In 1998, after several years of trial and error with a variety of medical treatments and some bizarre side-symptoms, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Right away, I was told that the cause was unknown, it’s considered a chronic disease and there is no cure. I resisted the diagnosis – and the prognosis – and did not readily surrender to traditional treatment. Eventually, however, the same stubbornness helped me work with my illness, but only after I accepted it as a central, guiding aspect in my life.
I was in the hospital twice in 1992, the first time in July and the second time in October. By the time October had rolled around, I was a complete wreck. My body was weak, I had dropped ten pounds I couldn’t afford to lose, I was severely anemic and I was in a great deal of pain. Nonetheless, as soon as I could, I returned to my job in my dual role as store manager and regional training manager for a national bookstore chain.
That same summer I was asked to add the role of Acting District Manager to my list of responsibilities and I said “yes!” I did not yet know just how sick I was to become. As Acting District Manager I was required to periodically visit different stores throughout Southern California. On one such occasion I was so symptomatic that I had to run to the bathroom every 15 minutes. I was mortified. I remember resting my head on the steering wheel of the company van as I drove 60 miles to yet another store; I was exhausted but I kept going. I didn’t stop, I didn’t say no, I just kept going. I didn’t yet understand that caring for my body had to become my top priority.
Between dealing with my illness and juggling the three roles, my ability to keep up with my store manager duties was severely diminished. When a new District Manager was hired in early 1993 I was not only released from those duties, within a couple of months I was “relieved” of the training manager position, too. I was devastated. I quit the job I had loved so much just seven short months later.
For the next six years, I did my best to regain the same level of personal fulfillment that I experienced when I was a training store manager, while still learning to manage life with this illness. In those six years I moved through five different jobs, three of which were interrupted by short-term disability leaves lasting anywhere from two weeks to two months.
When I learned about coaching, a light bulb went off. This was something I could do! Plus, as the owner of my own company, I could set my own hours, make more money per hour worked, and I had full control over my working environment. These criteria remain as important today as they did 14 years ago when I started working for myself.
How I came to write about working from home
The tell-tale symptoms associated with my illness have been in remission for over nine years, since early 2005. In 2011, the day after I returned from a short trip to Lisbon, Portugal, I was hit with salmonella poisoning. The next five days resembled the very worst days of dealing with my illness. Once I recovered and I realized I’d made it through without a relapse into a full-blown Crohn’s flare, I was not only grateful, I was moved by what I’d had to deal with for so many years. I thought to myself, “This is my gift. This is what I have to share with others.”
I had already planned a trip to visit my son in New York and decided to add a day to the trip in case the publisher of my first book, “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease” (Demos Health, 2008, Joffe and Friedlander) was available to meet with me. She was! Sometime during the hour Noreen asked if I might have another book to write. At that time I was thinking a lot about “capacity” and I shared my perspective with her. Noreen was interested.
The title, Business from Bed, was actually conceived several years prior when I was still ill. I worked from bed when I had to and my coaching clients never knew. I even taught marketing teleconference classes in my p.j.’s, tucked under the covers and comfortably propped up with pillows when needed.
There are many conversations out there about how to succeed in business and there are just as many conversations about how to deal with and recover a difficult medical condition, but few conversations address the balancing act that tens of thousands of adults face each day: How the heck am I going to support myself (and/or my family) and do something that engages ME when my body is so unreliable?
In today’s technologically expansive world, there is no shortage of creative solutions for this particular balancing act. I find that a realistic attitude – this kind of sucks AND I’m open to seeing how I can make this all work – a good place to start. If you have a story to share about how you figured it out, or a question about an obstacle that you haven’t been able to resolve, please send them my way. I have plenty to share myself – and I will – but I find it much more interesting to engage with folks tackling these kinds of questions right here, right now.
Have a question for Joan about your career and chronic illness or rare disease? Leave a comment below to have it featured in an upcoming post!
When Joan Friedlander’s career was derailed by Crohn’s Disease 22 years ago, she was forced to make significant changes in all aspects of her life: in her career direction, in her lifestyle choices, and in her view of herself. Joan coaches self-employed business owners who are having a difficult time balancing their drive to earn a good living with their very real need to establish healthy boundaries. She is the author of “Business from Bed: The 6-Step Comeback Plan to Get Yourself Working Again after a Health Crisis” (Demos Health, 2013) and co-author of “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend!” (Demos Health, 2008, Joffe and Friedlander) www.joanfriedlander.com