If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably know that I suffer from chronic illness.
I’ve seen specialists at UVA, Johns Hopkins and Wake Forest and we’re still trying to figure out exactly what’s going on.
What we currently know is that my immune system suuuuuucks. If I get anywhere close to anyone who’s sick, I’ll get whatever they have times ten. A cold turns into pneumonia. The flu turns into a hospital visit. Biopsies of my throat literally turns into the inability to swallow due to my esophagus having spasms and closing every time I try to sip water.
I recently got a pneumonia vaccine to see how my body would respond. That was a big mistake. My arm swelled up, looking like a clone of my husband’s arm (he’s a foot taller and a hundred pounds bigger than me) with this huge red spot with red spider leg-like lines sprouting in every direction. It hurt so bad I couldn’t lift my arm past shoulder level for days. One doctor said it was a severe allergic reaction. Another said it was an infection. Antibiotics plus Benadryl plus cold compresses finally did the trick.
Most mornings when I wake up, I feel like I’ve got the flu. Some days that includes severe sore throats, others it entails constant nausea and others I’ll have fevers and chills on and off all day.
(The good news is that I finally have a treatment plan—as of March 15th of this year! YAY! If it works, I should be feeling a lot better by the end of the year.)
I’m not looking for sympathy. This post isn’t about my illness.
This is a post for those of you who are like me, suffering from chronic illness and running a business. I know there are lots of you out there, because I’ve gotten at least twenty requests asking if I’d write a blog post about how I manage being an entrepreneur while dealing with chronic illness.
First, I want to be clear: it’s not easy.
There are days when aching pain radiating through my joints and muscles reduces me to tears and the last thing I want to do is respond to emails or write a blog post or update my Facebook page.
There are times when a three-minute shower exhausts me, causing me to have to lay in bed for hours just to recover a bit of energy.
But, the best thing about running a business with a chronic illness is that I’m in charge.
I can work from home in yoga pants. I don’t answer to a boss who’s frustrated that I’m taking another sick day. And, I can take breaks every 30 minutes to recharge with some herbal tea (Tea Pigs sweet treat tea…yum!) and a book.
Because I’m going on year six of chronic illness, I’ve learned a few things that makes it easier to run a business while dealing with health issues, and I want to share them with you in case it helps you make managing your chronic illness and business easier.
I’ve had those days when it feels like everything in the world is working against you and you don’t know how you’re going to make it. I’m hoping this post will help you take a bit of that load off your shoulders.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
1. Take advantage of your good days.
Chronic illness comes with good and bad days. Some days the most you can do is roll over in bed and sip water (I suggest Gilmore Girls and Friends on Netflix for those days). But, some days you have a boost of energy and feel halfway normal.
When I’m having a really good day, I often want to do the stuff I enjoy most: watercolor, hang out with friends, have a date with my husband, walk my dogs. But, I always prioritize my work on good days.
That means I sometimes write my next blog post instead of going to game night (why can’t I ever win Scattergories?!?). Or, I work on my marketing campaign instead of spending a couple hours lost with my watercolors.
I don’t always work when I’m having a good day, but I try to get in at least a few hours on those days, because I don’t know when my next sick streak is going to hit. The next day I could wake up feeling like death and struggle to work for the next five days and then I’d regret not working when I could.
If it’s a good day and I get a lot of work done, I try to clear the evening for something like veggie sushi with friends or a date with my husband. It’s a balance.
2. Rest when you need it to get more done eventually.
In the first couple of years of dealing with my health issues, I used to push myself when I should’ve rested. And, that always resulted in me having to take more time off.
If I had given myself permission to take a nap that afternoon or take that day off to rest, I’d probably feel good enough to work the next day. But, if I pushed myself, it might end up with me having to spend the next three days in bed.
It always backfired. Thankfully, I had a husband to point this out to me and encourage me to rest when needed. He still has to step in every once in a while and tell me to slow down. (Love you hubby!)
We have to listen to our bodies and pay attention when they’re telling us to get back in bed.
3. Build up your support system.
I don’t just mean friends and family. When you suffer from chronic illness, you have less time to work on your business. That means you should probably hire out tasks that you don’t enjoy doing or aren’t that great at so that you can focus on the stuff in your realm of genius when you’re working.
If you spend the next week in a battle with WordPress because you’re struggling to build your website, that means that you didn’t spend that time on anything else (like taking new product photos or designing a new jewelry line).
I know it’s scary to hire out work, but it’s necessary when you’re limited by the amount of good hours you have in the day or week.
You know how they say it takes a village to raise a baby? I feel the same way about building a business, especially if you have serious health issues.
Start making a list today of the tasks you’d like to stop doing. Can you get one or two off of your list and onto someone else’s? Small shifts will make a big difference in how you spend your ‘business’ time.
4. Reduce your stress whenever possible.
Hiring out that web design mentioned above is not only a good idea for time management but it’ll also reduce your stress.
If you’re one of the unlucky who suffers from chronic illness, you’ve probably already figured out that stress usually makes your symptoms substantially worse. It takes your headache to migraine level or turns your minor cold into a two-month cough.
That’s why I hire out accounting, web design and tasks to my virtual assistant.
I know I’m not going to get rid of it all, but the less business-related stress, the better for my health.
5. Find workarounds.
One of the best things I’ve done for myself is to figure out what I can handle when I’m not feeling well and what I can’t and how to work around it.
For instance, if I’m having a semi-bad day, I can probably get an hour or two of blogging done if I’m snuggled in my pajamas with a cup of throat coat tea. But, I don’t have it in me to do my hair and makeup and chat on Periscope for 30 minutes (even though it’s one of my favorite things to do).
Or, I can brainstorm ideas in bed for my next online course, outlining it and jotting down notes on marketing concepts. But, I’m not going to push myself to start filming it or writing copy for it.
I know that I can’t book too many ‘time-sensitive’ things in one month. I sold out all of my individual consulting spots in less than three hours and I got requests from multiple people asking me to open up one more spot for them. I couldn’t do it. I know my limits and I need to be completely focused for the women who already registered to work with me. It wouldn’t be fair to them or good for me to add more clients.
You have to figure out what you can still work on when you’re not feeling as great and what should wait for a good day.
6. Remain positive.
This might sound silly but when I know I have something important to do but I’m not feeling very good, I can sometimes “trick” myself by remaining positive. I’ll tell myself, “You’re having a good day” or “Today’s going to be a good day” or “You can do this.”
Just keeping my mind from going to the dark places can give me the boost I need to accomplish that one thing that I really need to get done that day.
For instance, I got really sick the first time I taught at CreativeLive, but I woke up those days and told myself that I was going to have a great day. It didn’t make my symptoms go away, but it helped me to work through it.
7. Don’t rely solely on doctors.
Over the past few years, I’ve become a master at knowing what my body needs. I’ve also decided that I can’t just rely on my doctors to come up with answers.
I know I have less nausea when I take a daily probiotic. I know that I suffer from less fevers when I drink at least 32 ounces of water in a day. I know that an extra hour of sleep will allow me to do a few extra hours of work. I know that getting ready for the day, spending a bit of time on hair and makeup gives me a boost of energy. I know that pushing myself to do five or ten minutes of yoga results in more energy and happiness.
One of the best pieces of advice I could give to anyone who’s struggling with chronic illness is to take ownership of your health. Pay attention to what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse. Learn how to give yourself more good days.
No matter what you take away from this blog post, I want you to know that if you’re running a business while managing an illness, YOU ARE AWESOME! It’s not easy but it’s worthwhile.
I hope this helps those of you who have to deal with chronic illness. If you have other tips or advice, please leave them in the comments below. We should all try to help each other!