Updated: May 20
Anyone who runs their own business knows how hard, stressful and complete rollercoaster ride it can be. The highs are incredible but the lows can be very tough and lonely. Team that with also juggling a chronic illness, whether physical or mental, and things can feel a little trickier.
“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip Toe if you must, but take a step.” - Naeem Callaway
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2008, aged 16. Crohn’s Disease is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease and a lifelong condition which affects the digestive system. There is currently no cure for Crohn’s and it’s characterised by nasty symptoms and unpredictable flare ups which need managing with medication and surgery.
My disease caused me to miss months of school and Uni, spend a lot of time in hospital or house bound and led me to have multiple major surgeries putting me out of action for months at a time. The mental health side of managing a chronic condition meant that even when my physical health was better, I had my good old friend health-anxiety to deal with.
As tough as living with a chronic condition has been, it has also taught me a host of incredibly valuable skills and altered my outlook, two things which have gone on to be invaluable when being self employed. I’ve always been a firm believer that having a chronic condition should never get in the way of achieving and doing what I want to. But sometimes things get tough, flares occur and no matter how busy your diary is or the number of commitments you have, your body can have other ideas and priorities have to alter
Having juggled the two for over six years, below are some top tips for managing a chronic condition whilst also achieving your business goals.
Listen to your body and head
Research has shown that entrepreneurs are more likely to experience high levels of stress and worry than an average worker, and are at a greater risk of the dreaded burnout. Add in a chronic illness and the need to look after your physical and mental wellbeing becomes even more crucial. There are many similarities between self employment and having a long term illness and unpredictability is one of them. When you could fall poorly without much warning or you don’t know for sure how you might be feeling next month or week (or even tomorrow) it is super important that you’re looking after yourself and optimising your health when you can.
Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Slow down when you need to. Get more sleep if you need it. Take a day off if you have to. By neglecting your health in the short term, and making it less of a priority, you could be causing a bigger, harder long term problem for yourself.
Build a business model which supports not hinders you
Your life can be made SO much easier by creating a business and career which works for you. This time round, running my second business, I am far more aware of this than I ever was before. Choose to build a business which fits the lifestyle you want or need to live. That might mean constructing a business model which would allows you to take breaks, dictate your work load on a day-to-day basis or provide the flexibility needed for medication, rest and Dr’s appointments.
You hold the power to create a business which works for you. Don’t make your life harder.
Be kind to yourself
One of the common thought processes you can have when your health is knocked off track and you’re forced to stop, is guilt. Guilt that you’re not at work. Guilt that you’re abandoning your team. Guilt that you’re letting your customers down. Guilt that you’re not able to give your business your all. Guilt that you’re not able to earn and provide for your family.
Following a big operation I had in 2016, my Dr offered to sign me off work, explaining that some people would need up to 6 months off of work to recover… being self employed I didn’t need a Dr’s note and was back to working (in some capacity) two weeks later. I can firmly say, from experience, this is a very bad idea.
For you to be the most effective, productive and healthy that you can be, it is very important to learn to be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Take time if you need it. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re unable to work at 100% miles an hour and don’t rush back to ‘normal’ too soon.
What advice would you give a friend? Be kind to yourself too.
Accept and ask for help
A lot of people struggle with asking for help, it’s not something that’s often encouraged and seems to be tricky for many. However, when you’re managing a chronic illness, you may not have a choice.
If you're struggling, not coping or need help, it is so important that you reach out. When you do, you’ll be amazed with the number of people who will be there for you and only too willing to help; which leads me on to….
Surround yourself with wonderful people
Whether it’s your family and friends or your team at work and an online community, one of the most important things you can do as a business owner (whether you’re juggling a health condition or not), is surround yourself with supportive, understanding, wonderful cheerleaders.
It might be a friend who can step in to help package up products at midnight, a partner who gives you a fist pump when you get that client (as photographer Sophie Carefull recently shared) or a fellow small business pal you’ve only ever spoken to online who will listen to your when a delivery company loses a parcel. These are your people. Build that community of support around you. Be there for them, as much as they are for you.
There is also a lot to be said for creating an online community specifically. If there’s a period of time when you can’t get out of the house or are spending a lot of time at home (something which many are experiencing currently - hello Covid-19!), having people you can talk to or lean on from the comfort of your sofa is a godsend.
Although the above points are especially handy for those juggling both a chronic condition and a business; the same points still stand for all business owners and self-employed - be kind, look after yourself, build that community of support.
Juggling a chronic condition and self-employment and need business support from someone who gets it? Do check out my Specialist Help packages, from one off calls to longer term support, I’d love to work with you and your business.