It is slightly ironic that this week there is a day specifically to recognize small businesses and another day for Fibromyalgia awareness, both of which are rather personal to me.
January of 2017, I experienced a health crisis, for lack of a better turn of phrase. Almost immediately I was suffering chronic fatigue and crippling pain. Still I continued teaching and interpreting (American Sign Language for both) as I had been from home via live stream into the classrooms. By the end of the next school year, we were aware I would struggle to ever teach, or interpret, again, especially full-time. (Photo is Magnum Zeus, November 2017, helping me teach.)
We saw multiple doctors in multiple disciplines, each one stating yes, they believed it was fibro but they were not permitted to formally state that because that doctor needed to test and say it. Off to that one I went. Finally, in July of 2020, the word “Fibromyalgia” was formally added to my records and now my permanent label.
What is Fibromyalgia? John describes it to people as having so severe a flu that even your hair hurts. He is fairly close with that description. Fibro is this unending level of pain that is so deep in the body nothing touches it – not massage, not yoga, not most regular pain meds. Any pain wears on the body, so imagine if there is no escape. Chronic fatigue becomes a permanent reality, fatigue so deep that even though I must nap I never feel refreshed. Naps simply give me a breather from being so tired and aid me in possibly being able to function for a couple more hours on the back end of the nap. Because the pain is continuous, it in essence fries the synapses in the brain causing clear thinking to be difficult for fibro sufferers when they are in a flare, a severe uptick in symptoms that can last hours to weeks, sometimes months. (Photo from July 2020 working with Gabriel Frederick, our trainer, and my wheelchair at the St. Louis Arch. Note: I use the wheelchair when out for extended periods of time or on those occasions when my legs are simply refusing to cooperate.)
One other way I describe fibro is the origin story of Wolverine from the X-men series. He had adamantium injected into his bones to transform his bones to a steel-like structure. My fibro pain is like that except the adamantium is acid and my bones are not going to be any stronger at the end.
Fibro has eaten away at my balance and mobility, prompting us to get my standard poodle Gabriel Frederick in July 2019. We trained with a hybrid program out of St. Louis, Missouri learning how to function as a service dog team. Frankly, Gabriel has returned some of my independence. Without Gabriel I have to be very careful about how I rise from a seated position or walk about a space. Gabriel provides intuitive counterbalance for my wobbles. He steps in tight if my balance and/or legs start to give way. He braces to give me something from which to push up and hold onto when rising from a seated position. His work does not stop there, either. And before anyone asks, yes, Gabriel Frederick gets plenty of downtime, including a 30 minute play time at a local homestead two days a week. (Photo - the day we brought Gabriel Frederick home, my birthday.)
Most of you know the story of how we started this business. Here is a little extra.
With pain and fatigue being constant companions, I ceased working in any capacity in 2020. Teaching and interpreting became memories of a season of life where my mind was clear and my eidetic memory was on-point, where my hands worked with ease and clarity. To fill my time, and distract myself from the pain of the disease and the pain of losing what I had built over 20 years, I took to painting wood art/craft. Also, I wanted to create toys for our clowder that were better quality than most we were buying from the stores. My mother and sister encouraged me to pick up sewing again. “Do it! So what if you can’t sew a mouse?! Every other cat toy is a mouse. Try something new, different. Make it yours to craft. Build your skills. Sell what you make. People want something different for their pets.” (Photo is one of my many first attempts at sewing a mouse. Glad I stopped struggling with that to create something different and yet still thoroughly enjoyable for kitties!)
It took more courage and more encouragement to get to the point I was willing to share my painted pieces and cat toys with people outside of the family. Finally our first craft show was November 2022, and the second followed in December, with our third just happening late April 2023. None of those was wildly successful, but we made our table fee and a bit more besides. Mind you, the first two shows were relatively small and all three were not well advertised, despite my best efforts. At each show, people seemed to appreciate having cat toys (and dog toys) that were handcrafted and made with quality products. (Photo is of the Sea Life light-up shadow box. Loved painting this and very proud of my work on it.)
Love & Hisses, of Forgotten Felines of Huntsville, Alabama, shared a photo of one of her fosters playing with one of the toys we had sent them. We had only wanted to share a toy that Love & Hisses had encouraged us to pursue many months before we had done so. I am unendingly grateful to Love & Hisses for having faith in me/us and for sharing that photo.
Here we are, five months after starting our business formally online. Struggling, as small businesses in their first years do, and celebrating every purchase as though it was the first (thank you to Shell B. for being that first online customer)! (Photo is our first online order and first custom order.)
It is a balancing act I juggle every day – my clowder, my disease, and our business. Some weeks I have enough clarity to schedule multiple posts to pop up throughout the week. Some weeks I barely manage one post. So when you don’t see as much activity on our social media, it is likely that that week is a poor week for me. We are still here, still making inventory, still waiting for the next order.
My hands may be stumbling in their dexterity. My pain may be ticking up. My fatigue may be creating multiple nap times throughout the day. But when someone contacts us, all that is quieted for a moment. We love sharing what we make and how we make it with people. So when we have an order come in where the customer likes this fabric but would prefer it on something this size or like that one over there, John and I make it happen, if at all possible. Does not matter if my disease is kicking my bottom that day. For a customer, we pull out the stops! I love helping people find something that will make their fur-family happy and for those moments a deep satisfaction overrides any pain my body is screaming at me.
John and I run a small business while he works full-time (product design engineer working from home with CAD and CATIA for the research and development arm of a large manufacturer), is a full-time caregiver (for me), and end-stage sewer for every handcrafted product we make (he has a way with the closing stitch that I am near envious for). John and I run a small business while I manage the personalities and energies of a large clowder and deal with a chronic disease on a daily basis. We work as a team because any other way would not be us and any other way we would not succeed at any part of this life together. Words will never capture my gratitude for John, his love, his care, his partnership, his encouragement. (Photo shows one of John's seam lines - nearly invisible. Wow!)
Living and running a business with Fibromyalgia is not easy, but the support and encouragement I have backing me as we pursue the dream of becoming successful enough John no longer has to have the day job … well, thank you! Thank you to my husband. Thank you to Love & Hisses. Thank you to my sister and my mother. Thank you to Shell B. for being our first online customer. Thank you to Laura B., Cheryl S., Michelle F., Kimberley T., and Cheri W. for purchasing from us and helping us test products. Your impact on our lives, on my life, has been lasting and this lady running a small business says, “thank you!!!”
#Fibro, #SmallBusiness, #GabrielFrederick, #ServiceDog, #StandardPoodle, #Fibromyalgia, #LoveAndHisses, #FFHSV, #BengalWoodCrafts, #JugglingAct, #FurFamily, #SpecialOrder, #LoveOurCustomers, #ThankYou