Dandy Founder: Harriet Ishbel Sweeney
Building a thriving business is never easy, but neither is building your own self up again after life has led you to question everything you thought you knew about who you were, what you wanted, and what your purpose was in life.
Our very own Dandy Wellness founder and CEO Harriet Sweeney knows a thing or two about how painful, exhilarating, and ultimately soul-restoring it can be to emerge totally anew from the rubble of a past life: in this candid conversation with Harriet, you’ll get to learn about her self-discovery journey, how Dandy came to be, and the good, bad and the ugly that she faced along the way.
Let’s dive in…
It’s always darkest before the dawn
“It's hard to dance with a devil on your back,” Florence Welch sings, “so shake him off”. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but if you’d told Harriet back in 2016, she wouldn’t have believed you.
Having just left a long term abusive relationship, Harriet had hit rock bottom. For five long years, all she’d known was the kind of cunning mental abuse that devoured her mind, body and soul, leaving her feeling worthless and completely directionless. “No one talks about the long-lasting damage of abuse,” she says. “Even if you manage to escape the person keeping you locked in emotional turmoil, things don’t just go back to the way they were. I had to face anxiety and depression like I never had before, I’d lost all of my confidence and I was unable to make small decisions for myself.”
Emotional abuse is an incredibly alienating experience, and it can leave victims feeling like they have nowhere and no one to turn to. “I didn’t see my circumstances reflected anywhere in the mainstream, and I didn’t know what had happened to me. I assumed I deserved it all somehow. The mental fog was consuming me. That relationship opened up a world of pain that I never envisioned for myself, and I realised I had become a shadow of the woman I used to be.”
In a bid to put one foot in front of the other and get on with her life, a newly single Harriet ploughed herself into work. At the time, she was working as a sales and marketing manager and used climbing up the corporate ladder as a distraction. She began working with some of the beauty industry’s leading brands and retailers and hustled to make it seem like she had it all together, but underneath the surface, trouble was brewing.
“I was swanning in a sense, striving for perfection. I didn’t understand the full effects of what years of abuse had done to my mind and body. I was suffering from what I now know were symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and impostor syndrome. I began to develop health issues I’d never experienced before: from chronic bloating and devastating acne to overwhelming anxiety and a desire to isolate myself from the world in an attempt to never get hurt again. It was my body’s reaction to the trauma it experienced. It was hell.”
Learning to trust again after suffering at the hands of abusive partners is impossibly difficult. Harriet knows now that during those first few years, she approached all her relationships ––both romantic and platonic–– from a place of emotional detachment and pervasive insecurity. “I became distrustful of the world and everyone in it, detaching myself from friends and family as well as potential new partners. I entered self-sabotage mode and lost myself in a spiral of self-victimising thoughts and actions. It became impossible to trust anyone, because I didn’t know how to trust myself.”
A shell of a woman looks for new beginnings
Some people speak of epiphanies and revelations that manage to turn their life around through a single 360° pivot. For Harriet, it happened a little differently.
She knew she couldn’t go on neglecting herself and her needs: she needed to make a change, both physically and mentally, so she started exploring small ways to better her wellbeing. By paying attention to how she felt moment by moment, she realised that she didn’t feel at home in her body and needed to find a way back to herself. “I discovered yoga, which really eased my anxiety, and it all snowballed from there. I trained in Ashtanga. I found comfort in my daily practice as it was a way to connect to my body and my breath.”
Ravaged by years of stress, Harriet’s body was beginning to give out under the pressure. This manifested through food intolerances and even polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, a sometimes debilitating endocrinological disorder that leads to metabolic dysfunction and body composition alterations. Stress is known to greatly put our health at risk: studies indicate a strong link between a higher prevalence of stress and PCOS, as well as an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol level and other manifestations of a persistent "flight or fight" response.
“That’s when I realised just how detached we are to our bodies, and the lack of advice and resources available to us ––especially as women.” Harriet’s journey to understanding what was best for her body and health was a long and painstaking one, filled with tests, trials, and months of research. Ultimately, she settled on a plant-based diet, as she discovered this worked to alleviate some of the painful symptoms she was dealing with on a daily basis. “There’s so much conflicting information about things like women’s issues, nutrition, hormonal and gut imbalances. I was on a quest to do everything I could to feel better, and when I started caring for my body in a different way, I finally started seeing results.”
How life led Harriet home to herself
Fast-forward to 2019, and things finally came to a head. Overworked and close to burning out, Harriet was questioning everything about her life.
Close to turning 30, she realised she’d reached a crossroads: she could continue working herself to death at a job she excelled at but had no real passion for, or she could look for a different path. In true millennial fashion, she quit her job and spent four months travelling around Asia by herself, which was a chance to step back from her daily grind and figure out what she really wanted.
“I really leaned into spirituality in an attempt to better understand myself, as I felt I lacked all sense of it. I questioned the person I had become, my priorities, and for the first time, I gained a new perspective. It completely changed my worldview. I know it's always a cliche to say, but this really was the beginning of finding myself.”
Harriet came home to the UK with a secret weapon: a newfound confidence, born out of a shift of mindset and the knowledge that everything about her life was about to change, forever. In a way, she was right, because within just a few weeks, the world was sent into lockdown by the Covid-19 pandemic.
With much of her chance for progress towards a new life indefinitely stalled, Harriet found comfort in slowing down once more and leaning into her wellness practices in new and exciting ways. “It was my Saturn Return, so to say I was being challenged was an understatement ––I had to really strip back, one layer at the time… it was almost like every element that didn’t align with my new vision of the woman I wanted to be was being taken away from me in an effort to get me back on track”
And get back on track she did.
Through the help of trained professionals, she uncovered the patterns that had been keeping her stuck in place for so long: therapy helped her identify the blocks and trauma responses that had shaped her insecurities, her decisions, and her own self. “We are all a product of our beginnings, and it’s important to understand things that are beyond our awareness to effectively become healthier, happier people. That’s the only way forward.”
Dandy Wellness, a new way forward
While on her own journey of self-discovery, something that stood out to Harriet was the amount of people who seemed to be struggling with similar difficulties to her own. Through both women in her close circle and strangers she met while reconnecting to her roots, she realised the inherent and compelling power of telling one’s story.
The more honest she was about the struggles she faced, the more people opened up about their own. The more vulnerable she was willing to be, the greater effect she was able to have on the people around her.
“I often found that women would quietly talk about personal issues amongst friends and lean on each other, but not openly talk about their issues elsewhere. People were coming to me for advice, and while I loved sharing the knowledge I’d gained through my years of personal development, I did wonder: where else could people turn to? How can I create something that empowers and inspires these wonderful, intelligent, and highly intuitive women to look for the answers within themselves? How can I give people the tools they need to better understand themselves, and change their lives?”
That’s when the idea for Dandy Wellness was born.
“I came to the sad realisation that here in the UK, we are significantly behind with our approach to wellness, and after everything I learned in my own life, I felt empowered to change this. I thought, it’s now or never. I’m going to create the platform I would have needed at my lowest, when I was rebuilding my life from the ground up. I’m going to be, for other women, what I wish someone could have been for me back then. I’m going to do it for my young, lonely, terrified old self, and I’m going to be everything she would have needed.”
In studying the different ways society undermines women and chips away at their confidence and wellbeing, Harriet realised that old systems had to be dismantled in order for something new to flourish in their place. She vowed to take an axe to impossible beauty standards and the many hardships that women face in their everyday lives, in order to tell women that yes, a different life is possible.
Harriet’s hope for the future
“I wholeheartedly believe that everything is rooted in self awareness. Learning to love yourself for who you are is 90% of the journey, and I just want to help people get there faster. I want to protect women from the difficult experiences I faced. I want to lend a helping hand, and make life’s hardest moments just a bit easier.”
Harriet’s aim is to change our collective approach to health and wellness. If the current narrative feels so removed from people’s everyday realities, it’s because it’s informed by the same impossible standards people face everywhere else in society. “Wellbeing is a journey, and it should be approached with balance. We are all work in progress, and must be compassionate towards ourselves: we are all trying our best, but we can try to do it together.”
As for Harriet herself, she is steadfast in her belief that her journey is simply beginning. “Like everyone else, I am not impervious to pain, but it’s how we approach it and learn from it that matters. I have strong boundaries. I stand up for myself, believe in myself, and am proud of myself for how resilient I was able to be throughout it all. I am able to be compassionate, vulnerable, and feel love as deeply as ever. I no longer move through the world from a place of fear, and I cannot tell you what a difference that has made.”
Life will continue to throw curve balls at Harriet like it does for everyone, but she now has the right tools to face these challenges. “I’m mindful of my limitations, and in awe of the strength my experiences have given me. I’m so thankful for this crazy, expansive, and life-giving soul path I’m on, and all I want to do is help others on their journeys.”
That’s what Dandy Wellness is all about, and that’s our only hope for the future: should you ever feel alone in facing life’s most arduous tests, you’ll know you’ll always have a friend in us.
We’ve been there, too, and we know a new dawn always follows our darkest moments. For Harriet, it was the rebirth she’d always needed. Perhaps, yours is just around the corner, too.