of blend to embrace them. 

Like also things like I if you know, there’s a sort of a misconception that ADHD people are really messy and actually that people leave things out because otherwise we forget they exist. I do it with food in my fridge and I’ve said this on a few podcast, but yoghurt, for some reason I always buy yoghurts and I forget they’re there and and by the time I go to them, they’re like ten days out of date. If I don’t set reminders in my phone of eat yoghurts by this day, then they just go to waste and then, you know, that’s a kind of a shame spiral of I’m wasting food like, you know. But a lot of people just have all their clothes out, otherwise they forget they own them or, you know, you have everything on display on shelves rather than neatly packed away because you just will forget that it’s there. It’s it’s crazy. 

But, you know, some people have real time blindness. A lot of ADHD people are late because they don’t you know, you kind of sit down to do something, I’ve got ages and all of a sudden it’s like, you need to leave 10 minutes ago. I don’t have that. But I think it’s because I was always so afraid of being late that I’m always about 40 minutes early for like I’m early, stupidly early for everything. And even if I’m going to be 5 minutes late, the panic that like rages around my body, like I am white hot with like shame and guilt. And it’s like I think that was, again, a coping mechanism for not being late, which just to make sure I was so early. So, yeah, I mean, I’m only two years in two and a half years in, but there’s just every day. Am I? Oh yeah, that’s that. Oh, I have a conversation with someone and they’re like, Do you do this? And I’m like, I do do that. Is that like, Yeah, it is. It’s a thing. I’m like, okay, so yeah, there’s this a mixed bag, shall we say, of, of behaviours and emotions. 

Le’Nise:  Once you have that diagnosis and you’re able to kind of. I guess I don’t mean like this could be a negative or positive, but like, have that label to be able to put on yourself. What changed? So. Did you get given a medication or were you able to just say, I have ADHD and this is what I need to do to cope with certain situations? I can’t. This is why I don’t like wet food, for example. 

Hana: Yeah. Yeah, it was the latter. I didn’t go down a medication route that was a fight with the doctor and the psychiatrist about that. And, and to me, based on kind of the tools I already had and what I’d sort of unknowingly been doing. We all felt that I had enough and I was going to be able to manage this in a kind of a more holistic way. I think an ADHD diagnosis is an essential label if medication is the right route for you because it’s the only way you get it. 

So I do know a lot of people who are like self diagnosing is enough for them and they’ve then been able to kind of adopt tools and different working methods that suit them and have ultimately made their quality of life much better, which is amazing. But if you need medication like it’s a label you need, and I don’t think there’s anything kind of derogatory or bad in that because it really serves a purpose, and medication really to serve a lot of people. And again, it’s not something I’d ever rule out. I think it’s there, but it’s if I would need to go through that process, which is it is a difficult process in itself, you know, the titration period and figuring out what works the dosage like it’s not an easy thing for anyone to go down. It’s not just like you get a diagnosis, Here’s your medication, off you go. You know, it’s there’s a lot that you kind of still go through. I think it’s kind of lifelong, this whole journey. 

But that wasn’t the route I went down. I think for me it was essential. Like the the clarity at first was very I think I describe it as intoxicating, but that knowing that it’s not is you, but it’s not just you. Like there’s an explanation for how you’re feeling and why you do certain things. And again, it’s very easy. And I think everyone does look back on their life and situations and go, That’s why I did that. That’s why I did that. Not in any way as an excuse for behaviour, but it’s absolutely an explanation and I think that is so helpful for moving forward with a bit more grace and to be a bit more gentle with yourself and to move with kindness when you’ve sort of spent a long time wondering why you can’t do it or why you’re an idiot or all these things, that sort of chip away at your self-esteem when actually like, you didn’t stand a chance. That’s how it was going to be. So I think in that respect, it’s allowed me to just really. Yeah. Move forward with with grace and and be nicer to myself. 

And also just, you know, there’s things that I don’t do now that I was doing all the time. Like, I barely drink alcohol. I was passing a law in my twenties. A law? It wasn’t, you know, I didn’t realise or didn’t know about that kind of chasing that dopamine thing and and why I always was the last person standing or why I could just go and go. I couldn’t ever just be like, Oh, I’m going to bow out, guys. I’ll be like, Let’s go more. And actually the, the, then the feelings after that, which are just an immense crash because I start the day on a dopamine deficit anyway. So to then drop right back down and try and build myself up, it was just like this constant yo yo and, and it’s just allowed me to. Yeah. Make better choices that serve me and, and bring me joy and pleasure and allow me to kind of. Work better and smarter. 

And, you know, again, coupled with that was this thing of really looking into why I felt I was only as good as that like the awards are is winning or the books I was writing or the podcasts I was making, like it was always external validation and outward. And I kind of mentioned that before, but in the last year especially, I was like, No, this doesn’t mean anything. Like, yes, it’s good. It’s, you know, you built a successful career and you shouldn’t kind of just reject that and throw it away. But actually now what I realise is. The it doesn’t mean as much as what I think about myself, and that’s what’s really important. 

So I don’t know if maybe I would have got there. You know, I have a I trained as a yoga teacher for many years. I have a strong meditation practice breathwork I swim like I do a lot of movement. It’s I I’m very self-aware. But then I guess where you think you are and then you’re like, Oh, but also you have ADHD. And I’m like, How self-aware was I? Like, I didn’t even know this, but I think but, yeah, it’s enabled me to. I don’t. I find a bit more peace. And that’s not every day like even last week I felt very overwhelmed and it became very chaotic again. It’s not like you just reach this equilibrium where you’re like ADHD, tic like I’ve sorted it, it is this kind of peaks and troughs and it comes in waves. But now I know what it is I’m feeling and I know what works. Does it mean I always want to do what works? You know what it’s like sometimes you don’t want to help yourself. You’re like, No, I don’t deserve it. And then I’m like, No, just go. Like that Friday, when I was really upset on the train, I’d woken up and I. I was like, Why? You’ve got two options. Stay in bed or go get in cold water for a swim. And it was a beautiful morning early. So I, like toddled off to Hampstead Heath, got in the water and it helped. I was like the alternative was, you know, stay at home, fret, worry, get yourself in a spin. So I think actually knowing ultimately I have a choice in how I approach these things. And again, if my choice is I don’t want to do what’s good to me or good for me, just trying not to judge myself based on that, which is like, that’s a lifelong Practice, I think. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Self-compassion. 

Hana: Yes. 

Le’Nise: Like long practice loving kindness for yourself. Yeah. So as well as others. It’s something that I think everyone works on every single day. Yeah. This is so fascinating. And I think the information that you share here and the information that you share on your Instagram and your Substack will be so and is so helpful to so many people. And you have a podcast coming up called Late to the Party. Yeah. Can you talk a bit about that? 

Hana: Yeah. And it’s I don’t know why. I’m like, I feel like, oh God, because I’ve I’ve made hundreds of other people’s podcasts. Like that’s been my massive podcast success with podcasts, but I’ve never like had my own, I’ve hosted like docs and stuff, but this is like, Oh, and I don’t know why I suddenly go again imposter syndrome a little bit, or I feel like slightly inadequate. I don’t know. But I’m still slightly terrified of doing this, even though I’ve recorded 21 episodes. So we need to go. 

But yeah, so Late To The Party I wrote down actually last summer in my Notes app, late to the party navigating Neurodiversity as an adult. That’s all I wrote in my Notes app. I just had this idea that it should be something and I was aware talking about it on Instagram, people were responding, finding it helpful. I think what’s often missing in a lot of this discourse is a human experience that isn’t a kind of infographic or, you know, a tabloid or a Tory telling us we don’t exist. And ADHD is a trend. And actually, you know, the thing that was really helpful for me in during that diagnosis period was talking to other people who had this and learning about their experience and feeling less isolated. I think, you know, stigma and shame thrives in isolation and silence. So by talking about it, you can kind of make someone feel less alone or make them feel seen or, you know, give them the confidence to advocate for their own health rather than always meeting a doctor saying, No, no, no. Or a family member who saying, no, no, no, I’m actually trusting that you know yourself better. 

So, yeah, I’ve written I write a Substack on this subject which features posts for me and written interviews with other adults who were diagnosed late to the party, the party being neurodiversity, because not everyone’s confident speaking on a podcast, but some people like to write and I didn’t want to kind of gatekeep experience. I guess you can’t obviously do everything, but I wanted to do as much as I could. And then there’s kind of a spotlight section on there where I’ll highlight different people or businesses or practices and, and then yeah. Podcast. So I guess. Kind of interview, but also, you know, you’ll get sort of a narrative thread for me throughout as well. So I’ll offer a bit more of myself based on the conversations I’m having with the contributors and and just amazing people, like really a mixture of, you know, some quite well known people on there. And then there’s some people that are like a woman, Becky, who I met at a party in Leeds, maybe 20, and I’m not that long 15 years ago and just a really sweet Yorkshire lass and just a really real and honest woman. 

And I think, again, that was having worked in podcasting since the beginning, it just seemed to sort of there’s a lot of the same guests on the same shows or, you know, I didn’t want people to think that ADHD is if you’re not smashing it, if you haven’t got a big successful career, then you know you’ve failed. And I think it’s important for that kind of nuance and and that just variety of experience. That’s what it is. It’s like this rich tapestry of human experience. And that was important for me. So I just did a call out and said, does anyone want to do it? And a lot of people were kind of ready to speak. So yeah, that launches on the 17th of April. Hopefully that’s all onme. So I do all of it. And I’ve just been driving myself mad and trying to which I have done. 

This is the thing that I realised I was this is very random. I was listening to 50 Cent song if I can’t and the lyric is if I can’t do it, it can’t be done because I’ve been making all these like social media assets and videos which once I get into I can hyperfocus and I’m like in it, it’s amazing. But if I come up against something I don’t know how to do, I won’t ever look it up. I’ll just try and do it. And that’s when it gets restricting because like if I can’t do it, can’t be done. You could do anything. So I’ve been in this weird, like talking to myself, doing everything because it’s completely independent. It’s it’s not monetised. I would like a sponsor if anyone’s listening. Yeah, but for now, it’s just sort of me. So I’m like, I think I can do it all. And once I’ve done it all, I’ll know how to do it all. 

So, yeah, it’s. Late to the party is about navigating neurodiversity as an adult. And my favourite bit. There’s been some great bits, but I ask everyone. You know, when you’re late to a party, you bring something. When you come to any party, you bring some eat it to empty handed. So I ask people what they’d bring. And I was like, One day I’m going to throw a party with all of these things because it would be very strange, like fun, because the people there are great. But the items I was like, Hmm. This is going to be quite an odd encounter, but I feel it might be quite fun. 

Le’Nise: And that will be available anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Hana: Everywhere. Yeah, so it will be you’ll come. And if you already subscribed on the substack, it will be there. But then it will also go to kind of Apple, Spotify, all podcast platforms. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So and then you have your book. So this came out last year and I just want to talk very briefly about it because I think it’s it’s such an interesting topic. I come from a sporty family and I’ve seen the impacts that concussions have had on family members and the changes that I’ve seen in their personalities and the way they interact with others. And I just find it fascinating that you wrote about brain injury in sport. And I’m just curious firstly, what inspired you to write about this topic and what impact have you seen from your book and the conversations that it’s sparked? 

Hana: Yeah, sure. I mean, this started years ago for me like 2016, 2017, I get my background was radio documentary and like narrative non-fiction. So this was before the kind of podcast boom, but this is what I was making and I made a four part audio book podcast, I guess, for Audible on this subject. And I guess it feels like a bit of a I guess, a plot twist. I’m always I always struggle to define myself in my Instagram because I do so many things and I do think I’m quite difficult to categorise. But so underpinning everything is this kind of, you know, drive to tell stories and power human stories, taking this big world stuff and making it human and advocating for change. Like that’s all I want to do is make the world better in whatever way I can. 

So I came across this story of this disease and it was a BMXer, so that was my kind of gateway into it, who had died by suicide and they found this disease in his brain. One of the worst cases which is caused by repetitive hits to the head. And I’d seen like the concussion film with Will Smith. I’d known about the NFL lawsuit, but I think the way that it was kind of, I guess, marketed for want of a better word, was it’s just an NFL problem, as if the brain can somehow distinguish what’s hitting it. It can’t. So I started to look into it and it was sort of around the same time that whispers of the 66 World Cup team and all the dementia diagnosis were coming out. And I met an incredibly tenacious and amazing woman, Dawn Astill, whose dad was the first British footballer to be diagnosed with this disease, CTE. And he was the most prolific header of footballs the game had ever seen. So we had this massive story, this four part thing. I produced it. Wrote it, narrated it, sound designed it, the whole thing. It was like a real labour of love. 

And I think I do think Audible thought it would just be one of that free content things and it wouldn’t do anything, but it blew up. And it in America was a New York Times number two bestseller. My biggest moment was it beat Michelle Obama for a month and then obviously she wiped the floor with me for several, several years. I was like, I remember arriving in Copenhagen airport to give a talk and I’d see someone had sent it to me and I was like, No way. And it was the first time I’d seen it said Read by the author Hana Walker-Brown. Because at that point in Audible, everything was a book. It was or an original, it wasn’t a podcast. So I was like, Wow. And and it just it made such an impact. And I it was strange to me to do something so science and sport based, but actually like, yes, it is about that. But for me it was always human and it was about advocating for change. And this just unimaginable miscarriage of justice that had been going on for years. So that came out in 2019. 

And then I was in talks with a literary agent prior to that and a woman, Harriet Poland, who I was Audible with you just love the documentary. And I said, I really want to write a book about this. So she sort of introduced me to some publishers and then a sort of I guess I don’t want to say luck, but I guess as timing would have it, I was approached by a literary agent. I signed with them and then we wrote the proposal based on this. And by the time it was done. Harry had also left Audible and was head of editorial at a big publisher. So as soon as the pitch came out, she was like, We’ll take it. So it was kind of this like again, almost everything fell into place at the right time. 

And I just it was one of those things that I just thought, I can’t leave this story alone because I felt like it would only grow and grow and grow. And it has grown and grown and grown and it sits on the curriculum in the US now, my book, and it’s been debated in Parliament and you know, there’s it’s had I guess well one of the quotes from a prolific rugby player was it’s changed and saved lives all over the world, which makes me feel a bit like, oh but I think, you know, it has and will continue to. And, and what was important for me is that suddenly all these people that thought they were going through this alone, that thought, you know, because they’re busy caring for someone with dementia who’s six foot five and weighs, you know, I don’t know, 20 stone or whatever. And they were seeing their stories reflected back in the experience of other people. And I think that’s really important to me is, you know, sometimes you just need someone to have the courage to go first, and then it gives other people permission to say, this is a problem or I need help, you know? So, yeah, it’s it’s was a big, big like mammoth thing to do during this time. The writing I was when I was getting diagnosed with ADHD, which I wouldn’t recommend, is a combination. 

Um, and again, it’s, it’s interesting because I am sitting in this kind of narrative non-fiction space, and there are a lot of women in the non-fiction space, but not in this realm, this kind of investigative storytelling realm. And I guess it’s very easy to get bogged down in, you know, the things that are on top lists and things being made into TV and whatever. But actually with this, it was never about that. It was about doing something useful in the world. And I think is it’s useful in the world. So yeah, it was a lot. It’s it’s not easy. Someone messaged my friend recommend it to another friend and they’re texting, that was so great. But oh my God, it’s so sad. I wasn’t prepared for that. And I was like, Yeah, it was. Sometimes I’m like, How did I sit with that for so long? Carry all this for so long. I don’t remember the January when I did the first draft in which I think kind of tells you everything you need to know about my state of mind. But I think after that, it was, it was slightly easier. 

Le’Nise: When you’re writing a book, you kind of it’s never you. And I think you just kind of go into this fugue state, whereas just focusing on the deadline and just like, yeah, I got to get this done, I’ve got to get through this. 

Hana: Yeah, you almost just I it felt like once I was in that state, it was great. That’s what kind of this hyperfocus comes in with ADHD. But the procrastination, I felt like trying to sit down and that was another telltale sign for me was I’m sitting here, I want to do it. I know what I’m doing, and I just can’t. I’m almost like paralysed for six, seven, eight, 9 hours a day. And I knew that wasn’t right. And actually on the day of my diagnosis, interestingly, I saw a Twitter article by a male author and it basically he described in his article exactly how I’d been feeling, the procrastination, the like just paralysed, just can’t do anything. But not because you can’t, just something else is happening. And his ADHD diagnosis and I was like, Oh, that’s serendipitous that I should read that like literally the hour after I’ve received my diagnosis and your story is exactly the same. So yeah, that that was a big kind of factor I think in, in all of that process as well. So we all got something out of it. Yeah. Yeah. This is a two years of Yeah. Part hell, part transition growth. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And what do you have next on the book front? 

Hana: So I have the paperback comes out well tomorrow but this won’t come out But yes, by the time this comes out, the paperback will be out from book one. We’ve got a very fun new sporty cover, for spring summer 23. And then. I have a second book to write which will come out in 2025. So again, following this kind of trajectory of, I guess, violence and sacrifice and I guess the human cost of power, but with a completely different subject, again, kind of dismantling masculinity as well within that and the choices we make. And I think ultimately everything I do is to allow people to make safer choices or be informed enough to make a choice that is theirs, that isn’t from a kind of external source. But yeah, so that will come out in a couple of years, which will fly. I think that will fly. I’ve got time. I’m like, I know what will happen. Yeah. 

Le’Nise; You think you have time? And Yeah, like, Oh, actually, I’ve got this and that and that. Yeah, it goes, yeah, quickly. 

Hana: And again, that ADHD thing for me is also I’m not, I’m very, very last minute, but I need that adrenalin and fear of it’s coming to be able to move and when I do it’s always fine like and I can make great work but if I know I have two years. I’m going to, you know, take my time. It’s not urgent. So I don’t feel the. Yeah, it’s it’s annoying working with me, I think, for some people. But a lot of people are understanding that that’s just how it has to go. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I definitely can relate to that. The need for a deadline, I, I remember saying to my publisher, I said, I need deadlines, you know, like you can’t just say hand in the transcript on this day, I need, you know, give me more deadlines or else I’ll just procrastinate. Yeah, I really want to do this. I need, I need those deadlines. 

Hana: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So you’ve shared so much today. You’ve shared about your diagnosis, your ADHD diagnosis, your journey, the symptoms, and who you are to some of your toolkit to manage on a day to day basis. And of course, the amazing book that you released last year. If you could leave listeners with one thought today, what would you want that to be? 

Hana: Can I have two? The big things for me in getting through everything but trust yourself and forgive yourself. I think we spend a lot of time, especially late stage diagnosed ADHD, but I think a lot of people in general, women, I think especially because, you know, for so long we still don’t have equality in workplaces or, you know, anywhere near that. But I think. There’s a lot of kind of negative emotions that come when we are achieving or what we haven’t done or what we’re compromising on. And I think actually you just have to forgive out what was and trust yourself moving forward. And I think that’s been so important for me is to let go of things from the past. And it’s annoying when people say, just let it go, and you’re like, How do I let it go? And what I realised is, it isn’t one action? It’s just every day talking to yourself a bit nicer, doing things that nurture you and feel good. And that is an. It doesn’t always have to be kind of super wholesome, but actually asking yourself every day, what am I going to do today that will bring me a bit of joy or what am I going to do today that will get me closer to the person that I know I have the capacity to be? 

And I think it’s James Clear that wrote Atomic Habits. And he was like, you know, big picture, which is what to be the sort of person that runs marathons. But the day the action is, I’m going to be the sort of person that puts my running shoes out the night before. So they’re there in the morning, you know, and it’s those small things. So I think for me, a lot of that forgiveness has just come in, like being gentle and acknowledging what was, but also, you know, rather than and it again, it’s like this thing when if you wake up in the morning for me, if I haven’t slept, I used to be like, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do it? And now I’m like, It’s okay. Do we need to try and sleep a bit more this morning? Can we carve out a bit of time in the afternoon? Like it’s it’s a real conversation now, rather just the impulse to be like, you know, fighting against myself, but then also trusting that, you know, yourself. I think especially in things like neurodiversity, it’s often, you know, you’re assessed by someone else. Your the school system is built by someone else. And I think actually if your you’re not fitting in or if something is wrong to trust that it’s not on you, like it’s just the way that things have been set up and they just don’t serve us. And I think rather than kind of being silenced or afraid of of that is is just acknowledging it and saying it out loud. I think a lot of these things like they cease to exist when they’re spoken out loud, like they thrive in hiding, in silence and in the dark. And then, you know, you say them and they they do lose their power. So that was a bit rambly. But I think trust yourselves because we know ourselves better. 

And I also with that, just to kind of caveat, that is. Which I guess is kind of going to go against what I’ve just said. But some of the things I’ve noticed, especially for ADHD people, is the stories that we’ve told ourselves. They’re not always the reality that we’re experiencing. It’s not to say they’re a total fabrication, but the other thing I found really useful is asking for feedback from people that really see and love you and so on my podcast, I ask everyone how they’re the people close to them would describe their strengths because it makes them go and ask someone, which most of us would never do for fear of rejection, or they hate me or, you know, just feeling that you’re not going to get back something nice. And actually what comes back every time are these amazing things that people say about them. And they’re like, Oh yeah, I am those things. You’re like, Yeah, you are. And you know, you’re also a bit of a dick, but balance, so it’s fine. But yeah, I think trust yourself, but not always. Ask for feedback and forgive yourself. You know, we’re all figuring it out. And I think the real sort of courage of living is to try and fail, try again, fail, try again. And just trying to move through that without judgement, I think. Which again, lifelong practice. I’m not there. I hope, you know, I kind of hope I never get there because it’s quite nice to be in those moments of, I guess, like tension and release and coming through the other side. 

Le’Nise: Well that’s brilliant. And I know that will give a lot of people food for thought and hopefully will help even one person, I hope, towards a diagnosis or just feel a little bit more self-compassion. So thank you so much for your time today. It’s so nice to be involved in. Yeah. 

Hana: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I’ve loved talking to you. Thanks for holding in space. It’s been really nice.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 71, Sharn Khaira: Let Go Of Judgement

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story podcast is Sharn Khaira, the founder of Asian Female Entrepreneur Collective, who shares a powerful story of transformation across many aspects of her life – her health, her business and her personal life. 

In this episode, Sharn shares: 

  • What happened when she thought she might have ovarian cancer 
  • What she did to manage her symptoms once she was diagnosed with PCOS
  • How she challenged the Asian cultural norms she grew up to build two successful businesses 
  • How she helps other Asian women overcome cultural mindset blocks that get in their way of becoming entrepreneurs
  • What she did when she was faced with bullying 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Sharn says that on an entrepreneurial journey, it’s so important to let go of judgement and stop caring about what other people think. This will help you claim your true voice and power.  

Thank you, Sharn!

Get in touch with Sharn:

Instagram

Facebook

Website


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Thank you so much Sharn  for coming on the show today. I’m really excited to speak to you. But let’s get started with the first question I ask all my guests, which is tell me the story of your very first period. 

Sharn: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. So my first period was literally I think I was like ten years old. And it was during like I think it was like Easter holidays. And I remember just being with my brother, like playing around. It was like really warm. And then all of a sudden he was like, Oh my God, Like, I think I was still in my like nightie because it’s like early in the morning. And my brother was like, Oh my God, you’ve got so much blood, like, on your dress, you know, your nightie. And I was like, Oh, my God, like. And I’d known obviously about periods that I’m like, an eighties child, born in the eighties. But actually what happened after that was I was because I was coming from an Indian culture and like periods are seen as like a little bit shameful. And I remember just being really scared and I was like, oh my God, like, how am I going to tell my mum about this? I know I’m really young. So I was only ten years old. And then I remember I had to, like, tell my my mom’s friend who was our neighbour, and she kind of like broke the news to my mum and like my mum, I just don’t think she, like, spoke to me properly about it. 

And she was just really disappointed that I’d started early because in the Indian culture they have this thing like it might be like a, you know, more of a cultural thing, but basically they think that if a girl starts their period early, she’s not going to grow so, like, completely nuts. So I felt like I was like, yeah, I just found like it was quite a bit of a shameful thing that I’d started really early and my mum was like, Oh my God, you’re not going to grow. And, you know, all of the emotions that follow that. So it wasn’t it wasn’t the best experience. 

Le’Nise: So there’s a lot to kind of unpack there. Can you talk a little bit more about the shame, like the cultural shame and then the shame that you kind of felt, which made you hesitant to tell your mom about what had happened? 

Sharn: Yeah. So I think in the culture that I’m brought up in, it’s very much about what other people think. You know, judgement is such a big issue in our culture because that because of the family dynamics and the way, you know, especially like the Asian cultures, is all based on what other people think. You know, it’s never really based on, you know, your own happiness. And I’ve found that throughout my life with various different things. 

So I think with my period, I think my mom was just, a. concerned that it started so early and b. like, how am I going to manage this as a young child? And I think historically, Asian parents have been very supportive. Like I know when I have my daughter, like she starts her period, I’ll be so, like comforting and supportive. But I didn’t really have that support. It was just kind of like it’s like you started your period and, you know, my mom’s very lovely. I have a really great relationship with that. But at that age, like obviously you filter and my memory of it is very much like I had to kind of get on with that. And I just remember feeling like really, really scared because I think I was like one of the first people in my year to start my period. I was still and it was before secondary. It was the last year of like junior school, so it was like a really scary time. 

Like, you know, at the time, like, you know, they used to have these, like huge sanitary towels that were like massive. They weren’t discreet. So I remember like, taking them to like school and trying to hide them. And it was just yeah, it was just a really I just remember feeling like dirty and again, like that’s what we believe in our culture. Like we’re not allowed we weren’t really allowed to like if you’re on your period, not allowed to go to the temple because it’s like a dirty thing. So I remember all those feelings really of like shame and guilt and feeling like, Oh my God, why is there something wrong with me? I’m like going to grow, you know? You believe all of these things at the time because I was only ten. So yeah, it was pretty tough. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And ten is it’s quite young. So you would have been in year five, year six. 

Sharn: Yeah, I was in year six. I just remember like I remember having like loads of incidents with my periods as well because I think I was so young and you don’t really understand like the flow of your periods and you don’t really understand like day one versus day four or five. So I remember like I was at this, I think it was like my cousin’s like pre-party and I was wearing like a white top and, oh my God, like again, I had this incident where, like, I leaked, right? And it went through to my top. And I remember like, it just being like, again, really shameful. And then I had to, like, go to like my aunties house, change my talk, but I remember like, myself, like lying about it because I was so ashamed. I was like, Oh, I think I’ve just had like a cut. And I remember like my cousin and my other auntie just like, whispering about it. And again, it was like no one ever said, like, Oh, it’s okay. Like, it’s fine. You know, it was all very, very like, shame ridden I would say. 

Le’Nise: And then as you got older, so as you moved into your I love, like being a tween to actually being a teenager. Did your relationship with your your period change at all? 

Sharn: I think like when I first started, I remember like my mum used to kind of force me, even though like I wasn’t meant to be going to the temple, if I was like, kind of like on day one or something, she would like still take me to the temple. And I think, like, I think looking back, that was like, you know, not good, you know, because I think it was is really hard in Indian suits as well because you’ve got like bottoms and then you’ve got like a top. And I think it’s not the most comfortable clothing to be in. 

But I think as Yeah, definitely as I got through like secondary school and like obviously then everyone was starting their periods, it felt like so much better because you’re just in the same boat as everyone else. And then afterwards I just didn’t. I was very much like, Yeah, then it was fine. As I got older, I think it was those early years when I was in junior school, probably early secondary school. But then I think like after that, like it was, you know, it was a good thing because my periods were actually quite regular. And then no one really questions that because everyone’s in the same boat, you know, it’s absolutely fine. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, it’s so interesting that kind of that cultural shame and that religious shame that comes through with having a period and how that can really change your experience of something that just, you know, it happens. It’s in natural bodily, Yeah. And you experience this every month for like 40 years. But if you start it with this kind of like imprint of shame, it can really change your perspective on your body. 

Sharn: Yeah, absolutely. And because it was this whole thing that I’m not going to grow because I think I was, you know, quite tall for my, like, you know, year six and then because because my mum kept saying like, oh, you’re not going to grow. You’re not going to grow. And then obviously it had nothing to do with the period. But actually that ended up happening. But that’s because, you know, my genetics, my DNA and, you know, not because my period came early, that I was like thinking, oh, like the reason why I can because again, like in our culture is not good. You know, the standard of beauty is tall, fair and slim. You know, that’s the that’s the standard of beauty that everyone subscribes to. It’s definitely changed now, I think. But back then it was like, Oh I’m so short. And then my mum would always remind me like, Oh, you’re short because you started your period early. 

And then I remember having this like complex about my height as well. Like, you know, when I was at school, not so much when I was at school, but I remember like kind of early teens, I would just be constantly wearing heels, like even if it would kill me, like I’d go to college in heels, like if it was a night out, I’d go in heels, like I was obsessed, like with my height then as well, because my mum had made it such a thing. And again, of course, it turned into kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy because she kept reminding me. 

So I think, yeah, I just remember like just feeling like really alone and just again, like, you don’t want to tell too many people at school because, you know, I think one of my friends found out and she told a few people and and again, I was like, instead of just being like, yeah, it’s like my period. It was like Oh I can’t believe you started your period. Oh my God. Like it was made into like, such a big thing. And, you know, at that age, you just you already feel like I felt like as an Asian child already felt like, you know, I had a weird name and I looked different and, you know, and then it was like another thing to make me feel different, you know? 

Le’Nise: Did you go to a predominantly Asian school or was it mixed? 

Sharn: So my junior school was pretty mixed, but my secondary school was I think I was like one I think one of two Asian girls in my year, So everyone was predominantly like why I was, I would say that middle to upper class because the secondary school I went to. So yeah, I think it was like really tough as well. Yeah. 

Le’Nise Right. And you had, you said that your periods, they kind of like regulated and you know they were fairly, were they easy as a teenager? 

Sharn: I think like if looking back I think I had I don’t remember them being painful. I think sometimes that the flow would be quite heavy, but I don’t really remember them being painful like and obviously as I’ve gotten older and starting them early, I’ve gone through my own journey with like PCOS, so now I really notice my periods. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m working from home a little bit older. I think at the time I just used to kind of get on with it and I was very like, I don’t ever remember them bothering me. 

I think when I first started it was definitely like, Oh my God, like, like there’s no trackers or anything. So I just remember like I trying to navigate like, you know, when you first start, you, you don’t really realise what your flow is like. I think that part was I found that quite challenging, especially when I had to go to these like Indian parties or the temple. And that is the whole thing of like having your pads, like how you’re going to carry and if you’re like really young, like not necessarily going to take a handbag. And I remember like school as well, like trying to put them in my bag because it’s just so huge. I remember once Oh my God, got like I wanted to die, I came home from school and my granddad, so I empty my rucksack and like, wash my lunchbox. He’s so sweet, but he like, found them and he was like, What are these? And then I was like, Oh my God, Like, I just wanted to die of shame. And then he was called These are like ladies things. And then he bless him, just put them back in. But then I think afterwards, yeah, absolutely fine. I think then I think in your life then it’s kind of seen as a cool thing, like ooh, you’ve like started your period but yeah I definitely notice a difference now for sure. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit more about your PCOS journey? 

Sharn: Yeah. So basically my periods were always they’ve always been really regular throughout my life and I did notice them getting a bit heavier and then having like pain, like on the left hand side, like the lower back. I remember in 2019, like the pain was really, really bad. And I was like, okay, like this time it’s been very painful. Didn’t really think anything of it. This was like in the summer, that August 2019. 

And then I kind of I think maybe I left my appointment to like September, and then I went to the doctors and they were like, okay, we’re just going to like, book you in for a scan. And I was thinking, Well, it hasn’t hurt like since. So, you know, everything’s fine. I didn’t think I needed a scan and obviously because of them, I think they have like because ovarian cancer has been undetected through the NHS, they’ve obviously any kind of inkling to do with like ovaries or cysts. I think they’re very hot on it now and because I think I read a report actually online where they weren’t doing enough referrals like a decade previously and ovarian cancer obviously goes so undetected because it could just, the symptoms could just be anything period related, right. 

And then I remember like my appointment was in November and I missed it stupidly because I had this massive event in London that I was doing. And then I went in December and it was like, I think it was like nine days before Christmas or something. And then I went for my scan and they were like, I remember just being at the hospital and they were like, Oh, it looks like you’ve got some cysts. And I was like, oh, I remember like just being so, like, upset that I had cysts. Like I was like, Oh my God, like, I’ve got cysts. I remember going home crying to my husband saying, Oh, they’re going to right a letter. I was really upset. And then the next day it was Friday evening and it was like 7:00, 8:00 it was really late. And the doctor rings me and I’m like, This is really weird because it’s like 7:00 in the evening. And I was like, Oh, like, you know, is everything okay, doctor? Because, you know, they told me I’ve got cysts. So I’ll just wait for a letter. And then she was like, Yes, like we found some cysts, we found a fibroid we think, but we also found something else. And I was like, okay, like, what is this something else then? 

And then she was like, Oh, like, we don’t quite know what the other thing is. I was like, Fine, we can do some more tests. And she was just literally like, you know, it’s probably nothing to worry about. But she goes, I do have to tell you this because, you know, maybe like ten, 15 years ago we wouldn’t have to tell you. But we we do have an obligation to tell you now. But I’m going to put you on the fast track list for ovarian cancer. And I was like. What. I was, like, so shocked and obviously so scared. She was like, you know, just don’t know what this other thing is. And I was like, Oh my God. Like, obviously I was like, completely distraught. I was just like, crying. I was so upset. And then you start having crazy thoughts like, am I going to be here next year, have I got ovarian cancer? Like, what the hell is going on? I remember the next day I had to go and see my cousins because they had this like Christmas party thing booked and I had to act all normal. 

But basically the process, I think it was a blood test. And then the other process was an MRI scan. I think it was it was at the time. So I had my blood test the following week, which was like the week before Christmas. And then I rang up the receptionist at the doctor’s and she was like, your blood test results are back. And I’m like, I don’t know why she said this to me, but she was like, they’re abnormal. And I’m like, again, just like, I was like, literally, like crying my eyes out. I was like, This is it. I’ve got cancer. Like it’s abnormal. And I was and then I was like, Can I, like, speak to the doctor? Can you get him to call me back? I remember that being like, such an excruciating afternoon. It took like 4 hours for the doctor to call me, and I just remember thinking, What? This is it, like I’m dying? Like, my. The blood test is not right. And then I remember, like me and my husband, because I think it’s called the, what it’s called. Not like that C-A something. And we Googled it, which obviously we shouldn’t, but basically said that it could be abnormal if you’re on your period. 

Le’Nise: It’s the CA 125.  

Sharn: CA 125. Yeah. And, and then it was exactly that it was abnormal because I was on my period and I don’t know what until this day like why the receptionist would just say that without any context. But then the doctor was like, you know, it is because of your period. We just have to wait for the MRI scan. And then obviously, like and then what happened was because I think I was so stressed out. I it just after Christmas I basically like came on my period again and like I just had my period the week before I’d finished and then it came on again. I think that was really like stress. And then I was like, Oh my God, I’ve definitely got cancer like this. This is the start. It was just crazy. And then I went for my MRI and then, like, they took ages to get back to me. But I took it as a good sign because I was like, if it was anything serious, it would have told me. But they just said like, it’s nothing like cancerous. 

This is like 2020. So just before lockdown. But they did say like you have PCOS and potentially the start of endometriosis and then they said like you’ve obviously got fibroids and cysts and this is like 2020. And I think that year, I just kind of went into denial and they were like, oh, like classic, like, oh, you need to lose some weight, but it’s going to be really hard for you to lose weight. That, yeah, that’s what they said. Like at the hospital, they were like, You’ll need to lose some weight, but it’d be really hard for you to lose weight. And I was like, great. 

And then I was just kind of in denial. Then in lockdown, the PCOS, kind of like was the least of my concerns. Like, I just wasn’t very I just was just kind of like, I’ve got it, but I’m not really going to do anything about it. My periods aren’t too painful. Yes, they’re a bit heavy, but I’m just going to be fine. And then I did cut out gluten and dairy and then it was only last year. And then I started to doing a few things, but I wasn’t, I was just like just trying to read books and YouTube stuff, like to get it under control. But then last year, I remember around this time last year I was getting so tired and I was constantly exhausted. Like I had to take naps during the day. I was so tired. And then I finally decided to work with like a health coach and get like all my tests done because I wanted like scientifically backed data. Like, I think, you know, when you’ve got it in front of you, like in black and white and, I’ve kind of started this journey of my weight loss, getting my periods under control, getting my tiredness under control. 

And I found out I had loads of things wrong with me, like an underactive thyroid, really low vitamin D, obviously my blood sugar levels were a bit elevated and then I obviously have PCOS of course. So yeah, I just been on this like I feel like on this journey for like eight, nine months properly. But yeah, definitely like getting there now, which is, which is good. 

Le’Nise: So when you had the MRI originally, so like late 2019, 2020, did they do blood tests as well to confirm the PCOS? 

Sharn: So I think they didn’t do a blood test. They only did the CA125 I think. 

Le’Nise: Right.

Sharn: Yeah. And they didn’t. They didn’t. Yeah. They didn’t really do much background so they were kind of like, oh it looks like you’ve got PCOS. One of the factors is cysts, right? I think I can’t remember. 

Le’Nise: It is, but this is something I see a lot in my clinic where women, they get diagnosed with PCOS just based on an ultrasound or an MRI. Yeah. And it cause it’s actually normal to have some cysts, because… 

Sharn: It is, yeah. 

Le’Nise: And then some of my clients, it turns out they don’t actually have PCOS because we do blood work and we kind of dig into all of it. And they just had this diagnosis based on an ultrasound. So that’s why I am. I’m curious. And then once you worked with a health coach, were they able to verify the diagnosis through the blood work? 

Sharn: Yeah, they were. They were. So I did have PCOS. Yeah. So I think I remember the report being like 50 pages long. So I was just taking it all in. But yeah, definitely like PCOS, not so much endometriosis, and I’ve had loads of scans since then. But then it was so funny because I went for a scan last last year and the cysts had gone, and then they were like, Oh, there’s no cysts. And all that was like, Where did it go? But then they said that, which I didn’t know, apparently the cysts can come and go each month, depending on the period. And I was like what? How long been fighting this? Not like two years later. 

Le’Nise: Right. Yeah. It’s I actually find this so mad because you have these women getting these diagnoses and then being told you have PCOS and it’s a very serious condition because it affects so many aspects of your health. But based on like seeing cysts. But like I say, it’s normal to have cysts. It’s just that the different, the different eggs, the mature eggs, some actually don’t they don’t leave the ovaries so they’re at different stages of of growth and some they just don’t break through the ovary. Um yeah. And that is sometimes what is seen on the on the ultrasound. Yeah. That’s just so it’s really it’s fascinating because you got this diagnosis which obviously played on your mind so much and then to have the scan to say, Oh well actually we don’t see any cysts. 

Sharn:  It’s wild. I just think. I think like I would never got anywhere with and this is why Le’Nise your work is so important in life. If I didn’t have my health coach making sense of all of this, like, I would just be like, What the hell? I just think it’s such a mind field. And I think especially with PCOS, I find it really complicated, like, especially with the blood sugar stuff. Like, it’s just it is really hard to navigate. If you’re like, my recommendation would always be just work with the health coach, because reading the books, YouTubing, like I was for two years, it’s not specific to your body. Yes, there’s some generic advice now. Like, I don’t know, like cut out sugar. You know, try and go gluten and dairy free. One thing I did was I stopped doing like HIIT exercises. So I do more toning stuff now and stopped going for my crazy runs that I was doing during lockdown and that I think all that advice is probably good advice. But then your body is so you know, everyone’s body is different. And I actually got diagnosed with SIBO as well, which is the got the got small intestine, small intestine. 

Le’Nise: Small intestine bacterial overgrowth. 

Sharn: Yeah. So I had to then go on a protocol for that which I healed actually, which I mean SIBO could come back but is just, is really hard like when you don’t this is why getting results and blood work is so important. So if anyone’s listening to this, like, please work with someone like Le’Nise because seriously, like, I dunno how I would have done it without my health coach, I would just would have been in the same situation. Just yeah, like my periods are much more regulated. They’re not as heavy now. 

And food is so important as well because I think in January it was like my birthday and I was away and I like, went off the wagon a little bit, like fell off the wagon, ate like a lot of crap, like drank a little bit. And immediately that same month I noticed an impact on my period and I was like, This is crazy. But people don’t. They don’t tell you that. And obviously the NHS, bless them, they’re not, you know, they’re not equipped to deal with PCOS like they don’t they don’t have the knowledge. It’s a very specialist area and they just don’t have the knowledge and just saying lose weight. But you’re going to find it hard because it is hard for women who have got PCOS to lose weight. While that’s what I’ve found is not as simple as like, you know, just calorie counting. And for me has a lot where they say I’ve definitely lost weight, but I’ve had to do it in different ways. Yeah, blood sugar control, that kind of stuff. But this is why you need to have what, the health coach, because it is just wild if you know. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: I want to shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit more about the work you do and the kind of transformative element that you kind of bring to your clients, but also to your own life. Because I, I read about, you know, some of the things that you said around challenging Asian culture and this kind of ties into your experience of your period a little bit. And then how when you challenged your Asian culture, how you should transform yourself. Can you talk a little bit more about that.? 

Sharn: Yeah, so I think so. Do you mean how I challenged it? And then the transformation, right? 

Le’Nise: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Sharn: So I grew up in a really strict Asian family. My obviously I’m Sikh, so a Punjabi cultural family and my mum and dad, especially my mum was very, very strict and they are actually more strict normally on girls anyway. And I had like all my, all my cousins on my dad’s side are boys. So I found that really difficult and challenging anyway, because everyone, all my cousins are boys and it would always be like double standards for me and my cousins. Like if we go to the temple, they’d be allowed to play outside and I’d have to be inside and they’d all go out and I wasn’t allowed to go. And I learnt a lot like led a very sheltered life, you know, I wasn’t really allowed to go out. I wasn’t allowed to like play with people that much wasn’t allowed sleepovers go around people’s friends, houses not really allowed to like, go to town with, like my friends. I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. I wasn’t allowed to wear make up. All these like, crazy things. I guess my parents still like they were figuring it out because they’re first generation here. So I think they didn’t know how to like, have us mixed into the British culture. So they were just trying to preserve their culture, I guess. But they went to, I mean, all Asian parents are the same. Like my husband’s parents are exactly the same. It’s not just my parents. They didn’t really know how to do that. 

And then I think it was like when I was kind of turning like 13, 14 and I’d like lived this sheltered life, like, literally was not allowed to do anything. Like, it was crazy. Like going to the cinema was really frowned upon. Going to sleepovers was like a dirty thing because you’re sleeping around someone’s house. Like, I don’t know what they think of that, but they think it’s really bad. And then I think when we so I used to again, like live on like my home town was like the roughest. I lived on the roughest street in my home town as well. So I wasn’t really I mean, I never had friends over to our house because it was just horrible. But then when we finally moved out, like 14 into like a nicer house, I just thought to myself, like, this can’t be my life. Like, I can’t, you know, just stick out like a sore thumb. Like my hair was really curly, which I loved, but like, I wasn’t allowed to, like, even wear my hair down, Like, I always had to have it up because, again, that’s because that was seen as a really bad thing. Like things like that. Your hair down, just wild. But then I was just like, You know what? Like my life can’t just be like this.

Because if I think of prescribed to my parents, like. Structure for my life, I would have literally never gone to uni. I would have got married off pretty young. Then I would have like, just have kids, no career, and that would have been the end of me type of thing. And then I was like, You know what? Like there’s more to life than this. And I just started to like rebel a little bit. So I started like, I think at 15, like going out clubbing because I just I think when you don’t give your kids freedom and they, I think they rebel more. I definitely think it’s a thing. And then it just started like I remember like going out 15,making new friends. I went through my own little mini transformation. I remember like going to House of Fraser at the time and like saying, I want new makeup, like got my hair chemically straightened and got new clothes. So when I was like going to college, I’d like completely transformed that summer. Like people were like, Oh my God, like, you look so different. And then I just didn’t really. I know sounds terrible, but I just didn’t really listen to my parents because I was like, They’re not living in this culture. Like, you know, I want to go out, I wanna make friends, I want to party. 

And then, like, if you know, my mum, my relationship, my mum wasn’t great because obviously she didn’t approve of me, cut my hair wearing makeup, wearing like, you know, tight jeans and that that kind of stuff. But then through that rebellion, I think I found freedom. And then I remember like at 18 I went travelling, which was like, what, like maybe 20 years ago now, which was completely unheard of at the time, like for an Asian girl. Like, I didn’t know anyone who’d been travelling who was Asian. I was probably the first person in my hometown of our Asian community to do that. None of my cousins have been travelling. No one had done it. And then again, the whole like my mum got shamed by like my uncles and aunts is like, Why are you sending her? She shouldn’t, she shouldn’t be going by herself, like, blah, blah, blah. And then I think after that, I just, just just did my own thing. 

And I think my mum realised like, there’s no point trying to control me because then I think it was a bit easier because as other people in my hometown kind of grew up and started cutting their hair and, you know, like going out, then it wasn’t so bad. But then when I went to uni it was great because I got my freedom. And I think a lot of Asian kids actually get that freedom back then got that freedom at uni, you know, and then my mum and dad actually have been like, now my mum really looks up to me, she’s like all, you know, you got, you’ve got a successful business like you’ve achieved so much. And now she can I think, see like I was always right because I’ve become my own person and become really independent, like strong. And now she’s just like, yeah, like Sharn knows best that like whatever she thinks goes. And it’s so funny because I made my own choices like they were true. 

And then there was this whole thing in my late twenties, like they wanted to get me married because again, I was in my late twenties, wasn’t married. And again, that was like getting a bit shameful because I’m still sat on the shelf and potentially past my sell by date and they were kind of trying to pressurise me like they were like, you know, let’s do like a bit of an arranged marriage, Like you can meet this guy or you know, you can meet so-and-so. And I was like, No, like I’m not going to get pressurised into like getting married for the sake of having a big Asian wedding. So I really held my nerve into like, I met my husband and I was like, This is the right person for me because I didn’t want to get married tolike a typical kind of Asian guy in a typical Asian family. And then it’s so weird because then my my brother had an arranged marriage and it didn’t work out. And it was really, really messy. It was a girl from India, horrific, it was a really bad experience. And like, again, like my mum can now see that like my choices were the right choices, you know, even though it was painful for her at this time. So I think that has definitely been my transformation. And I think that if I just followed my parents. What they their path for me, I genuinely don’t know. I would be like. Like, I just hate to think what it would have been like. 

Le’Nise: It’s so interesting because when you’re young, you you just think your parents, they know everything and they’re kind of like you look up to them, you don’t agree with everything they’re telling you to do. But then it’s like when you get into your teenage years, it’s like something switches in your brain and you kind of, Yeah. Like I went through a bit of rebellion myself, more like when I was in my twenties. But it’s just that this switch where you kind of are like, actually just let me find my own way, you know, you can’t keep pushing me. 

And I just find that the transformation that you’ve gone through so fascinating, especially the cultural side of it, and I’m really curious about, you know, your journey into entrepreneurship. You know, you had your bridal business and now you have your kind of coaching business and you know, this this is so, you know, kind of different. So parallel to the path that your parents wanted you to go on. Talk about that side of it, you know, your the transition to entrepreneurship and the kind of cultural barriers you had to overcome there. 

Sharn: Yeah. So it’s really interesting actually, because my parents, like, they aren’t, bless them, they’re not very educated. By the way, I have a really great relationship with my parents, like even I think they’re lot, but they are so sweet now.

But yeah, they, they had manual labour jobs. So my, my parents were kind of factory workers back in the day. They’re retired now actually. But so I think from a, from like a job career perspective for me they weren’t, they weren’t ever like, you have to be a doctor or you have to be a barrister or a dentist, because I think that’s a lot a lot of Asian parents do put that pressure on their kids like, so they weren’t very much like that. And I suppose they always were quite supportive of me doing what I wanted to do. 

But I think because everyone in my family, so my uncles and aunts, my dad’s brothers and sisters, that side of the family, they are all self-made millionaires, actually, except for my parents. And I think I had always had this thing when I was younger. Like I was never like really jealous of them or anything, but like, I could see, like the value of having your own business because my parents, bless them, like, you know, they never they never kind of reached that like status. But whereas like my aunts and uncles had like a lot of property and they had like lot of businesses and obviously, like the difference was huge. 

So I think that seed got planted in me very early that I don’t want to like work for someone else? My earning potential could be capped and I think like one of my biggest values is freedom, because obviously I didn’t have it as I was young. So I think the idea of me having a business has always been there, but obviously I got a degree in business as well. So I think that like in terms of me starting my business, it was really weird because I think that like I initially just started it for freedom. I set, I would say, and just knowing that I’m in charge because every time I had a job, I just didn’t it just didn’t work for me. Like the whole what I found really crazy was like, someone else is in charge of like my promotion. And it all depends on if they like you and they like your style of working, they like your personality. And that always jarred with me. So I’m like, Well, just a couple of people are in charge of like how much money I earn and how I progressed in my career. 

So I think after I got married, I was just like, I’m just going to explore this. And I mean, that was 2015. So yes, people are having online businesses, but it wasn’t like a huge thing as it is now. Like everyone can kind of start a business, it feels like. But then, yeah, I just took that plunge and I just went for it. And my wedding planning business was really successful. Like I was doing destination weddings within 18 months of launching my business, which was really unheard of. Like I was doing weddings in Italy and Switzerland. But then I just felt like with my wedding business and the wedding world, I think. I mean, I loved weddings, but I feel I felt I felt like, again, that was a bit of a cap on what I could do. I mean, you can do anything you want to be really honest, but I just felt like the wedding world was a bit like, like superficial, maybe. Like a little bit like. 

And then I just with my Asian coaching business,the Asian Female Entrepreneur collective, it wasn’t meant to actually be like like so many of us. Like, I just set up a Facebook group in 2017 just to I was like, Oh, this will be really great to like network with, you know, fellow entrepreneurs and see like how this. But I never had any desire to do workshops, masterminds, coaching. It didn’t even cross my mind. Like I was just like, no. But then because I, because I was doing so well in my wedding business and because my background used to be online marketing in my corporate job, everyone was that, Oh, can you like just do a workshop? Like how to get more clients or marketing or whatever? And I was like, okay, like I’ll do that, that I know so much about marketing and planning and blah blah, blah. I think it was like maybe two years into my business and I did my first London workshop in 2017 and there was like 19 people, which was great, my first workshop. And then I started doing more workshops, but they didn’t really take off like, the ones after that first one were back. There was like seven or eight people, sometimes ten people, I think like not many people at all. 

And then the following year I just started, I decided to launch a mastermind. I was living in Canada at the time because my husband was working there, so I was in between Canada and the UK. I literally had this like I remember it was like on a Saturday, just like this, download that I should do a mastermind. I don’t know what it was, but something in me was like just a mastermind. And my husband at the time was like, Sure, because you’ve got like your wedding season coming up, Destination weddings come up. I was like, No, I’m just going to do it. And then I did it. I had a really successful launch, but the results of my mastermind were just incredible to a point where I think like 70 or 80% of the group, like re-signed for another three months, so everyone wanted to stay. 

And then, yeah, it just kind of led from that. Like I think that in twin, I think it was the start of 2019, I decided that I’m going to stop doing weddings because it just wasn’t aligned. And then my coaching business was doing really well. I was getting lots of clients, selling out my masterminds. And then and then of course lockdown happened, which was really good because I decided I think my last wedding was August 2019 and I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to leave weddings. And then it’s just kind of gone from strength to strength, really. I hope that answers your question. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, it is really interesting hearing your journey and I wonder, you know, talking going back to the idea of culture and the conversation that we’ve been having about it, when you have because it’s Asian female, entrepreneur, entrepreneur, collective, if there is any sort of mindset hurdles that you have to help your clients get over or around being an Asian female entrepreneur? 

Sharn: Yeah, definitely. So I think the biggest ones that come up are judgement and being scared of being judged and also judging ourselves because our culture is all steeped in judgement. It’s like we’re like on autopilot to think what will other people think. And it’s, it’s just so ingrained in us from such a young age. And I still catch myself doing it. Like, you know, like if I want to, something might be going on in my life and then I’ll be like, Oh my God, like what will my aunts and uncles think. And I really have to stop myself. So I think that’s a really big one. 

And then of course, that plays then into visibility because I think if you’ve been really visible online, you have to let go of judgement and you do have to stop caring about what the people think, especially when you’re stepping into your truest self online. I think that people then want to water themselves down because they want to be liked. And I think the trend we’re seeing online is it’s not about being like brash or bold, but I think people that claim their true voice and their true power are more successful, and especially if they’re an embodiment of that. So I think that’s a really big one. 

And I think also, I think support as well. I think that’s why my masterminds, you know, do incredibly well because we just don’t really get that much support, I think. I’m really lucky. I’ve got a really supportive husband. I think I found more confidence after getting married to him because he really encouraged me to be myself and express myself. But I think in general, we don’t have that much support when it comes to potentially partners, family members. So I think that’s another big one. 

And self-belief as well is a really big one as well, because again, it ties in to not having the support people not believing in us. So I think it all has to come within. Especially for me, like I’ve had to really cultivate my own self-belief because I think also like I think it’s just I think it is difficult as well like when you’re in the coaching space, it’s sometimes I found it difficult to work with like, say for example, like, you know, coaches not from a similar background because I think our blocks are so unique. And sometimes you feel like people, other people don’t understand it unless they’re Asian. So I think that’s why a lot of my clients come to me, because cultural blocks is a thing like it’s not just some trivial thing that we’re making up. It’s very real. And I think it is a great thing, you have to overcome them in order to have a successful business. But I think those are like the main things. I think judgement is such a big one and I think Asian women do judge themselves a lot as well. 

And we never see really like Asian women, like on a global stage, like breaking through either, which I think is really sad. Like if I think about, you know, the big kind of influencers in the coaching space like worldwide, I, you know, I really struggle to think about Asian women, you know, because again, it’s those blocks and barriers that often block us from stepping into the next level. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: You’ve used some really interesting words there, like judgement and like self-belief. And I just want to ask you a little bit more around your experience of being judged by others. It’s something you talk a lot on your Instagram was the experience of bullying you had to face early in your kind of entrepreneurship journey? Can you tell us a little bit what happened and how you overcame that? 

Sharn: Yeah, So it was actually is so weird because the first day I actually launched my Asian wedding planning business and I had I worked with like kind of a coordinator for my wedding and she got really weird that I’d launched an Asian wedding planning business and there were like some comments left on my Facebook page from her team and her and obviously I just deleted them and left her voice note saying, You know, I told you I was starting an Asian wedding planning business, but now you’re commenting like on if you comment again I will take further action. I mean, at the time, in 2015, I didn’t really know what taking further action meant, but that was like my first experience and my big experience was in 2020.

And, you know, I don’t want to go into too much specifics, but I’ll share what happened. So basically, I think I think sometimes there’s like an Asian sisterhood wound where I think sometimes it’s not in my family, actually, but in certain families, it’s it’s really competitive. And I think sometimes that the Asian culture is very like pretentious. And it it can be about like, who’s doing the best, like who’s doing really well and like kind of like competitive. I’ve never really been like that because my parents have come from a really normal background. And I think what happened was that like because I was doing so well in 2020, like my launches were selling out, my client results were amazing. Everything I was putting out was does and still does really, really well. And I think there was like a few select people like again. Asian women, which was the sad part of it, like they were part of the wedding industry. And because obviously the wedding industry was on hold, there were like a couple of people who clearly just got very jealous and then kind of fuelled this like lying fake rumour about me and my wok and then decided to basically lie about me and distribute it in some specific Asian groups on Facebook, which obviously was very traumatic, especially when you post something in a group which has got four thousand Asian female entrepreneurs, which wasn’t my group. 

And then bless my clients. Like I remember it just came out of nowhere Le’Nise, it just literally just came out of nowhere. It was June in lockdown. I hadn’t done anything specifically huge. Like it was just really random. And then basically I found out like one of my clients were like, Oh, this, this post in this group, and it looks like it’s about you. So they weren’t naming me, but it was, it was it was about me. Like she used to be a wedding planner, blah, blah, blah. And they sent me screenshots and then I kind of didn’t think anything of that. But my husband was like, Just leave it, just leave it. And then it then stuff got posted into another group and then one of my clients was like, Look, I can get on a zoom call with you. I love my clients. I can show you the whole thread and oh my God, when she showed me the whole thread, I was like shaking. I wanted to be sick. Like there was so many nasty comments about me. Like said, this is how we met that like, I’d like copied someone’s work, which was just a complete lie because I’d never I’d never done that obviously, it was it was all a lie, basically. And this person that also lied about other things to do with me and some other people and I wasn’t the only one. She unfortunately believed there was lots of other people as well which transpired. 

And then basically I was like, This is not okay and these people aren’t going to get away with that because if I you know, I’m going to continue to get bigger and bigger. And there’s just, you know, next, if I don’t put a close to it now, I’m just going to continue. So I decided to hire like an incredible legal firm from London, like the leading ones they like they deal with like Dubai sheikhs and lots of celebrities, Elton John and I decided to hire them and it cost me quite a lot. But I was like, I found it really empowering. So I’m like, I’m an Asian woman. I can pay for this. I don’t really need to, like, claim it on my insurance. I’ll just go through them. And obviously some letters them went out about slander and defamation? And then obviously, like my lawyers literally wouldn’t have taken me on if I was lying. So they were like, could’ve been any way that something could have been copied. I was like, Absolutely not. And I’m happy to take this to court because they were like, You know, if it gets to court, then they’ll go through your laptop and they’ll compare materials. And I was like, This did not happen. It was a lie. Like it genuinely did not happen. It was all fabricated. 

And then obviously the letters went out to a couple of people, and then as soon as the letters then got dropped, it was brilliant. They got dropped to one of them on like a Friday evening at like 5:00. So it ruined their weekend, like they ruined mine and then it was like we were in a bit of a legal kind of back and forth. And through that the lawyers were dealing with their lawyers and I mean, they didn’t really have lawyers. I think they were just it we found out one person like was basically using someone who was like a fake, so pretending to be that person. And she wasn’t even registered by the Solicitors Association. It was just shows you these people are just complete liars. 

But it was a really traumatic experience and it had me on edge for quite a few months, but everything got deleted. I didn’t really get an apology, which I was happy about. I never shared about it on socials at the time because my lawyers were like, Don’t do it because, you know, you don’t want to do that. That was the advice at the time. And because of that experience, I then decided to train as a mindset coach. So something really great came out of it. I was really hot on mindset before that anyway. But then I was like, I’m actually going to get certified as a mindset coach because I found it really the whole experience really fascinating and how I dealt with that. 

And then yeah, since then they’ve just kept kept quiet because I think they know that, you know, you don’t want to obviously, I think when you’re in that situation, you have to take action. You can’t let people get away with that. But then it’s so funny because I recently did an event in January, February, started with 200 Asian female entrepreneurs. And again, that was the other kind of Asian coach whose in kind of the same space, just like then sharing something on her Instagram about like, you know, it just comparing her event to mine and being like, oh, basically that my event was better because it was smaller and I’m just like, This is just ridiculous. Like. 

But I think when you do get bigger, I think you are open because the numbers get bigger, you’re open to more judgement, you’re open to more criticism. But I think if you are getting bullied and trolled and like actually the signs are in defamation, that’s like serious, you know, because I’ve that out of that experience in 2020 like people, you know, cancelled their membership. We had a membership site so people would yeah, there was some event refund tickets like people wanted refunds and people did some, some people did believe the lies. So if it ever gone to court I could have showed like loss of earnings. But I think that like because it all got deleted and because I rose above it and I didn’t like,  obviously, my natural instinct was like, shut my business and just lie in bed. And this is exactly what they wanted. I think one of them actually commented saying, Oh, I don’t know how she’ll survive this. She’ll probably just disappear. And like, this is exactly what they wanted. They wanted me to go away. But I was like, No, I’m because I think my community saw that like I rose above it and I didn’t really speak about it. 

And it’s funny, the people that asked refunds I. They were. I think when you’re supporting those kind of people, it’s just like what you call them, like. There’s a word for them. I forgotten now, but like that. Just like. Like felt like they were kind of like sidekicks. Or maybe they were quite easily influenced. They all had very similar traits, so they were quite negative in general. So, you know, the clients I completely loved obviously were on my side, but the clients that I didn’t really align with, they were the ones that kind of dropped away. And I think it was a really good experience. Me just having a cleanse. One of the girls who chimed in on the comments, I just had a really bad feeling about her. She was my husband’s friend’s wife and I had a bad feeling about her for months and months because she was watching what I was doing. Obviously I was doing really well and she chimed in and I was like, I just I just knew some people that were going to chime in that they didn’t like me. I just felt that energy. So it was a really good experience, just cleansing a lot of people. And then because I think my community saw me rise above it, they were obviously really inspired and and now some my clients go through it as well. I just think it’s a really natural thing, especially when you get bigger. So you’ve just got to be ready to deal with like. And now I know like the legals inside out, like if that was to happen to me, it wouldn’t faze me. I’d be like, Right, okay, need send out a letter and most people wouldn’t take it to court. And then these people like begging me to drop it. They were like, Can you just please drop this? Like, we don’t want to go to court. Like, we don’t we don’t want to spend any more money on this. So you’ve got to be really careful online. Like if you’re saying stuff about people and if they’re even though they didn’t use my name, it was obvious that they were talking about me. My lawyers had put proven that in the letters like you had talked about Sharn, because of X, Y, and Z. You know, you would then have to get a lawyer to then respond. It’s just not worth it. So people should just be kind and be nice. 

Le’Nise: But I think that people don’t realise how you know that, you know, they say sticks and stones will break my bones, but words never hurt me. But they, you know, words do hurt. And it’s funny, my son was learning about the online disinhibition effect in school, you know, the idea that you have to be careful what you say online just because you think you’re anonymous and no one, you know, it does matter. And, you know, this is proof of that. You can’t just say anything you want because it matters. And it makes a difference to not only people’s livelihoods but the way that they feel about themselves. It really has an impact. But it really I think your story is really empowering how you rose above it and you’ve just gone from strength to strength. It’s just very, very inspiring. 

Sharn: Oh, thank you. Yeah, you absolutely have to. And I think at the time, like I remember it was actually like because I remember like basically like going to therapy as well because I was like, I need I’d never even considered therapy before then. And I was like, This experience has left me really on edge, Like I hate my own Facebook group and didn’t I had this whole thing around Facebook. I remember at one point I got really paranoid about stuff as well, like I’d have anxiety going on to Instagram and my DMs and if someone if I still with someone tags me in a big group, I’m like the, you know, sometimes like my face and things are so different. You have this like a little not so much at all now, but a little bit of anxiety around Facebook groups. But then I closed my Facebook group, started a new one that really helped me. But I think, yeah, I really because I remember that happened in June and by like and then I had to pause like my launch. We just started running Facebook ads. So that was my launch because I couldn’t do a launch when that was all going on. But then I decided to do my launch like a month later and like, that was like the best thing, like and I just came from a place of service. I was like, I don’t care about this launch, like numbers. Like I’m just here to, like, be of service. And that launch went really well. And it just goes to show, I think that like people, yeah, people can be really harmful, but the truth will always prevail. 

And I think that if if you are deliberately. Because they clearly were triggered and they should have really worked on themselves rather than taking it out on me. And I always think when I see people like cancel culture so big now, and I think I don’t really subscribe to that because I think things can get taken out of context so much online. But I think that, like, you have to rise above it. And I’m so glad I did, because I think my community now can see that. And it is part of the story, you know, but it does take resilience. I had to go therapy for a few months. I had to really. And because we’re in lockdown, I couldn’t see anyone. It was really hard. So it was really difficult. So I just wanted to actually see my friends. And the sad thing about it was actually like one of my, like, extended family members, bless her, she’d committed suicide. So I was like, dealing with that. And I think they knew that I was going to be offline for a few days because I’d put on my stories like, I’m going to be offline. I am watching the funeral virtually like I need some space. But then that just really shows you about their character enlightened. And then I think now I look at most of the majority of them haven’t even got a business. Like, I think one person out of the clan is doing quite, quite well, but the rest of them, they don’t even have a business really in that coaching space. So I’m just like, that just says everything. Really. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, Yeah. I mean, because reputation is everything. And when you’re as a coach, especially because you’re, you know, you’re helping other people transform. Yeah. And if people seeing see you behaving like this, you know, what does it say about your reputation? Yeah. I think in terms of your story, you know, you’ve had this amazing transformation, you know, in many aspects of your life, your health, your business. If someone for someone listening to today’s episode, what’s the one thing that you want them to take out of everything that you’ve shared today? 

Sharn: That’s such a hard question. And I think that like I think a lot of people don’t realise that, like challenges are part of the journey, whether it’s your health, whether it’s your business, whether it’s an experience I had with my bullying. And I think a lot of people just think is everything’s easy. Like they have this misconception because obviously what we see online, like when your new healing journey, everything’s like pretty and unicorns and butterflies, but actually like I think what really makes you is how you overcome these challenges. So always be prepared for the challenges and the quicker you can overcome challenges and not take things personally and just come from a mindset of solutions. So like last year, for example, there were like a couple of launches we had that didn’t do as well because of the cost of living crisis. 

And I had a launch right in the middle of when the Queen died and the whole Liz Truss stuff and the whole Rishi Sunak, it was the worst on top of launch because there was so much uncertainty. But then rather than like me just being really sad and just being like, Right, I’m never launching this program again. Like, forget it. Like everyone hates my program, no one wants to buy blah, blah, blah. I just took a mindset of like, what can we learn from that? Yeah, what do we need to change? Why didn’t it? Wow, what are we going to do next time? And if you’re coming from that kind of growth mindset and just letting your challenges just alchemising them into power, I think that like that is like the best advice I could give anyone. 

Le’Nise: That is so powerful. Resilience, growth mindset, beautiful. Where can people find you? 

Sharn: Yes, so I am on Instagram. My handle is Asian Female Entrepreneur. And I’ve also got a Facebook group which is called the Asian Female Entrepreneur Club. So yeah, people can find me there. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on to the show today. 

Sharn: Thank you so much for having me, Le’Nise. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 39: Jen Wright, Listen To Your Body When It Tells You To Rest

On today’s episode of Period Story, we have Jen Wright, a cyclical living mentor. She supports creatives working with their natural rhythms – menstrual, lunar, seasonal – as they build their small business. I really loved this conversation – we talked about the importance of rest, the power of working with your menstrual cycle and Jen shared her own story. Jen has just launched Life, Aligned, a 3 month productivity and wellness journal. I can’t wait to get my copy!

Jen shared the story of her first period and how she felt shame and embarrassment about it. She says she always felt that it had to be a secret, hidden thing.

Jen says that she’s lost any shame and embarrassment and thinks she’s perhaps a bit too open about her period (I love it!). Listen to hear about how Jen’s fertility journey forced her to learn more about her menstrual health and how she fought for what was right for her personally.

Jen uses everything she’s learned in her work as a mentor and she talks about she helps her clients connect with the highs and lows of energy across their menstrual cycle. She says that if your body is saying that it’s time to rest, then listen to your body, rest and you will be so much more productive.

Jen also talked about how to use the lunar phases as a way for people who don’t have periods to connect for the ebbs and flows of their energy. Jen says that it’s so important to listen to our bodies and that rest isn’t selfish. Thank you, Jen!

Get in touch with Jen:

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Life, Aligned Journal

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JEN’S BIO

Jen is a cyclical living mentor, supporting creatives working with natural rhythms – menstrual, lunar, seasonal – as they build their small business. Jen offers 1-2-1 mentoring, and runs gatherings with a bit of a twist. Last year it was Networking for Introverts, and Silly Heart Wanders (walking in the woods and gentle conversation with a small group of like-minded creatives) and she has a lot planned for post-lockdown meet-ups! 

Jen launched Silly Heart in 2018, knowing (from experience) that there was an easier way to run a small business than to work all hours, sell low, and risk burn out. She had happily left the advertising industry and office jobs behind to build her own stationery brand, Inky and the Beast, but the idea of busyness and constant working had followed her home from the city. In 2016 she became mum to twin girls and everything shifted.

Jen had believed it was good to be busy. “Busy” meant she was contributing, she didn’t have to feel guilty, she was moving forwards, and that she wasn’t “just a mum”. She thought, when she hit that wall, she could outsmart her body with caffeine and sugar and the right playlist… and then she discovered menstrual cycle awareness. Now Jen creates when at her most creative, writes and plans her marketing when feeling confident and social, and rests when she needs it. This small step of listening to and respecting her own body has been revolutionary, and she’s very happy to now be supporting others as they learn to work with their body, not against it.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show. 

Jen: Hi Le’Nise.

Le’Nise: Let’s start off by getting into the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what happened? 

Jen: Yeah, it was, I don’t really remember all that much about it, which is strange considering how much time I spend thinking about my period in my adult life. I think I was about 13 or 14. I know I was in high school and all I really remember about it is that I came out of the bathroom and into my mom’s room and said, I think I’ve got my period. And she went, “Oh, God” in this kind of like, it was a kind of happy sound, but it also sounded a little bit bereft, which I feel like I understand a bit more now that I’m a mother myself. Yeah. And and other than that, I remember that she gave me that she gave me pads to use, but yeah. Otherwise, I don’t remember anything about the blood or cramps or any kind of embarrassment around it, but I do remember later on when I was in high school, remembering the embarrassment around it and the shame and like, I hope that no one sees anything, flush the toilet twice and hide everything at the bottom of the bin. And the pads were so thick back then that the other girls could hear it as I was walking along the corridor, things like that, and just always feeling like it had to be this very secret, hidden thing. 

Le’Nise: Why do you think that you developed this shame and embarrassment? 

Jen: I don’t know, because I remember other girls at school talking about it, you know, almost kind of showing off about about it and doing a little kind of skit around it and making the others laugh. But I also remember friends of mine telling stories of one girl saying that she was at her friend’s house sitting on their sofa. And when she stood up, there was blood on the sofa. And so she quickly wiped it on her hand and went, “oh, no, I’ve cut my hand” and just ran out of the house and didn’t didn’t look back. And this idea that it had to be hidden and I don’t think I was explicitly given that message at home. I remember my mum talking about about it with me, but I also grew up in a house with three older brothers. So I feel it was always quite a private thing between me and my mum and just between me and my friends. And it wasn’t talked about in the rest of the house for fear of being made fun by these rather loud older brothers.

Le’Nise: Do you feel that you carry any shame and embarrassment now?

Jen: No, no, no. On the contrary, I think I’m probably a little bit too open to the point where a little while ago, I think I finally found my boundary with it when I was on a Zoom call with with my daughters and their classmates in their nursery. And we arranged like a group Zoom call, a few of us in lockdown. And one of my girls announced that I had blood in my pants, that that morning really loudly and I was like, “oh, no” and I kind of tried to, like, pass it off because it was like this whole group of parents, mums and dads and things like that. Yep. I think I finally found my boundary with it, actually.

Le’Nise: Was it one of those situations where you’re just kind of like, oh yeah and you kind of explain it away. 

Jen: Yeah, exactly. Like, “no, that’s not, yeah, anyway, so as I was saying…” And I think there was so much noise going on with kids screaming and shouting. I don’t think anyone had any idea.

Le’Nise: Yeah, a nursery Zoom call. I could just imagine the chaos of that. I want to go back to the story of you around when you started your period. So you said that your mum she was, she was fine but she was a little bit bereft perhaps because it was a transition from your girlhood through to now puberty. How did you learn about what was happening to you? 

Jen: I, I honestly, I don’t I honestly don’t really remember much. I remember, I remember classes at school. I think a very, very brief lesson on what would be happening in our bodies. And I was talking to my mum about this a while ago when when I knew I was going to be coming on to the podcast and saying, “do you remember having that conversation with me?” And she doesn’t remember either. I’m sure that we must have. But yeah, unfortunately, yeah, I don’t, I just, I don’t remember it. I remember talking to my peers about it at school later after we’d already started discussing the products that we used. And my friends were always trying to convince me to use tampons because I was just using pads. And it’s funny, but even from that kind of early age, in the early stage of the menstrual journey, I felt like my body wants it to come out. I don’t want to block it in. And it just seemed really odd to me to try and stop it from coming out. If my body is trying to expel something, then surely I’m better to just catch it when it’s already come out. So I was just yeah, I couldn’t be convinced and I remember them making fun of me and and like saying that I wasn’t really like, I wasn’t really a woman and I wasn’t really grown up for it. I was just kind of steadfast on no, that’s not that’s not right for me. 

Le’Nise: They said you weren’t really a woman because you didn’t want to use tampons?

Jen: Yeah. It was like, it was seen as like the, the oh when you get your first period, you use pads. 

But when you’re really, like, grown up and really having periods, then you use the the grown woman’s product, which is the tampon, which again is just feels like it’s more hiding it away, you know. So yeah, I was just I was pretty diligent about that. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. But that’s interesting that you knew your body so well at that point and you know, you could connect this feeling of I want, the blood, wants to come out with the the the need to use pads instead of tampons. That I find that fascinating. I’ve never heard anyone express it like that before.

Jen: Oh, OK, good.

Le’Nise: And so do you still use pads? 

Jen: I now use period pants.

Le’Nise: Oh, OK.

Jen: But yes, I was using pads up until a couple of years ago. I went on to discover period pants and then again, just haven’t looked back. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. And so much less waste as well. Plastic free in so many areas of my life. But again, when I was out to dinner with them with a group of mum friends and talked about how I just just discovered period pants, isn’t this amazing and just the looks of horror on everyone’s faces. 

But but what then you have to you have to think what? You have to rinse them out. You have to touch the blood and everyone just seemed, yeah, totally horrified by this idea. 

I was like, yeah, guys, it’s just blood, so it’s completely natural. Yes. They didn’t seem quite on board with it. I was very excited. 

Le’Nise: And it’s so interesting especially that you had that interaction with a group of mums, because when you become a parent, you become very connected with or familiar with fluids, bodily fluids. Yeah, exactly. And it’s like the that blood is still seen as like kind of the last frontier and that it provoked those reactions.

Jen: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And I really wonder, when did we become so afraid of our own blood? When does that when does that start and…

Jen: Well, it’s so interesting, isn’t it, because and again, it’s not just any blood, it’s just period blood that is still seen as dirty. And that message is given to us from such a young age and through, throughout our lives with the simple fact that they’re called feminine hygiene products and called sanitary towels and everything makes it sound like, oh, that area is dirty and what you’re dealing with is dirty and needs to be cleaned up. And it’s just this subliminal message that’s constantly told to us that, yeah, as you say, even after becoming parents, when we’re basically either covered in jam or poo, we’re still worried about talking about period blood. 

It’s, yeah, it’s crazy. 

Le’Nise: So you talked about how you found your boundary when it comes to talking about periods. 

But I want to ask you, when did you start to become more open in terms of talking about your period because you described when you were a teenager this shame and embarrassment? When did things change? 

Jen: I think probably on my fertility journey, they, things had to change because I was discussing with so many different doctors and consultants, so it took us about three years to get pregnant. And again, I didn’t I, I kind of resisted intervention for a while. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) when I was in my early 20s and told that it would be very difficult to get pregnant. And added to that, I had been on the contraceptive pill on and off since I was 15 years old, which obviously didn’t, didn’t help matters either. But when when I was off the pill and we were actively trying for a baby, I was going in and out of all these different kind of doctor’s appointments. And so that was when I started to get to know my my very irregular cycle.

So sorry, going back a little bit when I was when I was still a teenager. After my period arrived, I would only have one, maybe once, one or two year. So they were they were still very rare for me. And they stayed there for a couple of years when I went to the doctor and said everything’s still very irregular. And I remember that they were very heavy when they did come. And so no other questions were asked. I was just dropped straight onto the contraceptive pill and I stayed on it for six years. And it’s only as an adult I’ve learnt that actually more questions should be asked to find kind of the underlying issues and also that it’s quite normal as a teenager for your periods not to regulate until until you’re older. But we’re not really given a chance before we’re given the contraceptive pill. I’ve lost my train of thought now.

Le’Nise:Go back to what you were saying about the pill and talk a bit more about why you came off it, because you started at 15 and then you came off. You were on it for six years. So you came off when you were 21. What made you decide to come off the pill? 

Jen: So I think a number of reasons. I, I had been quite, quite miserable and quite moody throughout my later teenage years, which again, I think everyone put down to adolescence. I put it down to my own adolescence and boy problems and things as well. Actually, looking back, I do wonder whether it was something to do with that, because when I came off the, the pill, things did change for me emotionally. Over a couple of years, I found myself in quite a toxic relationship and it was kind of like I saw sense a little bit and like something in me woke up and I, I found my way out of that relationship, fortunately. And I then, I then went back on the pill again, feeling like everything’s still irregular. If I if I don’t want to keep going out and being surprised by my periods arriving when I’m out and about, then the only option for me is to go on the pill. 

So I went back on the pill for a few years and then as I say, my husband and I wanted to try for a baby. And so I only came off the pill like literally a few months before we actively started trying.  

So I started going to different appointments where they started to tell me all of the options for me, which all sounded just like something that I didn’t, I didn’t want. And I was very I was adamant with my husband from the beginning that I, I wouldn’t want to go down the IVF route if things were difficult for us for years. I wouldn’t want to go down the IVF route. And again, it kind of comes back to that not wanting to do the opposite of what my body wanted to do. If my body is telling me that it’s not ready for whatever reason or it’s not doing it for whatever reason, then I need to sort out my body, not force it to do something it doesn’t want to do. And that was just what felt right to me personally. So before before I tried any of the options that the doctors were offering me, I was going back for blood tests and hormone levels and all that. While I was having that, I went to acupuncture and started taking Chinese herbs and things and tried that for about six months, I believe. But unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be having the right, the right effect. If anything, I felt actually a little bit poorly over the months that I was taking the Chinese herbs and my acupuncturist was so wonderful. She said, “I think that you’re just very sensitive to this to this style of intervention. And maybe it’s time to try something else.” “OK, I’ll try something else.”

And so I ended up taking a drug called Clomid, which was to kind of force ovulation and again, they said that I needed to take it when I started my periods and my period was still only coming once or twice a year. They offered me progesterone to bring on a fake bleed. And again, I said, “I’m not taking that because to bring on a fake bleed, how is that going to help you get pregnant?” That’s nothing to do with my natural cycle. So I said, “I’m just going to wait. It might take a few months, but I’ll wait until my period actually arrives.”

And fortunately, about six weeks later, my period did arrive. So I took the Clomid and fell pregnant with twins, which was a bit of a shock. And oh, so my body obviously was just ready to wake up by that point. Yes.

And then obviously no menstrual cycle while pregnant. And at the beginning I had my my girls I was expressing and attempted to breastfeed and it didn’t, didn’t work for me with the two. They were premature and both had tongue tie and it turned out quite serious dietary issues with one of my daughters as well. And so I ended up switching to formula. 

And so quite early on, my period returned and I remember being furious about it, just like I waited so many years for my menstrual cycle to sort itself out and now at this point where I don’t need to ovulate and I don’t want to have more babies now, it’s suddenly going to start turning up like clockwork. And it did. It started becoming more and more regular and more and more frequently, almost as if my body had gone, ‘I understand what I what I’m supposed to do now, OK? Yes, I’m going to kick it into gear.’

Le’Nise: Your story is so interesting because you ostensibly had PCOS, but then but you because your periods were so irregular when you were a teenager, which is actually really common, that, you know, then you started taking the pill, which suppresses ovulation, came off the pill, went back on it again and then came off the pill, then had to take a drug to stimulate ovulation. It’s fascinating. 

And then you got pregnant and gave birth and your periods, your menstrual cycle resolved itself.

Jen: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so it’s really fascinating how quick the doctors were to put you on the pill when you were 15, when perhaps, you know, hindsight being 20 / 20, it may have been better to just wait to see what have, what what what would have happened naturally to your body. 

Jen: Yeah, completely. And and I wish, I just wish I’d known then what I know now, because I don’t believe I would have taken the pill at all. And yes, maybe I wouldn’t have spent most of my life thinking, oh, I have huge and irregular periods because the fact that they’re regular now I mean, they are every kind of 35-36 days usually, but that’s still regular. I can still plan around it and I can still track it. 

Maybe that’s what would have happened anyway if I’d just let my body kind of ease itself into it rather than going yeah you’re not doing the right thing, we’re going to fill you with drugs again and years later, and you’re not doing the right thing filled with drugs. And and again, it wasn’t raised when I was talking to consultants about all the different things they were offering me to help me get pregnant. 

It was never really addressed the fact that I’d been on the contraceptive pill for that many years, it was never you know, I was told, “oh, well, you only came off such as much time ago. So you need to give your body time to regulate itself.” But it was it, otherwise, that was it was never mentioned again. 

Le’Nise: You said something interesting about you, you were going to go on the Clomid, but you were uncertain because you felt like, or prior to that you didn’t feel like your body was ready to do to go on, that you wanted to find another way. And that’s again, then another example that you’ve mentioned where you’ve really been able to tune into your body and be able to listen. 

And it’s fascinating because that’s something that I’m starting to see more and more, more women being able to start to listen to their bodies and listen to what what their bodies are telling and actually respond to that, not just hear it and then just kind of carry on. 

How do you continue to develop that kind of connection with what your body is telling you? 

Jen: So well, not so early last year, I was I was talking with a with a friend and she recommended the book Period Power to me. And I think from reading that it was just it it was just like a mind blowing moment, learning all of this all of these facts about my body and my hormones and just how how much is affected by hormones, because we still talk about it as if it’s just we get, we get kind of emotional and pain for a week and then we bleed for a week and that’s it. And the rest of the time, we’re not on our period and that’s it.

But actually, the cycle is constant. We are always on the cycle of of different hormones flowing through our body. So, of course, that’s going to affect us every day in a different way. So, yeah, everything that I’ve learnt from. Period Power and my own fertility journey, and I then I then became a voracious reader of anything that was about the menstrual cycle and also reading and I mentioned before the book How the Pill Changes Everything by Sarah Hill, which was fascinating and gives you so much more insight into everything that the hormones do, because, again, you think of it all just affecting your uterus, basically. And actually it’s all these signals from the brain, they affect your entire body and mind. 

So, yes, I’ve just been kind of trying to bring that learning into my day to day life and then into my mentoring work as well. So when, when I start, when I started mentoring women back in 2018, I already was very adamant with them when we were talking about the kind of their to do list and their ideas and everything they wanted to do, something that was always key for me to bring up in the conversation was, “OK, but when are you resting? When when are you going to do something fun for you? When are you creating just for the sake of creating” and how frequently the answer was just, “oh, no, I don’t I don’t have time to do that or no, I haven’t even considered that. How could I possibly do that? I’m already running on empty.”

Well, yes, you’ve just answered your question. 

If if you rest and give yourself a chance to just sit and breathe and you know, the ideas that you feel blocked around will flow more easily and give your body a chance to to recoup. And I guess I’ve just, just now increased those questions with my clients and we work them around the menstrual cycle. So I talking to a client a couple of days ago and she was laying out all of all of this work that she wants to get done over the next few weeks and saying, “yeah, it feels it feels manageable. You know, I’ve got this lot of stuff here in this little stuff here,” “OK, but when when these your bleed due? Aren’t you due soon?”

“Yeah, I’m actually due the day of that deadline. Maybe I should shift that.” I’m kind of trying to bring that consideration into, into our work because it it does affect us. And I think a lot of a lot of women still fight that saying, no, I am in control. I say, that I need to do these things and I will get on and do it and say, well, you are your body. And if your body is saying that it’s time to rest, then listen to your body, rest and you will be so much more productive and feel so much brighter and more positive for having that rest. 

Yeah, and I’ve been trying to practise what I preach for the most part. 

Le’Nise: Why do you think we’re so resistant to rest?

Jen: Oh, the patriarchy. I think we’re just we’re just indoctrinated with this belief that we have to be busy. We have to be busy all the time to really be seen as contributing and really being seen as being productive. And I’m a victim of that myself, of you know, I had a very busy, very stressful office job for years. And even when I started working for myself, I ran a stationary brand for a few years. I just still felt like if I wasn’t working all the hours, then how could I possibly ever be successful and how would people take me seriously? And it just it’s just a one way ticket to burn out. And you don’t do your best work in that space. So and it’s mad that we leave these jobs going, oh, I don’t want to be in the rat race. I want to start my own business. And then we work harder for ourselves than we would ever accept working for somebody else. And there is this this old kind of patriarchal view of, you know, I must work the same every day, day in, day out, must make money, must, you know, just keep going no matter what. 

Le’Nise: It’s interesting what you’re saying about this patriarchy and productivity and needing to work harder for yourself, because I could completely relate to all of it. I I’m actually on day three of my period right now. And so Saturday I, I usually have lots of stuff to do in the morning, but for whatever reason, things got cancelled out of my diary. So all of a sudden I had all of this free time. My husband and son were out of the house off to play football. And I said to myself, Why don’t you just read and rest? I had a book that I wanted to really get into. It was in a fiction book which I love reading fiction, and I don’t read enough of it. And I, I was like, just lay in bed. You don’t feel good, you’re tired, just lay down and read. And there was so much resistance to it. I kept looking over at my laptop and thinking maybe I should just do this. No: read. And in the end, I read, I actually finished the whole book.

Jen: Oh wow.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I’m a fast reader, so I read the whole book and I felt so much better by the end of the day. And I just, it was just a reminder of firstly, practise what you preach. And secondly, that rest is so important. It’s like almost feels revolutionary at times. 

Jen: Yeah, it does. And it’s like you say you’re looking around going, oh, well, maybe I should do that first. Almost like you have to earn the right to sit down and read your book.

You’ve already earned it. And here is your permanent permission slip when you feel tired it is a message from your body to sit your butt down and rest. We listen to all of these other messages from from our body. Just the simple case of the circadian rhythm of just, it’s night time, I’m tired, I’m going to go to sleep. And obviously there are a few people I know, who say, “I will stay awake for as long as humanly possible”, and fight against that. But the average person will go, will accept, I’m tired, I’m going to go to sleep. 

And yet, I really feel like I need a rest. I better do all of the housework and also all of my emails and just sort all this out first. And no I just just sit down. 

Le’Nise: I want to talk more about the mentoring work that you do and how you’ve managed to tie in the ebbs and flows of the menstrual cycle around that. 

Talk a little bit more about how you educate your clients about that and whether there’s any resistance they have to incorporating that into the way that they work. 

Jen: So, yeah, I don’t think I’ve actually encountered any resistance with my clients, which has been brilliant other than kind of, they’re not being aware of how much it affects at the beginning when we start talking about it to a mere few weeks later or a month later going, “I can’t believe now I’ve been tracking it I can see exactly where it is that I should be, you know, resting or where I should be planning that deadline.”

And that’s that’s such a good way of looking at it rather than resisting this idea that you’re not in control. It’s taking control of it and going, right. I’m going to I’m going to track, track my cycle so I can plan for my next one and know that, oh, there’s that networking event that week that I’d really like to go to, oh, God, I’m going to be on day 28 or for day 1. And I’m really not going to feel like talking to people. I’m going to mess up my words. 

Oh but there’s this networking event that falls around ovulation when I’m going to be like really confident and feeling sexy and I’m going to go and talk to everyone and sell them what I do. 

And just being able to be able to plan that way is is hugely empowering and liberating. And I did it myself the first time last year. OK, I’m actually going to put this theory into practise for myself. And I booked my first professional photo shoot going getting some some photos taken from my website and she offered me some dates. Oh, great, that date falls on kind of as the moon is becoming full and I’ll get into the lunar phases as well. And just as I’m coming up to ovulation, so I’m going to be feeling like more confident, more energetic, a little bit more playful. And and I did I felt great, something that would usually fill me with much dread. And I had to get up the early hours and it was a freezing cold day. And like travelling on the train delays, I had to go up north and usually I’d be just a ball of stress by the time I got there, I was still just so excited and and it was a brilliant, brilliant day. And I think that if I booked that a couple of weeks later or earlier and I was, you know, in the middle of my period or something, it would have been a completely different experience. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, can you talk a bit more about the lunar lunar phases, so you have a brilliant Facebook group for anyone who’s listening. I’ll put it in the show notes: it’s called Life, Aligned

And you talk about not only menstrual cycle tracking and what that can bring to in terms of work and life, but you also talk about the moon phases. I don’t know a huge amount about it, so I’d love to hear more from you about what it what what it’s all about.

Jen: Sure. So, yeah, because the group stemmed from my desire to kind of bring, bring what I was learning to a wider audience because I work one on one with, with people, but I started the group to just to see kind of how it would work in the group setting. Talking about cycles, but obviously it would be very difficult to talk about everyone’s individual menstrual cycle if you end up with lots of different people in different, different timing. So I thought, well, we’ll do it around the lunar cycle and I’ll talk about how that reflects the energy of the menstrual cycle because it does mirror it.

So from the new moon would be reflective of your menstrual stage, your bleed when energy is at its lowest and light is at its lowest. And you just feel like being kind of indoors and cosy and hibernating. Waxing moon would be spring, energy to return, in spring, your follicular phase, when you’re coming out of your bleed and heading towards ovulation and oestrogen is starting to rise in your body and you feel a little bit more energetic, playful. And then Full Moon is reflective of ovulation when you’re feeling most confident and outgoing and productive and you kind of want to share your ideas with the world. And then as the moon wanes again, the energy starts to wane also and it starts to wane, it would be reflective of the luteal phase. So post-ovulation and oestrogen drops, progesterone starts to rise and you just kind of want to hunker down and get back into that hibernation mode. 

Le’Nise: So in terms of the lunar cycle, do you talk about, because you can see the connection for people who are still menstruating, but for someone who is either going through perimenopause, menopause or post menopause, do you talk about, how does it work in terms of connecting your lunar phase with whatever else is going on in your life. 

Jen: So, yeah, that’s that’s exactly when when you’re not having that menstrual cycle for whatever reason, if you’re pregnant, perimenopausal or for whatever reason, and having the lunar cycle to look to, to ensure that you’re still taking time to rest and that you’re still kind of working on that cycle rather than working on a treadmill is is really important. So, yes, I lost lost my train of thought again, sorry…

Le’Nise: So you were saying that for people who who don’t have a period, for whatever reason, using the lunar cycle is a really nice way to to rest, to remind yourself to rest because you don’t have that menstrual cycle to connect with. I think that’s really interesting because I get those questions a lot when I talk about menstrual cycle, menstrual cycle, tracking a lot. And people will say to me, “oh, well, I don’t have, I don’t I take the pill so I can do this or I’m menopausal or post menopausal. How does it work for me?” And I love that lunar cycle tracking as a tool because again, it’s a reminder to rest and it’s a reminder that we are still cyclical beings, even if we are, don’t have a menstrual cycle for whatever reason, we need to rest. Rest is important. Rest is our right.

Jen: Yes. It is our right, yes. It gives some still, gives women a way to kind of grounds themselves rather than going back to kind of working every day in the same way. OK, so it’s we’re coming to the new moon. I’m going to schedule in a couple of days to just take a break and really practise self care. 

Le’Nise: So if you had one thing to say to someone who’s listening to this podcast, what would you what would you want that to be? What would you want to leave them with? 

Jen:Oh. Yeah, I think the most important thing is, you sound like a broken record is listening and listening to your body. Again, so often we we do fight. We automatically fight against this idea of taking a break and this fear of looking like we’re not contributing and we’re not being productive. And the brilliant Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which I feel like almost everyone has right now. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. She speaks about how, you know, the what we’re all striving for is to be selfless, to kind of make ourselves disappear so much that we are seen as completely selfless. And this is like the epitome of being a good, a good person, a good mother, a good woman. And I think that is so ingrained in us that we feel it’s, it’s selfish of us to want to, as you say sit down and read a book. But actually, it’s so, so important for our own mental health, physical health, to just keep ourselves rested so we can carry on, like keeping our brain firing on all cylinders and keep bringing our brilliant ideas to the world and keep like looking after whoever we’re giving care to, children or family or community. We need to be rested in order to do those things. 

Le’Nise: That is such a brilliant message and I really encourage all of my listeners to take that to heart. Rest is so powerful and it’s not necessarily just about being productive. It’s also about feeling better in yourself and just feeling your best self to, to quote Oprah. How can listeners find out more about you? 

Jen: You can find out more about me on my website, which is www.sillyheart.co.uk and I am sillyheartco, all one word across pretty much every other social network going. And you will most likely find me hanging out on Instagram.

Le’Nise: And your Facebook group?

Jen: My Facebook group is Life, Aligned and it’s a closed group. So everything you can share in there is just within, within the group. And it’s such a friendly, warm, calming space. It’s really lovely. Yes. You can find me on Facebook on Life, Aligned.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show, Jen. It’s so brilliant to talk with you, connects with you and find out more about what you do. 

Jen: Thank you so much for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 16: Lina Chan, We Should Celebrate Our Bodies

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lina Chan, the founder and CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey. 

Lina shared her fertility journey which led to three children and two angel babies and said this is what inspired her to start her company. 

We discussed the story of Lina’s first period, with Lina explaining that because she comes from a conservative Asian family, nobody had talked to her about what to expect. She said found her period embarrassing and shocking, especially growing up in Brazil, where swim classes were held year round in school.

Lina describes the life changing moment when she discovered how she could hide her period. She says now this is one of the taboos she aims to break down with her company, Adia. 

We had a very honest discussion about breaking down the taboo of discussing miscarriage. Lina says that women shouldn’t underestimate the impact that miscarriage can have emotionally and that it’s very important to talk about it and seek the support you think you need.

Lina says that we should celebrate our bodies and I completely agree! 

Get in touch with Lina:

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Lina’s Bio

Lina spent most of her career working as a private equity investor in the UK. After experiencing pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving, she realised the need to build more companies by women for women to help make health more proactive. She is now the founder CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey, and mother to three children and two angel babies.

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Show Transcription

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Lina Chan. Lina spent most of her career working as a Private Equity Investor in the UK, after experiencing pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving, she realised the need to build more companies by women for women to help make health more proactive. She is now the founder and CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey, and mother to three children and two angel babies. Welcome to the show.

Lina: Thank you so much for having me.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you tell us what happened?

Lina: Yeah, I got my period fairly early. I think I was 10 at the time, which was kind of early, I think, when I was growing up. I don’t know. I feel like now girls are having their periods earlier and earlier. So at school, I hadn’t yet learnt about it. And I come from a very conservative Asian family and nobody had talked to me about it. So I remember just one day going to the bathroom and seeing blood and just really being scared and not quite knowing what to do. And my first instinct was to feel really embarrassed. And I remember just putting a lot of, I rolled up a bunch of paper and put it there, but then it went away like literally it was just a day and it went away. And then it didn’t come back again for a few more months, like three or four months. And then it came back and I did the same thing. I didn’t even have pads. It was, I think, a bit serendipitous because my sister had come to visit and she’s a lot older than me. She’s twenty two years older than me and she brought it up and I was like, oh, my gosh, yes. I’ve been having these these bleeds and I don’t know. And she was the first one who gave me a pad. So and it’s kind of like, oh, well, you know, you’re going to get this or I’m going to get get these things for you a that was it. So there wasn’t really much of a conversation. And then I learnt it at school. So it was all a bit shocking.

Le’Nise: You what you said you were embarrassed. Why did you feel embarrassed?

Lina: I don’t know. I think it’s because it felt like a private area. You’re always taught that it’s a very private area and it was something that I had not ever thought of. And I think it’s because also it’s stained. Yeah. There was a lot of shame associated with it and it’s interesting to think of why, already at that young age, I felt shame with that. Because I even remember, once I started having periods, I didn’t want to tell anybody because I must have been one of the first two girls in my class to get my period. So I didn’t want other girls to know that I had my period. I grew up in Brazil where it’s very hot, so you pretty much have swim classes around the year. I remember just being terrified of swimming because I would swim with my period because I didn’t want to tell people that I had my period and I couldn’t swim. And it would always be this like, you know, dashing out of the pool, running to the bathroom, it was awful. Months and months of dealing with it. I remember always struggling with it.

Le’Nise: So you grew up in Brazil. There is a culture of being outdoors, swimming, and you were one of the first in your class to get your period. So the support of your sister, who was twenty two years older, must have been really helpful, to kind of navigate you through this time.

Lina: Well, yes and no, because she didn’t live with me. She was already married and she already had her kids. So she only gave me the pads and I didn’t really have anybody else to talk to. And my mum didn’t talk about it. You know, Mum kind of didn’t really kind of engage with any of that. And so I actually didn’t speak to anybody about it until more of my closer friends had their periods and then that became more of a topic amongst us and we then discovered things together. So we discovered the tampons together, I remember a friend of mine going, well, you can use this to help you with the swimming and I tried it, but I just couldn’t get it. I couldn’t get it in. And I was like, I just can’t. I was like, maybe I don’t even have, like, a hole. But I think because I was so tense that I couldn’t put a tampon in. She had travelled to the U.S. and come back with those plastic applicators rather than just the cotton ones that you had to insert with your finger. And so she’s like, try this one. And then I managed to use a tampon and I remember that was completely life-changing because suddenly you could hide that you have periods. It was only really through my friends that I discovered more about periods and how to manage it and all that.

Le’Nise: And so you were all kind of learning about it at the same time helping each other. If you think back to what you were learning: were there any myths that you were kind of circulating among you where you think back and think that wasn’t right or why did we talk about that?

Lina: I think there’s still a lot of feeling ashamed of it or embarrassed about it and for really kind of no reason. I don’t know what made us all kind of feel like we had to hide it. I think part of the reason was because it always felt like a topic that you couldn’t talk about openly or be proud of and kind of celebrate as being very feminine. There was always something that was associated with being dirty, being smelly, being yucky. It’s almost as if you had a condition. And I think that’s an issue around a lot of women’s health topics. It was also definitely one that I encountered when I had problems conceiving and having pregnancy loss.

And that’s the reason why it was a big push for me to start Adia. It was around breaking down a lot of these taboos that women face. And I think it starts at the very early stages of periods and it happens over and over again as women go through their different life stages. So, you know, you start with periods and being ashamed of those and if you have period problems like endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, you struggle with it in silence if you’re not comfortable talking about it at work. It’s so debilitating. All the way to struggling to conceive, having pregnancy loss, blaming ourselves, not feeling comfortable, not getting the right support, all the way to menopause and women struggling with those symptoms, not getting the support. So I think now, and that’s why I was saying how I love what you do, is because I think we need to as a society and as women, completely change the dialogue around women’s health and these things to actually be a lot more celebratory, so that when my daughters kind of, you know, go through this phase that I went through, they don’t feel ashamed and they don’t feel like they need to hide about it or they need to speak to their friends in secret, that it’s something that they should be very proud of.

It’s funny, we were we were working with this charity, Bloody Good Period, and we were doing a campaign. So we were trying to figure out like what are some social stigmas, a social norms that we want to break down. And one of the questions one of the girls asking is like, “Do you still hide your tampon or your pad when going to the bathroom?” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I do.” I’m working so much with women’s health? It’s just so subconscious. I do, I roll it and push it under my sleeve and I go off to the bathroom. It is still very much ingrained, even in us who might be kind of a bit more progressive already in the way we think. So I think a lot of it was around being such a taboo subject.

Le’Nise: Are there any other taboos that you think we need to break down in order to be more celebratory about our periods?

Lina: Definitely. So what is it? Celebrate that it’s life itself rather than something that you’re  ashamed of. I think sex around periods, I think that’s something that girls struggle in and try to figure out what does all that mean? You know, which then goes to talking about sexuality, talking about fertility. I think that can be the early stages of kind of like the next phase, that’s something women should talk about more and share more and break taboos around that.

Le’Nise: And I just want to go back a little bit to what you were saying earlier. So you were having these conversations with your friends and learning along with each other. And then as you got older, so went into high school, then university. What other things did you learn about your period and what were your discoveries then? And how did you educate yourself?

Lina: So in the teens it’s kind of like the managing it. I think it ends up being sex and contraception, was the next big kind of period health, period management of learning. I remember I tried all these different types of contraceptive pills and I just had such bad side effects from mood swings to hair loss to the point that I just stopped, didn’t take them at all. And I think there’s, again, a lack of knowledge around the contraceptive pill for women and which ones work for them. And I think for a very long time women have taken it and struggled with the symptoms and just kept getting fobbed off as like, “Go take three months for your body to adjust.” But like some women just don’t and it needs to be looked into more. And, you know, there are companies now trying to match women’s DNA or kind of like existing conditions to the right contraceptive pill, because I think people are starting to recognise that there is a link between your hormones, your mental health, physical health, and kind of then how to manage that and then, I think the next phase of taboos and and things that women can learn is, OK, so now I want to start having families and getting off the contraceptive pill, re-learning what their cycle is like, because sometimes, because they’re on the pill, it’s a quote unquote artificial cycle and you get off it and you don’t quite know when your period is going to come back.

So you’re kind of totally re-learning your body and then something that you used to hate having is the one thing you keep looking forward to so that you can conceive every month. So then again, it becomes like this, this relationship that you have with your body and it can either feel very comfortable or very foreign. And because I think somebody who conceives it’s a nice thing, it happens quickly, but for somebody who can’t conceive, it becomes a source of anxiety every month. And we talk about it in Adia about women who struggled for a very long time that it can almost feel a little bit like trauma, because every month, that period reminds you of something that you don’t have and that you really want. So, again, it’s a struggle with your own body.

Le’Nise: And with you having been on hormonal contraception and did you have any bad side effects?

Lina: Yeah, had terrible ones, that’s why I got off it. I think I tried three and then with one and I lost a lot of hair. I mean, I remember they were coming out in chunks. And it’s funny because now at Adia, I was talking to a woman who was working on a business to help match women to contraceptives and she was like, “Oh, so you have the blah blah gene” and I was like, “Finally, 20 years later, someone figured out why I kept losing hair when I go on a certain pill.” And then the other two, I just kept getting extremely bad emotional side effects, so like crying for no reason. I was like, “Why am I putting up with this? Why am I doing this to myself?” So then I just never went on the pill. I literally tried it for a year and then never, ever went on it again.

Le’Nise: Was at the end of your journey with hormonal contraceptives?

Lina: Yeah. I never went on hormonal contraceptives. So it was a lot of condoms or just avoidance and using the tracking system.

Le’Nise: Ok. And so how did you learn about that? Was it trial and error?

Lina: I mean, I guess because I never went on the contraceptive pill. I’ve just been very lucky with an extremely regular cycle. My cycles were always 27, 28 days. The only time that I went to a very irregular period was when I started working and it was extremely stressful. I worked around the clock, I barely slept. So I don’t think my body even knew what was day and night. And I was getting my periods every two weeks. I was too engrossed with my job that I didn’t really think much about it. But then when things calm down, it became regular again. So I kind of always had a sense of when I was ovulating. And I kind of became quite smart about my fertile signs and what to look out for. So I became very tuned in with my cycle, which has helped me in other ways, even now with food. I kind of listen to my body, I can tell when I’m not feeling quite right. So I could usually predict when I was going to start bleeding.

Le’Nise: You said you were quite tuned in and now you’re quite tuned into your cycle and with food as well. What do you mean by that?

Lina: So when we started trying, I struggled. So I lost my first two pregnancies, one fairly late stage at six months and then managed to conceive and I had three kids but during that phase of loss, I really, kind of stopped trusting my body. I didn’t really connect with it and I think it was the trauma. And I went to the doctors to figure out what it was. But during that time of trying and failing, I needed to learn how to trust my body again. And I did it through yoga and I did it through nutrition. So I became a yoga teacher and I did a couple of nutrition courses. And I think all of that was so that I couldn’t kind of feel a little bit more empowered and a little bit more in tune to something that can become can become very foreign. Something that had always given me what I had put into it. I was very athletic. I always did a lot of exercises. So I knew that, OK, if I train I could reduce my time by X. Like what you put in, I could get out like I understood my body. But during pregnancy, I just didn’t. Whatever I did, just didn’t do what I wanted it to do. So I just needed to kind of calm down and and relearn it and I did it through exercise and nutrition. So yoga really helped me kind of move with consciousness, it taught me about mindfulness, it taught me to sit with my feelings. And nutrition kind of helped me because I did, you know, I was athletic, I pretty much just eat whatever I wanted. I never was quite conscious about what I was putting into my mouth. But during that phase, I learned about the vitamins. I learned about what made me feel good, what didn’t make me feel good, when was I eating for anxiety and when was I eating mindfully? And all of that kind of just helped me be more present and more grateful for what I had in my body. And then we went on to conceive and all that. So it was through that journey that I learnt to trust it again and I did it through those two venues.

Le’Nise: You sound amazingly tuned in and it sounds like you’ve been on this incredible journey and of understanding not only what nourishes you physically and nutritionally, but also being really open to what’s going on with your body. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. How long was this journey for you?

Lina: Oh, gosh, so three years from the first time we tried to having my first daughter was three years because we had the two losses and conceiving between them took almost a year each. Our first was born at 32 weeks, so she was born quite early, that was a fairly stressful kind of fourth trimester but then we had two others in quick succession. So from beginning to three children, it took us five years. But to get from beginning to first child, it took us three years. So, yes, the other two came very quickly thereafter. I think it’s you know, part of it was I had a lot less anxiety around it. I knew how to take care of my body to prepare for pregnancy. I also knew that because I had struggled, we started trying six months after me having one. And I think a lot of women prefer to wait a year and I think the recommendation is to wait for a year. But, you know, I was of my age and I that I had struggled. So we tried sooner and then we were lucky to conceive sooner. But I took much better care of my emotional and physical health in the subsequent pregnancies.

Le’Nise: What would you say to women who are going through similar things, who maybe have had a miscarriage and who are trying to conceive again?

Lina: I mean, I think the first thing is to really not underestimate the impact that it can have on you emotionally and to talk about it. It is something that women feel really ashamed about, but it’s very important to talk about it and seek the support that you think you need. One of the doctors that work with us, she actually just released a study last week and was picked up by quite a few of the newspapers showing that one in seven women who experienced even just one miscarriage go on to develop PTSD. And that can have really big consequences. And sometimes we don’t even realise that we have it. So I think recognise that it will affect you emotionally, so seek help. I think, you know, it took me too long to recognise that I needed that support. And I think learn to trust yourself again and your body again and find whatever works for you to feel grateful again about the body that you have. Some people practice mindfulness, some people talk to friends, some people practice gratitude, some people dive into nutrition. Find what works and reconnect with your body so that you can start trusting it again and really get informed. The NHS makes you miscarry three times before you seek a specialist but if you trust your gut, if you think that you want to see a doctor sooner, try to find that support if you can, because there are tests that they can run, there are things that they can do without having to make you wait for three miscarriages. And the more empowered you are with information and the more balanced you can feel mentally and physically, I think the better chances we arm ourselves with.

Le’Nise: Talking about taboos. Do you think that miscarriage is still as much a taboo in terms of talking about miscarriages as it used to be?

Lina: Yeah, I think so. I think there’s definitely waves of it becoming more talked about. So I think it’s positive, it’s definitely moving in the right direction. But I think it’s still is taboo. And I still think that a lot of women attribute shame and faults to themselves. And I think one of the key things is, a lot of women when they fall pregnant, they’re told not to say anything for the first twelve weeks. But that’s when the majority of miscarriages will happen, like 85% of miscarriages, I think it’s 85% of miscarriages happen in the first twelve weeks. And so typically you haven’t told anybody at work, you’ve probably felt rotten because it’s the worst 12 weeks of the pregnancy. And then when you go to the hospital, you know, if you’ve miscarried, they’ll be like, okay, just go home and try again. So we haven’t set it out in a way that women can feel supported during those first 12 weeks, so actually, it’s quite hard. And so then you’ve gone from not telling anybody, to then saying, oh, I’ve miscarried. So women find that it’s a pretty big step, it’s hard to bring that topic up. So I think one of the first things we should think about is why is this this 12 week rule? We should just, you know, recognise that it’s something that’s very common, happens to one in four pregnancies in women. So it’s funny because it’s more common in circles of women who have struggled or tried because as soon as they get pregnant they say, they say, and they fully acknowledge that there’s a very high risk of losing it but you’re recognising it, it’s not something that you’re trying to hide. So I think there needs to be more to be done. But, you hear as more celebrities talk about it, as more women like me and you talk about women’s health, I think then you’re starting to move the needle for the next generation.

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. I remember when I had a miscarriage before I had my son and I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I didn’t know who to talk to because I thought, “Well, okay, like, it didn’t happen for me this time so I will keep trying.” But I think back to how I was feeling at the time and I remember feeling sad, but also thinking, “Well, I shouldn’t really talk about it because you know what’s the point?”

Lina: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s why this study is so important, it shows that even if you just miscarry once, you have such a higher chance of actually having a mental distress out of it. So it is something that we should talk about and make women more aware of it. I mean, I think even just the awareness that it could be quite common that it could happen to you and if it happens, these are the things that you need to do. I think this is really key.

Le’Nise: Talk to me about your company and everything you’re doing to support fertility and support women as they go through their journey. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do?

Lina: Yeah, sure. So when I was going through all the things that I went through, there were two kind of big pain points for me. One, I didn’t feel like I could access the doctors that I needed and two, the information that I got was so confusing. So that’s the two main things that we try to really break down, the barriers we try to break down. So women can come onto our platform, they create an account and they can immediately speak to women’s health specialists. And they range from obstetricians, fertility specialists and nutritionists, clinical psychologists. And we really recognise that it’s important to support somebody from medical information, but as well as nutrition and mental health. So there’s no GP gatekeeper, there’s no waiting three times to miscarry in the NHS. You can come and ask the questions, whichever question it is. And it’s through that information that we can really empower women, and because you’re actually asking experts in the field , it takes out all the noise because you know that the information that you’re getting is trusted. And that’s the key thing that we really want to help women with, because I think the more we can help women get the right support, the quicker they are in that journey. And then we really hope that through the articles that we publish, the community that we’re building, that we’re starting to break this taboo around it, so more and more women can talk about it, feel comfortable getting the support that they need. And then lastly, what we also do is we provide hormone tests and sperm tests that women can take at home because, again, it’s something that the NHS will typically ask you to wait for quite a long time before qualifying for those or if you go privately, it’s extremely expensive. So we’ve partnered with companies that are able to really reduce the price and we can just do it in the comfort of your home. So it’s really kind of disrupting the way health is delivered now to make it a lot more accessible to women.

Le’Nise: And what made you decide to start this amazing company?

Lina: My personal journey, I think it was kind of going through it and just wanting to help women have an easier journey than I had. And my husband, who’s a co-founder, he’s a tech entrepreneur and he’s like, I just don’t understand how technology hasn’t helped reduce the price and the barriers to this, we need to do something. So it’s very much my personal passion and a personal pain point that we wanted to change other people’s journey and improve that for them.

Le’Nise: Do you have any success stories that you can share?

Lina: Yeah, I mean we don’t promise people they’re gonna get pregnant. I think it’s more what we promise is that you’re going to feel supported, you’re going to get the right information and we’re gonna help you then liaise with the right people that you need to. But we’ve had quite a few women come and say that they’ve gotten pregnant or that they’ve felt very supported, that they were able to access services that they hadn’t thought about before. Some women had taken our test, discovered that they had hormonal issues that they weren’t aware of and that enabled them to get the right care. So it’s really kind of heartwarming to get those messages from our users.

Le’Nise: Is it UK only or international?

Lina: Now we have users from like 35, almost 40 countries. So people have found us, they come and they chat with our experts, they read the content. So it’s worldwide.

Le’Nise: Oh, amazing. Amazing. So if a listener could take one thing from everything you’ve been saying, what would you want that to be?

Lina: Celebrate your body. You know, be really proud of the body and grateful for the body that we have as women. It is so strong. It’s you know, it gives life. It nourishes and take care of it and love it. And don’t underestimate the connection of your mind and your body and trust it and wherever your mind goes, your body will follow.

Le’Nise: Amazing, amazing. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Lina: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

How well do you know your menstrual cycle?

swan at the round pond

This isn’t a trick question!

 

There are a few signs that tell you it’s worth becoming more familiar with your menstrual cycle.

 

Are you surprised every month when your period arrives? Do you get hit like a brick with PMS every month, feeling like it’s come out of nowhere? Do you track your period by when you get PMS symptoms?

 

Ladies, there is a better way!

 

Knowing more about your menstrual cycle and embracing it can benefit you in so many ways.

 

Firstly, I encourage you to download one of the many period tracker apps out there and start tracking your menstrual cycle and symptoms. At the very least, you won’t be surprised when your period arrives every month #whitejeansallyear

 

After a few months, you start to get a sense of the length of your cycle. And it’s really important to know  that not every woman has a 28 day cycle. Some women’s cycles can be as short as 21 days and as long as 35 days. Every woman’s cycle is different so don’t compare yourself or your cycle to your friends.

 

Once you know when your period is scheduled to arrive, you can then start tackling your PMS. Many women get PMS in the 7 days before their periods, with symptoms like bloating, anger, irritability, brain fog, weepiness, pain and acne. PMS is a sign that something is wrong, so please don’t accept it as normal!

 

But your cycle isn’t just about when you get your period. Did you know that you have four phases to your cycle, where each of your sex hormones will peak or decrease depending on the phase?  This is why you might have more or less physical and emotional energy at certain times of your cycle or your libido might be higher or lower. It’s all connected to your hormones.

 

Knowledge is power. Knowing the ins and outs of your menstrual cycle can help you manage it better, get to grips with PMS, period pain, heavy bleeding and emotional ups and downs.

 

Do you need help understanding your cycle and your hormones? Book in for a free 20 minute Hormone Health Review!

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Stories I loved this week.

Happy weekend! I can’t wait to hang out with my husband and son and relax this weekend.  And it’s Bonfire Night on Saturday! We’re going to check out our local Guy Fawkes fireworks display and let J have a few sparklers  – can’t wait!

What are you up to this weekend?

How it feels when your friends have babies. (Refinery 29)

What to eat when you have no idea what to cook. (The Pool)

I learned how to sharpen knives on Leiths knife skills course last year and it has been a revelation for my food prep. (Lucky Peach)

I love this idea of fine dining club for young children and their parents. I was a part of one when I was on maternity leave and it was incredible to be able to try some of the top restaurants in London with my son with me. (Bon Appetit)

The woman is incredible – doing so much, with a little toddler by her side. (Motherly)

How to choose a probiotic that will actually work. (Well + Good)

This is one of the best things I’ve read in a while. (Nplusone)

In case you missed it earlier on the blog…

I made chestnut pancakes and they were sooo good.

I’ve been wondering why we don’t talk about nutritious eating more.

Intentions not resolutions: how to create good habits in 2016

fireworks

It’s almost 2016 (eep!) and it’s that time of the year when the best of 2015 and 2016 to do lists come rolling out.

Do you make resolutions at the beginning of the year?

I don’t. Controversial, I know.

I prefer to set intentions. Ahem, you ask, how are those different to resolutions?

Intentions are about setting the focus for the year and aren’t as vague as resolutions. Intentions are about creating new habits and breaking bad habits. They’re much much more focused and specific, taking into consideration personality traits (i.e. are you a Questioner or an Obliger? An Abstainer or a Moderator?). Research shows that it takes at least 10 weeks to build a new habit, good or bad.

So rather than just resolving to lose weight in 2016, a more intentional approach would be to identify a realistic (to you!) and consistent plan of action (i.e. a green smoothie  with protein for breakfast each morning, putting 3-4 workouts or classes in the diary each week, going to bed by 10:30pm each night, etc) with each part of the plan helping to establish good habits and remove bad habits. A few checkpoints, be they monthly or quarterly, will help to course correct if the plan isn’t working.

The main thing is that your plan needs to be specific to your needs and wants, not something cookie cutter from an off the shelf programme. Only you know if you are the type of person that responds to outward or inward motivation, that needs to abstain from certain food or activities or can indulge every once in a while.

What are my intentions for 2016?

Time: My biggest intention is to be more aware of how I spend my time. I find myself drifting back into spending a lot of time surfing the web, reading trashy gossip sites. I want to be more intentional with my time, focusing on the things I need to do, like my coursework and research and use books (including the Kindle app on my iPhone) not the internet to unwind. My plan is to give myself 20-30 minutes each day to web surf and after that, any internet time needs to be focused and productive.

Exercise: I want to continue my habit of exercising 4-5 times a week, with a scheduled (and booked!) spin class on Mondays and 4 at-home resistance training sessions. I’ve just started Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide 2.0, which is nicely split into 4 workouts per week, running a total of 12 weeks. Getting from week 13 to week 24 is a good target for me, especially knowing that I was able to finish weeks 1 – 12 of Kayla’s guide with good progress.

Writing: I want to post at least 3 times a week on this blog – a mix of recipes, nutrition information based on what I’m currently studying and other wellness / self-improvement posts. I’ve finally made 2 posts a week a habit and want to experiment with 3 posts for the next three months.

What are your intentions for 2016?

Photo by kazuend

What happens after baby led weaning?

Photo by leonie wise

When my son was three months old and I felt that we really had a handle on breastfeeding, I started to think about the next step – introducing him to solid food. My plan was to start giving him solids at six months, the age NHS recommends and the age when baby’s gut lining becomes less permeable and they have have a more mature, closed gut.

At five and a half months, all the signs of food readiness were there:

  • J could sit up without support
  • He had lost the tongue thrust reflex and was not pushing things out of his mouth with his tongue
  • He was trying to chew
  • He had a pincer grasp and could pick things up between his thumb and forefinger
  • He was grabbing food from my plate and seemed genuinely curious about trying what we were eating

So one day, I gave him some avocado, he seemed to enjoy eating and playing with it and we started to introduce more food slowly from there.

Anecdotally, many parents expect breastfeeding to reduce when they introduce solids. I can personally attest to the fact that this is not always the case. At seven months, J was still breastfeeding 5 times during the day and at least three times at night. It was only at 8-9 months when M and I started giving him three meals and two snacks a day, did the breastfeeding cut down to three times in the day and a few times at night.

Now that J is 17 months old, past the baby led weaning stage and no longer breastfeeding, what do we give him to eat? I started to think about this properly today after receiving the latest NHS email (which I find very informative). This email included a link to a Netmums page with lots of toddler recipe ideas, which got me thinking.

There is no doubt that feeding a toddler can be tricky.

They go through food fads, they refuse to eat when they’re tired, timing is key when you want them to try new things and they’re prone to throwing food all over the kitchen if they don’t like something. But the thing is, they’re capable of eating a lot more than we think and we need to trust them when they tell us they’re full – when J starts throwing food, the meal is over and I take him out of his high chair.

I’ve never really understood the recommendation to give babies and toddlers bland food. How will they develop a complex palate if they’re only exposed to mushy purées with no seasoning from the time they start solids? The same applies to toddlers. They are capable of trying and eating a much wider range of food that we seem to give them credit for.

Image courtesy of Maya Picture at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Maya Picture at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Think of the Koreans, who give their babies and toddlers kimchi, gradually increasing the spiciness until they’re capable of eating the same kimchi as their parents. The same goes for Indian and Pakistani parents who start their kids off with a mild daal, increasing the spiciness as they get older.

My personal experience of this comes from my Bahamian mother, who loves the spicy food from her native country and other surrounding Caribbean countries and would think nothing of giving my brother and I a spicy conch salad or rice and peas when we were toddlers, because she knew it was good for our palates and that we had to build up a tolerance to spiciness over time.

I try to apply these principles to my son J, who loves his food and generally loves to try new things. When M and I go out to eat, he’ll typically eat what we eat – steak, fish, bunless burgers, chicken, fish, curries, roasts, etc. M and I aren’t fussy eaters and enjoy trying new things, so J will generally eat from our plates as I’m not a massive fan of ordering from kid’s menus in restaurants.

At home, a typical day of food might look like this for J:

Breakfast: Omelettes, scrambled eggs or oatmeal with fruit

Lunch: Quiche, savoury tarts, stews, couscous with veg and hummus

Snacks: Banana, sweet potato, cheese, raspberries or blueberries, chorizo, fruit pouches (we like Ella’s Kitchen and Plum Baby)

Dinner: Leftovers from our dinner the night before. J eats his dinner a lot earlier than us so we typically eat something different to him and I make enough for him to eat the next day.

We definitely haven’t cracked it. Someday J eats a lot and will eat everything we offer and will do so with a fork or spoon. And then I do my happy mom dance!

Other days, he’s in discomfort from molars cutting through, sick, distracted or just plain tired, he doesn’t want to try anything new or eat much at all. What I’ve learned is that you just have to roll with it, not take it personally and know that they’ll probably eat more the next meal.  If you look at what they eat over a week, it all balances out.

Operation rebuild the gut bacteria!

During the summer, M had some trouble with his nose and his doctor put him on two four week courses of really strong antibiotics. You all know the story… the antibiotics managed to clear up the nose problem, but killed all the good bacteria in his stomach.

He was prescribed some probiotics to take with the antibiotics, but forgot to take them. Cue the last two months of upset stomachs, colds and general fatigue and grittiness. After M went to bed at 9pm the other night with an upset stomach, he finally decided to look at ‘alternative’ medicine to help heal his gut bacteria and get him back on the right track. I’m hoping that this becomes a slow route to paleo eating, but we’ll see as I’m dealing with quite the cynic over here!

After throwing quite a lot of good research on how many bacterial cells there are in our bodies – there are over 100,000,000,000,000 microorganisms and over 400 known bacterial species –  at him, I went over to my local branch of As Nature Intended and had a long chat with the store’s in house nutritionists about the best way forward.

I ended up buying some kimchi and sauerkraut, but I would be completely amazed if M actually ate any of it, as he can be a bit picky about his food choices. As you can see from the photo below, I also got some coconut kefir and some probiotic capsules.

I’m personally very intrigued at how this little experiment is going to go, as it’s better to try these things out, rather than suffer, right? After all, the stomach isn’t just for food – there’s a huge gut – brain connection that we’re only just scratching the surface of. I’ve been listening to Underground Wellness’ most recent podcast on digestive health and I’m super excited to check out The Digestion Sessions to go deeper into this fascinating topic!

I completed the #whole30!

And here it is, 30 days later and I’ve completed my first Whole 30. What did I learn (because I always have to be learning something)?

1. My craving for wine was so very real and only really left me after day 20.

A glass of nice red wine with dinner and one after dinner used to be my ritual. When you have a baby and a new freelance gig, rituals and routines are important for a sense of stability. It was so very hard to break this habit. Even tonight, I had a brief hankering for a glass.

2. I am an emotional snacker

My venture back into the world of work has started with a nice freelance gig, which means I’m back to being a desk jockey for more of the day. My stress levels have also increased, which has corresponded with an increase in snacking on fruit, mainly mangos. I reached peak snacking last week when I ate a whole tub of mango in one sitting. I realised that I need to be much more mindful about the way I eat in between mealtimes and really ask myself the ‘Am I hungry / thirsty?’ question.

3. I am stronger than I think

My new normal is moving an 11kg baby around, so it took me a while to realise that this was contributing to an increase in muscle. Then I started a 30 day push-up challenge and went from being able to competently do 20 modified push-ups to as of yesterday, doing 25 ‘real’ push-ups! I’m so very excited about this as this has been a long time goal of mine.

4. Once you’re in the swing of things, eating strict Paleo isn’t too hard.

I’ve been eating primally off and on for the past two years, so going into the Whole 30 wasn’t a huge transition for me. Ordering in restaurants can sometimes be a bit tricky, but generally wait staff tend to more au fait with off menu ordering than they used to be.

5. I struggle not to weigh myself.

My weight has gone up and down my whole life, so it’s been really, really hard not to weigh myself on my fancy digital scales each morning. My jean size has gone from a 31-32” to a 29-30”, which I’m so very happy about – I’ll take that #nonscalevictory!

My body is still settling down, hormonally, after stopping breastfeeding, so I’m going to go for a Whole45 and maybe even a Whole 60. This will really give my body a break and allow my hormones to return to some sort of equilibrium.

Should I give my son cow’s milk?

Photo by Sonja Langford

My son has just turned one.

One is great – he’s an older baby, not yet a toddler, and still has that squishy cuteness I love.

We’ve been doing baby-led weaning with him since he was 5.5 months old, which for the most part, has been very successful. He controls how much he eats and generally eats most of the food we offer him. He LOVES fruit, especially bananas, dates, flat peaches and blueberries – long may this continue.

Turning one also means that he can start having whole milk. Hmmm. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about milk, mainly because I have a slight intolerance to lactose and too much of it sends me running to the nearest loo. So recently, as baby J has been dropping breastmilk feeds, going from constant all-day nursing, to just one, before bed, I’ve been getting some pressure to start him on whole milk as a replacement.

According to the NHS, children between the ages of one and three need to have around 350mg of calcium a day and about 300ml of milk (just over half a pint) would provide this. 300ml is about two small Medela bottles of milk – a lot of liquid to give to a baby that’s already drinking lots of water and eating a very diverse diet! Let’s not even get into how you get all that liquid into them when the NHS recommendation is to cut out bottles around age 1. To contrast, the US recommendation for infants age 1 is 500-700mg of calcium a day!

My view has always been that plant and seed based calcium is much more bio-available that calcium from milk. The calcium in dairy products is not as well absorbed as that in many dark green leafy vegetables – calcium absorbability from kale is considerably higher than that from cow’s milk. But we’ve been suckered into thinking that milk is the best source of calcium by some clever folks at the Milk Marketing board. Everyone knows the famous got milk? campaign, in which a very smart tagline and celebrities were used to sell the benefits of drinking milk. Ever since my teenage flirtation with vegetarianism / veganism, I’ve always wondered why we drink so much milk from another species. We’re the only mammal that does this!

And now that I have a child, I’m really resistant to the idea of giving him cups and cups of whole milk as an easy source of calcium. When I’ve discussed this with M, his question back to me has always been, “But will it harm baby J to have milk?”. My answer is yes. I can’t always guarantee that he will have organic whole milk, free from antibiotics and hormones, especially at nursery. What I can guarantee is that J eats a varied, nutritious diet.

What’s also really important is that I make sure that J gets enough vitamin D to help absorb calcium. With the amazing summer that we’ve had, we can make vitamin D from sunlight on our skin and during the winter, I need to make sure J eats a lot of oily fish and egg yolks.

So what foods have I been giving J to make sure he gets enough calcium each day?

1. Chia seed puddings

These are so easy to make and J loves them!

2. Kale in smoothies

I’ve been blessed with a baby that loves fruit and (some) veg. I whack some kale into a fruit smoothie and J drinks it down!

3. Dates, dates, dates

J loves dates and usually eats at least two a day. He also loves the almond date bars I make – a bonus!

4. Cheese and yoghurt

I only organic cheese and focus on giving J the really rich tasting, complex cheeses, to help develop his palate. He loves strength 7 cheddar, Camembert, mozzarella, goat’s cheese, amongst many, many others. If I give J yoghurt, I only give him greek yoghurt or goat’s milk yoghurt.

Here’s a handy little chart of calcium-rich non-dairy foods.

image

Spicy tuna cakes!

I’ve been obsessed with nomnompaleo‘s cookbook since I bought it a few weeks ago. And like any good cook, I often add my own twists and adaptations to the original recipes.

This afternoon, while baby J was sleeping, I decided to try out the Spicy Tuna Cakes recipe, as I had eyed it last week and made sure I added some nice albacore tuna to my Ocado order.

I changed things up from the original recipe by adding red peppers, garlic and onions for some crunch and colour and ground coriander and smoked paprika to give it an additional depth of flavour.

If you haven’t invested in these silicone muffin cases, I highly recommend doing so. They are so easy, environmentally friendly and no-fuss! After they cooled, the fish cakes slipped right out of the cases and on to the plate.

What’s the verdict? Well, I’ll definitely make them again, but…next time, I’ll use more seasoning and reduce the amount of mashed sweet potato, as the fish cakes were a little too wet for my liking.

The added red pepper, onion and garlic was good for the extra texture and next time, I’ll probably add some shredded carrot as well for even more crunch!

Paleo granola for the non-paleo

My husband has always loved granola and for years, a bowl of Jordan’s granola with milk was his go-to breakfast. For the last few months, I’ve been really conscious about getting him to think about what’s in the packaged food he likes to eat. When I mentioned the gut-busting 12.4g of sugar in a 45g bowl of his favourite Crunchy Oat Granola with Raisin and Almond, he finally seemed interested in trying paleo and primal alternatives.

I made my first batch of primal / paleo granola a few weeks ago and it was a really big hit. We finally ran out on Friday, so I decided to make a fresh batch this afternoon after a tough night with a poorly bub. I find cooking so therapeutic and relaxing; the perfect thing to do (other than nap, which I also found time for this afternoon!) when the baby’s napping.

After feedback that the last batch had a little too much coconut oil in it and not enough honey, I made some tweaks to this batch. In my trusty Mason Cash bowl, I mixed:

  • 400g flaked almonds
  • 200g pecan nuts
  • 100g macadamia nuts
  • 200g walnuts
  • 100g dessicated coconut
  • 100g currants
  • 100g chopped dates

Then I added 1.5 tablespoons of ground cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of ground nutmeg and mixed it all together. I upped the cinnamon and nutmeg to the entire recipe because I reckoned that it would add the sweet flavour that my husband wanted without creating a massive insulin response.

In a small pot, I then blended 100g of coconut oil, 50g of raw honey and another tablespoon each of ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg under a low heat for two minutes.

Once you’re happy, you can store the granola in big Tupperware containers and should last for a week or two, depending on how many people you need to feed in the morning.

Et voila! Enjoy!