Many people know what to do if they have a friend/partner who’s sick: bring them chicken soup and herbal teas, offer to take the kids to the park for a few hours so they can rest or loan them your Netflix password so they can binge-watch their favorite shows while snuggling under the covers.
But what about if you know someone who’s always sick?
This person has a chronic illness and on any given day they may feel fine or they may be having a flare (a complication/aggravation of their disease). As a friend or spouse, you may not know when to pay special attention to this person and when to treat them “normally.” And then what if this person is also an entrepreneur—a population who frequently works long hours with little rest, often for low pay in the beginning as they build their businesses? These people are Type A personalities and they’re focused and driven, but they also may have physical or mental limitations that come with their disease. As someone battling chronic illness myself—I have three autoimmune diseases—I’ve watched my partner and friends struggle with this question. In this article, I’ll give you my top seven tips for ways you can support your friend or spouse who is also a “Sick Biz” entrepreneur because, while you might not hear it from them … they need support!
1. Take us seriously. While it’s certainly the case that many entrepreneurs hear from those around them that their idea is crazy and could never succeed, it happens even more often to sick entrepreneurs. “How will you do that with your condition?” “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather just file for disability?” “You’re starting a business? Why not just start a hobby instead? I have a friend who could teach you how to knit…”
The objections are endless but they all involve the idea that someone with a disability or chronic illness is incapable of, or too weak to start a business. And it’s simply not true! As a Virtual Assistant Trainer, I’ve seen so many folks with multiple chronic illnesses and/or disabled kids become successful in my industry. And all the folks on the Sick Biz site are proof that we can be successful in many so different industries and niches in the business world. Without the support of friends and relatives believing that our businesses can be a success, we may very well not be, but if you believe in us and encourage us? The sky’s the limit!
2. Ask, don’t assume. If you spend a ton of time going to the store and picking out flowers when we’re badly allergic and what we really need is someone to read through our latest blog post before it goes live at 5 pm, that’s an opportunity wasted. So please, ask us what you can do to provide support. We’ll be happy to let you know! A simple “What can I do to help?” is very powerful. Everyone has a different love language and some people love personal tokens of affection or to be pampered, while others prefer more practical, hands-on kinds of support. For some folks, both may be needed at different times. Make sure to ask what we need, and listen to what we say! The very smallest amount of help, when given with love, can make a huge difference not only to our to-do list but to our morale.
3. Don’t baby us. Please don’t offer to take over or “just handle it” yourself, even if we seem overwhelmed. We started a business because this is what we love to do. Yes, we may be sick. We may be differently-abled. But this work brings us joy. Help in the ways that you are asked and needed but don’t offer more help or worse yet, overstep your bounds and try to take things over completely. Many of us would be thrilled if you wanted to get more involved with our business but please, follow our lead. If we’re up late working on an overdue project or a sudden inspiration, don’t lecture us! Just slip out of bed quietly in the morning so we can sleep in. We all like to be taken care of, but make sure you treat us like business owners and allow us to make our own decisions.
4. Remind us to take breaks…gently. One thing any entrepreneur deals with is that there are so many demands on our time. From marketing to customer service to blogging to networking to keeping up with email newsletters and social media to bookkeeping and filing taxes—the list goes on and on. And we do all those things on top of the normal responsibilities most folks have like being a mom, wife, cooking, cleaning up the house and so on. Many of us are so passionate about what we do that we forget to take a break to enjoy a day at the beach or even just to breathe the fresh air off the back porch. In my business, I help women start profitable virtual assistant businesses so they can stay home with their kids and fire their boss. So, I know the women I’m training every day really need my help. They want out of that dead-end job yesterday! And I love that my work helps people stay home with their kids and allows them to homeschool, or just enjoy life a little more, but it can get exhausting at times when there is always someone wanting free advice. If I just provide 10 minutes of free advice to 20 people a day, it’s easy to see how fast you could burn out. My partner is great at reminding me to take a break by asking if I want to take a walk after lunch, or if I’d like some tea or if she can draw me a bath. Even a short break can help entrepreneurs refocus and replenish their energy. I have to be reminded sometimes that you can’t drink from an empty cup: in order to help others, I must first take care of myself.
5. Think about what you’d do for someone who just had a baby or has the flu. The primary illnesses that I have—rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and Sjogren’s syndrome, can ALL make you feel tired or like you have the flu. Daily. But unlike folks who actually have the flu, this is my normal. As much as I try to put on a smile and keep working through whatever pain and symptoms I may have that day (joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, back pain, foot pain, eye pain, etc.), I am still in pain. People who are normally healthy and get the flu are doted on, but people with chronic illnesses often find those around us saying, “Are you still sick?” as if it’s a moral failing on our part. So try to think of what you’d do for someone who just had a baby or someone who broke their leg, and offer us that same kind of help. Not just once, but as often as you can because our pain keeps on going! If you are going to help, please do it graciously and don’t complain about it, even jokingly as in “Hey, I think I do your dishes more than you do.” Your cheerful help is appreciated more than you know and once our business is successful you will certainly share in the rewards. ?
6. Listen. In many cases, we just need to vent, whether it is about that client who still hasn’t paid their invoice or about how this latest flare is really triggering our rosacea. We don’t necessarily need you to fix things—in fact, there’s no way you can make our illness go away. But just by being a friend and listening, you can take away a lot of our stress and make us feel like we are not alone in fighting this battle.
7. And above all, treat us normally. Include us in events and if you consider our special diets or what we can/can’t do when planning your event, even better. We’re just a normal friend you laugh and joke with. You can tell us your problems as we’re great listeners, too. (Just please don’t complain about how much your high heels hurt when we’d love to rock that look but can’t because of our disease!) Empower us by telling us how proud you are that we’re building something all our own despite the many obstacles and barriers in our way. Especially for those with invisible illnesses. Acknowledge our diseases are real and that our pain is not imagined. It may sound silly to you but these are things we hear on a regular basis all around us! By treating us as any other person you show us that we are a person first and a disabled/ill person second. We are also lovers, friends, moms, nature-buffs, writers, bakers, crossword-puzzle solvers, etc. We may have our diseases, but they don’t have us. They are only a small part of who we are.
We all know what to do for a friend or loved one who has the flu, so, hopefully, now you have a better idea how to handle it when your loved one has a disability or chronic illness. And for those brave and growing ranks of fellow sick and disabled entrepreneurs, I leave you with this: One of my favorite sayings has always been the old Chinese proverb “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” I think this is particularly important to the disabled entrepreneur community because it shows that no matter how much adversity you face, you can be successful—as long as you keep on getting up. Fall down 64 times, stand up 65. Fall down 1,522 times, stand up 1,523. An entrepreneur by definition is one who takes more risks and opens themselves up to more failures than the average person, so when you think of it, it is perhaps because of our illnesses, and not in spite of them, that we are able to be successful.