Hat Lady Nicole

My Health Journey and the Hats I Wear - Navigating Chronic Illness with Style

About Hat Lady Nicole

Meteorologist - Entrepreneur - Spoonie - Designer

WhY "Hat Lady" Nicole?

It All started in a very nerdy way (From Meteorology to Steampunk Cosplay)
N hat diagram

While an undergrad at OU’s Meteorology program, I was introduced to “N-hat”, a vector perpendicular to the flow (aka it didn’t go with the flow but instead went its own way)–it became one of my favorite nicknames because I wasn’t a “go with the flow” kind of person. At the time, I wasn’t wearing vintage hats – in fact, my favorite style was “casual student”: a baggy t-shirt and jeans.

In graduate school, a fellow female meteorologist encouraged me to embrace my feminine side as well. I found that I love vintage clothing (though most would never fit my Viking frame), especially in the styles of 1910’s-1950’s, and piecing together ensembles with accessories like long lavaliere necklaces. By this time, I think I owned maybe 4 hats — mostly OU ballcaps that I rarely wore because I’d been told by someone I respected that I looked like an old man in hats.

In my slow-moving search, I discovered the joys of the fantasy world of steampunk – a blend of historical Victorian England with the reimagined world built by steam – and Bev the Hat Lady. When I told Bev the Milliner that I don’t look good in hats, my eyes lingering over her lovely restored and rejuvenated vintage hats for sale, she laughed and basically told me that was nonsense, that I just needed to find the right type of hat, angle, and attitude. Once she showed me how hats CAN look nice on me, I’ve been hooked on hats ever since.

It wasn’t until chronic fatigue and pain became overwhelming – and my career as a meteorologist ended (I couldn’t keep up with the grueling hours nor could I focus on concepts I knew well but needed to translate for a general audience) – that I began my search for meaning and purpose outside of a career.

Hat Lady Nicole in Bevs Lovely Hat

The hats I wear spark conversations with strangers – a way to connect to an able world I’ve often felt I’m no longer part of – and elicit smiles especially from older generations who recall wearing some of these fashions with nostalgia. By dressing the way I do (and wearing vintage hats), I have been motivated to get out of bed each day during my worst fibromyalgia flares, excited to practice a visual art no matter how physically weak or in pain I am.

Today, people often tell me “I LOVE that hat on you, but I don’t look good in hats” – and like Bev the Hat Lady, I enjoy dispelling that myth. If you like a hat – wear it with confidence! And if you want help figuring out which hats look best on you, check out my Wearing Vintage and Retro Hats Guide.

My Health & Meaning Journey So Far

Feb. 2011

Left Job at OK Mesonet to Work at Weather Fusion

Feb. 2011
Aug 2013 Soon after fibromyalgia diagnosis with minion
2013

Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia

2013
Our First Rental Lightly Staged for Photos
2014

Left Weather Fusion to Work on Health & Start Real Estate Investing/Property Mgmt

2014
Futrex Printout Personal Training 2017
2016

Started Personal Training - Slow and Steady

2016
Tony Robbins Firewalk
2018

Firewalked at Tony Robbins Unleash the Power Within

2018
Self Management tools Wheel Mayo Clinic
March 2018

Mayo Clinic Diagnosed Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS

March 2018
Roofing Mailer Cobar
2019

Investment Business Bankruptcy

2019
neo FD tumor CT scan
Aug. 2019

Fibrous Dysplasia (Bone Tumor) Discovered in Skull

Aug. 2019
Hat Lady Nicole post craniotomy in NICU
Nov. 2019

Craniotomy to Remove FD Mass, 6 + hour surgery

Nov. 2019
First site built in wordpress
2022

Discovered Web Dev & SEO Work Was Feasible For Me, Started Web Agency

2022
eBusiness-Institute-Award-For-Excellence-2023.png
Sept. 2023

Won eBusiness Institute's Award of Excellence

Sept. 2023

After earning a Bachelor of Science at the University of Oklahoma in Meteorology and Master of Science in Atmospheric Science at North Carolina State University, I was ready to teach Oklahomans (and anyone who would listen) everything I knew about weather to keep people safe. 

My first post-graduate job was initially to create and present a one-day climate workshop to Oklahoma decisionmakers, explaining the current data and its potential implications for the people in Oklahoma, but I soon found myself running the state’s public safety weather education program, training emergency managers on how to interpret weather data so they could safely deploy their teams and resources. I loved what I did and loved the people I worked with and for, but the long hours (and even longer drives to remote tech centers across the state) took their toll on my mental and physical health. 

My husband Don (also a meteorologist who graduated from OU), another meteorologist friend (Dave), and I founded Weather Fusion – a small weather technology company that started with hand-drawn maps until we created our own hail technology (could tell roofers and insurance companies alike what the likely maximum hail size was that fell on a property and when). I loved learning about business and leadership topics, reading every book I could find on the subjects, and sharing the information with the rest of our leadership team. This lifelong passion for learning paid off when large companies were interested in acquiring Weather Fusion, in part because we knew our core values and guarded our culture which led to success–I had been the primary promoter of identifying and defending our values (thanks to The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, which became one of my bibles). By the time CoreLogic bought Weather Fusion, my health had deteriorated to the point that I could no longer work full-time, so Don encouraged me to seek answers from medical professionals and set up a property management / real estate investing portfolio.

The first undeniable symptoms of fibromyalgia appeared around the time I was in the best physical shape of my life, taking several Zumba and Yoga classes each week, but becoming weaker and feeling pain deep into my bones. This began the long search for answers – why was my body acting this way? Was there a way to reverse it? What was going on with my body?

After extensive lessons/education from local investment mentors, buying several investment properties, setting up systems to automate as much as I could, and finding and vetting great tenants, I was able to work part-time. The pain and exhaustion continued to hamper my ability to accomplish much and some of the doctors I met were less than helpful — one gave me the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, but his nurse rolled her eyes and said that there’s no such thing, that I was just malingering or was a hypochondriac. Yeah, medical gaslighting is unfortunately real and this is far from the only time I’ve experienced it.

After working for a few years with a personal trainer familiar with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue patients, I was able to slowly increase my strength and stamina. We had to be careful to avoid causing flares – the slowness of my progress was frustrating, remembering how such basic exercises were once easy. But I WAS improving.

By 2018, I was lucky enough to go to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, where they tested everything. The diagnoses I was given after 2 weeks of extensive testing were fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and orthostatic intolerance. The Fibro Clinic nurses were wonderful–the first thing they told our small class of newly-diagnosed fibromites (mighty fibromyalgia patients): what we are experiencing is real, not just in our head/psychological. They acknowledged that science is still trying to understand the disease and that the best way for us to live is to manage our diseases through NOT overdoing. The nurses also introduced us to “The Wheel of Self-Management Tools“, reminding us to focus on multiple aspects of our life (movement NOT exercise, social time, focusing on humor, etc) to feel more connected, whole, and happy. After all, we will likely be managing the disease for the rest of our lives – and there’s no point in always being miserable! 

Then in 2019 one of our investment businesses collapsed, taking everything we had built since starting Weather Fusion with $50, including the real estate investment properties and even our own home. No more personal trainer or medical massages. Support activities eliminated, my mental health crashed with my husband’s as we “coped” with the embarrassment of bankruptcy. I wondered if I’d ever be able to work again AND maintain my health.

It didn’t help when, in August 2019, I felt a growing pressure over my right ear – a Fibrous Dysplasia lesion that had eaten away my skull and cheekbone. Most of this story is told through the original blog entries of HatLadyNicole, if you’re interested in learning more. Thankfully, the 3 surgeons were able to remove the tumor (non-cancerous) and rebuild my face. Today, no one can tell I had a large craniotomy, but for at least a year after surgery, I had fainting spells and other reminders from my body that a major surgery had occurred. The surgeons had prepared me for the acute physical manifestations of healing, but I was unprepared for the psychological side of recovery and the loss of control over my body. EMDR sessions have helped immensely with the anxiety, depression, and overall relinquishing of control.

In 2022, Don came across some YouTube videos discussing a way to make income through building websites and managing SEO for local businesses – and one couple stood out to him. The wife had severe health issues like me, but was now happy, confident, and thriving in their online business. He shared the video with me, which inspired me to join the eBusiness Institute’s Champions Program. Today, I am an award-winning web developer/designer/SEO consultant, working when my body and mind allow, achieving goals I had given up on for years, and part of a supportive community. 

Recent Awards and Certifications

*The "I'm Not a Doctor" Disclaimer

While I’ve walked (sometimes limped) the chronic pain and fatigue road for over 10 years now, read medical journals to understand my diagnoses, and talked with many specialists, I’m not a trained doctor or medical guru. This website is all about sharing my personal insights and experiences, so others starting the same path have some ideas on where to start with their doctor. May my stories bring you hope and inspiration, but they are not meant to be medical advice, only information and entertainment. 

Nicole with craniotomy scar - patient not doctor
Wearing Vintage Hats

Wearing Vintage Hats

Love vintage and reproduction hats? Check out my personal hat collection. Don't look good in hats? Try my styling guides for vintage hats for women before you donate that gorgeous pillbox, bucket, fedora or beret.

Coping with Chronic Illness

Coping with Chronic Illness

Tips from a Spoonie on how to improve mental and physical health, with 10+ years of trial-and-error experience*. Maybe you'll find a technique or two that helps you cope a little better.

Distraction During Flares - Bee visiting dahlia

Glimmers For a Rough Day

Some days a Spoonie just needs a little self-care and some bright glimmers of hope - instead of doom-scrolling on social media, check out positive reminders of self-worth, wander through vivid nature photos, and chuckle at silly cat videos

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