3 tips to coping with illness as a freelancer

Chronic illness - the freelancing disaster?

coping with illness as a freelancer

Illness as a freelancer – the BIG DREAD

Coping with illness as a freelancer is hard. One of the greatest fears you have as a business owner/freelancer is to get sick and particularly chronically ill.

Chronic illness can be quite scary. No, it can be devastatingly scary. I know it is.

I suffer from a chronic illlness called endometriosis and I’m also a freelancer.

So, how can you mentally deal with this frightening downside of having your own business?

Please, note that I'm a European and my experiences are colored by the society in which I live.
The LinkedIn version of freelancing: freedom, coffee, and no illness.

Step 1: Don’t panic!

Despite feelings of doom and gloom: DO NOT PANIC!!! Grab your towel, set out on an intergalactic journey and refuse to take things seriously. I don’t mean that you should sit down and do nothing, quite the opposite. However, a too hard focus on a catastrophe can make you paralyzed.

I have found my way around this problem. I like to dress up and go to weird parties. If  I’m too ill, I’ll dress up at home. That’s my way of coping and how I manage to juggle work, family, business, chronic illness. Without this outlet, my soul would be gray and hopeless.

Most likely, your solution will look very different. Just make sure that you have an outlet of some sort: cooking, watching birds, snail racing…what do I know what rocks your boat.

If your illness forces you to have to give up your business and face a life of debt, that will be a hard blow to rise from and might not be fixed by wearing funny hats. Still, having an outlet where you can channel your emotions around this is still essential for your mental health. Also, seek professional psychiatric support if things look too bleak.

Step 2: Talk to people

Most people won’t say a word to anyone about their illness. The fear is that once your clients know that you are sick, they won’t work with you anymore. Yes, that might be true in some cases (and damn them!), but up until today, every employer and every client I have had have been very accommodating. Often, I have been allowed to work a bit more flexible hours during those phases where I’ve had flare-ups.

Talking about your illness in a productive way ensures that you can make a plan. That plan protects you and it protects the client. In the end, you are an extremely valuable resource and if they can get the full value of you by being a bit more flexible around some things, most clients will agree. This, of course, assumes that you can carry out your job physically.

I think the key is to present the client with a plan, around which you can discuss the details, to show that you have experience and that you know the name of the game. That signals trust and reliability.

If you cannot talk to your clients about your illness. Yes, there are such circumstances! Ensure that you talk to someone. It can be friends, family, psychotherapy, your dog, or a weird guy on the train. Just voice your feelings somehow. Your mind will thank you. Also, talking to the ones close to you will remove any misunderstandings around why you are not very social from time-to-time.

A happy mind is a productive mind.

One word of warning though: Never cross the line between “talking” and “wallowing”. Nothing makes me get more flareups than when I wallow in my own misery.

Step 3: Don’t be your illness

Whatever you do, never become your illness. Just after my diagnosis I spent a lot of time in patient groups on social media. I have never felt so sick in my entire life. Though these groups may help some people, I could not help feeling that they created an identity that I didn’t want to have.

I’m a person with an illness. I am not an illness with an attached person.

Mentally breaking free from my disease-identity increased my work-output by a lot. Now, when I have flare-ups, I see it in a more third-person perspective:
“I now have a flare-up. I observe this. That means that I take the following action: medication, extra rest, no alcohol…and whatnot”.

I have an action plan. I conserve energy where I can so that I can invest the energy I have in what’s important at the time. Often that is family and work.

Don’t be your illness.

What to do if it’s too much?

For some people and for some illnesses, simple advice like those given here won’t suffice. If this is true for you, make sure that you get professional help ASAP. If the darkness has surrounded you completely, call a suicide helpline and ask for guidance. No one should have to suffer that way and there is professional help to get. Don’t give up!

OK, I’m going to leave the writing and go back to the reality of freelancing: having Skype meetings in my PJ bottoms (you can only see the top part of me anyhow) and drinking way too much coffee to maintain focus even when I’m deadly tired and curse over too little sleep.

But, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Freelancing was one of the best decision I’ve ever made.

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