Chronic Conqueror: Jessie McElwee

Recently I’ve noticed a trend in the teenage chronic illness community.

What sort of trend, you ask?

People are giving up on themselves. They’re hearing that life’s a challenge and they can’t do it. The worst thing about this is, they’re listening to the doubters. They’re listening to the people who don’t believe in them, and they’re starting to stop believing in themselves.

This is so far from okay!

Instead of sitting by and watching this happen, I decided to do something about it. Each month for the foreseeable future I plan to share a peek into the life, journey, and struggles of chronically ill entrepreneurs and professionals from all over the world who aren’t taking “no” for an answer. They’re making the world work for them.

Empowering, right?

These women are well aware that the struggle is real, but they aren’t letting that stop them from achieving their dreams – even if those dreams have changed a few times along the way. You may not be able to conquer chronic illness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t conquer the world.

Today I’m sharing my conversation with Jessie McElwee.

 

A peek behind the scenes of entrepreneurship with chronic illness.

Jessie is a chronically ill entrepreneur who runs a handmade art shop.

She makes beautiful one-of-a-kind dream catchers, eye-catching burned woodworkcustom watercolor word art, and she’s adding new products now!

I remember coming across her Instagram account @soulmadegoods while looking in the POTS hashtag. She had one of the top posts, and it stood out. I went over to her page (which boasts a follower count of over 19,000!), immediately hit follow, and have been a fan ever since.

 

Let’s get this interview started!

We’ll start with the basics, and move on from there!

What illness do you have?

I’ve been diagnosed with a form of Dysautonomia called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.

I started noticing symptoms in 2008, during my sophomore year of college. I was in and out of doctors offices trying to figure out what was wrong.

Finally, in April 2012, I had a Tilt Table Test and was diagnosed with POTS.

When and why did you decide to start Soulmade Goods?

After graduating college, I moved to LA and started working a full time job in the media industry. I had such a hard time waking up every morning, having the energy to get myself together and get to work on time, and making it through the day without extreme fatigue. After about a year and a half of sleeping the weekends away, I decided I didn’t want my life to continue the way it was. I was living to work, and sleeping any time I had a free minute. I didn’t feel like myself anymore and I was tired of missing out on events with friends and family time because I was just too tired. So, I decided to move home.

It was December 2013 and I was so devastated and embarrassed that I couldn’t hold a full time job or accomplish any of the original media ‘dreams’ I had set out for myself. How was I going to support myself? All I knew was that my current state of living was not working and something had to change. Moving home was embarrassing. I felt so low. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do for an income. I started working part-time as an aide at an elementary school, just so I could earn some sort of income. It was 3.7 hours a day and $10 an hour- nothing I could live on.

In my spare time at home, I created. I’ve always been crafty and have a mom who is as well, and creating different knick-knacks and wood burning was something I used to do while I was growing up at home. Since I spent so much time laying around and exhausted, creating was something I could do to pass the time and feel like I was accomplishing something instead of just sitting around.

I started practicing my hand lettering and made some cute cards which I shared with friends. Immediately, a handful of them asked to purchase some. Which got me thinking, can I do this as a side gig? Can I maybe start an art shop and make an income this way? I had no idea where to start or what to do. But I felt like this was my chance, my opportunity to make a little more income, all while still being in my pajamas and taking breaks when my body wanted me to.

It wasn’t an overnight success. It took about six months of being home for me to finally gain the courage to actually start Soulmade Goods. And then on August 13, 2014, I took the leap! I’ve had lots of failed attempts and not-so-stellar products. But through this journey, I’ve learned I am STRONG and CAPABLE of anything I set my mind to.

Jessie McElwee, wood burner, hand letterer, artist!

That’s incredible. Three years of Soulmade Goods is right around the corner! Congratulations. Do you run the company by yourself?

Thank you! Yep, Soulmade Goods is 100% run by me. It’s super hard and exhausting and some days I can’t give much energy at all, but everyday I try to make a little SOMETHING, even if it’s not to sell in the shop. Creating is therapeutic for me and good for my health.

 

Wow! From where I’m sitting you’re doing fantastic. I totally understand the energy thing, it can be a huge struggle! What would you want to say to teenagers and young adults struggling with chronic illness?

If I could say anything I would say KEEP GOING. I know how hard it is to get out of bed some days. I understand how isolating an illness can be.

But don’t give up on your dreams just because life threw you a curve ball. Instead, learn how to adjust those dreams based on your new ‘normal.’

You are capable of having the life you want, despite your illness. Give your body the attention it needs on bad days, and on your good days, LIVE. Do the things that make you happy and feel alive. Life is a beautiful mess, and those with chronic illnesses are given a challenge they have to manage daily. But we are STRONG. We were given the challenge because we can handle it. Rise up, push for success and happiness each day, and fight for the way you want your life to turn out! You got this.

If you didn’t have POTS, do you think you would have ended up in a similar career? Doing something creative or more hands on?

Oh, definitely! I think no matter what, I would have ended up in a creative field. I have always been a creative soul. The creative field I originally wanted to get into was TV/Film production. That was my minor in college and I actually used to run the camera/graphics for a few different news stations in San Diego. My life was just like ‘Anchorman.’ But that was a lifetime ago, before I realized it was hard for my body to stand like all the other camera operators. When they had a commercial break, I was the one camera person sitting on the ground, amazed at how no one else’s legs were tired (this was a year before being diagnosed!).

That sounds like such a cool experience! Even if it was only for a little while. What are some of the unique challenges of being a chronically ill female entrepreneur?

I think the hardest part for me is having the energy to manage my business in a timely manner. I’m in the business of creating and making, and while it is so much fun, it is hard work and it’s draining. Sanding the wood is exhausting for me, so I pick one day to focus on JUST that, while I allow the next few days of tasks to be a little less taxing on my body. I always have to be aware of my schedule and stay on task. If I fall behind, the work will pile up and I just won’t have the energy to get it done the right way and delivered on time! I constantly have to be aware of this and make sure I’m still taking care of little tasks within my company.

Even if I’m having an off day and know I don’t have the energy to do physical labor, I try to still work by answering emails, coming up with new designs, etc. I’m trying to make my waking hours useful, since I have fewer of those than others.

You seem to have a good system in place! What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?

My favorite thing about being an entrepreneur is that I get to share my soul with people through my art… the very same art that I made in my pajamas. I never ever thought I’d be an entrepreneur or that I would have a handmade art shop. Never in a billion years! I always had dreams of graduating college, going straight to a full-time job and working my way up in the company. But those dreams are unattainable now.

I could easily give up and apply for disability, but I don’t want to. I’m grateful for Soulmade Goods. It has shown me that I CAN do whatever I put my mind to. No matter my limitations. I still have bad days and you know what my boyfriend says to me on those days? He says, ‘Jessie, look at Soulmade. Look at how much it’s grown. Look how much YOU’VE grown. Look at how many people you are helping along the way…’ Whether this company turns into my full-time gig or not, I need Soulmade Goods for my sanity and for my emotional expression. I need it to help me get through the bad days. I need it to remind me of how far I’ve come and how anything is possible.

That’s beautiful. I’m a firm believer that when push comes to shove everything can be done in your pajamas! You recently announced new types of products coming to the shop (they look fabulous by the way). Which are you most excited about?

Thank you!! I think I’m most excited to release the hand lettered quote books. When I’m having a rough day, I like to read through my favorite quotes for a ‘pick-me-up.’ There’s something so soothing about reading beautiful words, it almost always is the cure for me. My hope is that it’ll hit someone the same way and be the cure for their bad days as well.

Soulmade Goods is turning three years old, and I’m someone who believes in celebration of just about everything. How are you celebrating this milestone?

Omg! It’s creepin’ up on me! I’ll be celebrating by having dinner with my man and then hosting a giveaway on my IG! It’s going to be so fun!

Learn more about entrepreneur life with a chronic illness!And with that, our conversation came to a close. If you want to connect with Jessie, you can find her on Instagram at @SoulmadeGoods, like Soulmade Goods on Facebook, and check out her shop! Soulmade Goods awaits you!

Thank you to Jessie McElwee for taking the time to chat, and answering all of my questions! There will be a new post on Patience and Pajamas next week, and keep an eye out for next month’s edition of Chronic Conquerors!

See you next week!

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