3 challenges to being reliable when you have a chronic illness

Woman sitting alone in a cafe with a latte, looking sad

I am in the early stages of establishing my consulting business. About 85% of any consultant’s business comes from referrals. This means that one of my most important focus areas is networking.

Now as introvert, networking is never going to be my favourite business activity. However, at its core networking is formulaic. Meet lots of people. Listen to them. Look for opportunities to help them. Easy, right?

In theory, yes.

Now add a chronic illness (migraine) and a 9-5 business culture into the mix. The universal networking activity is to go out for coffee and chat.

Challenge number one: I don’t like coffee. That’s ok – I figured that one out years ago. Nowadays most places have chai latte and green tea so that one is manageable.

Challenge number two: I am often not able to leave my house. If I’m experiencing any level of symptoms sunlight, driving and background noise will usually make things worse. And that assumes that I can manage on a lower level pain relief that allows me to drive safely. There’s something like 50% likelihood that I will have to cancel any activity that requires me to leave the house.

So I tend to propose Zoom meetings. In this way COVID has actually made my life easier as video conferencing is now seen as a routine work activity and not something you would consider only in order to avoid getting on a plane. It is quite often not remarked upon at all if you suggest Zoom rather than an in person meetup.

But there are still many in person meetups and by the laws of probability I will have to cancel about half of them on the day.

Challenge number three: Having controlled my environment as much as I possibly can there is still about a 30% chance that I will not be well enough on the day to converse intelligently with another human being. And here is my big dilemma. Knowing that there is a 30% chance that I will have to cancel any meetings, behaviour which tends to create an impression that you are unreliable, how do I move forward?

I know that my symptoms are worst in the morning. I always schedule appointments as late in the day as possible to give myself the best possible chance of being functional.

In some cases when I set up a meeting with anyone who doesn’t know me and my situation I will explain that I have chronic migraine and that there is a better than average chance I will have to cancel or reschedule.

I’m not sure which one I dislike more – being perceived as having a disability or being perceived as unreliable. What do you think? And if you were my next coffee date, which would you prefer?

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