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How Entrepreneurship Empowers a Nutritionist to Support Her Health with MS

COPD Basics

April 05, 2024

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Edit by Whitney Williams, stock photo selection by Viviana Quevedo

Edit by Whitney Williams, stock photo selection by Viviana Quevedo

by Kathy Reagan Young

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Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ

•••••

by Kathy Reagan Young

•••••

Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ

•••••

Alene Brennan started her own coaching business before her multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. Now, it allows her to take care of her health.

In this month’s column, I’m featuring chronicpreneur Alene Brennan to share the story of her diagnosis, employment struggles, and her decision to start a business that accommodates her health.

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Q&A with Alene Brennan

Please share your educational background, diagnosis story, and what work you did pre-diagnosis.

I’ve always been interested in health and nutrition, so I studied communications with health and exercise science in college. I didn’t know where it would take me, and I never expected my own health crisis to become the focus of my work.

I started my career in the corporate world but decided to start my own nutrition coaching practice in 2024, having no idea that within 2 years, I’d be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

At that point, my work took on a different meaning and purpose. I dedicated my practice to supporting the autoimmune and chronic illness community. I completed additional nutrition training to understand how food can support me and my clients with chronic illnesses.

I help people create wellness programs to feel the best in their bodies with enough energy to lead meaningful lives.

I had no idea that my interest in nutrition and MS diagnosis — as well as years of debilitating migraines — would lead me to this work. But it’s truly become a passion and mission for me.

What has your chronicpreneur journey been like, and how does your business allow you to accommodate your health better?

I was diagnosed with MS in 2016, just 6 weeks after my mom passed from cancer. It was one of the hardest years of my life. But I was grateful to have time and space to process everything from the comfort of my home.

I needed to understand this new diagnosis and start creating my wellness plan to manage it. It was also a season in life when it was challenging to focus on work. I could rest when I needed to, and I could work when I felt up to it. That had a very nontraditional feel.

For example, if I was feeling well and really focused on a Saturday afternoon or early on a Tuesday morning, I would work then. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t “normal business hours.” And if I wasn’t feeling well on a Monday afternoon, I had the flexibility to rest. It allowed me to accommodate my health without compromising my work.

Now, years later, I’m thankfully in a much better place, but I’ve still maintained this flexible work lifestyle. I work during the time of day when I’m most focused and productive. It’s a great practice, especially if you’re managing a chronic illness.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

I naturally wake up early and start my morning routine by reading my Bible or prayer devotional. My faith has been instrumental in my healing, and I’ve worked on my mindset a lot since my diagnosis. It’s important to “feed” my mind with something positive in the morning.

Living with chronic illness isn’t easy, so it’s important to include some simple mindset work into your wellness plan. Something that takes as little as 3 minutes a day can make a big difference.

Next, I hop on my laptop to get some work done. I think best early in the morning, so I intentionally structure my day to reflect my energy and concentration. I’ll develop nutrition plans for my clients, write a blog, or send my email newsletter.

When my daughter wakes up, I shift to Mom mode and get her ready for the day. I like to take her for a short walk in the morning to get some movement outside. During her naptime, I’ll meet with clients and record episodes for my podcast, “My MS Podcast.”

Later in the afternoon and evening, I create more opportunities for rest. My daughter enjoys books, so I read with her in the late afternoon or early evening because she enjoys them, and it allows me to rest.

After my daughter is asleep, I’ll either watch TV with my husband or read in bed. The evening is reserved for rest, and I try to create an environment that encourages my body to relax by diffusing essential oils. They’ve helped me over the years.  

I’m also going to commit to taking a 20-minute break in the middle of the day. I tend to push myself to exhaustion, which doesn’t serve me, my healing, or my ability to show up well for my family. Taking 20 minutes to walk, stretch, or do a guided meditation will help me have more energy during the rest of the day.

When you’re managing a chronic illness like MS, you have to think of the big picture. It’s not just about “pushing through” to do one more thing. We have to honor our body’s need to rest and create a lifestyle around it. In fact, taking time to rest can help us to be more productive.

Does your chronicpreneur work provide a steady income?

My nutrition coaching practice is my full-time work now, although it has many different aspects to it. I see clients in one-on-one and group settings. I also sell products that have been most helpful for managing my health and MS symptoms.

When you’re creating a business, it’s important to have multiple streams of income. So, if something happens to one, you have other options to carry you through.

A simple example of another “stream of income” could be reselling items you no longer use on Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s List. Never underestimate the value of reselling items you don’t use anymore. Selling one item could cover your next copay at the doctor’s office or help you buy a new blender to make smoothies that help you feel better.

You can also work with companies to help sell their products that you use and love. Does the brand allow you to share products with family and friends for a commission? There are many opportunities like this out there. Plus, it feels good to share your favorites with others.

What do you do for health insurance?

During the first couple of years of my diagnosis, I paid for insurance out of pocket. It wasn’t cheap, but I was grateful to have flexible work that enabled me to pay for coverage.

Now, I’m married, so I’m on my husband’s insurance plan. If this is a barrier for someone, I’d definitely look into payment assistance plans. If you’re paying out of pocket, ask your doctor’s office if they have self-pay payment plans.

What tools or software have helped you manage work and organization while living with MS?

The three tools that I use most often are Google Drive, Evernote, and Canva. Google Drive keeps my documents organized in one place.

Evernote is an app I can access on my phone or laptop, and it stores notes for me. I use Evernote for everything from to-do lists to doctor’s appointments to brainstorming ideas for podcast episodes. Canva is a simple app that helps me create simple social media graphics. These tools have upgradable paid plans, but the free plans are phenomenal.

Have you incorporated or filed as an LLC? Do you recommend starting with a legal structure in place?

I filed an LLC and recommend doing so. It’s easy to think that your business or work isn’t “big enough” to need a formality like an LLC, but it’s better to start it sooner rather than later.

If you’re not sure how, there are many online resources that can assist you through the process. You can also check if your community has any small business support services.

What advice would you give to other chronicpreneurs who want to do something more flexible or remote, either full-time or as a side hustle?

I encourage you to consider your passions and talents. What do you enjoy doing? Have you always been good with numbers? Maybe consider getting a bookkeeping certification to be a bookkeeper for online business owners.

Do you enjoy knitting? Maybe set up an Etsy shop and look into vendor opportunities and local craft shows to sell them. Are you savvy on the computer? You could create social media graphics or other services for local businesses.

There are many opportunities out there. It’s a matter of taking the first step and being consistent over time. The more opportunities you find in fields you already love, the more enjoyable it will be.

You can follow Alene through her website, podcast, and social media profiles on Instagram, and Youtube.

Kathy Reagan, creator of the FUMS website and podcast, founded Patients Getting Paid in 2021. Her mission is to help people with chronic illness find and create work that accommodates their health and generates income. In this column, she shares advice, resources, and stories to help others navigate the world of work while living with a chronic illness.

If you’re an entrepreneur living with a chronic condition and would like to share your story in this column, please reach out to me at Kathy@PatientsGettingPaid.com and your story may be featured in the future.

Fact checked on April 05, 2024

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About the author

Kathy Reagan Young

Kathy Reagan Young is a prominent patient advocate and the founder of two innovative organizations, FUMSnow.com and PatientsGettingPaid.com. She has become a leading voice in patient advocacy, driven by her personal experience with multiple sclerosis and having founded the Patients Getting Paid membership community to help people with chronic illness find and create work that both accommodates their health and generates an income. You can also find her on Facebook.

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