Please tell our readers a little about yourself...
I am 28, currently living in Essex but about to move back to Sydney, Australia to be with my partner. We lived out there for 4 years before I moved back home due to my health but cannot wait to be back by the ocean. My favourite hobbies are about enjoying the small moments, being able to spend time with friends, going for a nice coffee, being near any kind of open water or managing a little walk. When I am unwell I enjoy tv series, podcasts, audiobooks and I can crochet at a ridiculously slow pace.
How did your journey begin into becoming a personal trainer, Pilates instructor and physiotherapist?
I have always been passionate about exercise and movement. I spent my youth swimming, dancing & running until several injuries lead to my diagnosis of Ehlers Danlos Type III. I was in a wheelchair aged 13 and had to relearn to walk again which showed me the impact physiotherapists could have. At the time I felt doctors couldn’t do much to help whereas physios made a huge difference which ignited my passion to be a physio! I started pilates a few years later and fell in love with it, completing my Pilates qualifications over the first few years after graduating as a physiotherapist. I then was given an opportunity to do my personal training qualification last year and thought it would be a great addition to my skills. I love learning and think the human body is fascinating!
What made you want to follow the path of working within the health and wellbeing sector?
I am a big empath, and as cliché as it sounds I love being able to help others. I think it’s true that its hard to ‘get’ chronic illness and truly understand it, unless you experience it yourself. I use my insight with what it’s like living with chronic pain and fatigue to know how to help others going through similar things. I don’t believe in quick fixes or cures, but I do believe in the benefit of movement for everyone, no matter what level. I love being able to show someone what they can do even from the comfort of their own bed to help them feel stronger. I think I am the queen of moving without really moving that much!
You live with a variety of chronic illness. What have been the most fundamental lessons you have learnt in this time and what advice would you offer others who are walking a similar journey?
I think knowing that we can endure so much more than we think we can. When I think what I have been through the last few years, I would not be able to imagine coping with it all and yet I have. When I became acutely well in Australia, I had to leave my home, my dream job and my life behind, it felt like everything I had worked towards was falling apart. Yet now 3 years later, although it wasn’t what I planned, I love my job now and it felt like everything has kind of led me to this point.
You recently launched Actively Autoimmune, the place where you can combine all of your skills to serve others, targeting those living with chronic illness. How has it been setting up your own company?
I started Actively Autoimmune in 2017 as an Instagram account to help others find a way to exercise with chronic illness, and track my own story. I had no idea then that it would grow into what it is today. Starting my own business has been the best thing I have ever done and overall has been a really positive experience. I did the princes trust entrepreneur program which was an amazing support. I started out by selling products to fund my business and buy the equipment I needed to film etc. Then this year I was finally able to do what I love – working with clients! It’s been such a learning process, and the hardest thing is doing everything with such little energy. But equally I can make my work sustainable alongside my illness which is amazing to have that flexibility!
You have easily adapted your work to the current global pandemic, allowing you to offer 1-1 personal training to clients, offering online group classes as well as posting wonderfully helpful short-snippet videos to help others with their fitness. How has this period been for your brand and have you seen an increase in others taking interest in looking after themselves?
In many ways it suddenly made what I was planning on doing more normal! I thought there was a need for more accessible ways to have appointments, as the irony of making yourself more unwell from travelling to seek help is not lost on me. But suddenly the whole world was making it an okay thing for virtual appointments and online pilates, so it made launching at this time seem logical. Also as many of those with chronic illness were told to shield and gyms etc. were closed, I think more people were seeking ways to exercise safely from home. A number of clients also said with less work and social commitments, they felt they had the time and space to focus on themselves too. I managed to launch my e-book, Actively Essentials early in April and open my virtual doors by the end of the month and I couldn’t believe how quickly I was fully booked!
For those keen on beginning their Pilates journey, how long each day should one aim to practice to see a benefit and what exercises would you suggest?
To quote Joesph Pilates, “In 10 sessions you'll feel the difference, in 20 sessions you'll see the difference, and in 30 sessions you'll have a whole new body”. Whilst I would never promise a whole new body, this is generally true as it takes about 4 weeks of regular consistent exercises to actually build strength and feel the difference. It completely depends what level of Pilates you do and what else you include in your routine, but generally around 30-45 min per session is a good place to start between 3-5 sessions a week! If you have a chronic illness we often start with 15 minute sessions and you’ll still be surprised at how much you can still feel the burn without moving that much!
Coronavirus has changed so much of our world, yet for those living with chronic illness the slower pace of life, the isolation, the focus on health, is something all-too-familiar. How have you personally found this period, and what would you like to keep when its all over?
Personally it was that realization that my life hasn’t really changed that much, other than I no longer went out to medical appointments. I spend so much time at home anyway, my routine did not change. I did quite enjoy knowing for once I didn’t have ‘fomo’ as everyone was at home too. I also really hope that a positive from all this is it’s going to shine a brighter light on the importance of health, and helping research conditions like ME/CFS and autoimmune conditions. Most importantly – I love that everyone now knows how to wash their hands properly!
What does your morning routine look like?
I wake up and immediately want to go back to sleep again – I am not a morning person. It takes me a long time to come round and feel human as lots of my symptoms are worse first thing before medication. Once I have eventually got up, I do my catheter care and then get washed and dressed. I then have my least favourite meal of the day, breakfast, whilst catching up the news and give myself more time to come round before doing my med routine. I try and be at my desk by 9am with a coffee and pretend to look and feel more lively than I actually am!
What little moments of wellbeing do you add into your everyday?
As my body lives in constant fight or flight, I try to add moments of calm to soothe my nervous system. I try to be mindful on the activity I am doing, I try to reduce the background noise of always needing the tv or a podcast on and I try to fit in an afternoon rest in silence. I meditate 1-2 times a day using the headspace app and I find movement really beneficial too. I try to do some form of movement each day even if it’s only a few leg raises or stretches, very much believe in my favourite phrase of ‘do what you can, when you can”.
What inspires you?
People! I think I am lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderfully different people. My partner D, for always helping me see the funny side of things and motivating me to believe in myself. My parents for both being such incredibly resilient despite both of them having their own health issues. My brother and sister in law for being annoyingly clever and such hard workers. My friends for each having been through their own battles and being so wise and kind. And the chronic illness community for enduring so much and yet are some of the most positive and grateful humans I have been lucky enough to meet!
What keeps you motivated?
I have a strong desire to function! I think when your ability to do much is taken from you, you really do appreciate the things you are able to do so much more. I want to enjoy the moments I can, so this motivates me to keep plodding through the boring, difficult times so I can experience those magical moments. I feel my expectations are so much lower than I set myself when I was younger, and yet my motivation is higher than ever.
What do you wish to see more of in the world?
Compassion! Both to others and to ourselves. I feel we can all be so hard on ourselves, and then we are often judgmental to others as that’s how we are used to talking to ourselves. If we are all spoke to each other to how we speak to our best friend and worry less about comparison I think the world would be a much nicer place.
What’s your happy place?
At my favourite beach down the coast from Sydney with D as I have incredible memories there. It has a little path to get to the beach, and you walk through the trees to white sand, and blue water – it’s actually paradise. I have pictured that walk so often when in hospital or struggling with pain, it represents so much that I love. When I finally made it last year I had tears in my eyes I was finally well enough to be back there.
Follow Zoe's journey on @activelyautoimmune and learn more about her pilates journey/take her classes at: www.activelyautoimmune.com.