I thought it would be interesting to share how I as an entrepreneur struggle and battle with a chronic illness every day, and how I cope with it. Hopefully, it will give some inspiration to someone out there who is also struggling.
“You can’t tell an entrepreneur he can no longer be one…”
A Little Bit About Me
I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m a workaholic and was born an entrepreneur. And that has probably somewhat contributed to my health over the years. I am a little OCD, and very much a perfectionist. I have always believed if you are going to do something, do it right. I’m always thinking of game plans and business… it’s just in my blood and I can’t turn it off. Trust me, I wish I could.
Growing up I never ate healthy and was one of the guys popping energy drinks all through college. I was always at my computer working on a website or the next big hustle to make more money online. I always said, “I will sleep when I’m dead“. Little did I know how unhealthy that really was.
One Day Everything Changed
It all started back in May of 2014. I woke up one morning with slight stomach pain. I nodded it off and ignored it thinking I probably ate something wrong the night before. Little did I know at that time what was about to come. Over the next couple of months, I started having stomach pain that lasted 24/7.
June of 2014 I flew out to be the best man at my brother’s wedding. And while it was one of my proudest moments as a big brother, I also didn’t feel that good. I had a looming feeling that something was really wrong.
By the middle of June, my stomach pain was lasting 24/7 and it got to the point where I could no longer fall asleep because the pain was so bad. I will spare you from the messy details and will just say my bowels were messed up.
By the end of June, I finally went in to see a doctor. He ran a blood test and diagnosed me with Celiac Disease (little did I know at the time this was actually the wrong diagnosis). I was shocked, to say the least. If you are Celiac it means your body can no longer tolerate gluten.
So he said to go gluten-free immediately and I should be fine. I was not happy about this news but I was in so much pain I was still relieved that I might find some relief at last. After lots of reading online, I got in my car and headed for Whole Foods. I figured out of any place this was going to be the place with the most gluten-free food.
Thankfully I only live less than a mile from one. To my surprise there were many options, even though it might be slightly more expensive, there is almost an alternative for everything.
Over the next 3 weeks, I ate 100% gluten-free and still wasn’t feeling any better. If anything I was in more pain than ever. So I headed back to my primary care doctor. He said the next step was to see a gastroenterologist.
So I went to this new doctor and he said I needed to immediately have an endoscopy and colonoscopy. A what now? I had never even heard of these terms before. Afterward he explained that the endoscopy would be looking down my throat and the colonoscopy would be… ya, you guessed it, looking up from the other end at my colon.
The endoscopy would confirm the Celiac diagnosis and the colonoscopy would see if there was anything wrong with my colon. He told me he could do both at once so I would only have to be put under one time. Wow, suddenly this was getting scary! Put me under? Things just got real.
Thankfully a coworker of mine (your awesome Dan!) agreed to drive me to the appointment and wait there while I was put under. As they don’t let you drive afterward.
All the scoping went great, and after looking at my colon he immediately diagnosed me with moderate Ulcerative Colitis and not Celiac Disease. Which put simply is an autoimmune disease where my Colon is no longer breaking down the nutrients like it should be and is inflamed.
Basically my colon is working against me. And then he said it, there is no cure. Wait, what now? No cure? My thoughts were racing rapidly, and I didn’t even hear what he said after that… what was I supposed to do now? Just a few months ago I was perfectly fine. Now I suddenly have an incurable disease and am waking up in the hospital.
I asked him how I got this disease and unfortunately, since it is an autoimmune disease there is nothing that causes it. My dad has psoriatic arthritis, also an autoimmune disease, and the chances of me getting something were always going to be higher. I happened to be the lucky winner with Ulcerative Colitis.
Over the next couple of months, I spent many hours in doctor’s offices trying to find the right medicine that would help my UC and juggling insurance issues. I got blood tests, vitamin deficiency tests, you name it. I feel like I have a permanent scar on my arm just from how many times I have given blood.
The doctors first put me on Lialda and even with my BCBS insurance, I was having to pay $750 per month out of pocket for a 30 day supply. I thought that was ridiculous!
I have learned going through all of this that unfortunately, you can’t trust doctors. You aren’t their family and at the end of the day, you are simply another appointment to them. When they go home at night they aren’t thinking about your problems. So do your own research!
A GI even told me to my face that “there is so much we don’t yet know.” That is scary for those of us dealing with health issues like these.
I decided there had to be something better out there and it turns after searching on the web there was a medication called Colazal which was very similar to Lialda which only cost $10 a month after insurance. And after telling my GI I wanted to switch to this the medicine, it worked just as well as Lialda.
By November 2014 I finally got my stomach to a somewhat manageable condition and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Little did I know something else was coming.
Late November I started developing weird side effects such as excessive sweating, urination issues, etc. I tried going off my UC medicine to see if they were the cause… no luck. It got so bad that I had to start working from home.
I tried a lot of different things over the next couple of months: I went to see 2 different dermatologists, even visited the all-mighty Mayo Clinic. Tried the following medications: Dermidry, Oxybutynin, Propranolol, Robinul.
Speed forward to February 2015. I was still having to work from home and was still experiencing the same symptoms with no doctor having any idea of what was going on.
I decided to go see a urologist (one of the only doctors I haven’t seen yet). Upon examination, I turned out I had prostatitis… basically my prostate was inflamed. Finally what I hope is the answer to the end of this! So he immediately put me on antibiotics for the next 12 weeks.
October 2015 Update
By October 2015 I was finally able to get off all medication and antibiotics. This was all thanks to changes in my diet!
June 2016 Update
In June 2016, I hit the one year mark for being off all of my medications.
I am now 100% gluten-free and exercise more than I have ever before. With my newfound faith in God and my healthier lifestyle, I will conquer these illnesses. Eating gluten-free has made a huge impact on my quality of life and it allowed me to get off of all my nasty Ulcerative Colitis medications.
April 2018 Update
As of 2018, I was still off of all of my medications. I even forced myself to take a trip overseas. Taking more fiber has helped a lot. I recommend Metamucil.
A big key to this is sticking with a gluten-free diet for more than 3 months straight, without cheating. When I first tried, I only stuck with it for 3 weeks, which isn’t long enough. Remember, you have to give your colon time to heal. You can’t just wipe out 20+ years of bad eating habits overnight.
Read about all the tricks I have learned living with Ulcerative Colitis.
March 2020 Update
As of March 2020, I have been off all of my medications for 4+ years thanks to my 100% gluten-free diet. I don’t ever cheat on this.
I’m still trying to cut back on my caffeine intake, ☕ but that is an even harder goal for me to conquer. I will get there!
As an entrepreneur, my mind never turns off. And so dealing with so many health problems really does put a damper on your spirit. Even today, I still have good days and bad days. At the time of being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, I was only 27 and was asking God every day “why is this happening to me?“
I have so many things and goals I still want to accomplish in life. I look around me and see other entrepreneurs hitting their goals. When I was going through the worst of it, it took everything I had just to pull myself out of bed. Digestive issues completely drain your energy. Merely going to the grocery store was a big deal.
I would seriously not have made it through all of this without my faith in Jesus Christ. Seriously there were some days I wish I could have just ended it all. Anyone that has suffered from chronic illnesses knows exactly what I am talking about. There would be days where sometimes the only thing that got me through was hearing that one song on Air1 that I really needed to hear.
I had to keep reminding myself that God is in control and that he still had a plan for me. Watch the movie “Miracles From Heaven“, trust me, it will help.
“Pain is a holy angel which shows treasure to man which otherwise remains forever hidden.” Adalbert Stifter
I am very fortunate to have a loving support group of friends, coworkers, and family. I wouldn’t have made it without my parents. Even though they live in a different state they were with me every step of the way.
My Mom emailed me the following video one morning and it was just what I needed.
“Mom and Dad I will never forget what you have done for me”
I also recommend anyone who is struggling with health issues to take advantage of online support groups. Here are two great ones for people struggling with Ulcerative Colitis.
I have learned more in the above support groups than anywhere else. Chatting with other people who know exactly how you feel and have experienced what you are going through is sometimes what you need to get you through the day.
Accomplishments Despite my Chronic Illnesses
I have been working from home since 2015, and that definitely has helped me keep my condition under control. Despite everything I went through, I have accomplished so many things.
- I worked as the CMO at Kinsta for 3+ years.
- I started a company, forgemedia LLC, with my brother. We now work on this full time together.
- Even with all the medical bills, I managed to pay off all my student loan debt and am happy to be living life completely debt-free. Check out my blog about financial independence: pennybros.com.
- My marketing blog has generated more growth than I ever thought possible. https://woorkup.com/quality-content/
You can read more about my bio and accomplishments on my website: brianleejackson.com.
I am not done yet in life. I will conquer these illnesses and I will still check off those goals that I want to accomplish. I will not let anything deter me from that. In fact, I think being an entrepreneur is some days the thing that kept me going through all of this.
One of my new goals is now to help support and give back to the Chrohn’s and Colitis Foundation (http://www.ccfa.org/) who is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for this horrible disease in which over 1.6 million Americans now struggle with.
Don’t let anything hold you back from accomplishing what you want to achieve in life! Are you currently living with Ulcerative Colitis? I would love to hear your story below!