I’m going to share something with you that I don’t tell very many people.
I have Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, otherwise known as SLE, or simply, Lupus.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, which basically means my body is attacking itself and I’m pretty much stuck with it.
The reason why I want to share this with you is because I’ve been gleaning some valuable insights about running a small business with a chronic illness. Surprisingly, I’m beginning to see my disease as a sort of blessing in disguise; as much as I hate having Lupus, it has made me into a better business owner, designer, and person.
But first, for those that don’t know, a little backstory into my illness.
I’ve been managing it for about 4 years now, under the care of rheumatologists. Luckily my case is pretty moderate: some people can’t even get out of bed, they’re so sick.
The most common things I have to deal with are fatigue, headache, nausea, hair loss, muscle aches, sore joints, and memory and concentration issues. But it still affects my life and my business, and every day is a struggle.
Yet I am grateful for this stupid disease.
For one, it’s forced me to set better boundaries.
Since each day I have a finite amount of energy to expend, I have to choose where it goes wisely. This means saying “no” to taking on more projects than I can handle.
I used to be a huge people pleaser, and hated disappointing people. I still do to some degree, but am much more selective now about what projects and clients I take on, which results in better outcomes for everyone.
Taking care of number one
Along with learning boundaries, I’ve also been forced to take better care of myself.
This can be anything from getting enough sleep, eating healthier, getting regular exercise, and being sure to have plenty of down time and relaxation. I’m sure that, if I didn’t have Lupus, I’d run myself into the ground.
I think this is true for everyone, but it’s hard to take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. When I’m well rested and relaxed, I manage my business better and produce better design.
Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes
Another thing that Lupus taught me, which helps me run a strong business, is to be more empathetic with clients.
Since my disease is invisible—I look perfectly healthy on the outside—others probably assume I’m fine when really I’m not. People don’t know that the reason I might be a little grumpy one day is because I feel like crap.
It’s a good reminder not to judge others if they’re not on their best behavior; I never know what they’re dealing with or what is going on in their personal lives. Giving my clients the benefit of the doubt has helped a lot in many situations.
What doesn’t kill you…
Lupus has also shown me that I’m stronger that I think I am. I know I certainly don’t feel very strong most of the time, especially when dealing with bouts of weakness or fatigue.
But just going through this, keeping a positive attitude, and not letting Lupus win has made me realize I can take a lot more than I previously thought I could handle. This comes in handy when dealing with tough business situations (or clients!). I can tell myself, hey, this isn’t as bad as Lupus; I got this.
Lupus is the reason why I’m here
I’ll admit it: if I’ve never been diagnosed with Lupus, I probably wouldn’t be running my own graphic design business. Really.
When I first went to school for design, I imagined myself in some swanky New York advertising firm. À la Mad Men style, minus the sexism and cigarettes.
Now I know I could never hold down a regular 9-5 job; it’s just too stressful and is too hard on my body. Because of my chronic illness I must work from home, and make my own hours. And it’s wonderful and I love it.
May is Lupus Awareness Month.
Now you know what it is, so you’re aware. Spread the word about this disease; who knows, maybe there’s someone in your life who could use some encouragement that Lupus isn’t the end of the world.
I know for me, it wasn’t the end of the world, but the start of something better.