Published: 4 January 2021. Written by: Jo Carnegie
Meet the people who turned adversity into opportunity, and find out what lessons they learned from 2020.
While most of us will be pleased to see the back of this year, 2020 has undoubtedly taught us a lot of lessons. We’ve all had to dig deep and our resilience has been severely tested. Yet, by the same token, we’ve learned that we can cope with more than we perhaps thought we could, and we’ve each had time to self-reflect and reassess our priorities.
Here, we talk to five people who have turned trauma and tough times into valuable life lessons.
Frankie Davies is 27 and comes from London. She is the founder of Pixie Divine, a black-owned candle brand
‘My mum, Sue, had been ill with brain cancer and she passed away during the first lockdown. She lived with her partner and my six younger siblings, but I was her main carer. We are a low-income family and mum didn’t have much. When she died, I felt it was a shame there was nothing to remember her by. I had joined a carers’ support group through The Brain Tumour Charity and found a lot of other people felt the same way as I did.
‘I wanted to create a kind of legacy for Mum and help other carers, too, but didn’t know how. It was June and I had finished uni and I didn’t know what to do next. I saw an Instagram post about a candle brand that was planting a tree for every candle it sold. I thought that something to do with candles was a great way to help the charity. I’d seen candle-making kits online and it seemed quite easy.
‘It turned out it was a lot harder and more time-consuming than I’d thought! I had to buy all the equipment: the moulds, the containers to melt the wax, all the fragrances and the packaging. But I learned as I went along and really enjoyed it. I used calming scents like lavender and sage and added a little message to each candle, like asking people to remember those they’d lost and smile for them. One lady told me she’d had one of my candles on her husband’s coffin at his funeral.
‘At first, I only did it to sell within the carers’ group, to bring some comfort, but it was way more successful than I anticipated. Now, I work full-time on the business and I was shortlisted for the Newcomer Award at the Holly & Co Independent Awards 2020, which celebrate creative small businesses.
‘Losing your mum is one of the biggest losses you can experience, but it’s made me appreciate my life so much more. The past year has inspired me to leave a legacy for my mum and provide a better life for my siblings. I’m not a religious person but I feel, spiritually, my mum is a driving force behind my business.’
Pixie Divine is available on Simply Noir.
Jay Lee, 32, lives in Leicester with his wife and daughter. He founded a new business after being made redundant during the pandemic
‘I lost my job as a mortgage advisor for a bank at the start of the pandemic in March. It was a real shock. I had been earning good money and my wife is studying, so I was financially supporting the family. Luckily, I had some savings, so I could pay our immediate outgoings. I spent the first week looking for jobs, but there was nothing out there that matched my profile.
‘At this point, with all this time on my hands, I decided to learn some new skills and try launching my own company online. I watched a two-hour YouTube tutorial on how to build a website, took the plunge and set up uacademy.co.uk, selling affordable online mortgage advisor training courses. I was just hoping that it would cover a few of my bills, but a few weeks after launching, I was making enough money to keep the house running.
‘Since then, the website has grown at a steady rate and I’m now making about double my salary from the start of the year. I love working for myself. The pressure is on because success or failure is down to you, but I find it very motivational.
‘Losing my job was a blessing in disguise. It made me realise that it’s never too late to learn new skills, to always have a back-up plan, and that under the worst circumstances, good things can happen.’
Helen Garlick, 62, is married and from Sussex. She is a communication trainer, coach and author of No Place To Lie, a memoir she wrote during lockdown that’s due out in February 2021
‘I was a family divorce lawyer for many years, specialising in mediation and talking solutions. Yet, at the heart of my own family, there was this horrendously difficult thing that hadn’t been talked about. My brother died by suicide in 1981, but my father was adamant that he’d either been killed or that it was an accident. My brother hadn’t left a note but there was compelling evidence he had planned it. He’d forged a shotgun certificate beforehand and I discovered at the funeral, from one of his friends, that they’d both talked about suicide.
‘I’d known for many years that I needed to write this book and tell my brother’s story, but felt I couldn’t until both my parents had died. I finished practising law in 2018 and planned to write the book then (mum had died the year before and dad in 2014), but I kept finding excuses not to start. It was only when lockdown came that I realised it was now or never.
‘There were days where writing about the suicide was incredibly painful, but other times when recalling the good things felt quite joyful. It was really a huge release to get it out. And, by being vulnerable and sharing, it’s helped others to open up – I’ve since heard so many amazing tales of family secrets.
‘There is magic and healing in talking about things in a safe space with somebody you can trust. That’s the message I want to get out there.’
Helen also has a YouTube channel, Hello! It’s Better To Talk.
Alex Brown is 44 and lives in London. She is married with two children and the founder of PepTalk Pillow, a product she launched during lockdown to help children talk about their feelings
‘My nine-year-old daughter suffered with anxiety before Covid-19, but nothing prepared me for the impact the pandemic would have on her. She went from being a happy girl with a big personality to becoming withdrawn, terrified to leave the house and unable to sleep at night.
‘I didn’t know how to help her, but we ended up using the time at bedtime to talk about how she was feeling. From that, the idea for PepTalk Pillow was born: a pillow with different questions on it to use as conversation starters for your child. There are four sections: asking how their day was, talking about their memories and their future dreams, and positively reflecting on their character traits.
‘My daughter has always found it hard to talk about her feelings, and we thought it was a good way for children to express themselves without feeling like they were being grilled.
‘I’d first had the idea a few years previously, but after getting home from my busy job in advertising, I’d be barely able to string a sentence together, let alone have the words to ask what was going on in her head. Seeing the effect of Covid on her, though, I knew it was now or never.
‘I finished my job in April and my daughter and I worked throughout the summer on developing the pillow. We officially launched it in September. It’s had a great response – but the best thing is doing something purposeful together and seeing other families benefit. We’re now developing other products, including rainbow pillows for the children of key workers, with £3 from every sale going to NHS charities.
‘Just from having these simple conversations with my daughter, I am so much further ahead in understanding how she feels. My biggest worry as a parent is: “How can I help her now, so she can build resilience as she gets older?”
‘Last year has really made me realise the importance of human connection and spending time together.’
Angeline Radley is 44 and works in marketing for Vitality. She is divorced and lives in London with her two sons, aged 11 and 12, and Blossom, her African pygmy hedgehog
‘Going into the first lockdown was tough. I’m a single mum with two sons at home – one of them was preparing for his grammar school exams and I work full-time in a busy role, so it was quite overwhelming at the beginning.
‘As a single parent, I never had any spare time; normally the boys’ schedules were full of football and after-school clubs, while I juggled work commitments. But once lockdown hit, we had to change our routines. All of us. We swapped rushing around for long walks around Greenwich Park, where we’d catch up on our days. We got into baking, experimenting with different recipes and doing socially-distanced drop-offs for friends. I started doing home workouts pretty much every day, using the Vitality Peloton training programme.
‘The whole experience, while it was tough, taught me to prioritise the important things in life. I discovered the joy of slowing down, taking things at my own pace. Last year has shown how adaptable we are as humans.
‘Going forward, it’s about finding that balance and having more time for myself and my boys. Lockdown showed us, as a family, what really matters.’
To find out more about people’s experiences in 2020, check out our blog where we asked five people how their mental health is right now.
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