I was 27 before I admitted I had a disability.
As of this writing, I’m only 34. That means that I’ve only “identified” as a disabled person for about seven years. Anyone who’s ever had to delve into and name their identity will tell you… that’s not a lot of time.
It all started when I was playing with glitter…
My origin story
For a decade before I started writing, I was a nanny. Yes, of the Mary Poppins variety. And you know what? I was fucking great at it. And I cussed a lot less back then.
I loved showing up every day, playing with kids, and helping them develop. I loved helping parents around the house. I loved naptimes. I loved running errands. I loved the school pick-ups. All of it.
You know what I didn’t love? The toll this work took on my body.
ICYMI, I have a condition called Marfan syndrome.
As a nanny, I started to notice that I couldn’t quite handle all the day-to-day activities. I knew I was “getting older,” but should I really be having back spasms after a few hours of standing? Should I be this out of breath when I climb the stairs?? And why did I feel like my heart would explode whenever I tried to chase kids around the backyard?
Honestly, I just thought of Marfan syndrome as an annoying thing I had to check up on once a year at the cardiologist.
If you’ve clicked the link above, you’ll have read that the biggest risk with Marfan syndrome is aortic dissection. Yup, the aorta (the main artery arching from the heart) can tear and basically… it’s no bueno.
But I thought all that was a “future issue” — something I’d deal with when I was dying. But the real truth was… every part of Marfan syndrome affected my life and I wouldn’t admit it.
It all came to a head when, one day, I was carrying a toddler up the stairs to get her cleaned up after a little incident with glitter. With Marfan syndrome, we have a pretty strict weight limit of 25 lbs. The kiddo was only about 23lbs so I thought I was safe.
Turns out, you add stairs + a cardiac condition + shitty lungs (another gift of Marfan syndrome) + weight… you get a real bad mix. I nearly fainted going up the stairs with a toddler in my arms. I knew at that point I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was discouraged, I was frustrated, and I knew I needed to go see a doctor. Of course, going to see a doctor with a disease like this pretty much goes one way, “You don’t need surgery yet.” That’s pretty much all you get.
The doctors ruled out that anything really bad had happened and basically reiterated that physical work like nannying was probably not ideal for me.
But… when raising children and managing a household is your whole fucking life, it’s kind of hard to accept that you should just move on.
It also raised a lot of questions about my personal life: We had a townhouse with stairs that I frequently fought with. I had been trying to be “as active” as my peers, going hiking and going on long walks around new cities.
I was in pain through all of it — back spasms, asthma attacks, headaches, stress fractures in my feet. You name it.
During a talk with my primary care physician, she said, “Your body just isn’t meant to do as much as someone else’s.” And that really stuck with me. It was the first time I hadn’t heard it as an excuse, just a fact.
My body just isn’t meant to do as much as someone else’s. And that changed the way I viewed all of this.
Changing careers as a result of my disability
Before all of this drama started, I had started writing about being a nanny. I reached out several times to Care.com, a sitter/nanny placement site, to ask them to PLEASE, for the love of God, start sharing more resources about being a nanny.
One day, Care.com’s editor reached out to say they didn’t have those resources, but “Would you be interested in helping us write them?” Ummmmm. What. Who? Me?
So I started writing articles on nannying, navigating family dynamics, and more. Some of those articles are still up at Care.com today.
But after the stairs scare and the doctor visits, I started thinking about what the fuck else I could possibly do that I loved as much as nannying. Let’s be real — I was never going to get rich as a nanny. It wasn’t about the money. So if I could find something else I at least liked, I wanted to explore that.
I also read The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss (yes, I know, ew) and realized… “Holy shit. People pay other people to write their blogs and social media posts.” This opened a whole new world for me, and I quickly dove into sites like Upwork and Freelancer.
Honestly, all of this was “divine timing.” I’m an atheist through and through, but I don’t know a better phrase for this weird period in my life. Every day, I felt like my body was falling apart more and more, and I was desperately trying to find another way to support myself and my husband that wouldn’t put me in jail. (I’m not built for retail or food service. I would literally get arrested on my third day.)
The rest, as they say, is history. Clients started coming in, and in about 2 months, I was making about what I made as a nanny. It came time to say goodbye to my nanny kiddos — one of the hardest decisions of my life — and I started freelancing full-time.
Freelancing isn’t easy on the body, either.
It turns out that going from full-time physically active work to part-time sedentary work is a big ass shift, especially for a body with… needs.
I started noticing my back hurt more, I had zero tolerance for caffeine, and my head started hurting because I was staring at a computer screen.
Plus, with the feast-and-famine nature of freelancing, I was either in front of my computer for 8-10 hours or I was pacing my house, worrying how I’d ever pay my mortgage if that new client didn’t accept my proposal.
Starting my freelance career was hard on me in an entirely different way — and really challenged my mental and physical health in ways I didn’t expect.
Scaling into Uncanny
After going full-time as a freelancer in 2016, I worked for a couple of years nonstop to build my client base and really figure out what I wanted.
Over 2016 and 2017, I realized I was getting so much work that I’d either have to turn some away or have another freelancer help me. This felt weird to me — who was I to ask for help?? I didn’t have a business; I was just “writing.”
Soon, though, an old contact reached out to ask me how I got started freelancing, and I saw the opportunity to ask her to help me with my client work. That’s how Jess Hammons and I met, and she’s still working with us today, now as a part-time employee! (Hey, Jess!)
Over the next couple of years, we continued to grow our client base. We had more referrals than ever, clients had more projects than ever, and we shifted into a solely retainer model. No one-off projects for us — it was too stressful to onboard a client, manage their needs, and get all the writing done.
Another fun thing started happening around this time: My hands started to ache. Not just ache, but scream some days. My vision was also worsening.
With Marfan syndrome, tendinitis and poor vision are just par for the course. Staring at a screen and typing all day, though? That just speeds up your timeline into Shitville. I realized I couldn’t actually continue to serve my clients because I was in so much pain — and I had to outsource more work to other freelancers.
This was late 2018, and throughout 2019, I began really thinking about how to change “Latasha Doyle Writes” (my freelance LLC) into something more than just me. One of my close friends who I met in a mastermind, Andrea Chamblin, offered to help me with a rebrand — and we settled on the name “Uncanny Content.”
It felt ridiculous. How dare I say, “We write content that sounds so much like you; it’s uncanny.” Who cares if a client actually said that on a call? Who was I to build this thing? And could I actually grow a business with a disability that wasn’t exactly getting better?
But you know what happened? Clients cheered us on. They were excited about our growth. And the ones who weren’t? Well, we had to part ways. Because I realized something:
If I want to support myself as a disabled person while also supporting others, I need some fucking help.
I love what I do, because I love helping small business owners. I had to get really clear on what I loved — getting them results. It wasn’t me writing for them. It was my strategy and my attention to their business. And other amazing writers could help me make that strategy happen.
That was a really big shift, and I don’t think I would’ve gotten there if I didn’t have physical limitations. This is also where we get into what it’s like to run a fully-fledged fucking agency with a disability, so hold tight.
Managing an agency with physical limitations
Before I get into this section, let me just say: This is my experience with my disability. There are other folks with Marfan syndrome who have an entirely different experience and folks with other conditions who have their own experiences, as well.
No single disabled experience defines another. So don’t try to pigeonhole this into anything. If you want to do that, leave. This isn’t for you.
With that said, here’s just a cross-section of what I deal with, as a disabled agency owner, on a weekly basis:
- My sight: I have to be very attentive to the devices I use and how long I look at my computer. If I’m online for too long, I get migraines and my good eye struggles to focus. I also have to rest my eyes because I’m blind out of one eye and if I stare at a screen too long, it looks like I’m trying to watch people run in opposite directions.
- My hearing: With Marfan syndrome also comes hearing loss. I now have to have all my calls with my noise-canceling headphones in, and I often can’t hear what’s being said on calls/videos/Voxers/etc. until I have those in. This also affects my ability to travel to conferences because I can’t hear people on stage.
- My pain levels: Fibromyalgia, basically “undiagnosed pain,” is another fun diagnosis common for Marfan patients. On a daily basis, I live with shooting pain in my limbs, aches in my arms and chest, and neck tension/pain that requires rest, movement, etc. It’s also incredibly distracting, and we have amazing clients who know that sometimes I gasp on a call or have to take a minute while a particular pain passes.
- My heart: The biggest concern with Marfan, as I’ve mentioned, is aortic dissection. While I monitor my heart every 6 months with an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), I also recognize that I am living with a ticking time bomb in my chest. That means we have succession plans in place and our executive team knows what to do in the event that I need emergency heart surgery or — worst case — die.
- My anxiety: I don’t know why, but living with a potentially life-threatening condition seems to have imbued me with a general sense of anxiety. It’s something that I’ve had to manage through therapy and medications, but it’s also incredibly hard to run a business and avoid stress. Part of growing a team has been to create better boundaries for myself so I don’t feel responsible for every part of what we do here at Uncanny.
- COVID-19: We are an entirely online agency and have been from the start. With COVID, though, we have had to put in-person retreats and client events on pause. When I caught COVID in April 2022, we also had to readjust timelines for client projects because I had a lot of issues with my sight and energy. We also employ other disabled folks, and we’ve had to pay close attention to their needs as they come down with COVID or care for sick family members.
That’s just what I feel like typing. There are other things specific to my experience that I don’t want to share with the public — and I consider myself a really open book.
My whole point with sharing all of this is… Business owners aren’t just people who tell other people what to do. They come with their own trauma, drama, disabilities, family needs, and so on. No business owner exists in a vacuum, and who we are as people bleeds into how we run our businesses.
What I’ve learned about being a business owner from my disability
I’ve learned so much about myself, other people, and business in general since I started freelancing in 2015 — and even more so since starting Uncanny Content in 2019. One of the biggest things for me is:
As an American living in the year 2023, I have so many privileges that other women and people with disabilities around the world don’t get.
And before this becomes some American propaganda, let me just say: It’s not perfect.
But in what other generation and in what place could a woman with a disability say: “I can’t work a normal job, so I’m going to make money online.”
Like what??? That’s insane — and fucking so cool.
That’s not all I’ve learned about being a disabled business owner, though.
Disability breeds innovation
I’ve also learned that the ability to start a business like this doesn’t make me less disabled. There’s so much rhetoric around “what disability is,” and quite honestly, people who debate this are missing the point.
Being disabled doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. Running a business doesn’t automatically mean I’m not disabled.
Being disabled means I have to find my own ways of doing things that are just a given in an “able-bodied” society.
Someone “able-bodied” can go up the stairs. I gotta figure that shit out. Either there’s an elevator, or I’m taking the steps as slowly as possible.
Someone “able-bodied” can work all night. I gotta figure out a way to avoid that because a lack of sleep means pain and a lack of focus tomorrow.
All of this isn’t to say that able-bodied people instantly have it easier. Y’all are dealing with your own drama, too.
I’m just saying that owning a business as a disabled person is a true example of innovation: We have to find ways to make this shit work for us while still offering services or products that speak to a consumeristic society.
We focus on the person, not the process
As a disabled person, I also know that just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it works for everyone. This affects the way we do our work here at Uncanny Content, too.
We’re not creating cookie-cutter marketing plans for our clients and we’re not just telling them to use the templates their coach created. We know that our clients are:
- Better at connecting in DMs and don’t want to do lives
- Taking care of disabled kids and worry about having time to do webinars
- Dyslexic and don’t feel comfortable writing for themselves
- Single moms who have to work a day job to make ends meet
We get to know our clients and their specific circumstances so we can create content strategies and plans that meet them where they are. And I really think our focus on this stems from our team’s deep-rooted understanding that we don’t all operate the same way.
Boundaries are critical
As someone who identifies as “disabled,” my life and work have been a crash course in boundaries.
When you have to acknowledge that something about yourself is “different from the norm” (whatever the fuck that means, but it’s the best term here), it means you have to get really cool with a lot of things really fast.
I had to be OK with telling clients I was going to be behind because I got a migraine or had a really bad pain flare.
I had to be OK with hiring help because I physically couldn’t work as much as someone else might be able to.
I had to be OK with setting up succession plans and talking to my team about my potential demise (LOL).
I had to be OK telling that difficult client “No” and even saying no to dream clients because I just couldn’t do the work.
I had to be OK investing in my team — hiring, coaching, software, etc. — because I had to have support to do my work.
I even had to be OK with parting ways with friends who didn’t understand what I was trying to build and why I didn’t have the energy to hang out with them after putting my energy into work. (No, I’m not just working, but when you build a business, you know it takes more energy than a 9-5.)
Am I perfect? NO. My team reading this is probably laughing at the idea of me putting my foot down on a boundary. But I really work hard at them and I’m very aware of the consequences should I break them.
The gift of vision
One of the coolest things about my disability? I don’t take a single fucking thing for granted.
I’ve lost so many people to my condition — many at a very young age. I don’t take the success of Uncanny, my team, or the amazing people we work with for granted. I know this can all go away in a second, whether from my health or something entirely out of my control.
And while I don’t have the best vision (shout out to my lazy, blind eye), I do have a vision for this business:
We’re changing the impact of content and copy, by creating custom plans and on-brand content that connect women, non-binary, and disabled business owners to the people they want to serve.
Without my disability, I don’t think I would be where I am today. I don’t think I’d have the drive I have. And I certainly don’t think I’d be as committed to “doing shit our own way” without it.
People think having a disability means that I’m saying I’m “less than” or incapable. It’s the opposite. I think I – and other folks with disabilities — are uniquely poised to change the way everyone looks at and operates in the world.
This world wasn’t necessarily built for people like me, but I’m helping change that, and I’m pretty fucking happy about it.