An Inspirational Story of a Young Woman
This week I have something special for you; an interview with a very unique and inspirational young woman, Ella Vine.
I heard of Ella through a business article reporting on an innovative award she’d been given for the first ever popper stocking suspender fastening. You may, like me, have had experiences with suspender belts and the awfully fiddly bits of rubber that are meant to fit easily into the plastic loopy bit – nightmare! Having worked with Burlesque performers I’ve often heard words of frustration both on and off stage. As for people with disabilities who have to wear such garments daily, the introduction of simple poppers is liberating. So impressive is Ella’s idea that it was the former head of lingerie M&S loved it and who knows what exciting collaborations lie ahead .
But hold on, that’s not what this interview ended up being about…
I researched Ella with the expectation of hearing about her creative business background but was extremely surprised to discover she was a strong political activist with an incredibly interesting and resilient past.
A three times chess champion in her native home of Poland at the age of 10, she was also a victim of domestic abuse and at 17 became homeless. She came to the UK with no money and little English. She went on to graduate from two universities in politics, social services and community development.
Now at 31 she’s a human rights campaigner for the rights of equality groups, including migrants, women and disabled people. She has founded, led, chaired and managed over 10 charities and campaigning organisations.
Believe it or not, the suspender clip idea was something she’d created whist being bed bound for several months having been struck with fibromyalgia which causes systemic chronic pain and fatigue.
The following is an interview I did with her a couple of weeks ago to try to understand what inspired her to do what she does and how she copes with the tough moments in life. It’s pretty in depth so make yourself a cuppa and settle down to be inspired!
You can find out more of Ella’s future plans here www.ellavine.co.uk
P.S If you enjoyed this interview please do let me know by commenting below and I’ll offer up some more!
An Inspirational Story of a Female Activist & Lingerie Designer
You’ve chosen to support Women’s Aid through your fashion business (2% of your crowd funding funds are donated). What inspired you to help others?
Since my teens, I’ve been helping others. I was about 10 years old when I came to the conclusion that there had to be a bigger purpose to life. I started as a human rights activist when was at university and it carried on from there. I have always had a strong urge to help others, whoever they are. Being involved in politics is just a broadening of my work for wider social benefit.
I struggled for a long time to put concisely why I do what I do, because how would you describe such a strong internal urge to help others? I now describe my life purpose as; “to ease the suffering of as many people as possible”.
I chose to support Women’s Aid as my company’s chosen charity as I understand what it’s like to be a victim. My life experiences and observations have been difficult but have helped me to understand other people’s situations. I can physically feel other peoples’ pain, be it emotional or physical. This isn’t easy to live with as it can be emotionally draining but it’s also very rewarding.
Since falling ill with last year fibromyalgia and recently arthritis, I became very spiritual and can see now the situation in a clearer light. While before I wasn’t quite sure where my urge to help others came from, I now understand it better and am even more convinced that this is just my life purpose.
It takes commitment and time to get a business up and running during which support is essential. How did you find the right people to work with to reach your goals?
I started it on my own, with no money and when being bed bound. It wasn’t and still isn’t easy but it’s totally worth it, as working for yourself gives you freedom and satisfaction.
I went to free business courses, including 1 ½ years mentoring from Essex County Council and the Essex Innovation programme.
I would recommend mentoring to anyone who wants to start a business. Research shows that start-ups that used mentoring have a higher survival rate than those which don’t.
The strong point of my business is innovation and it was easier to break through the saturated fashion/lingerie industry without a marketing budget.
Just after 6 years of starting work in the UK as a care assistant you became a CEO of a national charity supporting those living with fibromyalgia. What went through your mind when you were struck down by this condition and we’re bed bound for several months? How did you get through that period and be inspired you to carry on and not just hide under the duvet?
I have lived with a few long term conditions since my teens, but I wasn’t aware about most of them until recently. I thought that getting unusually tired was just how I was and so just carried on going, resting in between. I put any pain down to an old back injury.
My life was unbalanced. I put everything into my charity and campaigning work and it resulted in falling very ill and becoming bed bound for over 6 months.
That’s when severe fibromyalgia and M.E. symptoms started. I had to work only part time from home for the fibromyalgia charity and look after my 7 year old son. The hardest bit was to give up all my charity, campaigning, political and trade union work. It felt like bereavement.
From the sheer exhaustion, body pain, brain fog etc. my mood became very low. For the first time in my life I couldn’t change it. I couldn’t get on the top of the condition and control it.
It’s taken 10 months to feel normal again. It took a lot of hard work and commitment but mostly, a total belief that I will get better. There was no other option for me than to get better.
I knew that I would not be able to carry on helping people if I was ill myself for the rest of my life. That was a terrifying thought. So I can say that in a way, it was my life purpose (and unbalanced life) that led me to becoming bed bound, and it was also my life purpose that got me out of it.
There is no magic pill for most chronic conditions; self-management makes all the difference. Yes, it requires a lot of energy, time and a strong will, but it is totally worth it.
The things I did every day to get better were: healthy diet (eliminating sugar, coffee, alcohol), taking vitamins and mineral supplements like omega 3, co-enzyme Q10, turmeric, primrose oil, L-carnitine, pacing (which is energy management technique), heat therapy (wheat bags heated in the microwave), hot massage chair, short walks every day two or three times a day, cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation, including meditation and hypnotherapy (apps on my phone).
Visualisation and the Arts played an enormous role. I’ve never been interested in classical Arts but during my healing process, I started listening regularly to classical music, going to piano concerts, watching ballet, even singing opera at home. Through starting to sew and design fashion is how the idea for my lingerie company started.
I think that creativity and arts were important part of my healing process.
The last step in the healing process was that I became very spiritual. We know that trauma and illness can change people. It can be a spiritual awakening and this is what happened to me.
I’ve found that I’ve developed psychic skills. Now I’m training as a psychic and a medium and am helping people by giving them readings. I love it! I also do energy and psychic healing which I’m really excited about.
I’ve since been diagnosed with spondyloarthritis (an incurable genetic autoimmune condition causing arthritis in the spine and body) and a heart condition that is causing fatigue. Together with fibromyalgia the symptoms are still disabling and I have to have to rest every day.
Positive thinking is what made all the difference. I would say that positive thinking is a key to healing and to living with any chronic condition.
Although I’m unable to do many things, I now lead a more balanced life and am a happier and better person. I’m more there for my family and friends, more creative and feel stronger. I can honestly say that this illness was the most difficult experience in my and conquering it was the most freeing and amazing thing I’ve ever done. Yes, I still have the health conditions but I say: “I’m not ill, I just have the symptoms”. That’s the attitude that allows me to live my life to the full. I wish it to everyone who is chronically ill.
As a mum, model, entrepreneur and political activist, what do you do for yourself to keep well or manage symptoms if they arise?
I still have to manage my symptoms, and my regime sometimes slips and I get flare ups; sometimes I am ill 6 days of out 7. It’s hard to live very healthily every day, especially as busy working mum but it’s my choice to be busy. Every day, I use hypnotherapy apps on my phone and I must have 2-3 walks, relax and take frequent breaks daily.
What’s your concept of being healthy?
Being happy and living life to the full. I’m not healthy in the common sense of this word as have chronic conditions, but I manage them quite well. I feel mentally healthy and happy and those are the main points.
I think if you have long term conditions it’s important to accept and manage them, so you don’t let them rule your life. When I get a flare up I just think: “OK, so I am taking the time off, that’s actually nice. It will be good to take time off”, instead of feeling down or angry about it.
As a result the flare ups pass very quickly. I will go to bed, listen to a hypnotherapy app for half an hour and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go.
I do it with patience, with no negative emotions. When I go to bed I think that I will be OK once I will have a rest. And it always happens.
What is your favourite thing to do to help you relax and recharge?
Stopping everything I am doing. Creativity awakens when we allow for a total relaxation and it gives us so much happiness and recharges us. I love taking hot baths and listening to classical or opera music. I’ve created a lovely space in my bathroom, almost like a Roman bath, with candlelight lighting up some mini classical sculptures. It takes me to different world. I have so many Eureka and great business ideas moments in the bath.
When things become too stressful and overwhelming, I stop and either go to sleep or do some relaxation with inspiring music. It helps to refocus, recharge and it enables clear thinking.
What’s the first hour of your morning like?
It used to be a nightmare, as many people with fibromyalgia will tell you; waking up even more exhausted than when you went to sleep. Breakfast would put me straight back to sleep. I struggled to walk my son to school. I also suffered from sleep issues but I read books on CBT from my local library and took superb advice on how to reset your body clock.
It involved a lot of strong will: in the first night I went to bed early about 10 pm and as usual couldn’t sleep; I lay wide awake for 3 hours; the second night I lay for 2 hours, the third night for an hour and then I finally fell asleep quickly. I didn’t get up when I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t put the light on, read or drink hot milk. I just patiently lay there, with no hard feelings and with a total calmness. And it worked.
I also exposed myself to sunlight first thing. I would sit by the garden door for half an hour with my breakfast, reading. Then I would start my day. It helped enormously in adjusting the body clock.
Using an insomnia hypnotherapy app helped me I sleep through the night the first time I used it. It was amazing. I now listen to insomnia hypnotherapy apps regularly and have introduced many other hypnotherapy apps for various things, like positive thinking, confidence, healing etc.
Now I feel refreshed in the morning and it’s a fantastic feeling. I like to take it slowly and do not like to rush. I do the usual things which mothers do like make myself and my son breakfast, but I relax when eating it, listening to music or reading something. I check my email and social media then take my son to school and return to start my working day.
Has there been a book or person in your life which has inspired you the most?
There isn’t actually. As I said before I have a very strong sense of my life purpose and also a very strong understanding of my own values. I don’t know where it came from but I know it’s there and is very strong.
I have learnt from others, such as by observing my bosses. I extract the good things about them and leave the not so good.
I have always admired inspirational great leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Aung San Suu Kyi – people who changed the world for a better place and helped whole nations. I have aspired to be like them.
I also admire some spiritual leaders like Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama. There is a lot to be learnt from their wisdom and peaceful, tolerant view of the world. Then there are people whose single actions inspire me, like Woodrow Wilson, the father of the League of Nations.
What’s the next thing you have to do in your lingerie business that gets you excited and motivated?
I will introduce a few more innovations and will add compression hosiery and footwear to the brand. I cannot say yet what the innovations will be but they will be revolutionary, improving women’s lives!
What vision do you have for yourself in 5 years’ time?
I would like to be an MP. Of course I want my business to be successful however my ultimate goal is to help people. I believe that you can only do that when you take responsibility and make decisions yourself.
Through campaigning for various things over many years I know that simply lobbying often doesn’t work. So to be able to change and improve things one needs to be in charge of making decisions.
You have such strong self-belief and a positive outlook on life despite having suffered domestic abuse as a child, made homeless and building a new life from nothing in a foreign country. How do you manage any fears that may arise?
I have no fears. Sometimes only a quiet niggling voice tells me ‘what if I won’t be able to fulfill my life purpose?’ but I quieten it down quickly and it motivates me even further to do the things that I do. I think that when you are convinced about your own values and the things you do, you don’t have self-doubt because you know that what you do is right, despite others trying to bring you down and telling you the opposite.
Winning the National Polish Junior Chess Championship at 10 was a complete shock. I’d only played for fun but I think it was that moment when I realised that yes, everything is possible if you believe in it.
I have never had self- doubt. When I want to do something I just do it. Even if it doesn’t work it is still a valuable lesson and usually a great fun. I have no regrets in life. I am happy for all the mistakes as they made me who I am today. I am a very curious person and want to experience life and can say, like Sinatra that “I’m doing it my way!” 🙂
If you could say one thing to somebody to empower them, what would it be?
I love the words from Alice in Wonderland: “The only way to achieve the impossible is to believe in it”. Believe in yourself. You can achieve anything you want. You can be anyone you want to be.