5 Tips for Finding a Mentor When You Are Chronically Ill

wm276866ttOne of the most common pieces of career advice millennials hear is, “find a mentor.” However, finding a mentor is a daunting task for people afflicted with chronic illness. I turned thirty this year; I have spent the majority of my adult life bedridden.  At 24 years old, I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis (MG, a neuromuscular autoimmune disease) and given a 50/50 shot of living. MG forces me to live life at a much slower pace than I used to. Pursuing your dreams is hard even if you are a healthy person. Whether it’s starting your own business, writing a book, or becoming an actress, everyone deals with self-doubt, naysayers, and the constraints of time and money. But sick people are also fighting against our bodies. We face daily obstacles like crippling fatigue and pain (physical and mental).

Someone I Could Relate To

When I see healthy people who have accomplished great things, I admire them but I can’t relate to them. They live life at a much faster pace than I can. A few months ago, I was asked to speak at a pharmaceutical convention on the patient’s perspective. My speech went really well; I became friends with some of the other speakers, including a woman with fibromyalgia who is also a health activist. We both have award-winning blogs but “J” also has a newsletter with 36,000 subscribers. J was a journalist before getting fibromyalgia. Like me, she is a graduate of Northwestern University. Despite the constant interruptions of fibro, J helps so many people. When I met J, I felt inspired like I could get my life back on track after a five-year autoimmune-induced detour.

Dreaming Despite the Pain

I emailed J, told her I admired her work, and set up a time to talk. We spoke last week. I told J that my big goal is to see a book I wrote when I was 23-years old published—a book to help young adults with depression and bipolar disorder. (As Fashionably ill readers know, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 at the age of 18.) But all my plans for the book and other dreams were derailed when I got MG at 24. I asked her for advice about many things including how to start a newsletter. I also told her that I face constant pain and fatigue from the MG, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and psoriasis. I knew that if she could be successful with fibro, than I could make it despite all my illnesses. She helped me form a game plan (that included time to rest) and gave me resources to watch and read. After our conversation, I felt rejuvenated.

5 Tips for Finding a Mentor or Role Model:

  1. Find someone with similar struggles who has accomplished things you’d like to do—The person you admire doesn’t have to have the same exact health problems you have to inspire you. J has fibro; I don’t. We both live with 24/7 pain and fatigue.
  2. Be honest about your dreams—Tell your mentor what your immediate and long-term goals are.
  3. Be honest about your limitations—A wonderful young woman, D, called me this week asking for advice. D has bipolar disorder and wants to start a mental health blog among other projects to create awareness. I asked her what her productivity level was like during depression. Like most people, she finds it hard to be creative during depression. I told her to write ten articles before launching the blog so she wouldn’t go months without a new post during a depressive episode. But I also told her that if she ever gets depressed and doesn’t write anything new for a stretch of time, she should get back up and try again.
  4. Ask for specific strategies—It’s not enough to hear uplifting things like, “follow your dreams” and “believe in yourself.” You need to have concrete advice. For instance, J advised me to use MailChimp to create my newsletters.
  5. Be open to having multiple mentors—While J is helping me start a newsletter among other projects, another friend, R, is helping me network through Twitter and other social media. In our busy world, having multiple mentors is sometimes more practical than relying on one person for all the answers.

–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno

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JessicaGimeno

Hi, I have five illnesses--bipolar disorder, myasthenia gravis (neuromuscular autoimmune disease), polycystic ovarian syndrome, asthma, and psoriasis. Most of the organs in my body are affected. I'm dedicated to being a stylist for sick women. As someone who has experienced changes in my appearance due to my 12 meds (including Prednisone), I know how hard it can be when your face and body change overnight. (In fact, because of treatment, between 2008 to 2010, I went from a size 0 to a size 10. While I lost the weight, there are permanent changes in my face and body, which I've grown to appreciate.) My blog will also help women deal with other issues like surviving chronic pain and fatigue. Healthy people can also use this blog as a window into what life with illness is like. Let this website be a place where we can draw strength from each other despite our illnesses and find solutions to our everyday challenges!

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