Freelancing and chronic illness
I wanted this blog to be a place where I could share some honest insights into freelance life so I thought it was about time I wrote this post. I don’t talk about it very often, but I have Crohn’s Disease. I assume most people don’t know because I’m rubbish at mentioning it and talking about it – it’s not the sexiest disease to have! I’ve had it for 15 years and over that time I’ve had some rough periods when I was really unwell.
Not sure what Crohn’s Disease is? It’s inflammatory bowel disease and there is no cure. I was 20 when I was diagnosed and it was a scary time for me as I had no idea what it meant and what the implications would be for my life. 15 years later I’m lucky to say I’ve not had to have surgery but I’ve been in/out of the doctors more than I’d like to remember.
I think one of the hardest parts is explaining to other people the impact it has on my life. At the moment I’m well about 80% of the time (which is great!) but I’m exhausted a lot of the time, and have side effects like GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) which has been affecting my sleep.
It’s not all bad though. At the moment, my Crohn’s doesn’t cause me too many problems. I can go for walks on the beach with Graeme and Joffrey without being crippled by anxiety about needing the bathroom. I can eat most foods without having any issues. There was a time a few years back that my consultant suggested going on an elemental diet which would mean cutting out all food and drink for at least 8 weeks. As you can imagine, I found the thought of that so hard to deal with and thankfully the new drug I was trying started working.
I now have 6-weekly appointments at the hospital and don’t mind taking a couple of hours to chill out while I get topped up with Vedolizumab.
So anyway, what does this have to do with freelancing?
I was previously a lawyer and a university lecturer, neither which was really suited to having a chronic illness. 9am starts in the city centre and 9am starts for teaching in a 2 hour lecture don’t agree with my stomach! Generally, these jobs seemed to exacerbate the problems. Stress doesn’t help but I don’t think it was all stress – I find early morning travelling generally pretty tough when I’m not well. I’m not super comfortable talking about my illness, so would just put on a brave face most of the time, even when I was in intense amounts of pain and discomfort.
It was when I started working at Yelp that I realised that working from home made a massive difference to my quality of life. I worked remotely, and the freedom that came with it was priceless. It made me realise how tough I’d found the morning commute and why I was so exhausted all the time.
When I got made redundant a few years later, I knew that going into an office job wasn’t really going to suit me. So I decided to start freelancing. Freelancing means I can manage my energy levels, work when suits me and take it easy when I’m tired. I can schedule meetings and calls for the afternoon when I feel the best. I can go to doctor's appointments without having to ask for time off.
I wasn’t sure how to structure this post without it turning into a rambling life story, so asked on twitter if anyone had any questions.
Sarah A asked:
How did you learn to juggle and balance your health with work?
Honestly, I still don’t think I’m great at this. I have re-introduced yoga into my daily routine as that helps me check in with how my body feels. I nap if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep the night before. I work when I know I’m most productive (which isn’t always between 9am-5pm!). I find having leftovers in the fridge really helps me stay on track with my eating. I try not to drink too much Coke and try to eat quite well (thanks Instant Pot) but there’s no one “fix” or cure-all.
How do you deal with the guilt?
My whole life I’ve felt guilty about everything. EVERYTHING. Earlier this year I read “I thought it was just me” by Brene Brown and it turned things upside down for me – in a good way. I now try really hard not to feel guilty about having to rest more than other people as that’s just a fact of my life. Me burning out won’t do anyone any favours, and asking for help isn’t the worst thing in the world.
How do you reconcile your limitations with the needs of your job?
This ties in a bit with the above. But also, I have worked so hard all my life to exceed everyone’s expectations (and I hope my clients/bosses would agree!) so I hope no one feels like my work is limited by my illness. A lot of my job is being creative and organised, and thankfully Crohn’s doesn’t impact that too much. Having to be somewhere at 9am in the morning? That’s tougher! Being able to work remotely means I will get the work done – it might be late at night, or on the weekend.
Phew. That did turn into a ramble. I hope you found my insights useful and interesting. Obviously every single person is completely different so freelancing isn’t for everyone. I’d love to know if you found this post useful so please do let me know (PMs via twitter or instagram always welcome!).