I’ve always had troublesome skin. Acne started appearing when I was twelve, and became a constant from then on. It felt like as soon as one side of my face would clear up, the other side would get bad. I didn’t know about cystic pimples at the time, so I’d try to squeeze, poke and prod to treat them, never making them better, only worse. It crushed my self confidence so much that I’d fake being sick to avoid going to school because I was so embarrassed of my face.
I was always researching treatments, solutions and potions to buy, and I got to know the label ingredients to look for, what would help clear my skin and what wouldn’t. I was intrigued by the power of certain properties, the alchemy of ingredients, finding the right combinations, and I began to explore the idea of pursuing something in this field as a career.
While I was fascinated by skin and beauty products, it didn’t turn into a career overnight. I studied business at university, but quickly realized I wanted to concentrate on my passion for skincare. I completed an online course and did some placements with beauticians, eventually being accepted into a Bachelor of Health Science to pursue Dermal Studies. However, when my other business (a fashion brand I launched during my business course) took off, I put my university on hold to set up this business for success.
My first business (which I still oversee, alongside Press Beauty) was a huge learning experience - I’d originally intended the fashion brand as a side project, but it quickly consumed my life. Though it was challenging to handle the business’s rapid growth while learning how to lead a company at the same time, it taught me so much that helped eventually lead to making Press Beauty a reality. I learned how much I loved working for myself, that I wasn’t afraid of long days, hard work and tough conversations, and that I enjoyed the different roles I needed to fill in a small business.
A few years passed in a blur of building up my fashion label, but eventually I began to ask myself why I hadn’t also pursued my aspiration of starting the skincare brand I’d always wanted. With the experience of developing a business from scratch and the knowledge I could work for myself, it felt like finally it was the right time to make this dream a reality.
I started working on creating the exact brand I wanted when I was going through my acne, focusing on products that were antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants - the same properties that had worked best for me. I don’t have perfect skin and I don’t believe in perfect skin. What I do believe, is everyone can have better skin - whatever that may be for them - with the right products. I was also interested in solutions for making skincare and beauty more eco-friendly, developing a reusable makeup removing towel as an alternative to disposable wipes and pads. My vision for the brand was simple: products that were as enjoyable to use, as they were effective. In fact, developing and testing the products became a form of self-care for me after a long day working on my other business.
However, as Press Beauty launched and started to take off, I began to feel unwell. I have always had a ‘funny stomach’ and intense period pain, but this was different. I felt nauseous every day. My stomach churned incessantly. My back was sore; my headaches were frequent and intense. The pain in my abdomen was constant. It felt like a thousand knives were stabbing my stomach – an ever-present feeling that I grew to endure.
Every morning, I would take a cocktail of medications just to get through the day — pain killers, digestive aid, anything that would provide me a mild reprieve from what felt like torture. I busied myself with work in an attempt to ignore it; I pushed it aside to manage two businesses. But the pain kept pushing back.
I began to isolate myself. I avoided spending time with friends in fear that if I did, I would be in too much agony to move around, or I would need a bathroom nearby in case I needed to throw up. When I began to feel an uncomfortable bladder pressure – particularly pronounced during intercourse – I knew something was wrong. Yet when I went to the doctor, my complaints were dismissed. I asked for a pap smear. My doctor said I was too young to have one. I was told that sex is just ‘sometimes uncomfortable’. I felt stupid, like I had overreacted. I walked away, confused. Perhaps my doctor was right. Maybe this feeling in my body was ‘normal’.
But as the months went by, and as the pain became increasingly acute, I knew this was not normal. I went to another doctor. I requested a pap smear. I, again, was turned away. To be in constant agony and yet told that nothing was wrong was a genuinely bewildering experience.
The pain only continued to intensify until it became truly unbearable. Painkillers no longer provided me with that much sought-after respite. I went back to the doctor. I knew something was wrong. This time, I was determined; I would not take no for an answer.
I convinced my doctor to do an examination. I discovered that the area that was causing the pain was my cervix. Everything looked normal during the examination – so the pain was worrying. I was told to see a gynaecologist immediately, as well as have an internal ultrasound. However, nothing was detected – further intensifying my anxiety. I must be going mad, I thought. Yet, after meeting with the gynaecologist and discussing my symptoms, I was given a potential diagnosis.
Endometriosis. It was a word I had rarely heard, much less considered to be the condition that ailed me. I didn’t know that this was a condition affecting 1 in 10 women. I didn’t know that even to be diagnosed was a blessing – as like me, complaints are often ignored; women are often turned away. I was also unaware that the usual diagnosis took between 7 and 12 years to uncover and that this condition has no current cure. I was oblivious to the fact that endo could only be truly diagnosed, and was best treated, through surgery - by doctors slicing open my abdomen and physically cutting out the endo that had fused several of my organs together. Yet perhaps, the most frightening and most infuriating aspect of it all was the fact that I had potentially had endo for years and, yet, had never been diagnosed or treated.
As my doctor began explaining the common symptoms of endo, I had a sinking feeling. Everything she said was lining up with my experience. And yet, while my mind was spinning anxiously, trying to take it all in, I felt a strange sense of relief. This is a common feeling for women with this condition. Finally, I felt vindicated. The excruciating pain I had been experiencing for months was not in my head. I was not overreacting. I was not crazy.
The more I learnt about endo, the more serious I realised it to be. Endometriosis is caused by the lining of your uterus, which usually comes out when you have your period, to grow in other places, most commonly on organs. It is frequently found in the bowel and bladder and has also been found in muscle, joints, the lungs and the brain. When it grows in these places, it has nowhere to escape – causing pain, inflammation and potential cysts. The only way to treat it is by cutting it out via surgery. Even then, it is not perfect. Surgery creates scar tissue. The more surgery you have, the more scar tissue, which can grow and can also cause organs to fuse together. And of course, if it’s found on your ovaries or fallopian tubes, it can lead to infertility.
I underwent the surgery. I was told I had Stage 3 endo. It was very widespread. The surgeon had cut off the complete length of my abdomen. She had gotten everything she could find. Yet, there was still a very likely chance it could come back. To treat the microscopic parts left in my body, I was recommended to have an IUD implanted and use hormone therapies - both injections and pills. I refused to have the IUD inserted, not wanting to undergo any more medical trauma unless absolutely necessary. The hormone treatment I decided on ultimately did not work, and the side effects of treatment were unbearable. Reading forums and blog posts by other women who also underwent this treatment, I resonated with their statements saying the side effects were often worse than the endo itself.
Recovering from the surgery was brutal. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t stand. And yet, what was perhaps most difficult, was knowing that endometriosis was likely to grow back. And it did - eight months after the first surgery. That was when I realised the reality of this condition. It will come back. It may get worse. It is something I will live with for the rest of my life.
Sometimes I feel guilty for feeling so hopeless. Endometriosis is common. Many other women are suffering even worse than I am. It is, also, not life-threatening – something I am eternally grateful for. However, this doesn’t negate the struggle I experience daily.
Endo is an ‘invisible disease’; one where I don’t look ill. Yet the physical and emotional turmoil I feel daily is very real. My abdomen is sore, almost all of the time. I feel lethargic, dizzy and my brain is foggy. When my period comes – it is as though I have barbed wire inside of me. The pain leaves me breathless, but it is the nausea that is possibly the worst physical symptom of all. My libido has entirely diminished. I often feel depressed and anxious. It has impacted everyone around me - affecting my relationship with my partner, friends and family.
Because there is such little awareness and knowledge of endometriosis in mainstream culture, most people don’t understand what I’m going through. It is often dismissed or not taken that seriously. Or, conversely, I am asked if I am infertile and questioned as to whether I can have children - possibly the worst question someone could ask.
As the months rolled by and life went on, acceptance of living with a lifelong condition slowly grew. Life would look different to how it had been in the past. Accepting my new normal was the only way I could find peace and take back some control of my body.
In this new normal, my way of living was entirely altered. I began researching a more holistic approach to managing endometriosis. In this research, I found that diet and stress was a big factor, as was your environment, and the products you use. I found that standard beauty products (that generally contain synthetics and toxins) wreak havoc on your endocrine system and can stimulate oestrogen in the body. It makes sense - everything you put on your skin is absorbed into your bloodstream, but it’s not something I had thought about prior to my diagnosis. It made me think, if this is going to make the effects of my endometriosis – an oestrogen dominant condition - worse, then what is it doing to a healthy person?
I did a full beauty detox. It was eye-opening but satisfying; I read so many labels and read them in an entirely different way; instead of looking for chemicals that would clear my acne, I was considering what chemicals were more taxing on my hormones and bloodstream. After months of Press Beauty being on hiatus whilst I recovered from my diagnosis, surgery and treatment, I felt a calling to return to the business. This time, I would create skincare products that didn’t just produce results but would be entirely natural and clean. I spent months reformulating all the products to reflect my new health and beauty needs, all the while keeping in line with Press Beauty principles of being antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants.
Today, Press Beauty is not just about natural, clean skincare but also about the way in which these products can support us in our journey towards health and wellness. I share my story, not for sympathy or condolences, but to bring awareness to endometriosis, and around the way in which skincare and beauty products can influence our health. Whether you live with a chronic condition or are in great physical health, I implore you all to consider how you are healing or hindering your wellbeing. After all, our health is one of the most valuable and precious parts of living. The impact it has on our emotions, relationships and our quality of life is far greater than most of us could consider.
To learn more about Endometriosis, please visit: endometriosisaustralia.org