Hello Sweet Ones,
So, the subject of managing a business whilst also managing physical and/mental health issues is one that I’ve skirted around a lot over the years … sure, I will mention it, and I will complain to those closest to me when the exhaustion of it gets to me, but ultimately I have always sacrificed my own health in favour of my business. I take on that extra commission, I skip that break, I’ll get up three hours early just so I can slip in one more drawing, I’ll lie awake until the early hours of the morning answering emails on my phone, and all these little things come at a cost in time. They come at a cost for anybody, regardless of whether or not you have health issues to contend with. But when you’ve a disease that feeds on stress and hormone fluctuations that cost becomes particularly pricey.
I will openly admit I am not good at managing my health. That isn’t to say I haven’t tried ‘the yoga’ or the magic turmeric and pot laced smoothie that will turn me into superwoman, trust me anything you can think to suggest I have tried. But I am still ultimately a stubborn healthy person suddenly finding myself trapped in the body of a sick one, and it can be very difficult for me to accept that there are just some things I cannot do anymore. And should I find myself with a burst of energy? Well, I’ll make the most of that up until I get to the point where I physically cannot bear to stand and I swear to myself I’ll never be so stupid again … until the next time and I conveniently forget. I still fail to acknowledge my health condition when it comes to my business too, and when I have a huge workload to complete and a flare comes I am reduced to bitter tears as I stay propped up on my desk surrounded by sugar and pain relief and hoping for the best.
I still have a lot to learn, which is why I’ve never really felt it was my place to offer anybody advice on this subject. I’ve had to make sacrifices so I can make this work, and the biggest sacrifice has been my social life (may she rest in peace), and that doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of person that anyone should be taking advice off … but the thing is, my mistakes are definitely something others can learn from, and yesterday I had a break through moment. My time is my most precious resource, and I get to choose what I do with that resource.
You do not owe anybody your time. You can offer it as freely as you desire … you can offer it to friends and family, to charity’s or things that you care for, but your time is not owed to any single soul but yourself. When you work you are offering your time in exchange for money, and the same is true when you run a business. When a client gets in touch with me, what I am offering to them is more than just my drawing skills and my passion for art, I am also offering them my time and I dictate what that is worth to me. My clients then decide whether they are happy to pay me for it. Of course, there’s a lot more to running a business than just that, but this topic is about learning to take breaks, and understanding that your time has value is a huge part of that.
During my day, I get a lot of messages from other people, whether it be commission inquiries, friends getting in touch, or people looking for advice. Recently I was dealing with a particularly difficult matter, and much of the stress that came with that was the knowledge of how much of my time was being monopolised by it … filing copyright notices, responding to messages, listening to advice, all took time that was already so valuable to me, time that I perhaps otherwise would have spent on rest. My mental and physical health took a nosedive, commissions that I would have otherwise enjoyed now causing me endless stress as I kept glancing up at the clock and realising that if I didn’t go to bed now I would be too tired for work the next day. Then, I’d wake at 5:30 in the morning, often after just 2-4 hours sleep, and I’d be so desperate to make the most of my time that I’d get up and start working, and without sleep my body just wasn’t prepared to protect itself as it usually did. My pain increased, and there were two days where I got home from work and just cried and cried because I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly survive another day. I did survive, of course, I am nothing if not incredibly stubborn, but it was three solid weeks of complete neglect on my part. I was so focused on producing artwork, to take every damn commission that came my way, in growing from this negative experience, that I did not consider the value of my time.
The result, sadly, was not preparing properly for an otherwise very predictable pattern of my disease. It was agony and suddenly I had no say on the exchange rate of my time, I had to rest because it was impossible for me to do anything else.
Yesterday, the individual who I had been struggling with for the last few weeks got in contact with an acknowledgement of their mistake and an apology, and it was like a light was turned on in my head. Why had I done that to myself? Why had I let my physical and mental health become so neglected over something that ultimately would have resolved itself? And what was I going to learn from this?
Simply, I needed to remind myself that I get to chose what to do with my time. Me and me alone. And if I decide that the most valuable use of my time is to allow my mind and body a moment to rest, to shut off my phone and let other people deal with their own problems for a little while then I get to do that. Everyone deserves that. For me, I know that if I do not selfishly guard my time then it will come at the cost of my health … endometriosis might not kill me tomorrow. I will not drop dead because of it. But you can bet that endometriosis is already rubbing her red hands in anticipation of all the time that she will steal from me in the future. Endometriosis doesn’t care about me, or my time, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to either.
All of this, I suppose, is my round-about way of saying that the key to managing a business whilst also dealing with mental and physical health issues is not to run yourself dry. It is ingrained into almost all of us from a young age that, if we work hard, good things will happen. Success comes with working hard, and working hard alone. We’re applauded for staying up late at night to study for that coming exam, for choosing to stay in that night and finish a commission rather than see friends, for taking on that extra order and adding another hour to your work day for the coming week to complete it. Maybe it works for some people, who am I to say otherwise? But I do know that if you’ve got a health issue to factor into how you handle each day, you cannot survive like that. Take that mental health day … watch some cartoons for a few hours, your favourite movie, listen to your favourite album, shut off your phone. Cuddle with your pets for a few hours when the pain of sitting at your desk is too great. If you mentally feel too drained to respond to a message then make note of it and come back to it later. Set aside time each and every day to just do something for yourself, whatever that may be.
My other tip? You don’t have to take every single job that comes your way. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, and countless projects working with people that were difficult or with photos that I just couldn’t work from, ultimately always ended up in disappointment for one of us. I’d say it’s something that all new and aspiring artists have to deal with … we’re afraid to turn down orders because what kind of artists says no to work? But, here I lead back to the value of your time again. Decide what that time is worth. Maybe you decide to ask for more money for the project, or maybe you decide to say no, either way just be sure that the decision is yours.