As I collected my prestigious Business Award in 2010, I had no idea that just 18 months later I would be so badly burned out that I would be at the start of a 5 year journey of chronic illness with the prognosis of slowly starving to death.
The rise of my Luxury Wedding Cake Design business felt almost too easy and I loved every minute of it until I found myself exactly where I wanted to be.
I was on Wedding TV, my work was featured in all of the quality printed Wedding Magazines including Conde Nast Brides. I was on the recommended supplier lists of some of the top event planners and the most prestigious venues in London including being one of only two recommended wedding cake suppliers to The Ritz Hotel Mayfair.
But with the prestige came the pressure.
I remember replying, “You’re only as good as your last cake”, to one of the interview questions after winning my award. I thought it was a cute answer as to how to stay on top of your game, but in hindsight, that answer showed the internal struggle that I was facing.
I never truly felt that I was good enough to be where I was so I never let up. I never took my eye off the ball or my foot off the accelerator and I never allowed myself to appreciate my success because I always felt that I needed to be better.
“You’re only as good as your last cake” and I felt that every single cake I made had faults. As the self-doubt and stress grew, my confidence and self-esteem plummeted which meant that I had to work even harder to feel as though I deserved to be at the top of my career.
My outrageously high levels of perfectionism prevented me from hiring a team because I needed to be in full control of everything. This meant that I used to literally work around the clock. Despite being a full-time Mother to two children under 7, it was very normal for me to work for 36 hours straight at least once a week, so I delivered the freshest cakes possible for my clients. Having more than 4 hours of sleep on the other nights of the week was very rare.
The symptoms of exhaustion were shrugged away with promises that I’d take some time off soon but that time rarely came and when it did, it came with so much stress and guilt for not being present in my business that it was a relief to return to the unreasonable hours of work I had set myself.
The fogginess of thought and heaviness in my body became quite normal and the loss of joy and excitement didn’t even register until people asked why I didn’t seem happy about my cake being on the front cover of a magazine or landing a particular client. I just continued on as I always had done, ignoring the aches, pains and need to re-charge.
That was until I was at an event in Mayfair and I vomited for no apparent reason.
I shrugged it off and carried on. The next day I vomited again. The day after that I vomited several times and that became my life for the next five years.
I underwent test after test after test with no concrete results as to why I was experiencing my condition. Eventually, things got too bad and in August 2012, nine months after first getting my symptoms, I vomited at a potential clients home during a consultation for a wedding at The Savoy Hotel, and I realised that I had little choice but to close the business that I had worked so hard to build up.
The medical tests continued, everything from stomach cancer to brain scans, and it was eventually determined that there wasn’t an electrical signal going from my brain to my stomach so food was instantly being rejected as my stomach didn’t know what to do with it. I was told that there was no cure.
As a result of years of vomiting I also developed Chronic Fatigue, I was in constant pain and could barely get out of bed. Reaching the end of what medical science could offer, in 2016 I finally found my cure in the form of a chiropractor who cracked my spine, released my vagus nerve and brought me back to full health.
Overworking and burning out not only cost me my health and business, but I also lost friendships and my husband left us at the height of my illness, unable to deal with it any longer.
We live in a world where the hustle and grind, the struggle and stress is seen as a normal, necessary and expected part of growing a successful business but it doesn’t need to be that way. It’s time for us to change the narrative and remember what we’re working for in the first place.
The truest happiness doesn’t come from merely reaching your goals, it comes from enjoying the journey to get them.