Ashleigh Burrell, the founder of The Borrowed Collective, shares her personal journey with endometriosis. From enduring severe period pain since a young age and dismissing it as a common experience, she eventually faced a turning point when the pain became unbearable. After an encounter with a customer who had experience with endometriosis, Ashleigh sought a medical professional and was shocked to receive a diagnosis. Ashleigh details her challenges in the following Q&A and how she is sharing her experience through a fundraising campaign for Endometriosis New Zealand. Read below:
Could you tell us a bit about you?
I’m Ashleigh Burrell. An (almost) 28 year old living in Auckland. I run The Borrowed Collective, a designer dress hire company which was born 8 years ago almost accidentally through a university project. A recovered shop-oholic who has a passion to help NZ women feel their best without it costing the planet.
What has been your experience with symptoms of endometriosis?
I’ve suffered from bad period pain since I can remember. I’d been on the pill on and off since I was 15 but most months had severe lower back pain and unbearable cramps. I genuinely thought everyone experienced this and when I ever tried to seek help I just got offered pain killers. Ibuprofen and a super-hot wheat bag have always been on steady rotation for me, but I thought it was just part of being a woman to be totally honest. I think it was always this mindset of having to be “strong” because others around me didn’t seem to suffer as badly so I thought maybe because I was complaining more I just needed to tough it out and get on with it.
What was your experience being diagnosed with endometriosis?
I had a really bad time earlier in the year with the worst pain I’d ever had. Running my company involves a lot of hours standing pressing items and packing orders. I was in so much pain I was waddling around with a heat pack on my back, a wheat bag on my front tucked into my leggings and doing everything I could to not have tears drip onto the freshly steamed garments (dramatic but true)! I’d actually just had a consult with my doctor a few days after and it didn’t even occur to me to say anything, I thought it was just a really bad one off and maybe I was just overtired and needed a break. I was seeing a naturopath at the time to help with my anxiety and stress, at the end of the session she said is there anything else she should know and I kind of thought oh maybe I should actually talk to someone about my period pain. She told me she didn’t want to see me again till I’d been to have an ultrasound. Even after going back to my doctor to request a referral she asked if I thought I could have Endo and immediately I shrugged it off and said I doubt it. So you can imagine my shock when a week after my scan I got an email saying there are signs indicating Endometriosis.
In what turned out to be quite a fateful day, a week later I had a gorgeous customer who was coming in for a dress try on and loved the idea of renting instead of buying something new, despite her deep wardrobe since retiring. I asked what she did pre-retirement and it turned out she had a lot of experience and expertise with Endometriosis. When I told her I had an upcoming appointment she sat down and went through my results with me and put everything in layman terms I could understand (not just from attempting to google). I didn’t realize till then actually how severe my disease was and how it could affect me till she said I probably needed to start thinking about what I wanted my future to look like in terms of having children.
I had my first Hysteroscopy and diagnostic laparoscopy a few months ago but unfortunately the endo was deeper than initially thought so it was just diagnostic with a mirena put in as my surgeon wanted an MRI. Not having any endometriosis removed was obviously disappointing all round but I felt hopeful that we were finally getting to the bottom of it.
Mentally I felt so much better, just getting that validation that actually it wasn’t just me being weak but that it was abnormal and there was much more at play than I realized. There was a suspected lesion in my bowel and basically none of my organs were where they were supposed to be!
After the initial lap the pain got a lot worse for the following 6 weeks. This has dulled now thankfully but is still present and I’m relying on pain killers again almost daily. I have my second surgery in a few weeks and although I’m still a bit nervous, I’m really hoping this will solve the pain. I’ve changed my diet to gluten & dairy free which was a hard break up but so far seems to be helping.
How it has or is endometriosis impacting your work life/business?
It’s been tough on my business. It’s really difficult to take sick leave when you have customers relying on you and there’s always tight time pressure.
Appointments, surgeries and recovery have been challenging at times to work around as the day to day operations predominantly rely on me. When last minute changes occur, fulfilling customers’ orders and expectations can be stressful and the last thing I would want is to let anyone down when they’re relying on me making things run smoothly for their special event.
Can you explain your fundraiser and why you have decided to do this?
For Black Friday this year we thought it was time to do something a bit different. So while we will still be offering discounted rentals for 48 hours, we’ve decided to rebrand it to “Red Friday” with all profits from the sales being donated to Endometriosis NZ.
There is growing awareness around Endometriosis but we also hope that this helps spread it a little further and to encourage anyone who is feeling helpless to know that there is help out there and there is a way through it . Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women in NZ and statistically that’s quite a significant number of our customers. Having validation and someone to talk to/hearing other people’s experiences makes what can feel like a scary, lonely and difficult time a little less heavy. Even if one of our customers sees the promotion and goes to their GP to find answers then this is worthwhile!
You can head to @theborrowedcollective to find out more or donate to Endometriosis New Zealand below: