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Ensuring No One Gets Left Behind

“It’s really important with all of the work that I do to be able to offer people a space to be seen and to treat themselves as respected, valued humans. That that their story is not only worthy, but also worth being heard and worth being seen.” -Anna HeardinLondon

Anna discovered immense joy in the circus. Every weekend, she dedicated herself to training and practicing, fueled by her dream of becoming a circus performer. Through hard work and dedication, she was able to secure a place at a renowned circus school, allowing her to pursue her passion to the fullest.

Despite her unwavering commitment, Anna faced a devastating setback when she suddenly lost the ability to walk for two years. Little did she know, she had a chronic illness. However, even in the face of such adversity, Anna remained resolute and determined to overcome her challenges.

It’s inspiring to see how Anna recovered and dedicated herself to social justice issues, despite significant health challenges and the death of several important family members. Her resilience is truly remarkable. There is no doubt that Anna’s voice is full of hope that anything is achievable with a determined mindset. 

Anna HeardinLondon is the Founder of Self Care School, which offers radical life coaching and mindset tools that aim to assist individuals in acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to manage their thoughts and actions.

Anna also works as a photographer for HeardinLondon, where she focuses on capturing images related to social justice causes with the goal of portraying the complete story. Her exceptional photographs have been recognized with awards and have been featured in numerous major publications across the globe.

At TrueYou, she serves as a community organizer for self-defined survivors of gender abuse, where she arranges workshops that aim to promote physical, emotional and mental well-being. 

The core principle of Buddhism, which is to revere life, is deeply ingrained in Anna’s beliefs. This principle serves as a unifying element that ties together all of her pursuits and motivates her to continuously seek innovative methods to ensure that no one is left behind.

Guest Spotlight: Anna HeardinLondon

Picture of guest, Anna HeardinLondon in a black shirt.

Anna is a confidence coach, empowerment photographer and circus expert with a drive and passion for social justice. She finds creative solutions to help people reclaim their bodies, their energy and their time.

She has three pioneering projects which focus on empowerment with social justice embedded at their core. As photographer HeardinLondon, as a coach in and as a community organiser for Survivors of gendered abuse with True You, she combines her passion for creative solutions with a drive for radical intersectional solutions at their core.

HeardinLondon centres people in marginalised bodies to allow them to feel seen, valued and like they deserve to take up space. Self Care offers radical life coaching and mindset tools for people in an accessible format with free spaces for folk who need them. True You provides creative physical, emotional and mental health and wellbeing workshops which are free, safe and accessible for self-defined Survivors.

Anna has spent 20 years running on of the UK’s premiere circus agencies, Missing Link Productions, for six years she was UK Director of operations for Circus Kathmandu, a social circus which works with survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable situations, She supports Mimbre’s youth programme for disadvantaged young people in Hackney.

Her photography work has been printed in Guardian, BBC, Huffington Post and The Times amongst others. In 2020 she won an honourable mention for the Margaret Cameron street photography award. She has an illustrious list of event credits including the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, choreography for Universal Pictures, launching Ageha, Japan’s first mega-club and the distinct honour of working on a cabaret slot with Liza Minelli.

Anna believes that the core tenet of buddhism – the reverence of life, is what threads all these paths together and keeps her striving to create new ways to ensure no one gets left behind.

Connect with Anna HeardinLondon:

Photography Website:

Coaching Website:





Even When I Fall Preview the powerful documentary mentioned in this podcast (rent or buy the full feature on You Tube):

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Live Your Life, Not Your Diagnosis

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NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by an AI tool. Please forgive any typos or errors.

Anna HeardinLondon

[00:00:00] Andrea: When I saw that this week's guest used to be a circus performer, I admit my interest was peaked, but then I kept reading about her and all that she has done and I had to bring her on. Anna at her core is an advocate for social justice. She took her love of circus performing and her talent for opening businesses.
And helped survivors of human trafficking in Nepal to overcome their circumstances Through her photography, she highlights people's often silenced voices and helps others to find confidence and to be comfortable in their own skin. And she does all of this while living with chronic illnesses. Anna helps empower people every day and is here to share her inspiring story with.
You might wonder about her name, Anna Herd in London. She uses that instead of her real last name cause of her deep activist roots and also her need not to put her identity front and center. She has a fascinating story, which also includes sexual violence, but ultimately her story is about helping others rise up.
And finding social justice for everyone. Please enjoy this week's episode and visit Andrea Hanson for more on Anna Herd in London. Resources we talk about in the show and transcripts from today's episode. Welcome to the Live Your Life, not Your Diagnosis podcast. I'm Andrea Hanson, author, motivational speaker and master certified coach.
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I was told I would never reach my goals, but I did and I'm on a mission to prove that life with a chronic illness can still be expansive and quite remarkable. Everyone has their own unique path. I'm talking to people living with a chronic illness that come from different backgrounds, have different points of view, and are achieving amazing life goals of all kinds to inspire you to achieve what you thought was impossible.
These stories are raw, uncensored, and judgment free listener discretion is advised today. I am so excited to talk to our guest, Anna. She has. So many amazing things. I'm just going to cut to it. . She is a confidence coach, empowerment photographer, and circus expert with a drive and passion for social justice.
She finds creative solutions to help people reclaim their bodies, their energy, and their time. She has three pioneering projects which focus on empowerment with social justice embedded at their. She's a photographer at Herd in London where she centers people in marginalized bodies to allow them to feel seen, valued, and like they deserve to take up space.
Her award-winning photography has been featured in many major publications around the world. She's also a coach in self-care school. She offers radical life coaching and mindset tools for people in an accessible format with free spaces for folk who need them. She's also a community organizer for survivors of gendered abuse at True You, which provides creative, physical, emotional, and mental health and wellbeing workshops, which are free, safe, and accessible for self-defined survivor.
Anna has spent 20 years running one of the UK's premier circus agencies, missing link Productions for six years. She was the UK Director of Operations for Circus Capmandu, a social circus, which works with survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable situations. She supports membranes youth program for disadvantaged youth.
In Hackney and Anna believes in the core tene of Buddhism, the reverence of life, and it's what threads all of these paths together and keeps her striving to create new ways to ensure no one gets left behind. Anna, welcome to the podcast.
[00:03:54] Anna: Well, it sounds like you've know, it makes me sound really good when you read it like that.
I might have to, oh my gosh, my , that's great. I'm sitting here glowing now. Did I do that? ? Did I do all that? I love it. I listening to it. Thanks for inviting me on, Andrea. It's really nice to be here.
[00:04:12] Andrea: I cannot wait to talk to you about really all the things. It's impressive, everything that you have done, and it sounds like you've spent probably the majority of your life in service of marginalized people and seeking out ways to highlight their message and to help them with their own self-confidence and self-love, and helping them foster this message of hope and a message of peace.
You've done all of these things while living. With multiple chronic illnesses, which I think is amazing. So I always like to start with what people were doing before they became aware of their chronic illness or were diagnosed because I, I just don't think our story is our illness. And before you were kind of officially diagnosed, you were doing something pretty interest.
[00:05:05] Anna: Well, I was, yeah, wearing too much Lyra was probably what I was doing. I was training at circus school and I was training to be a performer and I was working weekends as a circus performer, and that was, you know, the dream. I had just got into a very prestigious circus school and managed to be there for only a number of weeks before I woke up one morning and couldn't walk.
and then that was it. I couldn't walk for two years after that.
[00:05:31] Andrea: So how do you even get into circus school? Like how does that even start? ?
[00:05:35] Anna: It's the most ridiculous story I LT to juggle at a hotel balloon festival. I mean, it does. I just realized that I, my life sounds like a film script. I tell people if you like, name a word and I'll tell you a story about it.
But I was at a hot air balloon festival with my family and it was too windy for the balloons to go up. So, and there was a stool there selling, juggling equipment. And I learned to juggle instead. And from there I ended up working in nightclub from a very young age. Well, way younger than I was, you know, before I was, I wasn't enough to be in.
I was doing Q Entertainment outside at all of these places that many years later my friends ended up going to for fun and hilariously, I'd always, uh, by that point I'd already associated like nightlife and clubbing with work environments. So I was kind of, yeah, so that's, so I started from there and that just kind of the whole social scene event I just really liked and it was a really beautiful space to be in and in that era and I developed sort of a really strong.
Social network through those channels of circus, juggling things when I was a teenager and very impressionable and I still have many of those brilliant friends today. I'm very good at picking people up along the way and carrying them with more on my journey. I don't really let friends go, so I have super wide circles and it's really beautiful to sort of travel with people for 20, 30 years of.
I'm really, really fortunate like that. So that's how it all started. And then I went to circus school and then I was there for about three and a half seconds and then life changed very drastically.
[00:07:05] Andrea: Yeah. You say that you something very, very scary. It's you woke up and couldn't walk.
[00:07:12] Anna: Yeah, I just swung my legs out of bed and that was it.
They just didn't, my legs didn't work anymore and I spent a lot of time in and out of hospital over the next two years. I was on and off crutches. I lost use of my arms at various points since I wasn't, wasn't able to move with the crutches, and I lost my eyesight at various points during that period. As.
And there was just not very much support or medical sort of response to it really. I would get an awful lot of, oh, well, if it's still hurting, come back in six weeks. Sort of responses to things. and after that, I mean, it took me two years of being quite a miserable teenager. I think, you know, it was quite an incredible age.
I just moved out of home and I just moved up to London to go and have my dream career, and then suddenly I was housebound and on mobility aids running just as sort of life was meant to be kicking off in a way. I managed to get myself mostly mobile again by being really. and although I, tell me about that.
I decided one New Year's Eve that I was going to, my, my new's resolution that I was, that I was going to teach myself how to walk again. Mm-hmm. and I sat on a wall and there was a building that was probably about four, maybe five meters away. And I sat there all night going, I'm going to make it just over there,
And it was Hogmanay and Edin. And I sat there the whole night going like, right legs, come on, we're going to do this. It took a lot of time and a lot of sort of me really trying to work out the nerves and the muscles in my legs and I did it. I got to that wall. It wasn't pretty and that was kind of the start of me realizing that I had some, I had more agency over my body than the medics who were telling me that there was, this was an imposs.
I think there was, there'd been a bit of a kick stop for there where doctor had casually mentioned that I'd be in a wheelchair for life without ever giving me a full diagnosis of what was going on. And I'm belligerent. And I was like, I know you've said swearing is okay on this.
[00:09:24] Andrea: Swearing is a hundred percent okay,
[00:09:25] Anna: it was just a real, like, it, it brought out all of my inner, inner teenager. Yeah. And I was so that, like, so that was huge. My situation for me. And isn't like a brilliant, like, oh, I just, I cured myself. But it was, that definitely wasn't this, you know, like the beginning of a slope where everything was glorious from then on.
But it gave me a moment of seeing what is possible when you really put your mind to it.
[00:09:49] Andrea: Yeah, I love that. I mean, I absolutely resonate with that because I was also pretty young and when I was diagnosed and when I was even like before diagnosis, when I started realizing like something's not right and got kind of the same thing, cuz with ms, it's like with the type of MS I had, it's like you would get certain symptoms and then they would go away.
And so it's like you would get the symptoms and they would go, you're like, oh, okay, well they don't know what it is, but it's gone now. So it's cool. And that would happen a lot. And then I get this diagnosis and I have this nurse come in and tell me at, I was like 22. So she was like, basically for the rest of your life, You will never be able to do like things like taking hot showers.
It's insane. You get your house ready for wheelchair access because at some point you're going to lose your ability to walk like saying the same stuff. And I remember doing the same thing as you. Like my inner teenage rebellion just bubbled up and I was like, hell no. Like you don't know me, you know, , I would say you're sort, you dunno who I'm like,
I don't want
[00:10:50] Anna: people think listening to this, thinking this is a good medical route and that all nurses should do this and that all of the teenagers will then get really belligerent and teach themselves
[00:11:00] Andrea: I think it just says a lot about our, just our fortitude kind of inner, even if like for me, I had not the self-awareness to know that this was just me knowing myself, but I think it was me knowing myself and knowing that , I wasn't going to let somebody else make up my mindset for myself.
Yeah. I couldn't put it in those words when it was happening. Yeah. But that's what I was doing. I was like, you're not going to give me my mindset on what this is going to be . I am going to exactly what you said, I have agency over what is going to happen in my life. And it doesn't have to be what you say, especially since you don't even know me or what's going on or, and I'm not even sure if you've read my file like Exactly.
Exactly. Yeah. I, I mean, I think that's amazing.
[00:11:42] Anna: That sounds like it's really different. Was really tough for you as. .
[00:11:45] Andrea: I think a lot of people listening can probably honestly relate to this. You know, whether or not they're inner , teenage, crazy person came out or not. It's at some point we have this pushback when we just have this feeling in our gut, whether we identify it or understand what's happening or not.
We have like this visceral reaction to, like you said, right? You're like, no, I am going to, I am going to walk. I am going to sit. until my legs start working. I mean, it's, it, I think it's, I just think it's amazing commentary on just the human, just the human existence and the human will to, to create a life that we want instead of accepting what people tell us without challenging anything.
[00:12:31] Anna: Yeah. Yeah. Stubbornness has served me well over the years. ?
[00:12:36] Andrea: Uh, yes. So, so you sat on that wall and you made it, you were walking there.
[00:12:41] Anna: So I got there and from there, you know, then obviously I needed to make it back and I was, you know, I think I was probably, I was probably on and off mobility aids for about five years or so, and I still have them in my house and I, like I have currently, I have long covid and I have been struggling with that for nearly three years now.
I was, I was an early adoption and I'm back walking with mobility aids now, but that is, there's a 20 year gap in between those two things. Mm-hmm. and I think that probably the reason why I didn't use mobility aids for the majority of the time in between is cuz I got like better at listening to my body and better at pacing.
And so if I thought that if I probably needed to be using my crutches, then I probably was doing too much at that point. And I had worked out various different regimes of Pilate's, exercise, things that kept me relatively on the road. But as soon as any of the things slipped, you know, like it didn't take much for the whole structure to to collapse.
Like there was a lot of time maintain. Things all being in working order. And then I would think I was, I think for the, for the first, as you can, as as your introduction spells out, like I'm very prone to putting too much on my plate. And I think I definitely threw out my twenties, went through this cycle of over-committing, burning, out, getting ill, not knowing how I'm going to fit all the things in that I missed out when I was ill, so I overcommitted again.
And it was just this cycle of, I don't know what you. Capitalism perhaps. But you know, that's like this sort of ableist society that we're in. Yeah. That teaches us that our value is linked to our productivity. And especially if you are in a body that is not functioning in a way that we are deemed to be , deemed to be worthy, then you kind of try and overcompensate with all of the stuff that you need to get done.
Cause you never know when it's going to be taken away from you. I think, and to some degree.
[00:14:45] Andrea: I think you're exactly right. I mean, I think, I don't think there's any better way to, to explain that. I think it's right. I mean, think we all can get wrapped up in, I mean, especially if you're cut from a certain cloth, like there are some of us and high hunch is year one , that we're just high achievers.
We just want, it's like our passion and what we want and what we can do. Slightly exceeds our energy and our time and our , our ability, especially when you have a chronic illness.
[00:15:15] Anna: I agree with you, but I think that it's really interesting the older I get, how much I notice how much. High achievers is a kind of like a crown that we quite often put on overstretching ourselves within a patriarch society that tells people who are socialized as women Yeah.
To put their needs last to overstretch themselves and to never consider themselves or they're considered selfish. Yes. Or, and I think that actually not considering ourselves, we are given these medals for, and actually I think some of this stuff we could do with kind of stripping back of going. How many high achievers look after themselves and why not?
You know, like it's really
[00:15:53] Andrea: No, I think, I think you're exactly right. I think it is. I think there's a lot in there as far as living in this society that expects, or even like judges you, based on what your output is, how much money you make, how you know, whatever it is. And then we in turn internalize that and judge ourselves on those same metrics and I think that it can.
It can get wrapped up because I do think there is a foundation in itself of when you really, truly just want to do a lot of stuff, you really truly just want to. Help a lot of different people in a lot of different ways, and maybe you have a lot of different interests and you want to dive in. I think there's a level of that that's just pure and ambitious, and I think it's unfortunate that it does get wrapped up in these ableist societal norms that lead to us doing so much of it because we feel like not only is it something that we enjoy doing just for our.
Enjoy me. We have to prove that we're doing enough of it and we have to prove that we're successful and in, in working that way, it takes us out of that. I think that humble space of just wanting to serve or wanting to do something and into another space. Yeah. And taking us outta that joy and puts us into that space where it's like we're taking on too much and we're trying to prove something and we're burning out because we're not looking after ourselves.
I think it could just get wrapped. Yeah, mixed up. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So let's just quickly before we move on, cuz there's just so much, but you did eventually get. A diagnosis or a couple of diagnoses. So just briefly, what is it that they diagnosed you? Like what's going on?
[00:17:40] Anna: I don't have study diagnosis.
I was, there were quite a few clinicians who were pointing me to MS as well. So it's interesting to hear you speaking about it. But I was, again, a belligerent teenager and ducked out at the lumber puncture. I was like, no, you're good. I'll try walking off walls. You're all right over there. I. There's a few comp, I think with the knowledge that I have now about how the body works.
Mm-hmm. , I think there's a few compounding issues. I'm hypermobile and I think that hypermobility is an issue that. is very much underplayed in how much it destabilizes us, our energy and our just the chronic pain that people are in with their joints generally, whether it is EST or just generally being a bit too strictly, I think there's, you know, a sliding scale of how much pain that puts people in, and if you are unable to sort of sit still in your joints because they're too painful.
You are always moving and I saw a brilliant tweet. I should credit it, but I can't remember who it's from, of someone saying that. No wonder like people who who have hypermobility are always exhausted because just standing up is the equivalent of trying to stay steady on a bus, but you are constantly moving to try and get away from the pain point.
So that's kind of like an underlying thing that is not the biggest problem. I have had really severe endometriosis since I was a teenager. . And throughout my teenage years, I would be bleeding for 15 to 20 days a month, and I would be passing out, I would be vomiting and losing that amount of blood. I mean, pretty much three, three weeks of the month is going to exhaust anybody.
And I think I had a whole load of trauma that was un dealt with in my body. and I think that that doesn't have a, a clear name or diagnosis, but I think that a lot of the problems that I have in my body, I'm not a doctor, I haven't studdied this stuff, but I think that there's an awful lot of stuff that happened to me when I was a kid that I didn't have words for, and I just stood in my body as problems.
I just happened to choose a career that was extremely active. And I am come from a long line of short, round people who are not meant to be doing back flips and swinging around in the air. I was not the kind of person that you would imagine to be in the circus. I'm lived in a fat body my whole life and my, my genetic makeup is not designed for high impact.
And possibly had I chosen an a career in accountancy, for example, maybe the structural problems in my design may not have shown themselves quite so. But it just so happened that I'm super active and things showed up. I was, I was doing a lot and things showed up. So I think probably a combination of those, or I may just have one of those general illnesses that they throw under.
I dunno what it is this week. It might be fi, fibromyalgia, you know, just like they have some of big umbrella terms that I feel are in 50 years time, they'll look back in the textbooks and go, obviously that was this. Yes. I mean, if I've been 200 years ago, it probably would've been consumption. I mean, I dunno what probably, right.
[00:20:51] Andrea: Yeah. . Well, and it's interesting because I think to a certain extent, getting a diagnosis doesn't necessarily change much. It might change if you're going into pharmaceuticals and you're getting specific treatments like yes, but as far as like your day-to-day,
[00:21:07] Anna: but even then, it's interesting because. I know how much I, how much time I spent trying to get a diagnosis when I was a teenager.
Mm-hmm. and how much I had to play the ill patient to get that. Mm-hmm. And actually, had I got that, what I would've got is medicine that's now 40 years out of date. And I was like, it's really interesting. Unless you are really in the system, you have a really good consultant who's keeping you up with the, the most up to date things.
Right. There's a chance that you may not have, you know, For my endometriosis, for example, I had the, you know, the top surgeon and the top consultant that I managed to see when I was 18 years old tried to give me a hysterectomy. Mm-hmm. . And thank goodness I went, I actually, it was my, I went to try, try some acupuncture and I was vegan at the time and they just said, you need to cut soy out of your diet.
Cause soy is caus. Massive abscesses and so as an natural source of estrogen and I managed to reduce the abscesses considerably within like six weeks and say they pulled the surgery. But that kind of thing, you know, you just never know what you've escaped by not getting a diagnosis, I think. And I don't think that's reasonable not to get one, but I think that one person's choice or label on things 40 years ago isn't necessarily what I wouldn't what me now would need
[00:22:18] Andrea: Right. Yeah. And I think that's a really good. Because like I was saying, like our day to day of living with what our body feels like, what we are learning about our body, like you were talking about with learning how much you can push things and what different aids help you in different way, like all of that.
is just us working with our body and our body presenting the way it's presenting. And it really doesn't matter what a specific diagnosis is. And I understand that, you know, for some people there's a catharsis. So for some people there is a a pathway with different things
[00:22:54] Anna: literally. I think as well, I feel like sometimes just having that label makes people feel like they're not making it up.
And when you have so many people questioning, especially if it's something that isn't necessarily visually obvious.
[00:23:06] Andrea: So the day-to-day of what you're, you're talking about with dealing with learning about your body, connecting with your body, understanding what you can do, what you can't do, what's going on.
This was happening at the same time you were. Connected somehow with working with the circus, working with marginalized individuals, you were still doing things, so how was it that you were able to balance working with your body, understanding what was going on with what you needed, and also putting yourself out there and helping people?
These pretty traumatic situations that they themselves were having,
[00:23:49] Anna: I think a whole load of it. I think I've probably spent most of my twenties railroading it and just ignoring it, working through it, pretending it wasn't happening. because I was less able to be mobile. I could just work the whole time.
And I ran a fantastically brilliant company that I'm super proud of for most of my twenties. And what I realized when I couldn't suddenly couldn't move anymore, was that the majority of my friends were really good circus performers. And it's hard for us even to remember now what times were like before the internet.
I'm sure you've got lots of people listening. You can't even remember a world without the internet. But before the internet, if you, the way that you found things was you had to know someone. Like there is, there's, you don't find fire breathers at the back of the phone directory. Like how would you, you had to know someone who knew someone.
And I was the person who knew the people and this just happened to be like the dawn of the internet and we had no idea at that time. That how much it would revolutionize our thinking for if we didn't know where to find something, we would look on this new fangled contraption that had come up with all of the information available to humankind.
And it just so happened that this broke, this kind of internet thing came in. To existence at the exact time that I got ill. So I basically spent those two years that I couldn't work, sitting on my bed with a laptop, building a website, which was an online directory of all of my friends. And little did I know that people would then start going to websites to look up where you find a trapeze artist or a magician, or a hula hooper or a contortionist, something like that.
I literally had two years where I couldn't do anything else, so I just worked on search engine optimization. And for like one, I remember like , brilliant love images, but I remember like my legs really hurting one day and they were causing me so much pain. And I went and I had this scolding hot bath, just try and get any sensation in my limbs whatsoever.
And then in the bath I was like, oh, I wonder if that would work. And so I slipped out the bath, slithered like a little seal back over to my little. And I bought circus for 60 pence and that was a really good investment. . Yeah. I was like, I wonder if that, no, that hasn't gone. And that just, I think I did really well from that because I was just working on s e o and I was, had a really good domain name and some really amazing friends.
And for 10 years, I think at the peak of it, I had seven staff and we were working all around the world every week and I regularly burnt out and got sick and pretended it wasn't happening. And then toward, we had the financial crash of 2008 kind of. Hit me hard and that so coincided around about that time.
I think I was just a te, I'm like the world's worst capitalist and I'd never put myself on the list. I was always going to do well by everybody else around me and had never really considered that it was okay to pay yourself, cuz that felt like a selfish thing to do. And I didn't really have much of a cushion.
And then during that period, my mom got sick and I spent three years looking after my mom into what developed into leukemia. And during that period, the sort of work closed up and I became, you know, like caring for her was my primary focus. And that took, she fought the good fight and it was three years before she died in my arms.
And then we had. I think probably six months or so. And then her mum, the age of 93 started having very similar symptoms and, and was just very old and she just lost her only child. And so I started looking after my nan and went through the same process with my Nan. So, Until my NA died, my, my arms sort of two years later and it was that sort of process, obviously being caring, caring.
I was in the very fortunate position of being able to care for the people that I love, right? The last chapter of their lives. But that kind of decimated me financially and, and workwise as well, and emotion. . I was very much, you know, I'd kind of been living a lifestyle that was mostly work and having a brilliant time, and then suddenly being on chemo wards and all of the rest of it.
Right. Yeah. And grief. Yeah. Grief is no. Is no joke. Is no joke. Yeah. So both of that kind of really hit really hard and in between all of that sort of, I think probably there was a few other instances I was attacked personally. Someone that I love dearly was attacked and it turns out that it's a lot harder to get over someone else being attacked than yourself cuz yourself, you have to get on with things.
But for someone you. You can just stay livid at the world. And I think actually the other person getting attacked in such a horrific violent manner, broke something in me, like broke my love of humanity in a way that was just like I was absolutely destroyed. And during that period as well, I had a miscarriage and so there was just a lot of compounding things that got me.
A very, very fragile place.
[00:29:09] Andrea: Yeah. So what did you do? Did you allow yourself that space? I lost my father a little over a year ago and I, I kind of stopped functioning. I just cocooned and like didn't do anything. How was it for you? How were you processing?
Cuz there, there was a lot to process.
[00:29:27] Anna: Yeah, I as is, I'm sorry for your loss. I think the compounding layer of, you know, losing the two oldest older women in my family and then losing my own daughter co like it, that kind of spiraled me to a place of not really having the resources and I got to a very ugly place where I.
Within my Buddhist practice, I have a solid Budd Buddhist faith, and every day I chant Namu Myoho Renge kyo, which as you said in the introduction and the kind of the, the essence of it means I dedicate myself to the reverence of life. And I think at my lowest, lowest E I remember sitting there one day, remember it's so clear, and I was sat there and I chanted for who knows how many hours.
And I was like, right universe. Like I want absolute tangible evidence that I have anything to say that the world needs to hear or I am off, like I was just out there like the universe is some validation vending machine going like, now's the time, show up or don't. Cuz I am over this. and I was absolutely dead set on some very ugly cause of action and I chance enchanted and I was like, I need to have, I need to have evidence that there were like, I think I, I was so distraught at the time.
I remember that I was actually struggling to form words, like I wasn't speaking to people. I wasn't able to communicate. I think the miscarriage sort of did a lot for, and, and the, the, my personal attack as well landed me in hospital and there was a lot of things. I just wasn't phrasing stuff very well. I think it was all.
I was like, I need to feel like I have something to say to keep me here. Like does anybody need to hear my contribution? And I finished this like bargaining type chanting that is really not the essence of at all, but there we are. Let's put it in a hackney way. And I finished and I checked, like a message flashed up on my.
And it was a request for me to do a TED Talk. And I was like, no, not that . That's too much evidence. Thank you, . I just, and I was in like from the worst state ever been in my life to like, oh, and by the way, here's the biggest platform you were ever going to get.
And I was like, okay. So I knew that I had like, you know, I had to, I was like, well, You did it yourself, , you can't pull your finger out. Now be careful what you ask for. Yeah, exactly that. Exactly that.
[00:32:03] Andrea: That's amazing. So is that the TED Talk that I, we were talking before we started recording. Is that the one that I watched?
Yeah. It's unbelievable. I'll put the link in the show notes. So at that point though, with that TED Talk, it's about activism. Yeah. It's about, I mean, being in it, the stories that you tell. So. , you were like, another layer right on top of this is you were pretty heavy into activism while this was happening and I, I guess your photography was already going.
[00:32:30] Anna: Yeah, I think, I mean, I've always taken a lot of pictures, like my dad has always really brought me up to believe that you never get a second chance or a good picture. Mm-hmm. and I happened to have been. . I think fortunate in a way, I think someone, someone on Twitter once accused me of, of saying that whenever they see trouble, they see me running at it with my lens.
And I think that because I, when I would be at things like protests or social justice demonstrations, I would see all of these big, burly lads with their massive zoom lenses being very sort of, it was a very masculine energy sort of barging to the front and not really taking care of the people or what was going on, and I realized that I could just be unseen.
The majority, like they just weren't looking at me. I'm fat, I'm female, I'm just, you know, look a bit scruffy. I don't, my equipment's not very good and I could just get the shots that other people weren't necessarily seeing. And I was always brought up, you know, my dad would like walk me through the woods when I was a child and we weren't going home until I'd found the face in the bark.
Like I have a very sort of like curious, inquisitive. and a friend of mine once said that the thing that they love about my photographs the most is that it feels like hanging out with me and this kind of naughtiness that I, I will watch the per, I think probably my circus background as well. Like I'll spot the person who's just about to be naughty before they, they're going to do it maybe before they know they're going to do it.
Like I can see the people and what's happening in the interactions, whereas the guys with the big lenses would go for what seems like the obvious thing. But I would get those moments and so, Got myself in a very fortunate position when activists or protestors were going to do something mischievous, they'd like, I'd get the message going, can you be here at this time?
We are going to, you know, and I'd just be like, yeah, who knows what you're going to do? And I'll come and , I'll come and make sure that your side of the story is being told. So that was going on beforehand and, and that sort of coincided with the, the liftoff of Twitter really. And it was just a really beautiful time.
Feeling like things were possible. You know, Korea Square was kicking off. We really felt like the Arab Spring felt like a moment of real optimism and that I was heavily involved in Occupy in London. And there was, from that, there was the sort of birth of sisters uncut here that was. Taught me most, nearly every good thing I know about intersectional feminism and organizing in a non-structured way, in a way that sort of really centers equity and and care.
And I just, as I say, pick people up along the way and keep my friends with me. And I've got some incredible people who've had a lot of care and patience to teach me about the importance of making sure that the people who are not in the room or the people who are not being heard in the room should always have a space at.
So you're really making sure that all of the work that I do, and the more that I did work with social justice, the more that I did work with activists of just trying to really make sure who isn't in the room and try and sort of look around and see where we can make more spaces for more people who weren't being heard.
[00:35:29] Andrea: And so at this time were you were brought to your knees with just processing and grieving and everything else, it was almost like you were. and you were honored for what you had done and invited to go see or go have this TED talk.
[00:35:48] Anna: So I did the TED talk and ar, it was around that time that I was like, you know, I'd kind of lost all of my threads and orientation really.
And I opened up Facebook one day and I happened to see that some friends of mine were working with a social circus in Nepal and Nepal is a co, it was my mom's favorite country. It's somewhere that I had visited with my mom when I was a teenager trying to help set up a dentist there in a Tibetan refugee camp.
And it was somewhere that, you know, mom had already wanted to get back to and hadn't been able to. And he was, he or my friends talking about this social circus. And I was like, Wow, I'd really like to go and help there. And so I managed . I managed to get there by finding money from complete thin air, which was an amazing, another sort of little trick of the universe to get me out there when I was like, I can't afford to go and work for free for an, for a charity.
That's ridiculous. I don't have a, I've just spent all of my money looking after people who are dying. Like I've got nothing. And then one day I was like, again, after chanting, I was like, how much do you actually need? Like you've just decided that you don't, like, you can't do it, but you don't even know how much a flight is.
So I just put into a search engine, like how mu, I dunno, like how much is a flight to Nepal? Something like that. And for some reason completely unrelated. Like absolutely unrelated. What came up was a news story from. 18 months previous of a tabloid newspaper, quite a hateful rag in the uk, and it was, they'd used one of my photographs.
And so I rang the National Union of Journalists and said, this newspaper have used my photograph without permission. What's the score? And they said, well, if they had bought it, it would've probably been about 40 quid. But because they've used it without permission, you get to set the. So I worked out how much my flight was.
I worked out how much my accommodation was. I worked out my food bill, like I wasn't greedy. I just worked out three months away and I billed them for it. So they paid for the trip. It was a bit of a fight to get it, but they paid for the trip. And I went to initially go and volunteer with Circus Katmandu and then ended up, I think I was out there in my, the initial trip was perhaps a month or two, I can't really remember.
And then I came back. I'm very, I. I can't, I generally, my, my brain is a bit fuzzy on timelines, but I think what happened was I came back and then, or it might have been my second trip over there, I was asked to support them more. It was after either my first or second trip over there. We'd set up a whole load of meetings with various different organizations, trying to get them more work, trying to help them sustain their own business, and they're an incredible organization.
It is made up of survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable situations. It's young people who've been rescued from and returnees from circuses. When they were children, and these are the people who were really proud of the skills that they have learned and they want to carry on performing. And I was helping them set up their own business.
So I was helping them sort of how to get work, how to draw up contracts, how to arrange business meetings, how you could actually keep, make yourself a sustainable business. As well as having the performance skills. Because my background, obviously, having known all the circus stuff, I also knew how to run a, a business within circus.
And that's what I was trying to share with. And the whole idea was to be able to sort of teach them these skills and then be able to take one step back. So with everything that I did, it was giving them the power to be able to conduct this stuff themselves. I had an credible trip over there where we had meetings with like all of the big.
Banks, all of the big shopping centers we had like all of the big organizations there. Being like in Europe we have these big parties. You have acrobats, you have stilt walkers. This is how you promote something. This is what go, this is how you raise the visibility of your product is with circus people.
This is exactly what you want. Everybody was very enthusiastic about it and I flew home and the kids. Flew onto Australia where they were doing an exchange program with some Australian youth out there. And by the time that they landed in Australia, and by the time that I landed in the uk, there was the earthquake, which was, so that was 2017, which wiped out, I mean, pretty much everyone that we had set up all of these connections with, because the majority of the people that we worked with were in big, tall glass building.
Oh my gosh. And it was, I, I honestly forget the numbers. I think it was 7.2 on the Richter Scale. Mm-hmm. , there was the death numbers I did used to know, but it was, it was a horrific loss. And going back, sort of going back into that, as soon as you trying to go and help out, we then diverted. The work that we were doing to try and help sort of stem, use their personal stories to try and calm down some of the increased rates of trafficking that were happening because of the earthquake.
Because as there are a number of vultures that as soon as the crisis happens mm-hmm. sweep on an area and the trafficking rates absolute bureau rocketing directly after the. And so we worked on, there's an incredible film that was being made, a documentary, which I can send you the link for. Maybe keep put in the show notes.
We will absolutely put that in the show notes. Yes. It's a beautiful film, which is the young people telling their story. And we use this film in conjunction with workshops to be able to teach people on the board of villages, which are most at risk of trafficking, to try and be able to teach them how to role play and how they can respond to potential traffickers coming to the village.
So being able to use their personal stories. They attract people with a crowd by performing their. And then they talk a little bit about their history and say, you know, the guy who comes to the village and tells you, the children will tell you that you can have visitation rights and naturally he's lying and they can talk about from their own personal history.
And so I spent a couple of years coordinating that project alongside the film and showing the film as well, which is incredible. And we had that on a, you know, it's a, a beautiful feature length film called Even When I Fall. And Yeah, that was a very long tangent, wasn't it?
[00:42:04] Andrea: I was, I mean, I was holding my breath.
I think it's an amazing story. You have all of these amazing stories in your life, and I think it just, it just highlights the, not just like the ability and the talent that you have as a organizer, community organizer, and activist, and helping people. To create a sustainable business around something that they, that they want to do.
But I think it's also shows just your heart and your genuine just desire to help people to come into their own and stand in who they are. They're authentic self that and, and speak their authentic voice and not be afraid and not feel like they have to. Quiet themselves or stand in the background. You help them through, I mean, through your photography and through your coaching and the combination, which I want to get into, it's, it seems like you are helping people realize not only their own gifts and what they have, but looking at even the parts of us that are something that we think is a tragedy, something.
Maybe some people would rather forget and realizing that that is a strength and that is something that you can use to help other people in just enormous ways.
[00:43:31] Anna: I think it's really, for me, it's really important with all of the work that I do to be able to offer people a, a space to be seen and to to treat themselves as respect.
Valued humans that that their story is not only worthy, but also worth being heard and worth being seen. And I think the majority of people, I dunno whether it's socialization or there's what happens along the way, but most people have this, oh, it shouldn't be me. I should hide in the background. I'm not good enough.
There are more important people air about them. Or just kind of manner of like, I'm not good enough to step forward. And I think with all of the work that I've done, what it, I've really seen and noticed is that the more of us that do that, the less space there is created for people who look a bit like us or have similar life experiences for us or who are coming up, who are, you know, have a similar story to us, but it's even worse.
And they're hiding in the shadows. And actually by us not sort. Cutting through that, that path through the undergrowth. What we are doing is we're not enabling some a space for other people to have the lights on on them as well. And I think that the more of us who are able to show a wider representation of human experience, whether that is in the photographs that I see I take with different body types, different body share, he shapes different body shape D.
Body attitudes right the way through to people telling their own stories, which is, you know, the incredible work that you do platforming people's experiences. The more that we share that there is this common humanity in all of it, the more space that could be for more of us to be able to feel safe, loved, and respected, which is basically like, The world's problems, isn't it?
There is no way that any of the atrocities that were, that go on in the world would not be occurring if people felt like they were safe, loved, and respected. You could name your biggest menace you can think of in the world. and if they felt happy in themselves and like that they were safe, frankly, I dunno that this is like, this is my boiled down version of Buddhism, but they wouldn't be being an asshole, would they?
If they felt like they were all right and everything was okay and they didn't need to defend themselves. Like maybe we could just stop people being assholes to each other by like showing ourselves respect. And when we show our self respect, we can provide the space for other people. To respect them because we don't make whatever's going on about them, about us.
And that's the real key I think, when we ground ourselves in knowing, in not having our own self opinion, be needing to be validated by other people when we are not searching for that in other people around us. When we get a real cause solid sense of who we are, we stopped looking to two other people to be able to.
Fill the gaps that we've created with our own self-criticism. So that's why I think that self-development work is so crucial in creating a kinder world because I think we have this idea that like self-care is a bit self-indulgent, but actually I think it's essential. Have I gone off on another tangent, Andrea?
[00:46:38] Andrea: No, your tangents are beautiful. . Sorry, I, no, I mean, I wholeheartedly agree with everything. Let's just, let's just start there. I think you're right. I think so much of not seeing eye to eye, because let's face it, people have different ideas because they have different upbringings, they have different experiences.
They have, you know, everybody's different. Not necessarily respecting somebody else's different idea can be rooted in fear of what it is that they think, or it can also be rooted in. A projection that we ourselves can have. We tend to be, or we can be hard on ourselves and like you said, not accepting ourselves because of pick something.
Right. , there's, I think we can all list things about ourselves that we think are quote unquote unacceptable, sadly. And I think we project that. onto someone else. I'm thinking, well, I think this about myself. I don't respect myself in this way, or I'm not loving myself in this way, or I am insecure about myself in this way.
Or I think I did this wrong because of like go back to the beginning of the of when we were talking, right? Like there are all these reasons that we can think this way and we can project it onto someone else and think, well, they think that of us. And so I have to be defensive. I have to not listen. And it, you're right.
I think it creates a lot of that unrest.
[00:48:08] Anna: And I think also it it, when we like what we fear other people think about us is always what we think about ourselves. Exactly. Like I spend around about 372 years being single before I was with my current partner. If someone during that time had. Said to me, oh Anna, the reason that you are, the reason you're single is cuz you're fat.
Like I, we live in a fat phobic society. I'm very aware, conscious of the space that I take up, like, you know, I think that would've really hurt me even though my politics don't align with it and blah, blah, blah. If someone who came up to me in exactly the same scenario, exactly the same situation and was just like, you know, the reason you are single is cuz you're too tall.
I'd be like, You know, cool. Right. You do you honey. Like it's just not an issue for me. I'd be like, weird. And so I think that we have, we, we've kind of got a, there's a kind of, again, butchering Buddhism, but there's like a phrase in kind of idea in, in Buddhism that like, you can't hang a coat or you can't hang your coat on a, on a door that doesn't have a hook.
Like there's gotta be something there for it to, you know, otherwise it just slides down. If you don't have that kind of splinter within yourself, like the insult just kind of waters off. Like, if someone tells me that the reason that I'm not rich is cuz my skin's too purple, I'll be like, cool . Yeah. You know, like, yeah.
So it's, it's kind of really interesting. Sometimes we can use people as mirrors, like if we have something that feels a bit painful, it's like, oh well, clearly. , there's something in that. And so is that, you know, is that just like something I want to draw a little highlight around that? Like, not that they're right, but is that something that feels a bit sore in me that I want to do some work on?
Mm-hmm. , like where am I giving myself a hard time in that area?
[00:49:45] Andrea: And I think it's beautiful that you help people with that. You help people look at, you know, where it is that they maybe are providing that hook for somebody to hang their their coat on. And let's look at that. And I think it's, as somebody who doesn't love being photographs, and as a coach, I understand that, like I think the intersection of photography and coaching is genius because I think it can highlight a lot of those places where we're providing hooks for, for other people.
[00:50:17] Anna: and it just, it's so, I mean, I'm going to guess that you had a look at my website before I came on
[00:50:23] Andrea: maybe , I, you, I all my guests before I talked to them.
[00:50:29] Anna: But for anyone who's listening, I think what, like if you go to my website and you look at the Empowerment Gallery like. What you see there for each. I'm not a sort of like, put your hand here, pose over here, sort of photographer.
What you see is a whole load of humans who are like each individual vigil picture. I think you'll, you'll back me up on this, Andrea, like you want to know their story. Like each one is each person, you're just like, what's go, what's going on with you? Like, I need to know, there's such a rich tapestry of humans out there humoring.
And I think probably like the comment I hear most about my photography is, oh, I can really see myself. And it's so like I really l I think we have, most of us, if not all of us, have one particular look and probably a cluster of very few thoughts that we think regularly when we look at ourselves in the mirror.
And so we think this is, we think this is the way that we appear to the world. And what you don't get to see is all these other moments when you are belly laughing or not finding something funny, which obviously never happens in my. Generally, most of my pictures are just trying to make people laugh and we have this kind of like this idea as to sort of like, it's almost like a face that we set that we want to see how we want the world to see us when we see in the mirror and we don't see that moment that the all the people who love you know about you when you are just about to tell a story that you've told 2000 times.
Or when you are, you know, feeling you are actually in a little bit of pain, but you're not going to say it yet because you don't want to be a bother to people or that feeling when you are like a little bit tired but you want to push on through cuz you don't want to miss the excite. There's like so many different moments of like facial expressions and bits of you.
You never get to see cuz you've got this story that you're telling yourself when you see it in the mirror. And what I try and do with the photography and try and break down in some of the coaching work that I do as well is just that all, like the more of us we bring to a room, the more people will feel welcome in all of the rooms that we go to.
So it's a real essence of like trying to make sure that there aren't bits of us that we are hiding cuz we don't think that they're welcome. That actually the more of us that we allow to film Mel, welcome the more people will feel welcome. That's the kind of essence of combining them.
[00:52:44] Andrea: Anna, I could talk to you for another five hours. This is so amazing. Sorry I have links to everything in the show notes, but for just to let people know. What's the best way that they can get in touch with you or follow you or just kind of get into your world?
[00:52:59] Anna: So the, obviously if you're in the uk, I'm going to have a photo shoot with me.
The coaching I run, I run on a really accessible format. So I have it on an if you can, if you can't, and for if you need it basis. So for self-care school, it's at self-care uk. I have a price for people who are on a full wage. I have people who if you ha have a concession wage and if you identify as a survivor, you can't afford it, you wouldn't be able to access self-care work by any other means.
Whatever your definition of survivor is and you need that space. There's a best reform on the website. I don't think Americans use the web best very much. A use scholarship. There's a scholarship form. Okay. . Sorry. It's not just Americans listening, so I'm sure a big, a big portion of the audience know what you're talking about.
American, recently it was like, what is that word you keep saying? Free. That's the word that we all use because I think it's, I. And we, it's, there's group coaching work there, so that is at self-care ek. My photography stuff and my social medias, uh, heard in London, and that is on Instagram, Twitter, my, if you like my hackney tones, I'm the opposite of you, Andrea.
I have a very short podcast and my aim is to try and keep the podcast episodes under five minutes each week, but I don't always manage it. . I could never do that. My. Imagine me with my mouth, keep it into under five minutes and that is spam filter for your brain, so you can look that up wherever you want to.
[00:54:32] Andrea: Fantastic. All of this is going to be in the show notes, so you can definitely go there and get links to everything. Anna, thank you so much for coming on and. Sharing just your amazing story.
[00:54:43] Anna: This such a pleasure. We'll have to bring the next 20 years on another five hour episode. ,
[00:54:50] Andrea: I still can't believe you under five minutes.
I just, that just blows my mind. , well, thank you. Thank you so, so much. I really appreciate it.
[00:54:58] Anna: Thank you so much for hosting. It's been a real joy.
[00:55:02] Andrea: If you like the show, don't be shy. Please give us a five star rating and review. Follow us on Apple Podcast, Amazon music, or wherever you're listening right now.
To see complete show notes and resources mentioned in this episode, visit Andrea Hanson Thank you for joining me, and until next time, take care.

About Live Your Life, Not Your Diagnosis

Live Your Life, Not Your Diagnosis podcast

Hear inspiring discussions with people living with chronic illness. These people went after their passions and big goals -even when everyone told them they couldn’t. Listen to stories of resilience and gratitude in the face of uncertainty.

I’m your host, Andrea W. Hanson, Author, Motivational Speaker, and Autoimmune Rebel living with multiple sclerosis. You’ll not only fall in love with these guests, but you’ll soak up positive mindset tips and ideas to find your own unique path to success.

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