Those of you who know me (Jas), know that everything about this business is family. My team, our partners and most importantly, you, our customers. We're family. We care about people and we care about your story. Naturally, when we hear other people's stories that we relate to it brings us closer together and helps us remember we aren't alone.
So let me introduce you to FZ Stories. This is a spot where we want to share some stories from our 'family', you, Sometimes here on the blog, sometimes as a podcast and sometimes a youtube video.
Hi Eva, welcome to our first ever customer feature on our blog. Could you please start by introducing yourself, who you are, what you do, where you live, essentially your story:
Hi, I’m Eva, I’m 28 years old and I live in Melbourne but am originally from a small South Island town in New Zealand. I am a trained Primary School Teacher with a Bachelor of Education but left my job just over a year ago due to getting sick. Still to this day, getting my degree is one of the proudest days of my life!
I moved to Melbourne to join my partner, Ben, who I have known since primary school. Coincidentally, I ended up teaching at that same school where we met 22 years later. His mum, my (hopefully) future mother in law, was actually my mentor in my final year as she is also a teacher at the same school we went to. It feels as though Ben and I have always been meant to be!
My dream was to come to Melbourne and finish my Masters specialising in literacy and then teach here, so I could support children who struggle with their reading and writing. I have always been passionate about helping and advocating for those who do not have a voice, which is often the case for young children struggling within the school system. Sadly for now, due to my health, this has been put on hold.
What was your upbringing?:
As I mentioned earlier, I was brought up in a small town in New Zealand. I am the eldest of three and I am very close with my parents and siblings and have always taken care of them where I can.
My mum got sick with the same illness I had when I was about 17, so a lot of my adult life I have spent helping my parents how I could. My mum and sister are both registered nurses, so I am lucky that I have always had help on hand when I needed it. This is especially incredible because my sister has a lot of the same genetic illnesses I have, and like myself, she persevered and still got her degree. I am incredibly proud of her.
When my mum got sick it changed our lives massively, as she eventually left work and has been unable to find a treatment to manage her illness so far. It has been very hard watching my mum suffer in this way, and it was not an easy decision to choose to leave New Zealand and leave her behind, especially as there are some treatments available to me here in Australia that my mum back home does not have access to. Sometimes it is hard not to feel guilty about that and I wish she could be here with me. I think about her every day.
Pictured: Eva with her dog Jess
What was the hardest thing you’ve gone through? How did you deal with us and what did you learn from it?
Two weeks after I arrived in Australia, I got an email from my GP back home advising me something had been missed initially on an x-ray I had done earlier in the year. She advised me to get to a doctor ASAP. Within a month, I found out I had the same illness like my mother, a type of arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis that affects your large joints, in particular your spine. Mine had been triggered by a case of food poisoning I had earlier in the year while away in Bali. I never would’ve thought something as small as food poisoning could completely change my life, but after that, everything changed for me forever. I will never forget the day I received that email.
Since then, I have spent most of my days visiting my GP. admitted into hospital or seeing specialists. I have had three surgeries, countless different drug trials and now inject myself with a drug every week which helps to manage my arthritis but also puts me at high risk of cancers long term, and means I have virtually no immune system to protect myself. Something as simple as someone coughing next to me on a plane can leave me bedridden for weeks.
The hardest part about this is that my weakened immune system has meant I cannot teach for the foreseeable future. I have wanted to be a teacher my entire life. The school I taught at last, the principal of the school was my teacher when I was a child. Even he remembered me talking about my dream of being a teacher. Naturally, it was no surprise when I came knocking on his door looking for a job 20 years later! I miss teaching every day. It is still very raw looking back at photos of myself in the classroom, especially as at that time I never had any idea what would be ahead.
If you won $500,000 what would you do with it?
I can’t even imagine! Money is quite tight for us at the moment, this is actually the first time I have not worked at least part-time since I was 14 years old. I would probably gift some to my parents to help my mum, use some for a holiday to say thank you to my partner Ben for all the care he has given me and then save the rest to go towards our first house. I think I would just cry for a few days first though!
Do you suffer from any illnesses, disabilities or allergies?
Unfortunately yes, the main two being what I referred to earlier, a type of arthritis that affects mainly your spine and large joints called ankylosing spondylitis, as well as a more rare condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. These are both fairly severe genetic diseases that currently do not have any type of cure, you just learn to manage them. It is incredible the types of things these diseases affect, for example, I have lost a lot of my eyesight, I have had two toenails permanently removed and a nerve cut into that means I will never feel a part of my left foot again as well as dislocated my right shoulder three times within a year. I am also extremely sensitive to heat and get intense insomnia as my pain gets a lot worse at night. I used to be the queen of sleep-ins, and now I am lucky to sleep until 7am!
With this I have since been diagnosed with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Very rarely do you find that an illness, particularly a chronic one that is part of every day of your life, does not influence your mental health. I constantly struggle with anxiety over my condition, but also judgement from others and fear that one day I may not wake up. Sounds heavy, and it is! But you find small ways to lighten the burden day by day.
Pictured: Eva wearing an FZ Box Dress which was actually gifted to her personally by FZ's finance manager, Jen
How would you describe FROM ZION? How do the clothes make you feel?
I actually discovered FROM ZION when I was an extremely broke student teacher and I remember following and loving their clothing for a couple of years before I had any spare money to buy anything. I bought my first item while I was teaching and loved how easy and comfortable it was to wear.
But it wasn’t until I got unwell that FROM ZION became so important to me. Because of the nature of my illness, sometimes I would be so swollen I could barely bend my knees and the drugs I am on made me gain 3 dress sizes. FZ was all I could wear that would fit me, and still make me feel beautiful. The style naturally fits my own personal style, simple, slightly oversized with a graceful type of drape that is not easy to achieve on so many different body types, but FZ does it! I have a hospital bag always packed just in case, and it only has FZ in it. But I also wear it for special occasions too, in fact, I have a dress hanging in my wardrobe for the day I hope I am well enough to start interviewing to work again. I keep it to remind me not to give up.
What are your personal top 3 values?
Sincerity, reliability and kindness.
What is your 10-year goal/dream?
I hope one day to get back to work in some capacity and hopefully working with children still. I want to get my health in a place where I can go for walks with my partner in the evenings, and have a wine with friends without being in bed all day the next day too sick to move. I want to have children and raise them without my illness affecting them. And I want to find and create a home for myself and Ben, possibly somewhere smaller than Melbourne, for our future family to thrive in ❤️
What sets your soul on fire?
My partner Ben, I feel like in some way I have always loved him since we met when we were 5. He has stood by my side through the good, the bad and the ugly of my chronic illnesses, which is not an easy thing for anyone. I would never have been able to achieve what I have without him by my side.
Working with children, and seeing them gain that confidence where they feel like they can take on and change the world. I love seeing them have that lightbulb moment when they realise they can do something that they had always thought was too hard for them. I can’t even explain the feeling of being part of opening these kinds of doors for children and their learning.
Seeing my siblings and friends do all the great things they have ever dreamt of doing. Even though sometimes it is hard not to feel like I am being left behind when I see everyone doing things I am unable to do right now because I am sick, I still celebrate and love seeing my friends and family so amazing things. Life is so much better when you walk alongside people supporting them than trying to stand in their way by competing with them!
The idea that one day I may feel like I have beaten this illness and have the old Eva back once again. It may not look the same way as it once did. There may be some things I can never do again and this may open doors for new opportunities at the same time. I try my best to stay positive and hopeful that my life has just been put on hold for a little while, but it will start again, hopefully, bigger and better!
Pictured: Ben & Eva who have known each other since 5 years old
In what way do you show kindness to others?
I am quite a private person when it comes to my illness, but I have started to share my journey on my social media to try and give glimpses of my life and make other people with conditions like mine feel a little less alone. Anyone who reaches out to me, whether I know them or not, I will always reply and give them the time they deserve as I know how lonely it can be.
I like to think I help my friends and family, no matter how hard things get for me I will always be there for them and listen to them and offer advice (if they want it!) I have realised that life is short, and the people that matter to you, keep them close and take care of them. You never know when it might be the last time you speak.
And finally, let's end on something fun… What's something crazy or random that not many people would know about you?
I have a total addiction to hash browns. I honestly could live off them forever! I eat them all the time and would happily have just plain hash browns for lunch haha!
Also one perk about one of the illnesses I have is that I am extremely bendy - I burn in the sun so I am a big fake tan wearer and because my shoulders are so flexible I can tan my own back without anyone’s help 😂 got to be some perks to being sick I guess!
Well thats the end of our first 'FZ STORIES' and I loved getting to know a little more about Eva and the journey that she has gone through so far! I hope and pray that Eva's health improves and she can get back to doing what she loves. It's beautiful to see that her relationship with Ben is so important and he is so supportive of her. I think we all need at least 1 person like that in our lives, whether that be a best friend, a partner or family!
- Jasmin Adams, Director & Designer of FROM ZION Pty Ltd.