Creating Boundaries For Your Business with Becca Mai
Becca Mai owns Wed2You consulting. Today we talked about owning a business as someone with a chronic illness, the wedding industry during a pandemic, setting healthy boundaries, and the tenacity it takes to keep going.
Hey Becca! I am so excited to have you on the show today. Introduce yourself!
Hi everyone! I'm Becca Mai. I own Wed2You consulting, which is a business and client management consulting firm for small businesses in the wedding and hospitality industries, to be able to organize and enrich their businesses.
Awesome! I want to start by asking what your job looked like before you owned your own business.
Yeah, I'll give you a little bit of background about me. I've been in the wedding and hospitality industry for over twelve years, eight of those years dedicated to the wedding industry, working with local planners and restaurant groups in the DMV area, as well as a wedding venue in DC. Throughout my career I've done over 250+ weddings. It's been a crazy journey.
Prior to owning my own business, I was the Director of Event Operations at a prestige wedding venue in DC and had been there since they first opened. I started from the ground up with them, going through the trials and tribulations of opening and doing the first wedding there. Then of course the pandemic happened, and things had to adjust quite a bit. That's where I decided to open my own business.
So I wanted to have you on today because I was interested to talk to creatives and those in the wedding business who have chronic illnesses. It's something we don't talk enough about and especially for those of us who have invisible illnesses, I don't think that people realize the different ways we need to adapt in our business. Especially as a business owner yourself, I would love to hear about your story in getting diagnosed and bringing that into your business.
I agree with you. It's the hardest thing with an invisible illness, that people can't see you're in pain or hurting, or they think that you're making things up. It's not even just the industry. It's worldwide that it needs to not be a taboo conversation anymore. Or, entrepreneurs or creatives shouldn't be afraid to talk about it anymore. I think that's been the biggest concern - "Oh no, if I talk about it, how will it affect my business?"
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in July of 2019. The onset symptoms started pretty aggressively in April. I was actually working a wedding, and the next day I went to a winery with friends. I just didn't feel right. My legs felt weak, and my back was really hurting, which wasn't a surprise to me because I've had back problems for awhile. I always attributed it to being on my feet too much. In the industry, we're on our feet anywhere from 12-18 hours at a day when it comes to weddings. So I was like, maybe I just need to take it easy. But then it progressively got worse throughout the week. I ended up not being able to utilize my right leg at all. I scheduled an appointment with a doctor, but the earliest they could get me in wasn't for another week. It spiraled from there.
But the great thing was that when I went to my physician, there was actually a med student there who was specializing in neurology. I think I was severely lucky in that, unlike most others who don't get diagnosed for years and years. She immediately knew I should be referred to a neurologist. But they wanted to mitigate everything, do a full blood work up. They also thought it would be a good idea to see a rheumatologist, too.
Over the course of the next few months, I had seen a good ten different doctors. The "great" thing about insurance is that don't automatically take you up to an MRI unless it's an emergency. So I had to go through the full roundabout. I was denied an MRI four different times, it was insane. That's why my diagnosis extended out further than it needed to be, but again I was lucky to have an amazing neurologist behind me, constantly pushing to get this done and what the resolve is, and just never giving up, which is very unlike a lot of other MS patient stories and autoimmune stories I've heard.
Eventually I was diagnosed after doing a lumbar puncture to confirm. I ended up, after my MRIs, having three lesions on my spine right exactly in my pain points that I'd been having trouble. I also ended up having three lesions in my brain as well. It went from 0 to 60 in no time at all, and I ended up having to use a cane to get around.
It was a little challenging, especially with the career I had and industry I was in. I had to constantly tell my couples, "Hey, if you see me with a cane don't freak out." And they'd say. "Well you look okay now, is there something wrong?" And then I'd have to divulge... which, it's not that I had to, it's because I wanted to.
Everyone deals with a lifelong disease differently, but I decided in the very beginning that I was not going to let this disease control my life. I have a disease, but it doesn't have me. That's been my mentality throughout this whole process. I'm still going to do what I love to do, I just may need to modify things or get creative, and I'm never going to let it hold me back.
I love that so much. What an incredible mindset to have. It takes a lot of us a long time to even get there, so for you to be able to start strong that way is awesome. I think people outside of the wedding industry may not realize how physically demanding it is. There are several different roles obviously, but several of them require you to be on your feet for a long time and some of them require you to be carrying heavy stuff all day. I can't imagine how that changes things in the beginning when all the sudden things need to look different.
Would you explain a little bit about what MS is and what it does to your body?
Yeah, of course. So Multiple Sclerosis is an auto-immune disease. It attacks your central nervous system. Your body starts attacking your nerves and the myelin sheath that protects your nerves like they're a foreign entity. So then what happens after that is because your body has always protected these nerves, your body goes into freakout mode to protect it and creates a faux myelin sheath, but it's never going to be as it originally was. That's where the lesions come into play. Because it's attacking your myelin sheath and your nerves are a part of your whole nervous system, it can be different for everyone. There are tell-tale signs for MS, but not every MS story is the same.
There are four stages of MS. There is CIS, which is sort of a one-off instance. Then there's relapsed and remitting, which goes through intermediate times where you have flare-ups, but progressively over time the disability does get higher. It's kind of like a grid with time and disability on the axis. Then around 90% of MS patients move into secondary progressive, which means you're just kind of stagnantly running up to the disability line with intermittent flare-ups. Then primary progressive is just straight shot. You'll always have the symptoms, and the disability is highest.
I'm borderline relapsed remitting and secondary progressive, which again is very surprising for a lot of relapsed and remitting patients because they're like, you shouldn't be at this stage this quick. I think I had MS for a long time and didn't think about the flare-ups because I was so concentrated on my work and my career. I always mitigated pain or certain things to working too hard.
MS affects everybody differently. It's not necessarily about the number of lesions you have, but also about the placement. So I joke around and say it's quality over quantity. One person could have three lesions in severe spots like the optic nerve and make them blind. Whereas another person could also have three lesions in totally different spots and it barely affects them at all. It really varies. When I was explaining this to my family - I think that was the hardest thing I ever had to do - it was a challenge because I feel like nobody really gets it unless they have it, or an auto-immune disease or a lifelong disease.
The main symptoms of my MS are extreme fatigue, sensitivities to heat and cold, and then also having cognitive issues, balance issues, and things like that. Only about 10% of MS patients feel pain, and I'm just one of those lucky ones. You do have to modify things, and I was extremely lucky again to be working with the team that I had. They were all honest about it through the whole journey, very supportive. But they also know I'm a do-er, which I think most creatives and wedding industry folks are. I do it all. That took a little bit more time for me to balance out. When I was going to wedding days I couldn't lift things anymore. I couldn't constantly run up and down the stairs. Leaning on my team and having a support system at work was so crucial. To me, it didn't feel like enough. I needed to modify my life a little bit more, and it wasn't until the pandemic hit that I made those modifications.
I definitely want to touch on some modifications, but before we get there I wanted to back track. On last week's episode I talked about the same thing you mentioned, about not really knowing what it feels like until you're in it. I would try to explain to people when I first diagnosed with hypothyroidism the fatigue I felt and people would say, "Yeah, some days are like that!" It's so difficult to describe to somebody, I physically cannot get out of bed. It's such a strange thing because people think that they get it in its various stages.
You also mentioned that there were signs of MS before you were diagnosed, but we are do-ers. It makes me wonder... like you said, in the creative industry and the wedding industry, we want to work hard and we have people counting on us, but I wonder how much of that is being a woman in a rather difficult industry, or a busy industry, being told we need to keep going or we're over-reacting, or we don't know our own bodies.