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Unstoppable: How Lindsey Swanson of ‘Shelter Cove Financial’ Made Incredible Accomplishments Despite Being Diagnosed With Syringomyelia

It’s easier not to be honest — I only rarely explain my disability because it’s exhausting. It’s easier to say, “Sorry I have to cancel, I don’t feel well” then to explain that I’m having a hard time walking or that I took drugs that impair me cognitively and now I can’t drive/walk/function normally. I can come off as flakey because I’d rather be vague than explain what is actually causing me to change plans.

As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsey Swanson.

Lindsey is the founder of Shelter Cove Financial and lives in a small fishing town in Northern California. She graduated from The University of Alabama with a degree in finance and is an Accredited Asset Management Specialist as well as a Certified Financial Planner representative.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I grew up stuck between cornfields in rural Nebraska. My family was ultra conservative and the kids were homeschooled. As an adult, I’m fascinated with learning and I credit that to the lack of emphasis on education in my childhood. I was raised to be a homemaker — molded to be a submissive wife, a devoted mother, and a soft-spoken follower. To my parents’ dismay, I’ve ended up as the opposite of that. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments.

Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?

After high school, I spent my spare time playing in volleyball and ultimate frisbee leagues. I’d run five miles a day and I was in the best shape of my life. During that time, I started to occasionally have pain in my back and legs. Assuming it was a pulled muscle or herniated disc, I’d go to the chiropractor and stretch more before and after activities. It wasn’t until after I came back from my honeymoon that my condition became severe. I started to have shooting pain up my leg into my back, my knees would give out when I walked, and I couldn’t relax my muscles enough to sleep. It got to the point that I couldn’t sit up in bed without crying, let alone go to work. In the beginning the doctors were dismissive of my condition. The pain wasn’t consistently in the same spots and my symptoms seemed sporadic if not exaggerated. I was referred to a podiatrist who was particularly aloof. He looked over the nurse’s notes and without making eye contact asked what I did for work. Through clenched teeth and starting to cry I said, “I don’t do anything for work because I can’t anymore.” I think he ordered an MRI for me just because he felt uncomfortable. After that appointment I was finally able to get the tests I needed and the doctors were able to see that I had a liquid cyst inside my spine. After a variety of tests, they eventually diagnosed me with Syringomyelia, a rare spine condition.

I’ve gone to a variety of doctors but there isn’t a cure for my condition. Their recommendations are also vague — at best. Essentially, I’ve been told to, “do what helps and don’t do what doesn’t help.” My mental shift was when I came to terms with the fact doctors currently don’t have a solution for my condition. Instead of focusing my energy on finding a cure, I needed to find a way to thrive in spite of the disability.

Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness?

Once I realized that my condition was permanent, I started to brainstorm ways to have personal success in spite of it. Since Syringomyelia can lead to paralysis, I wanted to pursue a career that wasn’t dependent on physical movement. Focusing on my strengths of empathy and strategy, I decided that I could be fulfilled and successful as a financial advisor. I researched financial planning degree programs and was able to find a great one that was 100% online. I started working remotely for a financial firm and completed my degree from home — a situation that allowed me to succeed when my symptoms flared up. I completed a few certifications online as well — I became series 65 registered, became an Accredited Asset Management Specialist, and a Certified Financial Planner Representative. Then in 2020 I decided to start my own financial consulting firm and work independently.

What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?

Don’t gas light yourself. In the beginning I chose to compartmentalize my pain and pretend it wasn’t a part of my real life. Sure, there were weeks where I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t turn over in bed without hyperventilating from the pain. At those times it seemed like that was all my life was and it was going to go on forever. And then when my symptoms subsided, I’d choose to forget that pain and tell myself it wasn’t that bad. But by denying my feelings I kept myself from processing how my disability impacted my life and how I could make it better. I didn’t want to buy a cane because it was such a clear statement of limitations. Realistically though, my life is way easier if I have a cane to use on bad days. These days I try to be kinder to myself and give myself a pass when my pain flares up. It’s a bummer to not be able to do physical activities on bad days, but I don’t have to add mental angst to the equation. You have to be kind to yourself.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I’m really lucky to have been married when my condition became severe. I’m not close to my family and I find it very hard to depend on others when I’m in a vulnerable state. Even though we were newlyweds, my partner didn’t skip a beat when I needed his support and he is there to pick up the slack during the times that I can’t function at 100%. He’s helped me in and out of the shower, tied my shoes, and a bunch of other little annoying things that are embarrassing to not be able to do myself. And he constantly humors me complaining about pain and life in general. He’s a really good person.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Especially lately, it’s easy to get bogged down by how much I can’t change current systems and variables. When I have the physical and mental bandwidth, it’s important to me to be proactive in being the change I want to see in the world. I’m the treasurer on the board of my local non-profit and I volunteer at our local library. When I can physically, I go and pick up trash in our neighborhood and participate in community events. I’m also running for the board of directors in my little town. Financial education and knowledge are vital to a successful community so I strive to contribute when I can and I want to be part of important conversations.

Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.

  1. It’s easier not to be honest — I only rarely explain my disability because it’s exhausting. It’s easier to say, “Sorry I have to cancel, I don’t feel well” then to explain that I’m having a hard time walking or that I took drugs that impair me cognitively and now I can’t drive/walk/function normally. I can come off as flakey because I’d rather be vague than explain what is actually causing me to change plans.
  2. Try not to be upset “for us”- There’s emotional labor attached with detailing a disability. Inevitably you also have to humor well intentioned questions like, “And you haven’t found anything that helps?” “Have you tried — -” “My sister in law has X and changing her diet worked wonders.” It comes from a nice place, but clearly, I’ve attempted to not be disabled. Depending on the day, I don’t necessarily want to discuss the lack of cure or how sad/unfair/depressing it makes others feel that I have a chronic illness.
  3. It makes our relationships complicated — Chronic pain and disability invoke big picture questions that loved one’s process at different speeds. I’ve had to come to terms with a future where my condition becomes worse and I have a shorted life span. It changes the timeline I have for enjoying life and accomplishing dreams. Unfortunately, your family may move faster or slower than you in processing. If either partner hasn’t worked through that emotionally, it can feel like you’re alone with the weight of it.
  4. Everyone has a different experience — Chronic illness shows itself in unique ways. For me, most of the time you can’t tell that I have a disability. I’ve been told I’m, “Too young to have back problems” and that I’ll, “really understand body pain when I’m older.” To be a supportive community, we need to understand that some disabilities are invisible or don’t have the typical indicators we expect.
  5. It’s really expensive — I have to budget specifically for MRIs because I get them so often. I do have health insurance, but even still there are a lot of unexpected costs associated with disabilities. I simply would not be able to afford being disabled if I lived in a single income household.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

Don’t wait for someone else to encourage you towards your goals — sometimes there will be a great boss that recommends you for a promotion or a friend that convinces you to start a new hobby, but not consistently. Make a list of things you want to accomplish and then figure out what the first step towards that goal looks like. If you really want to work remotely from an island, you can actually do that. But you’re probably not going to find someone that coaches you along the path to making that happen — you have to pave the way yourself and ignore people that don’t feel comfortable thinking outside the box.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Probably David Chang and I say that because I know he would guarantee that we go to a really good place to eat and I would appreciate that. He seems like he’d be a good hang.