So far i have shared three chapters of my story with you. You discovered how my ME symptoms developed in How It Began… Part I. I then shared the journey of my diagnosis in How It Began… Part II moving on to describe how I managed my first year of university with ME in How It Began… Part III. It is no longer the beginning as we are now half way through my voyage, I’m sure you will be pleased to know? Also BEWARE, some swearing exists in this post and I’ve politely substituted **** so fill in the gaps as you please!
September 2012: When I first moved to University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Rochester, Kent, I had two plans: to flourish through my first year of university, which I can proudly say I successfully accomplished and to gain as much experience whist making as many contacts in fashion as possible, which is the tale I will share with you now.
When approaching the subject matters: INTERNSHIPS and CONTACTS, my initial thoughts were ****!!! How am I going to do this! I don’t know anyone in London and have no clue what the hell I am doing! We didn’t learn how to make contacts or how to get internships at school, or at college, even though I was studying fashion (it doesn’t make sense does it, shouldn’t this be part of the curriculum?). As always though, I was determined to succeed and to find a way to get my foot in the fashion door.
Fortunately, someone, somewhere must have been watching over me because almost immediately after moving to uni, when my mum attended one of her regular golf dinners, she discovered that her friend, Judy had some rather intriguing information, “Oh btw (Judy drops in the conversation casually) my sister works in the same building as a really famous fashion person.” My mums response was exactly the same as mine would be, “WHAAAAAT!! Find out who it is, now!”. This could be an extremely useful contact to have and it turned out to be no other than Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm Model Management and the women who discovered Kate Moss at JFK airport in 1988. OMGGGGGGG OMGGGGG OMGGGGGG it even turned out my mums friends sister, Sheron, was friends with her! What were the chances! That was it, we had to meet Sherron and find out more.
An impromptu meeting with Sherron at The Shop at Bluebird on the famous Kings Road in Chelsea had me nervous with excitement. It was sort of like going on a blind date, although my mum was also attending the date (awkward). Sherron used to run the Spa & Beauty area in the coveted concept store and introduced me to all of the staff who were simply fabulous. It was a marvellous afternoon and Sheron seemed to have many contacts to aid me through that ever revolving fashion door. These contacts included Gucci (ahhh hallelujah hallelujah) who are known for having an automatic delete system when people email them regarding internship opportunities and mine was being handed to them personally. This was it… definitely going to land my dream internship and then obviously get amazing job at Gucci and life will be made forever. That’s how this interning thing works right? It’s safe to say that I was a tad optimistic upon my big move to Kent/London because I never actually heard anything back from Gucci (insert crying emoji here). Oh well, onwards and upwards!
November 2012: Sherron was most definitely an angel sent from above. The Shop at Bluebird were hiring a visual merchandising intern and I had an interview for the position! It was straight down to business in the interview when the first thing that came out of the managers mouth was, “Before I worked here I worked at Prada’s Head Office in Milan. So, what do you do?” OH NO!!! What was I supposed to say, “I’m a 1st Year Fashion Promotion student at UCA?” WHAT HAVE I GOT MYSELF IN TO?! I had seriously thrown myself into the deep end with this one. Feeling extremely frazzled, embarrassingly under-qualified and completely overwhelmed, I without a doubt resembled Bridget Jones mid-major meltdown. All I could do was think fast so I turned the conversation back to when I first met her on my visit with Sherron and we bonded over our shared love of Tim Walker’s latest exhibition and complementary book stocked by the store. Thankfully she remembered me (imagine if she didn’t) and the fact I knew Sheron definitely lifted her sullen spirits… it was all laughs and giggles from then on! This is when the phrase ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ became a confirmation for me. The feedback was positively positive as they expressed their desire to take me on; although they needed me to work full-time and I couldn’t commit to that, so I had to pass on my first internship offer unfortunately. Although deep down a wave of relief came over me; at this starting point I was already terrified of how/if I would cope with an internship as well as uni whilst having ME. If you are a Made In Chelsea fan then you may have seen them filming at The Bluebird before, if not see for yourself this staggeringly stunning space. (images from Google)
January 2013: My next internship opportunity arose after I scrolled upon a friends Facebook status, shouting about how she had managed to secure internships at both Topshop Head Office and with the upcoming designer J.W. Anderson. She had no experience in fashion (unlike me), had never worked in retail (unlike me) and was in her first year at a notoriously bad fashion course in the North of England (unlike me). I had no idea you could get internships with so little experience/qualifications as I had been relying on contacts thus far so if she could do it then so could I. (Feel like a bitch for writing that but just observing the facts!) Considering she had already secured the internship, I kindly asked her for the contact email address at J.W. Anderson and suggested how exciting it would be if we interned there together. Unfortunately for her, she thought otherwise. She refused to give it to me and claimed she had spent days looking for it, her answer was strictly NO. What a BITCH. She was supposed to be my friend. Screw her… I’m going to find this email and get this internship myself! Within five minutes I had an internship with J.W. Anderson (not even exaggerating) and was hysterically screaming down the phone to my boyfriend, “I got my first internship!!!!!!!!!!!!” “I didn’t even know you were applying for internships?” he replied. “Neither did I until five minutes ago!”.
It turned out that my ‘friends’ university wouldn’t let her take time off to go to London to intern so I guess some call that Karma? Further down the line she had the audacity to come to me asking for my internship contacts and what was my response? Strictly NO. Double Karma?
Below I’m with the other J.W. Anderson interns on our way to the Womenswear Autumn/Winter 2013 show at London Fashion Week. (spot the blonde, that’s meeeee) You can read a blog post I previously wrote about interning at J.W. Anderson here.
At that point in time, the only people who knew about my ME were my immediate family and closest friends. I didn’t tell anyone at J.W. Anderson about it as I didn’t want to be treated differently to the other interns. I guess I was trying to contain it to my inner circle so if people didn’t know about it, it didn’t exist? Yes, I was still in denial and quickly became skilled at excuses and little white lies to cover my ME footsteps. It began on my first day of interning when I discovered we were expected to stay at the studio until 1/2/3am each night, only to return at 9am the next day. This was a highly unrealistic goal for me to achieve so I began to alter reality with ‘lies’ that couldn’t be mistaken for excuses as to why I couldn’t commit to these astonishing hours. I didn’t want to appear as if I didn’t care or that I wasn’t willing to work hard because I was, probably more than anyone, my body just wouldn’t let me. Deep down I must have been acknowledging the ME because of the adjustments I had begun to make to suit it, I just wanted to keep it my little secret.
June 2013: The severity of ME is measured by your functional ability level (see below). This is how I know whether my ME is improving, maintaining the same level or in this scenario, worsening. It had been six months since I first interned at J.W. Anderson and I found myself interning there once again. Looking back now, a significant deterioration must have happened in that period of time because this time around, I found interning almost impossible. I went from functioning at 70% to 60% and I continued to tell no-one at J.W. Anderson about my M.E. My inner circle was as tight as ever, the secret was bound by strong ties and I continued to blog showing no clue to what was going on behind closed doors.
In my blog post about interning at J.W. Anderson the second time around, I initially wrote about returning to J.W. Anderson to work on both the Menswear Spring/Summer 2014 collection and the Womenswear Resort 2014 collection but only one collection was mentioned in my post.
After the Womenswear Resort 2014 collection was complete and the lookbook had been shot, it was time to move onto the Menswear Spring/Summer 2014 collection. I had worked at J.W. Anderson for the lead up to fashion week before so I knew what was expected of us. Mentally I was ready for it and physically I thought I could only assume I was ready for it. It had only been six months since the last show so surely I could do it again, couldn’t I?
As show day drew nearer, the nights got longer and with every twenty-four hours that went by, I pushed my body, I forced it to function and I demanded from it every ounce of strength it could give. We worked from 9am until on average 2/3 am, seven days a week with not a minutes break (you ate lunch on the go) and it got to the point where the staff were even asking us to stay on their sofas, not far from the studio in Dalston so we spent less time travelling back and forth from our own places.
I knew things were coming to an end when one evening I was told I had to sprint to the nearest Tesco (it was midnight and about to close) because Jonathan wanted cigarettes and he wanted them NOW. But Jonathan wasn’t in the studio working was he, he was out to dinner with friends at a local Dalston restaurant. Were they serious? Were they actually asking me to do this? I didn’t have time to think, I had to leave there and then to make it in time and god forbid what would have happened if I didn’t. Fired maybe? There was an army of interns at the front door desperate to take my place (yes the fashion industry really works like this). Upon arriving at local hipster restaurant, I expected some sort of gratitude for doing this, especially considering I was doing this for FREE after all! But no, I didn’t get it and I didn’t even get an acknowledgement when I put the cigarettes right in front of him. He continued his intimate conversation with super stylist Benjamin Bruno as if I hadn’t almost killed myself to do this for him (of course he had no idea of my ME, that is beyond the point though). I walked straight out and never went back! Well, actually I wish that was the case – It seemed the iconic fashion film ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ was becoming my reality.
My friends and family called my experience of interning ‘slave labour’ and couldn’t understand why I was doing it to myself but I knew that is how most interns in the fashion industry are treated and if you didn’t do it then you would be replaced almost instantaneously, have no experience on your CV and you would never get a real-life paid job (yes they do exist). I found myself in a familiar territory, torn between my career and my health. I didn’t have to make the decision though because my body decided for me when it took ME to a whole other level. When I woke the following morning and placed my feet firmly on the floor, the excruciating pain shooting through them up and around my entire body was indescribable and unbearable to the point where I couldn’t stand and most certainly couldn’t walk. What on earth was happening to me??? The pain had been building up over a period of weeks, as was the difficulty I found walking. I really thought I had somehow seriously injured my feet and knew that this was the final straw. I dosed myself up on painkillers and hobbled to the studio, collapsing on arrival whilst explaining my injury and how I could no longer intern there. I packed up my London life once again to return home and found with complete bedrest the pain was completely gone within a week. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my feet, it was my body telling me it couldn’t take anymore, it wasn’t just the final straw for me, it was the final straw for my body and it told me this by not allowing me to walk. I had been masking pain for over a year, by taking on average twelve-fifteen painkillers in order to get me through each day until my GP explaining how dangerous this is so don’t do it fellow spoonies! (A spoon is anyone who suffers from a chronic illness, explained here). I now know that pain is a warning sign if you have ME, it is a dialogue between you and your body, listen to it. These are some of the wisest words I have ever heard when it comes to ME but hindsight is a wonderful word and will feature many times in the life of ME sufferers.
You are not going to believe what I am about to tell you but I’m going to tell you anyway. Just two weeks had gone by since I had left J.W. Anderson and moved my entire life back home to Staffordshire when I received a phone call from my friend (well another contact made through my mum and the golf club) she was Head of Marketing and Social Media at Religion Clothing and asking me to intern for them. I am crumbling whilst writing this… you probably know me well enough by now to know what I do when an opportunity of this sort arises. Do I say NO or do I say YES? Writing this blog has helped me piece my ever so complicated ME puzzle together into a journey I now understand and looking back, all I’m thinking is what the **** **** **** was I thinking?
I’m actually shaking my head to myself whilst writing this. You can read more about my experience interning at Religion Clothing here. Feeling very angry at myself right now!
I will try and keep this one short and sweet because I’m starting to sound like a broken record! I am proud to say that I approached this internship differently to the last by negotiating my hours to ensure that I would ‘only’ be working 9am-6pm, I would have the weekends off and I would solely be working in the Head Office and not running around London. I even told them about my ME (big move here guys) so i wouldn’t have to do anything strenuous in the office. The first day could have been a sign for what was to come but for once I can happily say that it wasn’t (SMILEY FACE). As soon as I arrived at the office, I was asked to return to my new home in London to retrieve my laptop… for anyone else this wouldn’t have been a problem but for someone with mild-moderate ME the thought of walking another ten minutes was absolutely dire so I ran home in five, got straight into bed for another five, before hauling myself back to the office. There was no way I was going to cope if this was only the first day but by some sort of miracle, I actually lasted three months at this internship! This was a HUGE achievement for me, smirking, proud faces all around.
At Religion I worked in the sales showroom, learning how to sell the collection to buyers (including my personal favourite ASOS). There was just one other intern and two paid staff working in the showroom so there was much more opportunity to ‘prove myself’ compared to J.W. Anderson where I had fifteen other interns to compete with to ‘stand out’. I swiftly rose to the challenge, beginning by inputting orders into the system, moving on to observing how the collection is sold to the buyers, then to assisting the meetings and then onto actually taking the meetings myself, which I’m sure wasn’t part of the internship role! The opportunity to do so came about when my boss hired another intern who he met in a bar (not even joking) and then began dating her, whisking her away for lunches, which turned into afternoons and days off so I was left to take his meetings with the buyers! I used this opportunity to my full advantage and learnt more than I ever expected to but when the three month mark came by, I realised that I was actually doing his job, the job he was getting paid to do and I wasn’t. There comes a point whilst undertaking an internship when you realise there is nothing else you can learn from it and this is the point where you decide to move on. I am delighted to say that I left this internship by choice and not by the choice of my ME.
September 2013: Shortly after meeting super Sherron, she sent Storm Model Management my CV inquiring about internship opportunities for me, which I had no idea about until they emailed me asking me when I wanted to intern for them………… Can you imagine my face when I received this email. I actually thought it was a mistake because interning at Storm is HUGE. There was a year-long waiting list and a rota of two new interns each week, most who got on the list due to the ever so important term ‘contacts’, which is exactly how I got on the highly esteemed ‘list’. A year later and it was my time to shine. I was lucky enough for it to be during London Fashion Week, which for obvious reasons is the most exciting time to be at a modelling agency.
The day-to-day tasks in the Storm office (images above from Google) were as expected; updating the models’ portfolios; online and offline, as well as assisting with their polaroid shoots. It was fashion week though so I spent most of my time multi-tasking, eaves dropping on the conversations happening around the office for all the insider fashion week info! As London Fashion Week was coming to a close and it was time for the models to move on to Paris Fashion Week, the office was sent into a state of frenzy when Cara Delevingne lost her passport and missed her flight to Paris for the Louis Vuitton show! The entire office was in meltdown, everyone had to stop what they were doing and ring everyone Cara knew, this was a code red EMERGENCY. It turned out that she had left it at Adam Levines house, WHAAAAAAT?? Who knew they were even friends (or more) ??
Cara is a BIG DEAL at Storm, she is the money maker and probably the most coveted model in the world right now. Each day we received hundreds of deliveries of goods for Cara to endorse, so much so that the entire office was bursting with boxes for her and the interns had to make regular trips to her home to deliver her goodies!
There was one moment during that manic week, which really stood out as a moment of pure happiness. The Burberry show was being live streamed into the office, the entire Storm team crowded round, each one of us filled with the same excitement only fashion lovers can understand, whilst Storm models were front and centre, gliding down that oh-so-important runway. Burberry is the most important and established show at London Fashion Week so when Sarah Doukas and her brother Simon (partner of Storm) returned from the show to tell us every little detail and Simon went on to discuss with me one-on-one, Christopher Bailey’s (Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer at Burberry) aesthetics for the season, I knew that is where I was meant to be, I had never felt more at home.
I am sad to say that the fun at Storm didn’t last long when once again I was struck down with a nasty bout of flu. Catching a virus or infection when you have ME is one of the worst things that could possibly happen to you as the effects can be extremely detrimental to your already severely impaired body. The last time I caught a virus was in July 2015 after I had been spending time with family members unaware that two of them had what healthy people would consider, “just a cold”. When I found out, I went into extreme panic mode as I knew how sick a virus could make me (if you have read my previous blog posts you will understand). I was horrified when the person with the cold actually had the audacity to say to me “just drink some carrot juice and you will be fine, that’s what I did”. I could not believe these words actually came out of their mouth. I was raging with anger but had no energy to explain to them how what they said couldn’t be further from the truth and they should never say that to someone with ME ever again. Two weeks later and where was I? In an ambulance, being rushed to hospital because my ME had become so severe I lost complete use of my arms and legs, partial temporary paralysis is what was happening to me.
Let’s rewind quickly – As you can imagine, after the virus hit me whilst I was at Storm, I didn’t last much longer. I ended up becoming a fly on the wall, unable to talk, think, move or make any sort of impression whatsoever. I doubt they would ever take me back or even remember who I was. This is the first dream ME took away from me and I was down to a level of functioning at just 50%.
There were brighter days ahead though so lets fast-forward a few months after Storm to December 2013:
HELLO AUSTRIA! As soon as the Christmas holidays arrived, I hopped on a plane to the winter wonderland ski resort, Bad Kleinkirchheim (BKK) to visit my ski-instructor boyfriend, who spent the Winter seasons abroad living out his ski-ing dream. During the four weeks that I spent there, I saw enormous improvements in my ME to the point where I was able to walk for miles from our tiny hamlet Rottenstein (see below) to the centre of BKK almost every day and feel good for it! I could even ski for a couple of hours each day without the same levels of cruel payback which I had experienced the year before whilst visiting him in Canada. I wonder why I made such a huge improvement at this point in time? Does anyone have any ideas?
As always, I decided to take advantage of this so I applied for the next round of internships as we were coming up to the London Collections: Men, also known as mens fashion week. I managed to secure an internship at the then up and coming urban label KTZ, which I was more than excited about after taking a few months break from interning. Typical ME though and I was struck down by another virus as the New Year was ringing in, leading me to white lie once again, telling KTZ I couldn’t make it back in time to work for the week before the show and I would only be able to attend show day (due to weather and flights etc blah blah), when I actually needed to go to bed for a week in order to make it through show day! I somehow managed to drag myself through show day, read more about it here by desperately counting down the minutes until I could crawl back home and collapse into bed. I even turned down an invite to the after-party, what on earth was my life coming to, turning down a fashion party?!?! This virus pushed me even further down the CFS Functional Ability Scale, just as I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime… an 8 month university exchange to the opposite side of the world, the wonderful land of OZ. Can you predict what happened next?
Thanks for reading my blog (WordPress seriously needs to get emojis so I can insert a huge smiley face here!) I know that this is a lengthy post, I’m trying to catch you up to the present day as fast as possible. By then the posts will be short and sweet I promise. I’ll be back with the next chapter as soon as soon as my body lets me!