Breaking Stigma: An Interview with Sheryl Chan

Sheryl had a mini stroke at 14 and was diagnosed with Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), a blood clotting disorder. This led to multiple life threatening blood clots, which further led to the development of other chronic illnesses. She blogs and shares the stories of others in hope that others will also raise awareness on these rare conditions. She hopes to let others who are suffering know that they are not alone.  Check her out on A Chronic Voice!

Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview! Besides Antiphospholipid Syndrome, what other illnesses do you live with?

I also live with Lupus (SLE), Sjögren’s Syndrome, Epilepsy, PSVT (Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia), and MVR (mitral valve repair).

Why did you create this blog? Was there a specific watershed moment that led you to start?  

I created this blog to articulate what living with lifelong illness is like from multiple perspectives. I also enjoy writing, and thought I’d channel that energy into doing this.

Tell us what was going through your head when you first decided to blog.  

I knew that I like to write, and I have so much I want to share about chronic illness.

Was your illness a major fear when you started?  

If you mean being open about it on my blog, not at all.

How is your blog related to your illness?  

My blog covers a few different topics. I talk about my own experiences with my chronic illnesses, mental issues, and how I cope with them. I am also always open to having others with various illnesses share guest posts on my blog. Finally, I also cover general health and wellness topics from time to time. My goal is to increase empathy within society through education and awareness.

How did you choose your blog name? What’s the significance behind it?  

My tagline is ‘articulating lifelong illness’ since I believe that every single voice counts.  ‘A Chronic Voice’ seemed to fit!

Walk us through the process of choosing a topic for your first post.  

I had a lot I wanted to share over time, but I thought it best to start with a bit of my life experiences, so people knew who I am and where I was coming from.

Did you foresee any potential difficulties?  

As I work in web development, I wasn’t too worried on that front. But I saw marketing and growing an audience as something a little more difficult.

Now that you actually started blogging, What challenges and constraints did you face? Did they match or defy your initial expectations?  

There were more challenges than I had anticipated.  Blogging encompasses a very wide range of tasks and isn’t just about ‘doing one thing’. For example, it goes beyond just ‘I just want to write’. In order to maximize your reach, you need to also have some good pictures, social shares, interactions, analytics, etc.

How did you overcome those initial roadblocks?  

I gradually stopped working full time due to ill health, so I had more time to work on these things slowly at home.

What challenges still remain?  

The amount of prep-work required to get a blog post published is definitely a lingering challenge.

What does a typical day look like for you?  

I tend to need a few hours in the morning for my body to “warm up.”  I wait for breakfast, coffee, and meds to kick in. Then I start working on computer-related tasks where I work on either paid projects or my own blog. I also let my birds out of their cages and fly around. Then if I feel well enough, I start household chores from 4pm and onwards.

Could you give us some tips on how to balance blogging with your illness?  

Ha, I don’t do this well at all.  I tend to be all or nothing, so I typically blog all day today and rest all day tomorrow.  With work back in the mix now, it gets trickier for me.

What resources do you use to help you manage your blog?  

Google Docs, Instapaper, Canva, Unsplash, WordPress plugins.

Which ones are most effective? Do you have a favorite one?  

No favourites here. They all play different but important roles!

Is posting consistency a problem for you? Please talk more about that.  

It wasn’t a problem because I wasn’t working full time. I also have a publishing calendar and drafts queued, so usually there’s something new to post every week. Now that I’m trying to take on more paid work again, but this is getting a little tougher. It probably also has to do with me wanting a post to always look ‘complete’ from head to toe, so that doesn’t help!

What impact did your blog have on the community around you?  

People knew I was sick, but not exactly with what, or how exactly it impacts my daily life. Now it’s like an open topic, which I don’t mind at all. It helps to bridge connections with others who are ill in silence, and breaks the stigma surrounding it.

On the greater online community?  

It seems to provide inspiration to most people, which surprises me because I’m not the most positive person! Being able to relate to an experience or emotion is also comforting both ways.

Tell us how your life has changed since you started blogging about this disease.  

Whilst I started blogging as a cathartic process, to raise awareness and reach out to others, surprisingly, I am also benefiting from the writing process in return. I have learned things about myself with the thinking processes and reflections, and it has actually made me more self-aware.

I know you are really involved in Chronic Illness Bloggers, an online community that helps chronically ill bloggers network and collaborate with others.  How did you find out about this opportunity? Why did you decide to get involved?  

Julie, the previous owner of CIB, approached me on Twitter. I was fairly new to the health blogging scene then, so I joined. Over time, it became my favourite network for a number of reasons – the consistency, community, writing opportunities, knowledge sharing, and people I’ve come to know and became friends with.

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