I reluctantly and regrettably called my new client to tell her that I had to delay working on her job. I was facing a further complication due to my autoimmune disease and was having trouble working. She said, “Really? Do you have an autoimmune disease? I do too!”
Learn the stories of how an autoimmune diagnosis led to the reinvention of two women. We hope our shared experiences will give you ideas, options, and encouragement to manage your career and work with an autoimmune disease.
Deneen’s story of reinventing yourself after an autoimmune diagnosis
For me, this journey began twenty years ago with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was homeschooling my two elementary-aged children, running a successful teaching business with high school level Spanish, and going to Graduate School. It was July 4th that year. For four months, I suffered through debilitating fatigue and a cascade of symptoms that included a burning spine and falling because my leg just seemed to have vanished.
I could only function because everywhere I went, I would lay down. Laying down included the sofa at home during ‘school,’ the floor at piano lessons, and the seat in the car during dance class. I had help keeping the house clean, and I managed to feed my family. On top of everything, I had a headache at the base of my skull and severe auditory sensitivity. The pain continued for over two years with varying painkillers that never entirely relieved the headache. I was devastated.
I felt as if God was hiding from me
For that first year after diagnosis, I was mad at God for allowing this to happen to me. I felt He had abandoned me, and I could not find Him. I was lost. It was like He was out there, somewhere but hidden from me like the clouds were obscuring Him from my view.
I asked for advice and sought counsel only to get the pat answers of ‘pray more,’ ‘ask God,’ or ‘get into the Word. Ugh! I needed answers to my questions, not platitudes. Having been in the religious world my entire life, this was a real crisis of faith for me, and no one could help. In his book, Maximum Faith, George Barna identifies ten stops along the path toward wholeness. I was at stop seven, ‘experiencing personal brokenness.’
And believe me, I was broken.
God uses times of brokenness to teach us
God uses these times of ‘brokenness’ to teach us important things. For me, it was that I REALLY needed to depend on Him. This manifested itself first in my sleep patterns. In the beginning, I was actually afraid to sleep. After Googling and reading stories about other people with MS, I realized that I could go to sleep one night and not be able to move the following day. I couldn’t imagine waking up and being totally paralyzed from the neck down!
I had to take sleeping pills for a while. I felt terrible that I didn’t seem to have enough faith and that my attitude was horrible. Then, I decided to thank God each morning when I got out of bed. I thanked Him that He allowed me to take care of my family.
Look back to see the growth
I didn’t keep a journal then. I wish I had so I could remember the step-by-step process God brought me through. I look back and see the growth that happened because I needed to work on my strength and mind. I looked at what I could do and rationalized it by thinking it through. An important sanity measure at the time. I cried out to Him and looked more earnestly for Him.
My Bible became the only thing I could turn to in order to find Him. I still do this. I take time each day to reflect on Who God is and what He is doing in my life to change me and transform me into the woman He wants me to be. By seeking God through His Word, I could still find Him, listen to Him, discern the right thing to do, and be teachable. And most of all, have courage.
So you see, God was testing me, and I wanted to win. I do know this too. If I had not been on this journey, I would not be in the sweet spot with my Savior that I am in now. These years have been a filling of Him in a way I never experienced in all my years in the church and as a believer in Jesus. I have searched for Him with all my heart, not just my head. I have learned many things by studying His Word. Also, I’ve witnessed God moving in the hearts of people I was privileged to minister to. I’ve experienced His love so profoundly in my life that I am secure in Him forever.
Reinventing yourself after an autoimmune diagnosis is an inside job
Reinventing yourself after an autoimmune diagnosis involves inner work, change, trial, and error. God got my attention and brought me out of my restlessness with the Christian faith and who He called me to serve.
Now I am in a place where I am privileged to pour into women’s hearts, lives, and businesses. I now coach women worldwide on how they can live out God’s calling in their lives.
Mary’s story of reinventing yourself after an autoimmune diagnosis
Ten years ago, I was incredibly unhappy in my career. After being in the same role for 16 years, the work was tedious, my co-workers were difficult, and I was brutal with co-workers. It was time for a change, so I took the first position I could get in a different department just to get out. Unfortunately, I ended up landing in a horrible situation, with circumstances I never expected nor knew how to handle.
The stress was unbearable, and I was barely holding it together when I started to feel ill. I began to experience swelling, joint pain, and stomach issues. Walking became difficult. Mentally, my steps into the office building had been slow and painful, but now my legs physically couldn’t carry me inside. I tripped on the building entrance steps because I couldn’t lift my leg enough.
Nine months later, I received a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease called scleroderma. The deadliest of the rheumatoid autoimmune disease family.
No cure, just management
The disease had progressed enough to cause permanent damage to my skin, hands, fingers, and stomach. My doctors prescribed medication and physical therapy to slow down the progress of the disease and hopefully prevent further damage. But unfortunately, there is no cure, just management through immune-suppression medications.
After six months of trying to cope with my failing career and body, I stopped working and hid away in my house. Then, at one of my doctor’s appointments, I read an article in Arthritis Today about therapy pools for those with arthritis. Luckily, a gym next to my physical therapist had a therapy pool! So, I decided to join, hoping the warm therapy pool would help me move again.
Going to the gym started a snowball effect for me of doing things to help take care of myself and take control of an out-of-control situation. Step by step, day by day, month by month, and year by year, my health improved. I learned how to manage the chaos in my body, mind, and spirit.
God’s refining and reinventing us
My road back to work wasn’t a straight shot to where I am today. As I began to feel better, I volunteered for one day at my church in the office. Soon one day became three days, leading to a part-time job. I enjoyed working for my church but knew my talents, knowledge, and experience weren’t being used to my full potential.
So, three years after stopping work and my career, volunteering and working part-time, I finally jumped from employee to entrepreneur. God orchestrated my meeting with Deneen three months into my entrepreneurial journey. From that point, I clarified what God called me to do. I’ve been refining what I love to do and having my work and career fit my lifestyle, not the other way around.
I’ve learned much from Deneen about growing my faith before trying to grow my business or any other endeavor. Working on my relationship with God wasn’t something I thought I would be doing when I thought of reinventing myself after an autoimmune diagnosis. I thought it meant a new career or learning new skills. Instead, I see God transforming me into the person He called me to be. Also, He’s restoring me into a place where the Holy Spirit dwells and delights in.
Two difficult roads led to one beautiful destination
These challenging journeys brought us to a meeting at our church called Kingdom Builders. This meeting was for business owners and workers who want to represent Christ in the marketplace. By God’s grace, Deneen and I chose seats next to each other which was the start of our friendship.
Five years later, Deneen and I work together to help Christian women represent Christ in their businesses. We help entrepreneurial-spirited women who want to run a business with God as their CEO (Chief Everything Officer.) God led us on our journeys to a point where we were ready to pursue our businesses and help others do the same.
We have learned that reinventing yourself after an autoimmune diagnosis takes God, time, and tenacity.