Journey of an (in)flexible Digital Mum

Back in 2012, a month before my wedding, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) and it was a relief. I’d spent two years constantly struggling with pain, reduced mobility and aching. Some mornings it was painful to breathe because my rib cage was stiff yet one GP told me ‘lots of people have back pain, learn to live with it’. Another GP even apologised when she heard about my diagnosis because she ‘thought it’d be nothing’. Despite feeling strangely triumphant, it didn’t change what I was dealing with. I was tired and so frustrated that I couldn’t do the things I’d always done without thinking ‘I am going to pay for this tomorrow’. If you’ve ever heard the term #spoonie used for someone with a chronic illness, the origin of the word is probably the best explanation you’ll read that describes how I felt. It was suggested that I start biologic treatment with anti-TNF therapy straight away and postpone starting a family, giving my body a chance to rest. My body thought otherwise.

Fast forward four years and I was returning to work after my second maternity leave. My employer agreed to my request to work four days a week. They were supportive but I’d also suffered a couple of bouts of uveitis, been diagnosed with osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis) and ulcerative colitis in the meantime. My immune system was suppressed and although I was no longer in pain, I was run down and succumbing to tonsillitis on a monthly basis. I was going to bed as soon as the children fell asleep and often had to rest at weekends. Even when I wasn’t ill, I wasn’t enjoying life. My husband was amazing and, being self-employed, worked flexibly to make up for me not fully functioning. I felt like I was a part-time employee, part-time parent and part-time wife. Something had to change.

A family friend, Frances Dean, had been nominated as a Difference Maker in the Red Women of the Year Awards for her unwavering determination and dedication to Breast Cancer Care whilst living with secondary breast cancer herself. After voting, I instinctively took to social media to share her nomination in the hopes of mustering up some more votes. I looked at the hashtags and stumbled across a Twitter post by Nikki Cochrane, Co-Founder of Digital Mums. As I disappeared down a Digital Mums rabbit hole, the more I read, the more my excitement grew and I thought… I want to do the school run, I want to wear ‘athleisure’ so I can pop to an afternoon Pilates class, I want to stimulate my brain doing a career I love, I want to be physically and mentally healthy for my family. I want it all. I want #WorkThatWorks.

Calling time on a career spanning over 15 years in health, well-being and beauty marketing was tough. My employer had been accommodating throughout my AS diagnosis and I loved the industry — I got such a buzz working with European brand owners to launch and grow their businesses with the likes of Boots, Superdrug and the major grocery multiples. That said, the appeal of a sustainable work-life balance was overwhelming. As I handed my notice in, a skincare brand owner I’d been working with mentioned that they were seeking someone to manage the social media for their UK launch. With my employer giving a supportive nod, I got my hustle on and introduced him to Digital Mums.

Digital Mums isn’t just a course, it’s a live learning experience and if you enrol on the associate programme you have a client, known as a programme partner, from the outset and for whom you go onto develop and implement a live social media campaign. I was beyond thrilled that my introduction paid off and I was paired with the skincare brand. Digital Mums is about so much more than kick-starting your new, future-proofed, flexible career in social media though. It’s about collaboration and community, which is just as well because it’s bloody hard work!

At the start of the course you’re put into smaller peer groups named after awesome, inspiring women, like Holly Tucker MBE, creator of notonthehighstreet.com, founder of Holly & Co and UK Ambassador to creative small businesses. I have learned so much in the 6 months since I embarked on my quest to find #workthatworks with Digital Mums. Not just about social media but about myself. The flexible learning has enabled me to adjust my lifestyle and I haven’t been ill once! I’ve also found a tribe of amazing Mother Tuckers who have cheered and heckled each other through the course. We’ve shared our highs and lows on Google Hangouts and Whatsapp, exchanging so many giffffffs along the way. I can’t wait to meet up in real life for a glass (or more) of wine and I know we will keep supporting each other as this chapter closes and another begins. #MotherTuckers4Life