When you're diagnosed with chronic illness or an autoimmune disease -- or at the first sight of any symptoms of such -- your schedule quickly fills up. (And your time and energy, too.) Between phone calls with primary care providers and insurance companies... to actual doctor appointments and tests... to follow ups and treatment plans... this sector of your life now needs a lot of your attention.
And any time leftover?
That often goes to resting on the couch or staying curled up in bed a little longer... because you're often tired, in pain, or simply uncomfortable. Before I was diagnosed with a form of vasculitis, I spent all night wide awake on the couch in our living room and all day half-asleep at my school desk. Any "free" time was spent at a doctor's office or watching my favorite episode of Friends for the 14th time.
In other words, managing autoimmune disease and chronic illness can quickly feel like a full-time job all by itself. (One that you never, ever applied for.) Even so, many people still need to work on top of that -- and maybe even want to chase a dream, write a book, or grow a business, too. The question becomes... How? What happens? Is this possible?
Although I wrote recently about chronic illness and work in general, today I'm sharing my simple "secret" when it comes to running a business (or being self-employed) while managing health challenges.
To share why this is a topic I care about -- and why I'm intent on making sure we don't have to choose between our health and our dreams -- here are a few pieces of my story that might resonate with you and yours.
If you've been hanging out here for a while, you may already know that I was diagnosed with a rare form of vasculitis at the age of 14. (And much later diagnosed with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.) My initial diagnosis came after finding inflammation in my Aortic Arch. (Thanks to a Cat Scan and after many tests, labs, and procedures.) Before that, I knew something was up based on chest pain, back pain, insomnia, numbness, faint pulse, and fatigue.
After I graduated college, I started working as a Systems Engineer for the Navy. While working this job, I was on Remade for treatment... an infusion that took place every 4 weeks. Each infusion was delivered at an infusion center and took about 3 hours. The center itself was 45 minutes from my house and about an hour from my work. In other words, every 4 weeks I took at least a half day of sick time.
Despite having best benefits available to anyone outside of Congress (a very important stat when you're dealing with chronic illness!), in 2015 I resigned and took a $75,000 pay cut to become a full-time entrepreneur. I have a lot more flexibility running my own business, but I also have a lot more stress. (Something that tends to flare the symptoms of an autoimmune disease or chronic illness.)
About 3 years after starting my business, I began working with my doctor to decrease the dosage of medication I take. (Which at the time of writing is Humira.) This is the first attempt in about 9 years... so it's really, really exciting! And something I've dreamed about since my diagnosis: getting off medication and managing the disease naturally. At the same time, I was in the middle of launching the business model and membership site that is most near and dear to my heart than anything ever had.
WHY ALL OF THIS MATTERS
On one hand, I'm (finally!) attempting to decrease the dosage of the medicine I use to manage symptoms. On the other hand, I'm in the middle of launching what feels like my baby: The Wellness Boulevard. I didn’t want to think that I could EITHER optimize my body for healing OR grow a new business. There had to be an “and” in there somewhere, right? Growing a business doesn't only have to be stress-filled? Healing doesn't solely have to look like sitting on a beach or resting on the couch, right?
Those last questions -- the one looking at what it feels like to grow a business and what it looks like to heal the body -- THAT is why I'm writing this post today. Here's what I've learned about running a business with an autoimmune disease. As a reminder, I'm not a doctor and I don't give advice. This is simply my story, shared with the hope of letting other business owners know they're not alone.
RUNNING A BUSINESS WITH AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE AND CHRONIC ILLNESS... THE SIMPLE SECRET TO MANAGING YOUR HEALTH AND YOUR GOALS
Ready for the simple secret to managing your health AND dreams at the same time? It's nothing new, nothing novel, and nothing entirely unexpected. But when it's put into place in our lives, EVERYTHING can shift.
>>>> Make conscious trade-offs. <<<<
I thought I had a choice to make (health OR business) when in reality I had a trade off to make. Which is something we do all the time already, right?
We trade off time for money or money for time.
We trade off a night in to hit the town.
We trade off an hour of sleep to get up and walk before work.
Once I started looking at tradeoffs WITHIN my health, a topic first taught to me by my coach shaunavanbogart, things started to click. I could be BOTH a self-care-crazed autoimmune disease warrior, fighting daily for her chance at natural healing and remission in a stress-driven world, AND an entrepreneur working to leave a legacy bigger than myself.
...So long as I was willing to acknowledge and accept the trade offs.
If I'm not willing to trade off my work… or my health management practices... then what AM I willing to trade off? Additional time I spend working? The amount of energy it takes to work? Sure… but how?
By trading off perfection.
I used to spend 50% (or more) of my time making my work 15% (or less) better. In other words, if I let go of the need for perfection BEFORE launching, sharing my work, sending an email, writing a blog post, posting on social media… then I could cut my work time in half. At least. And with that extra time? I can take care of myself. I can go on long walks. I can make phone calls to doctor offices. I can actually go to those doctor appointments. I can sleep and rest and eat good food.
Perfection is a trade off we may all need to make, but it becomes especially important when dealing with illness or disease.
Additional trade offs we might ALSO need to make as business owners with autoimmune disease or chronic illness?
In other words, we may need to consider hiring out work. Especially the work we don't like, struggle to do, or the work that takes up a ton of our time / energy. Consider working with an OBM, VA, designer, project manager, etc. and let go of the tasks that are outside your zone of genius. (This goes for the tasks at home, too!)
We don't always know when we're going to wake up feeling inspired and when we're going to wake up feeling pretty rough. Trust yourself to know when to push -- and when to rest. If you feel inspired on a weekend, go with it. Work for a few hours. If you feel absolutely exhausted on a weekday -- trust your body and rest.
When we push our bodies too far, those with chronic illness usually know right away. We flare up, we wake up exhausted the next day, we're in pain, or physical symptoms pop up. It's important for us to listen to our bodies and stop before we've gone too far. In the moment, you might think you can push through and get one more task checked off the list. But, it's important to ask yourself... will my body (& life & work) be better for that push TOMORROW?
We don't need to be available for our clients 24/7. We need to set boundaries and limits. Maybe we put our phones on airplane more, or turn them off completely, or maybe we have specific "office hours" in which clients and team members can expect to hear from us. Whatever boundaries we need to set, give yourself permission to do so and be upfront from the get go.
Research by Harvard says "The more you use Facebook, the worse you feel" -- and a study from Yale confirms that time on social media decrease health & happiness. Another study talks about how seeing everyone else's highlight reels can be linked to depressive symptoms and another states that Facebook causes a decrease in mood (even though we hop on these platforms because we expect the opposite).
In other words, social media can be stressful, especially when you're trying to slow down in a fast-paced world. If we take a day off to rest and recover, we might hop on Instagram and immediately feel behind. If we stop work at 7 pm to cook a good meal and get a full night's rest, we might scroll Facebook while our pot of water boils and immediately get jealous of our friend who's busting out a big project all throughout the night. Our businesses grow in different ways when we're dealing with chronic illness, and we want to make sure social media is NOT stressing us out even more. Taking time away from social media -- each day, each month, etc. -- can be an easy trade off that instantly leaves us feeling better.
When I'm ONLY chasing my work dreams, I tend to get a little too focused on the external -- on deadlines, and videos I want to create, and collaborations I want to bring to the table -- that I actively ignore the internal. This is a problem when you're navigating chronic illness.
For example, as I mentioned, I'm currently experimenting with the question… Can I get off medicine? Under the help and guidance of my doctor, I am actively decreasing my dosage. Something that I haven’t tried in about 9 years. Something I’m dreamt of since I was diagnosed. While my work is in a season of GROWTH -- big, beautiful, insanely exciting growth -- my health is in a season of healing. A period of life where PATIENCE and RELAXATION are essential. I know that we don't have to choose between our health and our career. I know that work dreams and health dreams can coexist. I’ve experienced it. But the thing we sometimes forget is... We’ve got an extra ball in the air. We have another factor to consider.
There’s another variable for us to take into account. Stress plays a role in autoimmune disease and chronic illness... just like rest and joy. Which means work plays a role, expectations play a role, pressure and desire and hustle play a role. While we can still get where we want to go in our work, we need respect our health along the way. It might take longer. It might be slower. We might need to have uncomfortable conversations with coworkers and clients. I say uncomfortable because I know shame and judgment are attached to illness WAY too often. But, the truth is, these were the cards we were dealt and the experience we get to have. The challenge we get to overcome.
Yes, it’s hard to optimize your body for healing in a world that prioritizes doing and checked tasks over being and sitting still. It’s hard to optimize your body for healing in a world that doesn’t stop talking, where information is always at our fingertips, and comparison has never been easier to find.
But the key to navigating these waters with just a tad bit more fun is to remember that tradeoffs ALWAYS exist. Be willing to surrender perfection and give yourself a whole lot of grace (and forgiveness, compassion, and love) along the way.
I'd love to hear from you. How do you balance your health AND your work dreams? How do you run a business, or write a book, or chase a career goal while taking care of your self?