What It Really Means To Run A Business With A Chronic Illness

Jo Gifford
Pain Talks
Published in
4 min readApr 26, 2015



As an online entrepreneur I have the world at my fingertips.

My clients, readers, followers, collaborators, peers, friends and family alike are all reachable with the click of a button.

I have designed a place in the world that I adore.

I am honoured to work with, mentor and inspire thousands of solopreneurs around the world to work in smarter, creative ways and to tell their stories online.

It is, indeed, a privilege to be have total autonomy over my time, my future, my ideas and the execution of them. As mum to two amazing daughters my work is flexible, non-location dependant and perfect for family life. I am making my own fortune, teaching my girls how to be in control of their own financial futures, and devouring the experience of it all with great pleasure.

All would be perfect, if we could overlook the trio of chronic illnesses, lurking like the preverbal elephant in the room.

Since the age of 19 I have dealt with endometriosis.

10 years into my journey of living with chronic pain, my nervous system over reacted, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) also came to join the party. A few years later fibromyalgia entered the fray, and as of today I entertain all three and their various, overlapping symptoms at any given time.

Since I am now the CEO of me, I have the pleasure of working from wherever I please — cafés, co-working spaces, holiday locations, but very often from my sofa or bed.

Despite my honesty online with my growing community of fellow solopreneurs, there can still remain the illusion of a successful, global business owner and it often comes as a surprise when I say no to conferences or events, or need to build in caveats to interviews, appearances or commitments.

Being active online is very different from being active offline.

Also, the curated version of life that appears online is very, very different to the reality behind the scenes; I am very likely to post pictures of my bike rides, crafting with my daughters, or social gatherings on Instagram and Facebook, but much less likely to document the times I am weeping with pain, unable to move, or throwing up with migraines and nausea.

My day to day life is manageable (my scale of CFS is “mild to moderate”) and I have developed ways of working that minimise stress and maximise rest:

  • I work in chunks of time with built-in rest times
  • I manage expectations of clients and colleagues
  • I use autoresponders and a fab VA to help manage communications
  • I don’t block together several activities that drain me (and if I do, I build in time afterwards to recover).

I don’t always get it right.

There are still the days when I have not been mindful enough of my schedule and discover I am over committed and over-booked.

There are still the times when I know I should be resting but I am so excited about my projects that I can’t help myself, only to pay for it later.

My biggest challenges are managing myself and my constant quest for success and service, and getting used to saying no.

Saying no means letting go of opportunities that would be amazing to experience — world travel, conference key notes, exciting events, lively collaborations, and essentially anything that is likely to take more than 3 hours of time without a hotel nearby to pass out in before/during/afterwards.

Living with chronic illness doesn’t hold me back from success — far from it — but it does frustrate my inner ambition, the part of me that feels constrained, limited and, often, stuck.

It is still saddening to know that even when I have had a successful day, week, or month — and by that I mean that I have been able to function for over 50% of the time — that I have still not achieved all that my brain and ambition would like me to if I were normal.

But, this is my “normal”. For now.

It has taught me so much about being humble, giving in, letting things happen when my every instinct is to push, plan and achieve.

I have a lot to learn still, too.

But for now, it’s time to rest. My body is the boss.



Jo Gifford
Pain Talks

Hey, I’m Jo. I am a content marketer for change makers, author, podcaster, morning raver and wild swimmer. www.jogifford.co