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Freelancing and Invisible Illness


When it comes to freelancing and invisible illness, they can be a match made in heaven or the lesser of two evils. So how do you balance your life when you have chronic illness and you work from home? Let’s think through some of this.

What is an invisible illness?

Invisible illnesses are just that — those without visible symptoms. With many illnesses, there are physical signs or symptoms. Those who suffer from depression, for example, have all of their limbs. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily whole. Just as your company would make accommodations for the Deaf and hard of hearing, accommodations need to be made with those with diabetes.

“An invisible illness is an umbrella term for any medical condition that isn’t easily visible to others. This includes chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and others — but also mental illnesses.”

Renee Fabian

Why did I choose freelancing?

Freelancing with invisible illness is a blessing and a curse. You want balance in your life and control over your work, so you freelance. Yet, when you freelance, you don’t have a whole lot of personal time off (PTO).

My story may be similar to yours. In 2004, I came down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). I worked in a traditional office environment for years — underpaid and under my potential. I passed over many opportunities for better jobs because I knew I couldn’t work 50 or more hours a week for the better job with more responsibility.

I knew the only way out was to stop selling my time and start selling the work. My luck changed when I came into tech. I switched careers and industries in 2015 and was able to work 80% remotely. In the fall of 2017, I became a freelancer. Though I had a brief period with a part-time job that lasted just over a year, I am back to completely controlling my schedule as a full-time freelancer. This is why I prefer freelancing.

If I am well enough to work 10 hours, I can. If I need to write from bed, I can. If I want to work while in Europe, I can. It’s up to me.

How do you balance health as a freelancer?

You balance health as a freelancer with planning. It sounds pessimistic, I know. But I always have the need for rest times. Even my best friend will say, “I’ll see you in two days.” She even knows if I walk a 5k, I will not be doing much the next day or so.

However, you can’t always predict when you won’t be well. This is often the case with invisible illness. “But you were okay yesterday” is something I’ve heard more than I’d like. But it’s our reality. Chronic illness does its very best to hold you hostage.

Downtime is tricky when you have an invisible illness as a freelancer. You need to factor in personal time off. Unless your country offers disability time off or you purchase your own plan, this is a serious business consideration. Also, you are responsible for your own health insurance and copays. For me, I factor that into my pricing for my cost of living.

“For every benefit of being a freelancer, however, there is a downside. In order to build in your holiday and vacation you have some choices: define your working year and/or stop working by the hour.”


Give Yourself Grace

I just spoke with a colleague and client today. She said, “Bridget. We’re not curing cancer. It’s just a website. It’s okay if it’s a day or week late.” She’s right. We need to take care of ourselves — physically and financially. Freelancing gives you the best options.

Manage expectations with your clients and yourself. It’s okay to work two hours one day and four the next. As freelancers, we should be charging for the work, not the time. This helps us cover our living costs, allow for profit, and the grace to rest if needed.

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