Rebecca's achievements have not stopped despite living with a chronic illness - she shares her important lessons as a mum, wife and business woman of the year.
My passion is educating the growing tourism industry in Northern Tasmania. I provide businesses, groups and government with the latest information to assist their development. My special interest is online marketing, distribution channels and social media.
I was born in the early 1970s in Tasmania and my family has a rich history with our beautiful island home. Life is good, from the outside I guess our life looks close to perfect.
Rob and I have been together since the mid 90s, an office romance at our regional newspaper. We married soon after, super keen to travel the world together but nature had other ideas and we became pregnant.
Early on I began having issues with my health and was in hospital at 7 months with failing organs and a baby inside that didn’t thrive. Oliver was born prematurely but he was beautiful.
Strange aches continued but I presumed everyone experienced this whilst looking after a baby. Within two years another lovely boy, Jasper, was born.
My body failed me often but on the outside I appeared my usual confident self, on the inside my usually bright outlook was decidedly grey. Rob was the only one who could really look into my soul and see chronic pain was robbing me of my trademark drive.
Several years of painkillers and numerous visits to various doctors and I was finally diagnosed with a mild form of Lupus.
Lupus is a chronic illness where your body’s immune system thinks that your connective tissue is foreign and tries to attack it. Connective tissue is all throughout your body, therefore, the symptoms can range from fatigue, and joint pain right through to major organ failure.
Having two little children is hard work for any parent. But having a chronic illness certainly adds a whole other element.
I found that I couldn't handle my children's behaviour and would often just lie on the couch and cry because my joints hurt too much to get up and assist my boys, plus I was too proud to ask anyone for help.
I began to accept more hours at my job at Ansett just to be able to sit still for a blissful few hours. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was using work to escape my feelings of failure as a parent, homemaker and wife.
After Ansett collapsed I helped out at my parents new business, a tourism experience called Tamar River Cruises. I fell in love with the industry and my background in media and travel enabled me to promote the business effectively.
My father had a serious accident whilst we were building our second boat and took a long time to rehabilitate, leaving much of the business in my hands.
We had an amazing team and I concentrated on developing and promoting the business. The outcome being a 30% increase in visitation each year, plus winning 9 awards including Tasmanian Tourism Awards and the prestigious Telstra Business Awards for Innovation.
In 2006, I was awarded the Telstra Tasmanian Corporate Business Woman of the Year. The judges weren’t aware of the personal challenges I had faced, so only a select few knew how gratifying this was to me.
My family sold Tamar River Cruises in 2008 and I currently work for Tourism Tasmania.
I find it hardest to stay confident when underneath the bubbly exterior I am experiencing chronic pain. The uncertainty of disease progression has a way of undermining my self-confidence and making me doubt I can go on.
I remain confident by nurturing a supportive group of industry colleagues and friends who only ever see the authentic me. Also, it’s easier to be confident by remaining up-to-date in the latest trends in my field so that my presence represents value to my colleagues. Plus moving outside my comfort zone and presenting on a new topic always gives me a huge buzz directly after the event.
But when all else fails I just listen to my dearest friend Susan who always tells me how good I am - even when I am not!
Chronic illness has a way of affecting every area of my life bit by bit. There is no quick fix but over the years I have found that the only way to lower its impact is by really looking after my body.
It’s all about choices: healthy diet, light exercise, resting when I need to (that’s a hard one for me), lots of cuddles and not taking on too much. I find the more I look after my body the less pain I experience but after all these years I still struggle between what my ambitious nature desires and what my body is capable of.
Both our children have learning disabilities, attention deficits and Oliver is on the Autism spectrum. Raising kids with learning disabilities is certainly a challenge and I do admit to being slightly envious when I see children sitting quietly and reading a book, for example.
But our children are amazingly energetic, handsome and courteous and will grow to be wonderful functioning adults with the support of two parents that value time spent with them.
We cope with the extra demands of our kids by loving them, spending time with them and showing them how to make the most of everyday. We also ensure that we get occasional breaks from the children to reconnect and refocus and plan how we are going to tackle life’s next challenges.
Leaving behind our small business has allowed me to relax, heal and refocus. Over time I have changed my values. I used to believe that my career was very important but now I know that work is just a part of the mix and that the people around me are all that matter.
I know that the only way to cope with multiple pressures in life is to lower expectations and stop trying to be perfect. Choosing to surround myself with authentic people who don’t care what I look like or how messy my house is makes life feel more relaxed.
I have worked to become a confident parent too and no longer need to escape domestic life by taking on more hours at work.
And as for those previous travel plans? Well it’s been one hell of a detour but I am planning to be in Paris for my 40th.
P.S. From Confident Woman Editor: Illness can leave you feeling stressed, anxious and tense. The 2 CD set "Happy not Hassled" can help you relax your mind and body, stay calm, de-stress and unwind.