I haven’t done an introduction post in awhile, so I thought I’d touch in for those who have recently liked my page, or never saw an intro post before.
So, first, I’m May, the one-woman owner and creator of PhoenixFire Designs. I live in Tampa Bay, Florida with my husband and our three cats. (Ginger, aka The FLÖÖF is of course, my official shop assistant, along with our brown tabby, Bella, and our tiny tabico Tala.) I started making jewelry around 1999, first as a simple hobby after seeing some beads at the craft store. Initially, I had no idea what I was doing, but I kept at it, and eventually, some people started asking about buying things. I am entirely self-taught and after a few years, I started working with wire wrapping as well. (And never looked back! lol)
During these first years, I worked as an administrative assistant and did jewelry as a hobby. I opened my etsy shop in 2006. Back then, it was such a new website, I had to explain to people it was like the “handmade ebay” because so few people had heard of it yet!
In 2011, at age 34, I had to have a hysterectomy due to nearly 3lbs of tumors in my uterus. While I was on medical leave, my job let me go and at that time, I decided to try and run this business full time. It was around that time, I expanded into doing in-person shows, markets, and events.
In 2017, at age 40, I was diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases, primarily systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis. In autoimmune diseases, your own immune system attacks your normal, healthy cells. With systemic lupus, it literally means your entire system, from organs, to joints, to skin, etc. Every part of your body is vulnerable to attack. In rheumatoid arthritis, it is primarily targeting your joints and connective tissues. (The parts that hold your tendons and muscles to your skeleton.) These diseases are progressive, degenerative, and cumulative, meaning they only get worse, never better, and the damage done builds on top of old damage and makes it ever worsening.
In the past 6 years, I have been proactively under the care of multiple specialist doctors and taking multiple medications in an attempt to slow down the progress of my diseases, but, things have progressed for the worse. I am now what would basically be referred to as “functionally disabled,” being unable to work a regular job with normal hours any more due to the constant flux in my daily quality of life, energy levels, fatigue, and pain. For many years, I kept my diseases private in an effort to keep this news from my mother who was very ill with her own health issues. Since she passed in January of this year, I am opening up more about this aspect of my life. (It’s been “easy” to hide since these diseases are “invisible” and don’t show obviously when you look at me. Many people have no idea I’m chronically ill.)
The best way I can describe living with autoimmune diseases is to think about the last time you were really sick with the flu, and how utterly exhausted you get; and how tired every single thing is to do; and how no matter how much you rest, you’re still tired, and all while having deep aches in your bones. That’s how I feel. Because my body is not only constantly fighting a battle, so it’s exhausting just *being* but also it’s attacking me and doing damage while it’s fighting that battle.
There are secondary things I also deal with such as my lupus makes me allergic to the sun. So I have to wear long sleeves and long pants literally every single day – even when I’m out at shows in 100f weather! – to prevent my skin from thinking the UV light is an attack. I get horrible, angry welts all over any exposed skin that takes weeks of steroid creams to get under control. I also have a condition called Sjogrens which means my body doesn’t produce enough moisture, so I have chronic dry eyes, mouth, and it can even affect organs. I’ve also had migraines since I was 16 which of course, can be debilitating during an attack.
All this is to say that running PhoenixFire Designs is a true labor of love. I truly love what I do and making jewelry brings me joy and fulfillment. It’s not always easy, and in fact, it’s often a struggle. I rely on my business income because of the fact I can’t control when I feel well enough to work, so I can’t function on a strict, 9-5 schedule. My jewelry business literally helps keep a roof over my head, and buys food for us and our cats. I fight through bad days, painful joints, crippling fatigue, and brain fog to do my absolute best that I can. I make all the jewelry, take all the photos, write all the posts, pack and ship all the orders, plan, setup, and man my booth for multiple shows a month, and now also maintain my retail presence at The Maker and Merchant in Citrus Park Mall.
It does mean sometimes, I don’t post as often as I wish I could. Or, that it takes me longer to get back to someone than I’d prefer. Sometimes, I might forget to get back to someone not because I don’t care, but because I might be struggling with brain fog or fatigue. I might disappear for a day or two to recover from doing an event, or trying to juggle managing my household, my medical, and my business at the same time. But I really do care and my business means the world to me. I do my best all the time, even if it might look a little ragged from the outside sometimes.
Whew! Did anyone get through all that? Turned out longer than I planned, but PhoenixFire Designs IS me and I am PhoenixFire Designs and I wanted to let everyone have a little peek into behind the scenes and how important this truly is to me. I want to thank everyone for being here, being a fan and follower and thank you for your continued support.