About 3 years ago I set myself the task (while on maternity leave) of picking back up my journo antics and creating an interview series, focussed solely on some very inspiring mums I have had the privilege of meeting over time. I have just stumbled back across those interviews and wanted to share this post (and possibly a few others) from that series. I am still proud of the work that went into them and truly believe that these women’s stories shouldn’t be hidden on a now unpublished site.
I hope you enjoy reading about Hayley’s journey as much I did hearing about it at the time.
(First published October 2012)
It has taken me a while to find the right words to explain what it’s like to meet a woman who has been sexually abused, bulimic, emotionally blackmailed, divorced, and in general a courageous survivor of life.
Put simply, Hayley Blease is possibly one of the bravest and most inspiring people I have ever met.
For years I have followed as she has shared her very personal stories of pain, love, happiness and healing on her own blog, Little Pinwheel. But just last month Hayley released her last post of the blog.
We chatted about how she got to where she is now, managing her own business, why she will no longer be blogging the way she has been, how she has survived the death of her mother, the challenges of tackling motherhood herself, suicide, abuse, running, survival, healing, and above all else happiness.
Read, enjoy, share.
How did you decide to start your own business, Little Pinwheel?
I have always been in the fashion industry. I did production, was a sales rep, and I was a buyer as well. I didn’t have children [Little Pinwheel started as an online kids store] when I decided that’s what I wanted to do and it was a lot of research. I was going to open up a shop at Avalon or even Newport and then I think I fell pregnant and I thought it was too much to comprehend having a baby, and starting a business. I wanted something for me and I have always wanted a shop, so after I had my daughter Keely I decided I wanted to do it and doing it online meant I could work from home, so I took the plunge.
What is the most exciting thing about deciding what to sell on your site, Little Pinwheel?
I actually think it is the customer service, which sounds weird because half the time I am not even dealing with customers face-to-face, but it is just helping people and piecing it all together. If you shop online it is so easy, especially with kids – if you order it a day later you have it, it’s just nice.
Do you do everything for the business yourself?
Yeah I do all of it. So I am the warehouse chick, the customer service chick, the photographs, sales and marketing – the whole lot. It is pretty full on and it takes a lot of hours. There is a lot of juggling with the kids and when they are with their dad I make the most of that and for example work the whole weekend. I also work at night too when the kids go to bed. And, when the kids are in care or at school I do packing and ordering during the day.
Do you think the biggest skill you need to juggle motherhood and business is organisation?
Yes, and time management. But I suck at the paperwork side of things. If you send something to me in the mail it will never get done, whereas if you send me an email it will get done. Pieces of paper I just lose, it has to be on my computer because I sit there so much. Time management though when you have kids is crucial, the whole balance of it all.
Do you ever feel like it is too much?
Yes. Not too much in the sense that I would give it up, but too much in the sense that it’s a lot for me to handle because there are times when I just will get up in the morning and train, then drop the kids off (depending on what that day of the week is), and then I will go for a coffee and I will just think I just don’t want to do the rest of my day. I would just love nothing more than to go sit on the beach. I think summer will be a big test for me with the beach just there.
Who is your favourite designer?
I don’t know if I have actually got a favourite. If it’s kids it would be Minti by far. For me personally I am a bit all over the place.
What made you decide to start the blog on top of the online store and be so open with what was happening in your life?
I always wanted my customers to feel like they were buying from someone and so it is hard when you are flicking emails back and forth. You can have that beautiful picture on the website and do a little story but it didn’t feel real to me because I am just normal and I didn’t want people to think I was this perfect woman who was going to wrap your presents and send it off and that’s it. I started it also because back when I was doing it all I had a friend who was up in social networking said I had to do a blog, and I thought really? The first few blog posts were behind the scenes of the business but then all of a sudden it just got addictive and I got typing and the rest is history.
How did you decide what you would blog about?
I think just being a creative person it was whatever came into my head. If you asked me something I could probably give you a better answer by typing it as opposed to verbally saying it to you. I am better at just typing straight from the heart.
A lot of your posts over the years have been very emotional. Do you think each post helped you work through your emotions more than it drained you?
It definitely helped. My old councillor said to me I have read your second last blog post and I have seen that you are going to stop and she actually said ‘I am so glad you are’, and I said really? Because everyone else is saying ‘what are you doing, don’t stop it’. She said ‘I have known you for so long and you have now gotten through your mum and the abuse’. She is always the one that has said I will be able to write throughout the rest of my life, and as a result she is actually encouraging me to write a book.
I don’t know the whole story of your abuse. Do you feel comfortable explaining what happened?
Yeah, I was abused by my father when I was a child. I was adopted when I was 10 days old and I was sexually abused from memory – I say from memory because you are legally only allowed to say from the age you remember – from the age of seven to 15. My mum didn’t know that it was happening every fortnight when we would go to his house on the weekend.
So your parents were separated?
Yeah, they were. That’s also why I was so close to my mum, because she helped me go to court with all that.
How did you decide to tell your mum what was happening?
I kept it a secret for such a long time. Being creative I did a lot of art in school and it was in year 11 when I was at school that my art teacher actually pulled me aside one day and said ‘I have been watching your paintings and your drawings and there is so much more to them’, so she confronted me and I burst into tears and that was the floodgate. Then I went home that day and told my mum and it was so hard. She was in shock and at first it was hard for her to believe me. We would have conversations later and she would say it was so hard for her to know I had been through all that and she didn’t know.
Why do you think you kept it a secret for such a long time?
He threatened to kill me, so yeah. Do you know what, I know a lot of people say that running saved their life or whatever, but running literally saved my life. It is so sad to say it, but I tried to kill myself when I was bout 15 – it was a more of a cry for help as opposed to wanting to die, but running was a massive thing for me.
Were you running to get head space?
Yes, but to also get strong. It was just that whole fear of that monster coming to get me. At that age I thought if I can run and I have a strong head and I am strong in the body then I will be able to run. It was more running away from something. But I guess you are also kind of dealing with it at the same time, so you may feel like you are running away from things but you are actually dealing with it. You get into that meditation state so you are copping it head on.
Your running has now changed direction. Do you feel like you are running towards something?
Yes, definitely running towards something. It is funny you have said that as I have already written my final blog post and I say something about that and I guess that if I ever write that book for everybody, or even just for me that’s what it is about. So not necessarily focussing so much on the past but about me as a person, and hopefully it is something inspirational.
What you have already shared with your readers has been very inspirational.
Yes, I was actually in shock when I first wrote about the abuse and a lady left a comment that she had never told anyone about her own abuse, but after reading my post went and told her husband she was abused as a kid too. She was in her 30’s or 40’s and had never told anyone.
When you post such raw stories you expose a part of yourself and are open to support and criticism as a result. Do you think you will miss your readers comments and feedback?
Yeah, because my mum was probably that person. We had that kind of relationship where I could just say anything and everything so she was that person where you could just say stuff and you would get one way or the other. That was the blog for me as well, so it was like talking to mum in a way but getting feedback from other people. I have that massive fear of judgement so it was nice in a way to put it out there to feel like I could get ideas from other people about what might be the right course of action. But, now I’m hoping that because I am quite closed off with a lot of my friends – I have this fear of them not liking me if I let a bit of my guard down – so for me now I would like to stop having to write somewhere and actually picking up the phone and saying ‘I am having a really shit day’ or ‘hey I am having an awesome time’. I just want to turn to friends more as I think I have closed them off a lot.
Do you think you will pick it back up if you felt you needed to?
One of my girlfriends in the UK said to me ‘I don’t think you will be able to give it completely up’. So the new blog is going to be very business like and be like an online magazine, so I guess in that magazine sense it might have an element to it at some stage that is a bit more personal. I will see.
Why are you giving the personal blog up?
I just didn’t want to feel like what I would call a groundhog day mummy blogger that has the perfect life, perfect children, and puts pictures up that showcases this beautiful life. I have a beautiful life, but I am not that mum that is going to sit there blog about that every day. Sometimes I do just want to blog and say I’m just ridiculously happy, but people would then just want to slap me in the face (laughing).
On a happy note, I read you are excited to get your teeth fixed. Please explain?
Bulimia. I have had two crowns because of it. With the abuse I started vomiting as a way of punishing myself. I suffered bulimia for almost 10 years and I haven’t had it for a long time, but every now and then it would come back. When I lost mum it came back and I thought ‘where did that come from?’ It was explained to me that it’s because I can’t cope so that is the way my body and mind knows how to cope. It sounds disgusting but I would just binge and vomit or just not eat at all.
At some stage most girls/women seem to go through a phase where they aren’t eating as well as they could. What would you say to someone who was thinking of using this as a way to cope?
So when you feel that need or lack of ability to cope now what do you substitute the eating disorder with?
For me now it about the education of good nutrition. Because I would love to be some sort of professional runner I have hired a sport nutritionist and I have gone and seen her and just have the understanding of cleansing the body. I think also if you have something like that going on in your head it is really important to have someone that is a professional to support you and will understand you. Which is actually a really hard step, to admit that you have a problem with food , but I think people need to realise that no one is going to judge because as you say a lot of people at some stage go through it. Even Keely my daughter, who is not even seven, is worried about being fat. That is just like whoa!
Is that hard for you given your history with an eating disorder? How do you approach that with her?
I am teaching her good nutrition. She doesn’t like to eat fruit or vegetables so I try to get those into her another way so that she feels like she has some kind of balance with food.
Do you think she is old enough to understand the relationship between worrying that she is fat and what she eats?
No. I don’t think she is there yet, which is frightening. It is really scary that she even thinks that about herself. I can only think school has been the influence. I don’t buy any trashy magazines, if it’s anything it is going to be Rush or Frankie Magazine or something a bit alternative. I’m hoping it will work, but just learning about exercise and good nutrition and leading by example. For example, I would never sit there with a girlfriend and have a conversation in front her about hating my excess skin or stretch marks from being pregnant. I very much try to be extremely positive.
Do you feel in some way that encouraging Keeley and her self confidence has actually helped your own confidence?
Yeah, definitely. It has for sure.
You have had a rough run of things! You also recently got divorced. What has been the hardest part about that for you?
It’s really hard to make new friends at our age. After my marriage breakup I am still even now trying to make new friends. I have a solo weekend this weekend and I have basically nothing on which is so hard. My ex-husband and I are still quite good friends which is nice. He has a new girlfriend and she is quite nice. The kids love her and that is all I ever really want. But I guess I wouldn’t like to put blame on the marriage breakdown, but it is hard when he has someone and I don’t. I guess that element of thinking you kind of stuffed it up but I am still the one alone. I think it would also be hard on him if I had someone and he didn’t. I had one really good girlfriend say to me about 12 months ago that, and it still rings in my head, she said that if she were single and met someone with two kids that she wouldn’t date them, so she told me she thinks I will find it really hard to find someone to date. When you hear that criticism you think ‘ahhh’. Some of my friends though have been really supportive and wanted to take me out and “find me a boyfriend”, so I think I need to rustle them back up and go out.
I have gone through that process of making new friends too. It is very tough. But, I did read one of your blog posts that your mum once told you if you have 4-5 really good friends you are doing well. Do you still believe that?
That is definitely what I tell myself because a lot of my girlfriends aren’t here. I have got Nat who is in Melbourne, then Bec who is Queensland and Karen who is in the UK. I also have friends close by who I have pushed away and am trying to pull back. I am really trying to get some of my close friends back that I have pushed away for some silly reason.
Why do you think you pushed them away?
I think it was because I had a boyfriend for six months who was really manipulative. I had to blog about him because he wanted me to, but I have removed all those posts now. I had to go back to counseling. I had to go to my doctor because of anxiety. It is really hard to explain, but he tried to kill himself back in April and I had to get help through the police and my councillor to leave him because of the fear that I would break it off and he would then attempt suicide again as a result. I found him the first time. He drugged himself and then tried to hang himself and had written a note on his pants for me and one for his daughter. I just thought at that point this is too much for me, because I found my mum and then to find him.
What happened to your mum?
My mum passed away six years ago unexpectedly. Years ago she got given an antibiotic to fight an infection and there is a 1/1,000,000 chance of getting liver damage from the antibiotics. You know how if you actually read the antibiotics info it warns you of that risk, well mum was that one in a million [I actually didn’t know this]. Because the liver regenerates she just had to change her diet. She got rid of coffee and alcohol for ages and was always really quite healthy with eating and exercise anyway. Then she started to go down hill and then pep back up again so she decided to move to Sydney to be closer to me. Some of her friends think she came here because she knew she just wasn’t that crash hot. She left her business and everything in Canberra and got a job up at the War Vets. She got rid of all of it to be closer to me and I feel so blessed that she did that. But, a gastro bug went through the War Vets and she picked it up and within 10 days of getting it she passed away.
I was taking her to the hospital because we weren’t getting answers and she was just really, really sick. When I found her on the tenth day it was close to being too late. At the time I was obviously in shock . She had this bucket next to her bed that had black stuff in it and now I know that was blood, so she was vomiting blood. She was talking to me, but she was really quite incoherent. I told her I was there to take her to the hospital and she would say ‘but I don’t want to wear a bra’. I rang my sister who is a nurse and said something is really wrong here so she told me to stay with mum and she rang an ambulance. They were there really quickly, but it was just awful everything had shut down. So to find her, it took a long time for me to get over. So then to find my boyfriend was just hard. As my councillor said to me ‘you can’t save everyone, you can’t be that chick who saves everyone’, and even my running went downhill during that time. My coach has now made a rule that I am not allowed to date anyone who isn’t an athlete. I was then thinking, ‘really? It is hard enough as it is to find someone already’ (laughing).
So are you training for the marathon full-time? What is your training schedule like?
Yep, full-time. Meg texts me my workout for the next day the night before. She writes my programs leading up to races, but she doesn’t want me to think about the whole week even though she has it planned for a few weeks ahead. So yeah she just texts me the night before.
Does that work well for you?
Yeah it does. I can plan a little. Like I know Sunday is my long run so I can plan for that.
So what are your running goals?
Because I wasn’t in a good head space for the past six months it is now getting me good at half marathons first and then lead into the full marathon. It is also racing, for some reason I choke in a race.
Do you go out too hard?
Yeah, and also I have trouble with believing I can do it. If you ask me to run 21kms up the road right now and tell me the course and I can run it on my own I would do it in a personal best time. But you put me in a race and you tell me to run it I just have this blank and it obviously something I am going to work on the more races that I do.
Do you think it is partly a fear of failure because in a race your time is being officially kept by someone?
Yeah big time. Even when I was in Melbourne a few weeks back and I had a long run and I did it in the time I wanted to do a half marathon in and I beat my Gold Coast Half Marathon time by 10 minutes. I did it in 1hr 35′, which is really good because I have only had five and half weeks of good training. It is really hard because I want it all now and my coach told me I have to stop wanting it all. So that’s my worst thing, I feel as if I choke in races.
The more races you do and the better your training gets you will definitely find a new confidence that will help to get you through.
Yeah I agree. But right now I just stop. In San Francisco in my first race over a year ago I stopped dead at 18kms. I stood there and at the top of my voice I yelled out ‘what the fuck am I doing, why am I doing this?’ There was no one around me (laughing). Then I looked at my watch and saw that I was already 18kms in and thought I only have 3kms to go, move it. So I just kept running.
So your big dream for running is to represent Australia?
Yes. I want to go to Rio in four years. The Olympics. It is huge and a bit crazy.
No, not crazy at all. As you get older your body actually gets better at oxygenating blood so marathons are well suited to that.
My coach has also told me that when a woman has children there is something that makes your head so strong, and at that stage she didn’t even know about any of the abuse and stuff so now she also says I have a story to tell and something to push me. She recently sent me a text message, it was actually like it was my mum talking to me so it made me cry. She said ‘she would never be disappointed in me and she knows that if I have a crap race I will still keep going’.
She also probably recognises you are harder on yourself than she needs to be.
Yes. She is working on that as well. She has said as soon as I start believing in myself more that is actually when I will become even better.
Now that you are moving on from your current blog to a new one, what is one of your favourite memories from the blog posts you have shared on Little Pinwheel?
It would actually probably be when I shared about the abuse. I know that sounds weird to be a favourite memory but feeling as if for the first time, because when you are abused and you are trying to survive and you aren’t that victim anymore, you finally feel like you have a voice and people can hear you. So I think for me that blog post was it. I had over 30 comments and emails and to get that and actually think people do actually hear you and care. So that’s another thing with the running, if I don’t go where my huge dream is I will incorporate something with giving back to victims and survivors of abuse where I will do some crazy run around the world for awareness.
You have mentioned a few people are disappointed that you are giving up your blog. How does it feel to know you have inspired so many people by sharing your story?
I actually feel weird when people say to me that I am such an inspiration with everything that I am doing, running, being a single parent, having the business, and going through everything I have gone through and maybe turning out ok. I find that weird. Maybe because I know myself so much more and I just feel like I am just me, and am just doing what anybody else would try to do to survive life, break up of a marriage etc. Someone commented this morning saying she had lost her mum and she doesn’t have the ability to express herself, but whenever I talked about my mum she would say that is exactly how she felt so to lose my voice on how to express it will be hard on her. This is weird because I don’t even know that person. It does make me think should I stop? But, I will and I think it will be that I will start the other one and from there it will bits and pieces rather than feeling the pressure of trying to get three or four blog posts out a week, because at the moment I feel like I don’t really have anything to say.
Is there one thing you don’t think people know about you?
Probably what you are learning, that I am really hard on myself. I pretty much beat myself up a lot, more than what I should.
Have you found that having kids actually help with that negativity towards yourself because you don’t have time to really beat yourself up for long before they need something?
When I have got them that is when I feel ridiculously happy, that kind of happy where people probably want to slap me in the face. But then, when I am on my own and I don’t have any plans that’s hard.
10 Quick Questions
La Cienega by Ryan Adams.
Favourite reality TV show?
I don’t really watch TV, but back in the day it was probably Master Chef.
Red wine. Good red wine.
It is so boring, but brown rice and chicken.
Favourite time of the day?
Morning. I am a ridiculously happy morning person.
Favourite day of the week?
Friday, fun Friday.
My saltwater sandals. I have every colour.
Summer, by far.