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Rachel Hanretty's story

Epilepsy isn't a reason to hold you back from starting a business

It is widely acknowledged that a lack of sleep and stress are among the two major triggers of seizures. And it is common knowledge that running a business brings with it a lot of stress and not much time to sleep.

So, as someone with epilepsy and a heap of ambition to be successful in business with an idea that stayed with me from 2010 when I was in university, you can see that the risk I ran when I started Mademoiselle Macaron was not only financial but also a risk to my own health.

Mademoiselle Macaron was born out of my love and experience of living in Paris and of eating a lot of patisserie. Having learnt how to make macarons in Paris I came back to finish my university degree and write a business plan for a macaron business. But things didn't go to plan... A few months after my return I landed back in hospital and was re-diagnosed with epilepsy after six years of being seizure free.
This only added to my determination to succeed in life.

I made macarons in my flat and went to food markets at weekends. The crucial tipping point came in January/February 2014 when demand was outstripping capacity and I started looking for premises. While on this search I was also starting new medication – Fycompa – and it suddenly became a huge struggle to even keep myself vertical while whisking egg whites!

Dizziness and fatigue would carry me to my bed half way through a task and I would have serious words with myself about the feasibility of coping with epilepsy while trying to get a business off the ground. Of course there were tears and doubts over whether it was too much for someone who had a condition that couldn't always be ignored.

That dogged determination to succeed in business saw me through the gruelling couple of months it took for my body to get used to Fycompa and the dizziness. My last seizure took place a week before I got the keys to my shop in April 2014.

I do ask myself, what made the difference to seizures? The new medication or the division of work and home?

The ability to divide my place of work from the place I went to relax and fall asleep made a huge impact on my epilepsy. The stress no longer surrounded me 24/7. Even the simple act of walking to work made a great difference psychologically and my tired brain could sleep (albeit not for too long).

Celebrating one year of no seizures is something I do with a degree of caution but celebrating one year since I opened my shop is going to be something I shout and scream about.

It hasn't been easy but being forced to take into consideration a health condition for a business plan has taught me the importance of creating a sustainable business which will operate if I disappear into hospital. Building the business to that model will not only make for a healthier lifestyle for me but a more realistic and profitable business.

Small businesses can collapse because the owner is too central to everything. As an owner who is forced to think my health could make me collapse I have tried to build in a crash mat.

So far, so good. Turns out epilepsy isn't a reason to hold you back from starting a business.