What myasthenia gravis taught me about being a business owner

Buying and managing a print shop had health consequences for this columnist

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by Shawna Barnes |

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The COVID-19 lockdowns had just started, and small businesses around the world were shuttering at an alarming rate. Many weren’t only temporarily adjusting, they were closing for good.

Being in quarantine meant no customers wandering around downtown to shop on a lazy Sunday afternoon. There were no lunchtime meetings, errands to run, or work to be done.

Yet there I was, drafting a 62-page business plan to buy the copy and print shop where I’d recently been hired to work as a graphic designer. My myasthenia gravis (MG) was well managed at the time.

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‘Life-hacking,’ self-care, and staying active at core of living with MG

Having big ideas

My former boss had closed the shop in April 2020, and I felt as if I were “saving the day” by keeping a small business alive that had been in the downtown area of Belfast, Maine, for more than 20 years. I was protecting people’s jobs. I had a grandiose idea of what I could do.

I spent the better part of a month writing the business plan in order to apply for a small business loan, and another month assessing inventory and getting my ducks in a row — at least what I thought a row should look like.

My plan impressed the loan officer, and I got the loan — in the middle of a pandemic, when everything around me was shutting down or already closed. I took over the print shop in July 2020.

Juggling MG and work

Most people wouldn’t recommend doing what I did. I went in thinking I could save the world. In the end, it cost me dearly.

When I bought the shop, my MG was under control because I was working only about 20 hours a week. I allowed myself ample time for the rest that my body required. The day I put on my business owner hat, everything changed. I was now working 60 hours a week. Talk about culture shock.

My body was not happy, which meant that my MG was not happy. My health slowly began to deteriorate as I struggled to juggle all of my hats. I thought I was doing OK until it all came crashing down.

My first myasthenic crisis

Fatigue set in, and I wasn’t able to get the same amount of work done in the allotted time. I fell behind in everything.

After about a year of this, I eventually worked myself into my first myasthenic crisis, which landed me in the specialty care unit at my local Veterans Affairs hospital for a week. After that, I started having regular intravenous immunoglobulin infusions.

I never fully recovered and had to close the print shop just four months later, in December 2021. I felt physically, emotionally, and mentally beat down.

Lessons I learned

In the year and a half that I ran the print shop, I met some truly wonderful people. I learned that I love helping people and being a leader, mentor, and educator.

In terms of treatment, I learned that the effectiveness of a treatment plan is influenced by the amount of the care we show ourselves.

Another lesson was that self-care and boundaries are crucial for managing my MG. I needed to find a way to be a proud boss without it meaning that I have one foot in the grave. That’s something I’m still working on.

I’m now focused on finding a balance between work and rest.

Note: Myasthenia Gravis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Myasthenia Gravis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to myasthenia gravis.


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