Entrepreneur Against The Odds
Musings on being an entrepreneur whilst dealing with chronic illness.
Are you an entrepreneur against the odds? I recently recorded my first guest podcast appearance, and it got me thinking that this was something that I don’t usually share with the world.
It was for a friend, Sarah Berthon, who runs a facebook group I’m in, Entrepreneurs Against The Odds, supporting business owners who have chronic illnesses. Her website and the podcast she’s just started are both called Excel Against The Odds.
So yes, something you probably don’t know about me (unless you’ve already listened to the podcast episode, or have read the most recent version of my About page) is that I have Crohn’s Disease. It’s an inflammatory bowel disease, and yes it’s chronic, which means that is is on-going, that there is no cure, and is something I am always dealing with.
And it was a big part of the reasons for me starting my own business. And actually it is a big part of the reasons why I am determined to make a success of my business too, and for making me feel like an entrepreneur, not just a business owner.
I was diagnosed in May 2000, when I was 24, after a year of regularly having diarrhoea and losing weight. It’s more well known now, but at that point, my family, boyfriend and I had no idea what it was.
Crohn’s is an auto-immune disease that affects any part of the intestines, with inflammation and ulcers, causing diarrahoea, pain, blood loss, weight loss, fatigue, and other side effects too. I spent the next year getting worse, in particular with lots of pain, diarrhoea, nausea and sickness, and anaemia. Not to mention side effects from trying lots of different medication and steroids, until we discovered that actually not eating at all, just having bottles of liquid calories and vitamins helped me to feel a bit better. By which point I was under seven stone!
But the drinks helped, and that’s what I struggled on with doing for the next ten years or so, not eating much. And I love eating, looking back it was really hard! But we got married in 2003, and still managed to spend most of 2005 travelling round the world – I took all my medication with me though obviously couldn’t carry the drinks, and mainly managed to have a brilliant time, albeit with tummy ache for much of it!
We came back and I went back to work, and we had the children in 2007, 2010 and 2012, with me being up and down all through the pregnancies and getting worse after each was born. After the third, when I knew we weren’t going to have any more, I had had enough and asked my consultant to see what could be changed to help. And after scans and tests they decided to operate, so in September 2013 I had half my large intestine, and a 5th of the small intestine, about a metre, all taken out – much more than expected, all inflamed and stuck together apparently! It basically took till Christmas to recover, but once I had, I felt so much better, and that really brought home to me how bad I had been feeling beforehand.
[Photos from travelling in 2005, from my husband’s digital camera – it took a long time to find some shareable ones! L-R: Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, and possibly Fiji. We don’t have digital photos from before this, and even when we travelled I only had my film camera with me 🙂 ]
Since the operation, I’ve mostly been ok. I can eat again! (Though sadly that means I have been putting on weight ever since!!). Though I can’t eat too much fibre and other hard to digest foods. And I really hate that eating more than a little bit of chocolate in one go leaves me on the toilet with tummy ache, and I’m still not good at only eating a little bit at once!
I still have diarrhoea most days, but mainly due to the shortness of the intestines instead, and nothing like the pain I had before the operation. I fart a lot!! I still have a whole raft of side effects that I put down to the Crohn’s, like really dry skin, painful joints, and being tired all the time. I still have to remember to take a lot of medication every day, have regular blood tests, get to the doctors for B12 injections every few weeks, get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water…
And I’ve had to try and shield for most of the last year as it’s an auto-immune disease, and one of the medications I take suppresses my immune system.
But I am very thankful I have been so much better for the last few years. There’s currently a bit of active disease narrowing the end of my small intestine, but it isn’t causing much in the way of symptoms at the moment fortunately.
I try to stay positive and that really helps, my family are all really supportive, and I love taking photos and running my business. I’m good at keeping myself busy so I don’t have time to think about it too much!
[A rare photo of me taking a photo, like the only one from travelling in the set above! This is in the sea at Porthtowan, Cornwall, three or four years ago.]
Photography has saved me twice over
When I was diagnosed, I was working in an amazing job, for the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. I was in the Picture Library, selling photo prints and dealing with reproduction rights for books and television. Taking up photography helped me take my mind off being ill. I spent a year doing evening classes to get a City & Guilds, learning photography properly on my new film camera, and practicing when I could, at lunchtimes, on the way home, at the weekends. Then when I was feeling a bit better, I left Windsor having got my first job as an actual photographer down the road at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley.
More museum photography jobs followed, until I was made redundant in 2010, when I was on my second maternity leave from the National Trust, and the photography project I was working on came to an end. So I didn’t have a job to go back to that time round, and just felt it was too hard to find another job doing something I wanted to do, that would be part time, where the employer and my colleagues would be willing to work around my hospital appointments, the days I needed to be near a toilet, or to not do much, and so on. And pay enough for two lots of childcare too of course! So I stayed at home with the children, and started learning a bit more about running a business, building up a stock of landscape photos to try and sell, and practicing photographing my children and my friends’ children.
And then after our third child, and after recovering from my operation, by early 2014, I was ready to try and turn my photography into a proper business. And that was seven years ago! My business has grown and changed since then, as I’ve learnt more about what I want to do, but the photography is still a major element of it all. I sell my local landscape photos as prints, cards and calendars over on my other website at www.janemucklowphotography.co.uk. And here of course I help business owners to create and build a personal brand, including taking branding photos for them, and teaching them to take their own photos too, all of which I love.
[Photo of me by my husband on a family daytrip to the Kent seaside in March 2014, just after I started my photography business. I had to search for hours to find one from around then that I liked!]
Becoming an entrepreneur against the odds
I think my Crohn’s has helped me to be more determined to succeed as a business owner. There were other reasons for starting my own business too of course, to be able to do something I loved, for myself, and to be able to do something that worked around the children, to be here for their assemblies, sports days, play dates after school, when they’re ill or on school holidays etc, as well as around my health. But I’ve been able to build a business that works for me, around what I can do health wise as well as what time I have.
It is so much better working for myself rather than someone else – I can rest when I need to, have a quieter day or easier day when I need to, I can go to medical appointments without worrying about what my employer or colleagues think, and likewise spend time on the toilet when I need to! And I’ve lost confidence I think from being out of the workplace that I would be able to cope with a job, I worry that I would be too tired and brain foggy to remember things, at least at home I can write everything down!
I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve loved having my own business, and being able to help other business owners too with the branding side of it, and even how my greetings cards spread a little bit of happiness in the post too. I’m more driven to succeed than I expected too.
When you only have a certain amount of time and energy you need to make it count, to work on the things that you need to do and not procrastinate, faff, or do the unnecessary things! (Though I’m still learning not to put off the things I don’t want to do!).
I still struggle with patience, with wanting to do too much, or have everything done at once, but I am proud of what I’ve achieved over the last few years.
I have mainly been able to build my business around what I can do health wise, as well as what time I have, so that has really helped. I still find I put more on my to-do list than I am actually able to do each week! But I’m always trying to be more organised and get things planned in advance more, scheduled, and automated more, to make it easier.
And with the branding side of my business, I am gradually getting more of it online, with courses, workbooks, and my new membership, so that it will bring in money without me having to be there all the time, which is perfect for anyone who needs to work around their health.
I’m not always good at the self-care side of it all, but a wander with my camera in the countryside on my own keeps me going, or a rest with a good book to read. I mostly manage to stay positive which really helps.
[The most recent photo of me with my camera that I could find, taken by my eldest daughter last Autumn. – And having found those photos of me from 2005, whilst I’d love to be thinner than I am now, I am happy to know that I am healthier now than I was then!]
More Tips for other Entrepreneurs Against The Odds
Thinking about running your own business? Go for it! Find something you love to do, something you really want to do, to have that motivation to do it that you need as a business owner anyway, but to also keep going when you don’t feel so well or something else uses up your time. But try and create a business that will work around you and what you can do, so that you can have time out when you need to, and it doesn’t affect the business. (Though it has definitely been a lot more work than I expected, and a huge learning curve learning how to run a business!).
I think having a chronic health issue makes you more determined as a business owner to get on and make it work. So make sure you also make things as easy for yourself as you can, schedule and automate what you can, and work out how to make money from the least amount of effort! For instance by selling a course to lots of people rather than doing 1:1s, making sure you don’t build a business that requires you to work every evening and all weekend too, and so on.
Make sure you keep looking after yourself, get some me-time, manage your time and energy wisely, and take it one day at a time if you need to.
I hope you don’t mind me sharing all this! I know I don’t usually; I’m quite a private person anyway, and I’m always mindful that other people generally don’t want to hear about diarrhoea! Plus when I was first diagnosed and really ill I suppose my way of coping was to ignore it, and to hide it, in order to be able to carry on, and so I’ve always tried to do that.
Though I realise that doesn’t help raise awareness of Crohn’s Disease, or of living with a chronic illness, and so I do now feel I should probably should talk about it more. Which is why I recently added a mention of it to my About Me page, and agreed to do the podcast, leading to this blog. But it’s also an attempt to share more of me with you too, so we can get to know each other better too, and so I hope you have enjoyed reading a bit more about my story.
Are you an entrepreneur against the odds too? We all have stuff going on in our lives, and there could be many other reasons apart from your health that make you one. I’d love to know if it has helped to find out that I am one too…
PS Don’t forget to find the Excel Against The Odds podcast wherever you usually listen to podcasts, for tips and support with running your own business AND looking after your health.
Thanks for having me Sarah, it was scary but I did sort of enjoy the experience!! Might even start my own at some point! 🙂
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