Tag Archives: self-employed

My own ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia story


I am writing this with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, in the hope that someone else may recognise the symptoms I had (and ignored) and do something before it is too late.

When my first symptoms appeared I did not rest but ‘fought bravely on’, or so I thought. The truth is I made it much, much worse for myself……

Let us start at the beginning.

By all accounts I was a precocious kid who was also very shy.

About the age of five or six (maybe seven?) I came down with glandular fever. I did not know it at the time but this was very bad news and quite possibly the beginning of my current condition.

I remember feeling incredibly exhausted and in pain all over my body. After I was diagnosed I had six to eight weeks off from school and vaguely remember being so tired that I couldn’t do anything, spending all my time in bed. Not much fun without the smartphones and laptops we can enjoy now.

I was very young for my class, as my birthdate of early February allowed me to start before I was strictly of school age. This meant I finished Year 12 when I was only sixteen.

After the glandular fever I was a fairly normal kid. I spent ages outside playing with the kids up the street, running around with the best of them. In fact my parents had to tell me, on many occasions, to calm down and not make so much noise.

I wish I had that energy now!

In grade eight, from memory, I started to ride my bike to school. This was no mean feat when you consider we lived five miles away as the crow flies, and there were not many crows around to give me a lift so it was probably a six mile trip for me and my bike.

I participated in all sports, cricket and football being the main ones, and ran the 800 metres on sports days.

The only symptom I can recall near this time is that when I became a teenager I would sleep (when on holidays) until two or three in the afternoon. My Mum chided me for this, and why not because it was not normal behaviour. The beginning of CFS?

I exercised a lot, including a 1.5 kilometre run most nights (yes I know I’m mixing metric with imperial, I was at school when it changed so give me some latitude here!) so I did not lack energy.

When my University days began I do remember waking up feeling more tired than when I went to sleep. I had to drag myself to go to boring lectures and tutorials. However I thought the tiredness was because of my hatred of University. Another big mistake.

Then I started my first job as a Management Trainee at a bank. I quit after less than two years when I thought I was underutilised (I had taken to bringing a book to work because I got my work done too quickly).

In hindsight I was monumentally stupid. I was in their marketing department at the time, a role I would kill for now.

However I knew better (I didn’t) and since I had got my first job at my very first ever job interview, how hard could it be to get another one?

Bloody hard, especially if you quit your job during a recession. More fool me.

I spent the next two years doing odd jobs (storeman, pizza delivery, market research) before landing a role in retail sales. Oh, and waking up exhausted. The CFS continued and I knew no better so I soldiered on. Another big mistake.

My personal anxiety at this point was through the roof. I finally got a full time, steady job, but as a retail salesperson. Every day for the first few months I’d have to psyche myself up just to get out of my car and walk the few remaining steps to work.

My anxiety was stratospheric.

My morning tiredness by this point was out of control. Coca Cola was my staple drink, three or four cans a day to keep me awake…plus I loved it!

Fast forward a few years to my thirties, still changing jobs every two or three years because I would get bored. My first marriage had imploded and my morning exhaustion had me eating a Mars bar with a can of Coke for breakfast, just to get going. Yet another clear signal (with hindsight) missed.

This went on for a few years.

After my failed marriage, which meant I could only see my son (who was the light of my life) every second weekend, my stress levels were on another planet.

During the twelve months directly after my wife and I separated I suffered tonsillitis three times, was made redundant twice, had my wisdom teeth out, a knee operation and almost died from liver failure due to an auto-immune disease. Stress galore and even more tired in the morning.

Looking back now the stress was so enormous it was always going to pay me back, big time.

At this stage I definitely had what would be diagnosed today as CFS. They say the best thing you can do at early onset of CFS is to rest. However I was going through a divorce and had shamefully had to move back home because I was broke, so no rest for me.

Fortunately another good job came around and I was spending more time with my son (50/50). He kept me going when I was totally exhausted. How could I stop with a young (three or four year old) wonderful, incredible child to care for?

I had a lot of sales roles early in my career and as a sufferer of anxiety this was not good. However I persevered because I liked unemployment even less.

Waking in the morning was becoming a far more serious issue, as I had to force myself to roll out of bed to make sure I wouldn’t go back to sleep. Days were just a blur and I couldn’t wait to get home and lie down.

Sound familiar?

My fault entirely, as some management consultant had given an IQ test to everyone at a place I worked whilst in Sydney (another story). The good news was that he recommended I join Mensa and he told me that if I found myself in a room of two hundred people then I would, on average, literally be the smartest guy in the room. After the ego died down I put enormous pressure on myself to succeed (in anything, I just had to!).

After my return to Adelaide I was working a normal nine to five job, then at the end of that day I went to an office I shared with a friend, in a startup business we saw promise in. After just over a year of this and having a local distributor steal the exclusive rights to what we were selling, we decided to call it quits.

I was so damn tired I could hardly think straight. But I HAD to succeed and be a millionaire by the time I was thirty-five! This was the worse thing I could of done to my now very fragile body and mind.

Then I met my second wife (still married eighteen years later) who is very much into health. She became very concerned over my morning tiredness and the stress I was under.

After actually waking up feeling refreshed (the only time I can remember doing so in my life) on Kangaroo Island on a holiday, I readily agreed to see if anything could be done. I wanted more mornings like that one!

My first doctor diagnosed me with anxiety induced depression and I was put on a drug that, again in hindsight, made my ME/CFS condition worse. I took Zoloft for the next fifteen years. Zoloft can lead to ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia.

A few years later I joined a very small business and invested a lot of time and money into it. The business was in the finance industry, and I joined exactly one month before the Global Financial Crisis wiped us out.

My timing, when it comes to money, has always been atrocious.

Even more stress now, as we faced the reality of possible bankruptcy and losing our dream home. For the next three years I worked every single day (yes including Christmas Day) networking and chasing clients for my own sales and marketing consultancy, as there were simply no jobs during this time after the GFC. Money was great one month and terrible for the next two or three.

Even more stress.

Then I started teaching international students all about business, team building, leadership, finance and marketing. I loved it. However I was still waking up feeling exhausted.

Then in about April of 2016 I had what I thought was the flu. I felt like I had been hit by the proverbial bus but strangely did not have a blocked or runny nose. I now believe this is when my Fibromyalgia began, with this virus triggering another that had lain dormant since my glandular fever, causing my ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia to explode.

The GP I went to for this ‘flu’ told me to rest and wait it out. I tried to talk to him about my exhaustion for the last thirty years but he dismissed all this, telling me to get a good night’s sleep and take up exercise. The worst possible advice for the condition I had.

I went back to work a week later when I should have stayed in bed. If I had I probably wouldn’t be in the situation I am in now.

Then my legs started to feel incredibly heavy, as though made of concrete, and I began walking crookedly, uncontrollably, crashing into walls and, most embarrassingly, walking into student desks. The pain in my legs started soon after.

Finally I was getting the message my body had been trying to tell me for the last thirty years…”Stop! Rest! You are an absolute wreck!”.

The next doctor (I did not bother going back to the unbeliever) was sympathetic and actually believed in ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia. However she told me she did not know enough about it and so referred me on.

In so doing she did me an enormous favour and I will always be grateful.

The next doctor was a godsend. I first saw her in July of 2016. She had no preconceptions about my condition and was treating other patients with the same symptoms.

I had a five week break over Christmas that year (2016) after struggling to get through every day beforehand. I did nothing but stay at home and rest, but at the end of those five weeks I did not feel any better.

My suspicions were confirmed on my first day back at work as my symptoms were as bad as they were before my break. This way the time when I knew something was seriously wrong.

My new GP sent me to a Neurologist, fearing MS, whom I saw in January 2017.

The Neurologist shared the suspicions of my new GP and booked me in for an MRI. It showed lesions in my brain but it was inconclusive for MS.

My all over body pain (Fibromyalgia) got steadily, and significantly, worse. Eventually every day when I arrived home after work I had to ring my wife to come into the garage, and help me to get out of my car. I could not get out without her help.

Eventually I asked my boss at the time if I could work from home every Wednesday because of my illness, as Wednesday was my admin day. I had taken increasing numbers of days off before this just to try and cope. Unfortunately he did not believe me, instead he asked if I had my own business outside of work or was I working for someone else each Wednesday. That relationship was therefore doomed, and I must my part that with everything that was going on in my life I was probably not being a model employee

Shortly after I parted company with my sceptical boss, and had another teaching job within days, working just three days a week.

Unfortunately my condition continued to deteriorate so I started working just two days a week, then one. Finally I had to tell my employer that I couldn’t even do one day a week because it was taking more than a week to recover from just that one day.

With fear and dread at the consequences, my wife and I had decided that I simply could not work in my my condition.

In June of 2017 my Neurologist ordered another MRI which showed no change. Just in case she had missed something she referred me to a Specialist Physician. The good news was that she did not think it was MS, which was a relief.

The Specialist Physician diagnosed me with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia. I finally had my diagnosis! I felt relief and dread in equal measure.

While all this was going on I was dealing with superannuation insurance claims and the reality that we were going to have to sell our dream home. Keeping our house clean for open inspections was a never ending task for my poor wife, as I literally could not raise a finger to help her.

This all happened from April to September last year.

Then our house sold, a bittersweet moment filled with regret, sorrow and extreme guilt for me. After all it was because of my illness that we had to sell.

I suffered more stress since July 2016 through to when our house sold in September 2017 than ever before.

And now we had just thirty days to find somewhere to buy or rent.

Fortunately we found a beautiful place in Nairne, about another fifteen minutes out from the city. It is smaller than our last home but we are loving it more and more each day (to my eternal relief!).

However prior to knowing that we would love this new home, but feeling a little excited because it was so new, the packing and moving happened all around me as I looked on helplessly and with much guilt.

Yes, stress levels even higher again. I know now that had I taken a few months off after my ‘flu’ in April 2016 I could possibly have recovered completely. Unfortunately I refused to give in and kept dragging myself to work. The alternative at that stage being far too terrifying as I knew how much my wife loved our home, as did I. I was also not sure if we had any insurance that would help us.

My wife and I had visions of a tiny unit in Elizabeth. Or even worse, asking to stay with my parents for a while!

After we moved I spent my time chasing Centrelink and insurance companies, and suffering worsening symptoms. The pain was intense over every square millimetre of my body and I had not had a day without this pain since April 2016.

At one of my visits with my new GP in around August of last year I told her I felt as though I was slowly dying.

We kept trying different drugs but the opioids gave me very bad side effects. One night I almost asked my wife to call an ambulance for me, as I was experiencing severe gyroscopic dizziness and was not sure where I was.

Today as I write this I am in ‘forced retirement’ while my poor wife, who has been an angel through all of this (as has the rest of my immediate and incredibly supportive family), has to keep working.

We have about eighteen months of Income Protection payments left, after which I will receive less than half that until I turn sixty (I am fifty-four now). Then it is the Disability Support Pension which took ten months and the submission of about one hundred pages of information to approve.

My GP has been trying some different drugs lately and one has given me some small relief. Unfortunately my days are still filled with sleeping, reading, watching Netflix, taking drugs and trying to take a shower.

And yes, when I tell that to some people they respond by saying it sounds like a wonderful holiday to them. Then they look at me, see (on the surface) a healthy looking person and either turn away or give me that stare first, the one that says; “You’re a lucky bastard.”

If they had to spend just twenty-four hours in my skin they would be begging to return to their previous lives.

Boredom is a major part of my life. I cannot walk more than 500 steps a day without having a crash the following day. A crash is even more pain, a migraine, incredibly painful feet and hands (so I cannot walk anywhere or hold anything), dizziness, insomnia (wired-tired), not to mention the pain on every square millimetre of my body.

Basically I spend the day in bed taking as much medication as I am allowed and go through three or four cold compresses for my exploding head.

Back to some good news. At least now I know what illness I have and all the uncertainty, forcing myself to work when feeling like death, disbelieving doctors, sceptical employers and the stress of losing our dream home because of my illness, is all behind me.

I have no idea what I will, or can, do for the rest of my life. However one thing I am sure of is that I want it to be a very, very long one.

Hey??

Every moment I spend with my beautiful wife and family is worth all the pain and suffering. I hope that you have someone in your life that makes you feel the same way.

Good luck to us all, and may a cure not be too far away!

Build it…and they will NOT come


Before 2003 when Steve Blank wrote his now famous best seller, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, the dot com bust need not have happened.

His book became the basis of Lean Startups with his Customer Focused model. Before then it was all Product Focused, in that startups planned their product or service to the nth degree and ignored customers because “If you build it they would come.”

They didn’t.

Unfortunately their budgets went into developing and producing the best, shiniest widget they could possibly make.

There was just one problem – no customers. Their product was either too expensive, or didn’t have enough features or had too many.

It wasn’t their fault, this is the way they, and every other startup, were taught.

A precious few identified the one great but simple flaw in this way of thinking, in that the customer had not been consulted before the product had been produced. Until this ‘epiphany’ no-one had thought to ask the potential customer whether what they were building actually solved a problem for them, at a price they would be willing to pay.

One of the notable exceptions is Steve Jobs, who produced products we didn’t know we wanted until we saw them, and then we had to have them!

Until Steve Blank wrote his book pointing out this simple error, hundreds of millions of dollars had been wasted. True, some of them had successful IPO’s where the clever investors took their profit and ran before debtors came calling, but it was only a matter of time before the bust came after the emotionally charged boom finished.

Ignore potential customers at your peril.

And they did…and closed their doors.

Eric Reis wrote an excellent book nearly ten years later when the term ‘Lean Startup’ was born. He directly credits Steve Blank’s book as having been the catalyst for this.

Today one of the very first questions asked by potential investors, and on shows such as ‘Shark Tank’ is, “How many have you sold?” and “Have you researched the market to see if people want this and will buy it?”.

Strange as it may seem, but these questions are relatively new concepts to startups… except for the successful ones.

The idea of living on baked beans for six months to a year validating that your market exists, finding out what your customers want your widget to look like and how much they were prepared to pay for one (hopefully at a price point sufficient to make a profit), had only occasionally been considered.

Until Steve Blank wrote his book and out of it came the term ‘Lean Startup’.

It may seem obvious now that you must obtain customer validation before spending a fortune on manufacturing your goods and marketing them, but at the time of the dot com boom all investors wanted to know was; do you have a website and does it have ecommerce? That is, can customers buy online.

If the answers to both questions was yes then you received a rather large mountain of cash.

And ran out of it a year or so later.

So, if you are a budding entrepreneur, talk to potential customers before you build anything. Preferably, obtain contracts from one or three saying that if you make this product, and it does what they want it too at their acceptable price point, they would buy it. This way your first customer/s are already ‘in the bag’ and they can provide you with essential feedback as you make changes, fine tuning your product.

Knowing who your customers are, where they are and how you can reach them is critical these days. The dot com bust hurt a lot of people, thankfully most have learned from their mistakes and will not give you one cent if you cannot answer those simple questions regarding your customers. It also helps if you are already working with several customers, so you can receive their feedback and fine tune your product to make sure that when it is released it is successful.

Listen more than you talk, and do not spend copious amounts of money on your product until you know everything about your target customers.

Now we call this a Lean Startup, however I call it common sense.

Good luck to entrepreneurs everywhere, may your customers be eternally happy and grateful that you solved a real headache and seemingly insurmountable problem for them.

Or if you are Steve Jobs, or know where his crystal ball is, please ignore me entirely.

Craig Pickering, 31st March 2018

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Sales – The secret of a successful Lean Startup


The secret to a successful startup..? Sales. Without them no validation, no feedback, no customers, no business!

Follow the Lean Startup approach and do a controlled release of your product or service to some people (or businesses) you think would be interested.

By recording their feedback you will eliminate expensive future mistakes, discover that you were wrong and there is no market or receive a couple of orders which will allow you to beta test.

Another option is to contact one of the largest businesses you believe should be interested and offer to build your product/service especially for them. This gives you a real world test site, honest feedback (you can tell if they have been using it or not) and, if they stay with you until the product/service is finished, a testimonial and reference site for future prospects.

Much more efficient than spending a year building a business only to find there is no market for it!

Key Personal Qualities of a Consultant


What Qualities Are Needed To Be A Successful Business Consultant?

To succeed as a consultant requires a look at ones own business. Being self-employed, a consultant’s survival lies in their ability to find work, which involves promoting skills amongst peers and the individual’s network.

Centres of influence are also essential. Centres of influence are people in authority and who are well respected in their field, who recommend an individual to others. Their influence is such that when they recommend someone, that person instantly has credibility.

Others call these “referrers”, and they are, but the key is to convert a referrer into a centre of influence. Choose these people wisely and treat them with great respect.

In order to accomplish these tasks, and to be successful as a consultant, there are certain personal qualities that are considered essential.

Objectivity is Crucial for a Consultant

A consultant is required to establish trust and rapport with people at all levels of an organisation. This involves listening without prejudice, and not judging until they have all the necessary information.

Objectivity is crucial to any consultant. It allows them to view the situation from a helicopter point of view, and demands that they listen to both sides of every argument and idea presented.

If a consultant is to walk into a business and quickly assess where the issues are, then objectivity is essential.

Selling Skills are Needed by all Consultants

To be a successful salesperson there is a set of skills required. Some of these skills are also required by a consultant, and include being able to quickly establish rapport, the ability to listen, to empathise, and to quickly develop trust.

If a person cannot talk to everyone in an organisation from the receptionist to the Manageing Director, if they are uncomfortable in meeting new people, or if they talk and do not listen then they will fail as a consultant.

A Consultant Needs People Skills

This is the ability to interact with people in a respectful, relaxed manner.

The key word here is respect. Many intelligent people lack people skills, and hence do not know when to be tactful, when to just stop talking and listen, when to voice their ideas and when not to.

Put simply, people skills encompass the ability to interact with others in a manner that makes them feel comfortable and secure, and where they know their opinions and ideas are important.

Without people skills, a person cannot be a leader, and a consultant needs to lead.

Leadership In Consulting

The qualities of leadership required as a consultant are:

* Assertiveness
* Knowledge
* Experience
* Empathy

Assertiveness is not being dictatorial. Assertiveness is being able to vocalise an opinion and ideas in a confident and commanding manner. This is essential otherwise others are unlikely to believe what a consultant says.

Knowledge and experience are intertwined. Knowledge is needed to acquire experience, and experience in itself brings knowledge.

Empathy is the ability to “put yourself in the other person’s shoes”. To see an issue from all angles and viewpoints is necessary in order to develop and implement key strategies. If a person is unable to exhibit empathy, and take into account the needs, fears and expectations of all staff then their client will not implement the necessary changes they have recommended.

Summary of Consultant Qualities

In essence, the key attributes required by a consultant are objectivity and the ability to be aware of all the issues facing each stakeholder in the business.To be successful in this, a consultant requires sales skills, people skills, leadership qualities and the ability to articulate all of these skills assertively.

Read more at Suite101: Key Personal Qualities of a Consultant: What Qualities Are Needed To Be A Successful Business Consultant? http://management-careers.suite101.com/pages/article.cfm/key_personal_qualities_of_a_consultant#ixzz0t4ODicKb