For the past year, I have been working towards launching my own business. In May 2020, I finally did it! I started the subscription box company and community, Inflammation Vacation.
I always had found myself struggling during flares, feeling alone and in physical pain. I would be in a desperate search for something to ease my pain and make my day or night a little easier on my body. Something I learned fairly quickly after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease is that they are unpredictable. Things can change overnight or even in a matter of hours; the way you feel, stiffness and pain in your joints, brain fog, nausea, or even fatigue. During these times it can become so dark and isolating.
I want to bring sunshine to those darkest times with Inflammation Vacation. The boxes are filled with products that provide comfort during flares. Over the past few years I have been sharing tips and tricks with friends in the chronic illness community that help make those bad days a little easier and with Inflammation Vacation, I am now able to share this information to an even larger crowd.
I never thought in a million years that I would start a business of my own, especially one that was related to my Rheumatoid Arthritis. I still can’t say that I have stuck the perfect work/life + chronic illness balance, but I do know that I’m on the right path. I know my limits and I respect them (usually, I am only human). Certainly being an entrepreneur has helped with the flexibility that comes with being my own boss, but it still has its challenges!
On those days that I know I have to go the extra distance, I know to give my body the rest it needs the next day. My first 2–3 years out of college, I just pushed pushed pushed through my limits and didn’t allow any time for rest. My body felt like it was going to fall apart. I didn’t know how to put my health first. I constantly stressed about getting the job done perfectly.
Upon graduating college, I had no earthly idea what I wanted to do for a career. This led to me filling out applications for a variety of jobs. I started with an art gallery internship while working as a host part time at a local restaurant in Charleston, SC. I then worked for a short time as a writer for an ad agency, before landing a full-time position as a patient coordinator at a rheumatology office. (This is a whole other story that I will dive into in another article.)
When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, you have to relearn how to do many things in life. Activities that you wouldn’t think a second about, you now have to think how participating will affect you later that day or week. You can’t go into things blindly as you might have once done. You also have to learn how to navigate a career with chronic illness. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis halfway through college. This meant I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life at the same time as I trying to figure out how to get my body to function without severe pain and disability. At the beginning of my post-grad life, I was struggling to find the right medication to control my RA. I had many days of rough side effects, that included vomiting, vertigo, and migraines. The thing about side effects is that you never know when they are going to begin and end. So I spent many days at work secretly in the bathroom, trying to silently vomit.
Starting and running my own business is a lot of work. I have many different tasks I need to accomplish and unlike all the other jobs I have worked in my life, if something does not get done, there is no one else who is going to complete it for you if you run out of time. But this also means that I can work at my own pace because I am my own boss. Over time I have learned what my body can handle and when I’m about to push myself too far. One of my favorite things about working for myself is that I actually have gotten the chance to really learn my limits and have the chance to experiment with different schedules and the commitments I make. I know what part of the day I have the most energy, which is afternoon/evening. I know that when I force myself to work when I’m in physical pain, I won’t get anything productive done, and in return will have no energy for later when I could potentially accomplish a lot.
Running your own business is a lot of trial and error. This is in terms of the business and taking care of yourself at the same time. I always have worked best in school and postgraduate following a specific set of directions. As I am now the one in charge running my own business, I have had to create my own directions. I have found for me personally, that creating a consistent schedule for myself, provides me with the most energy to accomplish what I set out to do for the day. This isn’t to say that some days without warning, are days when I just can’t get things done and have to call it a day early. But it allows me to give it my all when I am the most concentrated.
I spend a lot of time talking to numerous potential vendors, designers, and customers throughout my day. Some days I have a more limited amount of energy and talking to people takes a lot of it. I have learned to express to these folks what time of day is best to contact me. Since I have started this business, I have informed everyone I may work with or work with in the future, that I have a chronic disease. It has actually brought me so much joy, because it creates conversations with people that sometimes are very unfamiliar with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The more honest and open I have become in my business, the more I have been able to achieve and feel satisfied with.
If I could go back in time to my first few jobs, there are definitely things I would do differently in relation to my chronic illness. First, I would be up front about it and inform my boss. Trying to hide my illness created a work life that was much harder on my body than it probably had to be. When I worked part-time at the restaurant, we were supposed to be standing at all times. My boss saw no reason I couldn’t do this, which meant I found myself in the bathroom sitting on the toilet numerous times a shift just so I could rest my swollen throbbing feet.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that the more you speak up about your health and advocate for yourself, the better your body is going to be treated in return. It takes time to figure out how your body responds in different environments and situations. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the second or third time either. With each new job, it’s a brand new process. If you are not comfortable telling your entire office about your illness, you do not have to. I suggest finding a friend in the office you trust, that you can go to when situations are tough for you. It took me a long time to stand up for my health. I pushed my limits, I thought that the way I worked was always how it would be. It would be difficult and painful, but I would just have to push through. You don’t have to push yourself past your breaking point to be able to achieve your career goals. You just have to find an alternate route that might be different than the one most use. It is through every internship and job that I have that has prepared me and taught me exactly how to run a business that can accommodate my health.
Navigating working life with a chronic illness can seem overwhelming and tricky. It’s about finding a rhythm that works for your body. Let yourself rest when you need it and speak up for yourself. Your body will thank you for it.
You can get your own Inflammation Vacation box
Each inflammation relief inspired box includes wellness products and tools to help provide comfort to your joints and ease pain caused by inflammation. Fall box orders are open for the next week and start shipping out on September 1st. Order yours here.