Meet our latest muse: Cara Byrne

Allow us to introduce you to our new muse, Cara Byrne, who is one of two incredible women to model our latest underwear collections. Cara appears alongside Tetyana Maryshko, a close friend, who plays both muse and photographer in a new portrait series that was shot in Ireland and perfectly encapsulates the colour newness across our Eco Lace and Sheer Collections.

When Cara is not in front of the camera lens (this was a rare, and very special, stint) she works as an Integrative Therapist. Having combined a passion for psychotherapy with a love of hiking, Cara set up Hike Psych, a psychotherapy practice where client sessions incorporate hiking to maximise the efficacy of therapeutic processes.

We caught up with Cara ahead of launch to talk therapy, living with Type 1 Diabetes, modelling in underwear alongside your best friend and the importance of pockets (!). Have a read.

What experiences led you to set up Hike Psych in 2020?

The outbreak of Covid-19 meant my work with clients moved online and while I was happy that I could still practice, especially as so many people were struggling with the affects of the pandemic on their mental health, I have always felt that therapy in person works better. So much nuance is lost over screens and nuances are essential markers of emotional significance for psychotherapists. Being a Type 1 Diabetic also meant that I was more at risk if I caught Covid, so being indoors with anyone outside of my family posed an extra risk.

I discovered my love for hiking five years ago and I’d always been amazed at how natural it feels to have important conversations on the trails and how much better everyone feels after time outdoors. Hike Psych has created a space for clients who would never have felt comfortable sitting eye-to-eye with a therapist and even when a session is hard or painful, the endorphins from the movement and being outdoors seems to lessen the discomfort. It’s a win-win! 

Photography by Tetyana Maryshko

How has hiking psychotherapy impacted your personal journey and where you’re at now?

It’s been a wonderful new chapter in my journey. It’s granted me the opportunity to combine two things that I love, hiking and being a psychotherapist. It’s given me an even greater appreciation of my clients, many of which have gained a newfound love of hiking from doing it with me, which is amazing. 

You were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at a very early age, how did you manage this?

Yes, I was only three. I can’t really take credit for managing it early on, that unpleasant job went to my amazing mum and dad, who helpfully are a nurse and doctor respectively. It was so different then to how it is now, I don’t know how they kept me alive at all! 

The stress and worry they lived with was immense and I really am beyond grateful to them, they made it look easy and it definitely wasn’t. I started taking responsibility for it at quite an early age after a well-meaning relative who was minding me injected me in such a way that I didn’t receive any insulin and was subsequently very unwell. After that I started injecting myself, and I think I was around 6 or 7 years old at that point. I always had my family’s support but I had an intense desire to handle it myself as much as possible.

How has your diabetes affected your relationship with food and with your body?

Having had T1D from such an early age, I don’t recall ever not being diabetic so it’s hard to know for sure the precise affect as there’s no obvious before and after. However, I have three siblings and we all grew up in the same environment with the same parents and yet I’m the only one of us who has had a challenging relationship with food and my body so it’s tenable that diabetes is the cause.

I remember being brought to a Christmas party in the hospital that was for kids with diabetes and the table that had the food on it had little place markers beside each plate of food with how many items of each food type equalled 1 Exchange (this was how food for diabetics was measured in the 1980’s). I recall that I could have a total of 3 Exchanges for the duration of the party. When this is how eating at a party works your view on food is inevitably going to be screwed up! I remember being really hungry and eating a cup of popcorn, six grapes and three chocolate fingers. This resulted in a “bad” blood sugar reading after the party, which I internalised as me being bad for having eaten two extra chocolate fingers and I then had to have an extra injection to right the bad thing I’d done, my broken body punishing me for my perceived gluttony. This way of living puts such a moral value on foods. Food was good or bad, if I ate bad food then I was a bad diabetic, therefore I was bad.

Traditionally labelled “junk food” was very high in Exchanges and so it was rare and therefore felt more valuable. When technology changed and it was easier to eat what I wanted without multiple additional injections, of course I wanted what had been so scarce, but eating that sort of food always left me with such feelings of shame and guilt, like I was doing something wrong. All I was doing was allowing myself to eat things that I hadn’t had access to and wanted to experience and enjoy, but shame would make me feel horrible and I’d beat myself up about it and swear off it again. This created a restrict-binge cycle that I lived with for decades.

It was only when I learned to eat without self-judgement and criticism that I was free from this cycle. 

Photography by Tetyana Maryshko

What would you say to anyone struggling with T1D and body acceptance?

I guess I’d like them to know that they are not alone in their experience. The system was unintentionally set up in a way that ignored the impact of constant food focus on developing minds. Things have changed a lot, thankfully, but no system is perfect because we are all so different.

I’d love to pass on the idea that just because a part of you is broken (pancreas), it doesn’t make you any less amazing - the fact is that your body was trying to protect itself but in doing so, a part of you was hurt. The body you have is the only one you’re getting, so hating it or comparing it to others is pointless. All it does is make you feel worse.

Acknowledge all the things that your body can still do and try to appreciate that it still works amazingly well in spite of the daily battles it fights to keep you alive and well. Diabetes affects everything so there’s no part of your body that doesn’t deserve your respect and compassion for managing as best it can. You don’t have to love your body, but it does deserve respect and care.

On a practical note, curate your social media feed. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself and try to follow people who inspire and represent you. If being diabetic is affecting your self esteem or your eating behaviours then talk to your diabetes team in the hospital. Be brutally honest, chances are they have heard similar situations before. However, if you feel like you aren’t being heard or the focus isn’t on a variety of health promoting behaviours but is always on weight or food then ask if there is anyone HAES aligned that you can speak to. If there’s no one in the hospital who fits the bill then I’d certainly try to find a psychotherapist to help you work through it. In particular, one with an understanding of disordered eating.

Living with any chronic illness is hard, living with one that negatively impacts your sense of self, your eating habits, your sleep, your mood and your relationship with food - and a whole lot more - is really tough. You deserve to have your feelings validated because what you’re feeling is normal for what you’re going through.

You appear - alongside Tetyana, who is a very close friend - as a muse and model in our latest underwear campaign, how does that feel?

I don’t think I’d have been confident enough to do it with anyone else. I was terrified really, I haven’t worn a bikini since I was a child and I don’t usually even wear sleeveless tops! So prancing about in underwear, no matter how lovely, required serious consideration. To be honest though, the idea of other women and diabetics seeing themselves represented was such a motivation to do it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an abdomen that looks like mine online. I follow lots of body positive accounts on Instagram and I adore their content so I felt, having consumed someone else’s work for so long, that when presented with the opportunity to do something similar, to put something out that might help, if even in a tiny way, I just couldn’t say no!

I really thought that the lovely team at Heist wouldn’t go for it. I love all the normal bodies that appear across the Heist’s platforms, but I felt mine might be a little too much normal. Between an insulin pump, a sensor insertion, stretch marks galore, damaged muscles from pregnancy and a belly button that I affectionately say, looks like Yoda’s arsehole, I didn’t feel I was the best canvas to sell lingerie. I was proved wrong though and the Heist team couldn’t have been more positive and encouraging. Tetyana, an epic photographer and just the loveliest human on earth made the whole thing so much easier, she was calm, supportive and reassuring. I actually cried twice during the shoot, fearing a negative response from the public but I was so happy to be proved wrong. The response was truly uplifting and it’s an experience I’ll cherish forever! 

How important is reclaiming the ways in which we as a society identify with, and learn about, the visible parts of (to use your term) an invisible illness?

In fairness, as illnesses go, diabetes is pretty well known and most people have a basic understanding of it. Most people know or at least know of someone with diabetes be it Type 1 or Type 2. What is often misunderstood is the difference between the two and I know a lot of T1’s feel frustrated by that. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease with sudden onset in people of any age but mostly young people. I know an incredible little girl who got T1 at only 6 months old! Less than 10% of diabetics are Type 1. T1 cannot be managed through lifestyle changes and it cannot be prevented by them either, it requires insulin injections or a pump as well as constant blood glucose monitoring daily from the moment of diagnosis and there’s no cure, yet. If I had a Euro for every time someone said to me, “I know someone with diabetes but they aren’t like you, they have the bad version” I’d be rich. Type 2 is no walk in the park either but it’s management is less invasive and a lot less painful and it’s often preventable and usually happens much later in life. The immediate risk to life is far less for Type 2 as well.

In terms of reclaiming how we identify and learn, I'm always delighted to explain what I’m doing if I’m using my pump or checking my blood glucose in public. I welcome the chance to educate but that doesn’t go for everyone. I think if you see someone doing something and you’re curious about it then look it up. If it’s someone you know then ask, it’s nice to feel understood so the more people who know what’s going on the better for everyone. Don’t make broad assumptions that T1’s can’t eat particular things and definitely don’t assume that either Type caused the onset of the disease through eating too much sugar, for T2’s is way more nuanced than that and for T1’s it’s got zero to do with it!

As a person living with T1D, what do you want to see more of?

Pockets! When you’re on a pump you are attached to it 24 hours a day, when whatever you’re wearing doesn’t have a pocket that makes it really awkward and uncomfortable to wear and access the pump which you need to do with great frequency. Dresses and skirts are the worst for us. I mean who doesn’t love a dress with pockets! Leggings with side phone pockets don’t work at all unfortunately, I wish they did since I wear leggings for hiking. Jeans are great but often women’s jeans have fake pockets or really small pockets and the pump falls out. I’m clearly very passionate about pockets!

I’d also love to see more representation. I'd like more companies to do what Heist is doing and show bodies that aren’t typically “perfect”, bodies that have stories, experiences and the marks to show for them. Bodies that aren’t afraid to enjoy themselves and bodies that live through hard stuff but still keep on going.I’d also love to see more of an intuitive eating approach to how diabetes management is taught. I think that will have huge long term benefits to  all T1’s in particular, although ideally I think that’s how we should all eat.

How does wearing the right foundations everyday make you feel?

My work uniform is leggings and we all know that they leave little to the imagination. There’s nothing I hate more than visible underwear lines. Plus I really need comfort, removing an erstwhile wedgie mid-session isn’t very professional! So wearing the right foundations is essential and makes me feel more confident and supported.

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