Women in Wellness: Changing the conversation about invisible illness with Harper Spero from Made Visible
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Harper Spero from Made Visible
I believe that people are here in order to make a bigger impact in the world — and with my book, ‘Make an Impact’, I had the chance to prove that hundreds of people are using their influence to improve other people’s lives.
As the founder of the Health Bloggers Community, my mission is to support people with growing their passion into a business — and so many women are building businesses empires all over the world.
This series is a chance to spotlight some of these women
“For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an entrepreneur without even knowing what my business would be.”
Harper is the host of Made Visible, a podcast that brings to light real, raw and inspiring stories from people experiencing a range of invisible illnesses, from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to bipolar disorder. Made Visible’s mission is to change the conversation and raise awareness around these significant yet not always well-known hidden health conditions, while imparting ways to be sensitive and supportive to people with invisible illnesses.
Harper has lived with a rare immunodeficiency, Hyper IgE Syndrome, her entire life, so she is passionate about Made Visible’s one-of-a-kind platform. Harper is also a business coach and consultant who specializes in working with individuals who are 0–5 years into launching their businesses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m a born and raised Manhattanite. I spent ten years working in marketing, public relations, and event production before I became a business coach and consultant. Starting my own business was something I always wanted to do, but the pieces really fell into place due to my health journey.
When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with Hyper IgE, also known as Job’s syndrome. It’s an extremely rare immune deficiency that causes skin issues and lung problems, among other things. When I was diagnosed, I was focused on trying to be a “normal” kid. I never wanted to be defined by my health issues, so I spent the first 27 years of my life hiding from my diagnosis and just dealing with symptoms as they came up.
That all changed in late 2012, when I had a lobectomy to remove a quarter of my right lung. I’d seen a pulmonologist because I found myself out of breath and on the verge of collapsing whenever I walked anywhere. It turns out, I had a cyst the size of a golf ball in my right lung. We have no idea how long it had been there. The surgery to remove it was risky but medically necessary, and the infectious disease team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had advised me to proceed with it. This was such a pivotal time in my life, and I came out of the surgery grateful to be alive.
The surgery — and recovery from it — turned my world upside down, and it was hard to hide and ignore my health any longer. I started sharing with friends, writing about my story, and owning my health (including visiting the NIH every year, something I had resisted for a long time). I also started eating healthier, meditating, practicing yoga, and creating a lifestyle that allowed me to prioritize these things. This was when I started to acknowledge that I needed a career that was more fulfilling and provided me with more flexibility. In November 2014, I launched my coaching business.
I’m now seven years out of surgery, and managing my health is now a big part of my life and story. There have been challenging moments, but I am very fortunate to have my team at the NIH, a few doctors in NYC, and friends and family to support me — something that’s a lot easier for them now that I’m not hiding what I’m going through.
As I finally came out of my shell, I started to seek out other people who also manage invisible illnesses.
Through my conversations with these people, and my own experiences, I realized that people don’t know what it’s like to live with an invisible illness. It was really challenging for me to find content around invisible illness that I related to; most of what I found didn’t acknowledge that illness is only one part of someone’s story. As an avid podcast listener, I decided this was my opportunity to create the content I wanted to hear. With this in mind, I set out to create a platform to showcase the stories of people living with invisible illness. In July 2019, my podcast, Made Visible, was born.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
Move your body. I’m big on walking and practicing yin yoga or restorative yoga. I try to walk at least 10,000 steps a day.
Practice meditation. I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation since 2013. I’ve gone through periods when I’m not consistent with it and can majorly feel and see the difference in my life. There are lots of different approaches to meditation, so I always encourage people to find the practice that best suits them.
Listen to your body. I know my body knows what’s best for me. I can feel in my gut when something isn’t right and I need to follow that. I recently canceled a trip I’d been really excited about because my body needed to rest. It was a disappointment, but I knew right away that it was the right decision.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As an avid podcast listener, I was excited about launching a podcast of my own but had no idea how much I would enjoy being a host. This has been the most rewarding work I have ever done and I truly didn’t expect that to happen. I love having conversations with incredible guests on the show and helping people share their stories relating to invisible illness. I also love the production and project management side of hosting a podcast — there are so many moving pieces that help bring it to life.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I launched my show in the middle of the summer which is typically the hardest time to schedule things with people, especially in New York City. I was so excited to launch my podcast that I didn’t think to have 5 to 10 episodes recorded before launching. Luckily, I didn’t have to compromise the quality of guests due to scheduling, but booking those early guests when I was already in production definitely made things a bit more rushed and hectic. Anytime someone tells me they’re launching a podcast, the first thing I say is to ensure you have a minimum of five episodes recorded before you launch, to be safe. I created the Newbie’s Guide to Podcasting, which is the manual I wish I had before I launched my podcast — and this tip is definitely in there!
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
My goal in launching Made Visible was to help people whose lives are affected by invisible illness feel more seen and heard. Whether they’re patients, caregivers, friends or family, doctors, practitioners, or others who support those of us with invisible illnesses, there are so many important stories to tell.
There are many people like me living with extremely rare invisible illnesses, and there needs to be more awareness around this topic. I showcase stories that will help educate those who do not have invisible illnesses. I hope that by doing this, we can all become more compassionate to each other. We never know what anyone else is going through unless we ask.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an entrepreneur without even knowing what my business would be. My dad was really vocal about the importance of getting experience and working my way up at other companies before working for myself. I had a hard time seeing the value of that in real time because I wanted to work for myself so badly.
When I started exploring the coaching world, I spoke to 15 coaches to learn about their experiences and businesses. Every single one of them commented that I have experience most coaches don’t, given that I’d worked in marketing and public relations, and that this would be helpful for me and my clients. That has definitely turned out to be true.
I’m really grateful for my dad for pushing me to stick things out even when I didn’t want to. Growing up, he also made me crazy about spell checking and proofreading. I remember coming out into the living room and saying I finished a paper. When I would hand it to him, he would point out the errors, and it always made me so angry. The lesson has paid off, though, and it made me more diligent about my work now. I hope there are no spelling or grammar errors in this paragraph!
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The first word that comes up for me is honesty. I would love for people to be more honest and vulnerable, myself included. I think we’re all so protective of ourselves that we hold back from sharing a lot of information. But when people share, we often feel less alone and more understood. It’s easy to feel isolated when we have shame and don’t share what we’re going through, but there’s a sense of community when we do choose to share. This relates to everything in life: relationships, fertility, health, mental health, career shifts, and beyond.
Today, there are many organizations and companies who are raising awareness about the importance of taking care of yourself. I think we’re getting closer to being a society that priorities these things!
What is your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- I wish someone told me how time consuming hosting a podcast is. There are so many moving pieces. It’s not like you record for an hour and then instantly it shows up online — there are many steps to making it come to life.
- I wish I knew more about sponsorship and how ads based on CPM worked because I’m not an expert in this area.
- I wish someone reminded me the challenges of managing more than one Instagram account. I launched one exclusively for the podcast and it can be overwhelming to publish content on my personal/business account and the show podcast.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be?
Kris Carr. I produced Marie Forleo’s Rich Happy and Hot Live in 2012, and Kris Carr spoke at the event. I felt like I was drooling listening to her because everything she said resonated with me so much. I worked with Kris a few times during my event production days, but I’ve never had the opportunity to really connect with her one on one. I adore her because she is quirky and wacky and so clearly her authentic self both on and off camera. I really relate to that sense of authenticity, both in terms of how I run my business and live my life. I’d rather people hate me for who I am than love me for who I am not.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health. I’ve had the honor of speaking with several podcast guests who manage mental health challenges, and I’ve learned so much through them. There are so many stigmas attached to mental health, and we have more work to do in terms of making mental health services more accessible and supporting those with mental health issues. On episode #10, I spoke with Mallory Gothelf, who lives with depression and anxiety and has become a mental health advocate. She is constantly trying to find ways to support people in the mental health community and has written so many beautiful blog posts about her experience. My guest on episode #12, Amy Grantham, has struggled with depression her whole life and has used art as a mode of expressing her emotions. She spoke on the podcast about the importance of getting uncomfortable and hearing about things that make us uncomfortable — and not trying to sugarcoat life.
About the author:
Fab Giovanetti is a business mentor, published author, influencer-specialist, best known as the founder of the Health Bloggers Community and co-founder of the Register of Health and Wellness Influencers.
Serial start-up founder and professional troublemaker, she is obsessed with avocados and helping people making an impact in health and wellness. Sounds like you? Get daily tips on how to grow your influence via the HBC magazine.