How Disabled Style Blogger and Activist Keely Bradley Manages Her Fatigue
Welcome to Bedtime Stories, an interview series where we ask inspiring individuals to share their nighttime routine and sleep secrets – from the beauty products they can’t live without to the tricks they swear by when they’re too tired to function (no coffee needed). For this instalment, disabled style blogger and activist, Keely Bradley, shares how she cares for herself even when faced with adversity.
If you were to walk past Keely Bradley on the street you wouldn't suspect that she has a hidden illness. The Melbourne-based creator's fashion sense is vibrant and playful and she regularly posts style inspiration to her Instagram where she has 40,000 followers. But there is a deeper reason behind it all.
Since being diagnosed with Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a condition that affects blood flow and isn't well understood by the medical community, Keely has made it her mission to develop a strong online presence and raise awareness for invisible chronic illnesses and disabilities.
These types of illnesses last a long time, typically a year or more, and often require ongoing medical care. Sleep is a particularly important part of Keely's life as she undergoes regular treatments and often feels fatigued from her illness. She has learnt to listen to her body and not put too much pressure on herself in an effort to help her relax and get the rest she needs.
Below, Bed Threads Journal spoke with the style influencer about how she copes on a day-to-day basis with her illness, stays connected, and how she prioritises her health.
Hi Keely! Welcome to Bedtime Stories. Can you walk us through your bedtime routine? Walk us through your bedtime ritual.
I go to bed anywhere between 10pm-12am (sometimes later because of lockdown!). I’ve had insomnia my whole life, mainly from medications I’m on and from my chronic illnesses - it’s annoying. I can be super fatigued, sore and so exhausted and I just can’t fall asleep. I’m usually in bed by 9pm, and start to switch off.
I will try to answer emails at this time which I set to send in the morning. I usually answer them at this time because my brain fog isn’t as bad. It’s probably not a healthy sleep routine but it works for me. I take my antidepressants, melatonin and CBD drops to try and get me sleepy. Most of the time now my eyes get so heavy I can’t keep them open and I know that’s the perfect time to go to sleep. I get my little dog and cuddle her because she’s old and gets really cold. I turn on my heated blanket, put on a podcast and I go off to sleep pretty fast.
If I’m struggling to fall asleep I just have to let it happen naturally now. If I force it I have the worst sleep. I’d rather stay up and have a deep sleep that isn’t restless than waking up numerous times! I can always nap during the day if need be. With lockdown though, and also having my chronic illnesses flare up a little at the moment some of that has been thrown out the window and I just fall asleep when I can. Adding pressure onto myself to fall asleep just makes me stressed.
What sleep or beauty products do you swear by that you won’t go a night without?
My eye mask, body/pregnancy pillow, memory foam pillow, melatonin, CBD oil, and my QV intensive ointment and vaseline. My skin gets so dry overnight! OH! And a massive bottle of water. With one of my chronic illnesses, it’s super important I stay as hydrated as possible.
What about your beauty routine - are there any products you swear by?
I’m huge on my skincare routine as I have super sensitive dry skin. I do my skincare routine morning and night. I got really good at it over lockdown last year as it gave me some sort of routine in my day, and I’ve stuck with it every day since then. I swear by The Ordinary hyaluronic acid, Buffet, “B” oil, retinol and squalene. I also use Cerave moisturising cream, QV intensive ointment, and Vaseline to lock it in. Doing this routine I’ve noticed such a difference in my skin and everyone has been complimenting me on it!
I also swear by layering on Vaseline before wearing a mask. My skin would get super itchy and dry that I even began to get cracking and bleeding from wearing my mask for 6-8 hours while getting treatments at the hospital. Since layering vaseline on, my skin is still soft when I get home and take it off and I don’t get as many mask pimples as I once did!
What is your solution for those nights you simply can’t nod off to sleep?
CBD oil and melatonin. I also try to not get angry at myself and get out of bed and walk around if I’m feeling restless. I have another bed in a spare room I can sleep in if I feel like that will help. Most of the time though, I just wait it out. I don’t do the screen off thing. I’ve got to let myself have something. I do have a yellow screen filter that goes on at 9 pm automatically to help rationalise the screen thing a little more!
I’m lucky I work from home with what I do. I spend most of my time at home so I can afford to sleep in when I need it. Being chronically ill, I just know that this can happen. I always allow myself time and rest when I need it. Usually if I’m leaving the house it’s for an appointment related to my illnesses, so if I’m tired it wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary for me to go there sleepy and I can always nap while I get my infusions as I’m there for so long. I’ve got really good at existing while fatigued, so I make it work. But the main thing is to just not putting pressure on myself. Once I relax a little after being upset I can’t fall asleep, it usually ends up happening.
What time does your alarm go off in the morning? Walk us through your morning routine.
My alarm goes off at 10am to wake me up. I have another set for 10:30am to make sure I’m awake. My dog also wakes up at around 10-10:30am so if I don’t get myself out of bed, she will. I’ve been really fatigued lately and having a lot of flare ups, so it’s been harder for me to stay up and awake, plus adding lockdown, which takes such a mental strain, so all those alarms are getting turned off in my sleep and I’m going back to bed after I let my dog out! I’ve been getting up more at 11-11:30am and laying in bed until I feel okay to get up.
I always just try to be out of bed before 12pm, even if I just make it to the couch and lay down again. I just don’t like staying in bed for too long, it’s better for me to not associate bed with daytime or I get into a habit, it’s just for sleeping! The first thing I do though before I go to eat is have a big drink of water and do my skincare.
If I have content to shoot, I aim to be up by 10:30, and allow myself some couch time to wake up. If I feel okay I might answer emails while I have breakfast. But most of the time I’ll pop on a podcast and listen to that, or watch some TikToks, and reply to DMs. Then I’ll take my morning meds, and do my makeup and hair for content, usually I’ve pre-planned outfits in my notes, so I work off that and maybe play around, but I usually know what I have to do.
If it isn’t a content day, I just swap out the hair and makeup part for resting on the couch, editing content, and stretching. But most of the time I’m just kind of trying to manage my symptoms and relaxing! I really can’t do much if I’m having a bad chronic illness day. Now that it’s a little more sunny I sit outside with my pets, it’s been nice to have a backyard during lockdowns.
What are three things (besides coffee) that help when you’re too tired to function?
Napping. Food. Water.
What do you normally eat for breakfast to kick start your day?
A coffee, and gluten-free crumpets with strawberry jam. I’m obsessed. The crumpets are the most ridiculously priced things ever because they’re low FODMAP as well as gluten-free, but they’re so worth it! I used to hate eating breakfast, but now I don’t feel sick anymore and enjoy it! It makes getting out of bed nice because I have something I enjoy eating, even when I feel really nauseous, which before was rare.
You have a powerful online presence. How are you able to mentally switch off from it when needed?
My go-to is probably scrolling Facebook Marketplace for vintage items. I find it so fun and I get super inspired! I love styling my home, I have an Instagram account for it: @K__EELZHOME. I was spending so much time at home last year that I needed my space to feel comfortable and I’ve just been trying to make it how I’ve always dreamed! Being in lockdown again, I’ve moved things around because I wasn’t happy with it. Definitely caused a flare up, but it was worth it!
But honestly, I don’t know if I really do switch off. I’ve become a lot better at laying boundaries with my followers, but I also look at them as my friends. Being chronically ill and disabled and speaking about that, as well as fashion and finding people like me, I feel very connected, more than I ever really have to people!
I love who I follow, and I love speaking to my followers who follow me! I recognise most icons/usernames of people I speak to often and usually end up following them and meeting them in real life. I know a lot of other chronically ill/disabled people feel the same, because it’s the one easily accessible way to feel connected to people, and we can do it even if we are having one of the worst days with our health. And people understand that.
During the pandemic, a lot more accommodation was brought in for able bodied people who were affected by the pandemic. I wish disabled people had these options sooner. It has also been amazing that I can now connect with people in ways that work so well for me. I’ve made so many friends because they are understanding of what I experience and are willing to keep that going on after lockdowns. I haven’t ever felt so understood by people, honestly. So it’s hard to step away when I feel seen and valid and it’s accessible to me.
Lockdown fatigue has set in a little, and keeping connected feels weird and hard, also having so much going on in our world can feel overwhelming. I’ve just tried to stay on top of podcasts where I’m learning something or engaged by something I don’t know about, helps me switch off from online.