So I’ve got glandular fever.
I’ve always had epilepsy.
And I’ve got a business to run.
My wonderful friend Ruth Gilbey got diagnosed with breast cancer and has continued to freelance through her journey. So I’m not going to complain too much in this blog as I am well aware things could be a lot worse.
But (cue me complaining) FUCKKKKKKK MEEEEEE. This is not a good illness for a freelancer to have. It’s main symptom is fatigue. And it can last an indefinite amount of “months”. Bing. Boom. Bang. That is the sound of my profit and loss statement rolling on down the hill and coming to rest in “loss” territory.
And although my epilepsy is an irritation that I manage, I’m already managing an illness and the associated mind space and life admin. I don’t need 2 illnesses to manage. Plus stress, flashing lights and tiredness makes my seizures more likely. And BOOM. I’ve just won the tiredness lottery.
So right now as I type this I’m feeling pretty depressed. Glandular fever for anyone is clearly not fun, but for me… well I have to take it all a bit more seriously.
One thing I’ve learnt about freelancing is you can’t spent very long moping about, and need to start thinking about solutions.
So here is where I’ve got to.
1. Decide whether to keep working or not.
For me I’ve decided to keep working. Thanks to my epilepsy I’ve had days where I’ve been unable to get up and go to school or work. Being stuck in bed or on a sofa doesn’t suit me.
I know that to work – to be a productive member of society – is crucial for my mental health, self esteem and sense of well-being. Not working makes me sicker. I get depressed – but in an angry, bitter, “this is unfair that I’m sick” sort of way, watch far too much day time telly, eat worse and sleep worse. For me there is a vicious downward spiral and I appear unable to do better the next time it happens – I can’t seem to “rest” in a way that works.
So because I am flawed and not actually disciplined enough to just rest, I need the structure of work to keep me making positive choices. So I’m going to keep working – but as safely and sensibly as possible.
2. Shut down all but essential BAU (business as usual) outputs.
I’ve reviewed my business costs and cut back to the bare necessities. I’m visualising going into a protective hibernation period where I need to conserve as much business energy as possible and protect the brain stem of my business.
The brain stem I’ve decided is my accounting software Xero, LinkedIn and Twitter, this blog as my outlet, my client facing website, Hootsuite and my iCloud storage plan. Everything else has been deleted, canceled, put on hold or switched to private.
Don’t tell anyone but I’m actually loving my stress-free, don’t have to post, private-account-on-Instagram life!
3. Get end dates for all work
I’ve got a campaign running for one client from Jan-March. I’ve got an end of phase date of the 4 March and then it’s up to me whether I continue to support them for the next phase. A new client came in last week and I agreed as the end date was the 13 March.
This way of working is going to help me manage my illness as it puts clear end points in my diary. Right now I feel I can handle my client commitments in February, and I am not putting myself in a position where I’m worrying about how I will cope with a diary of ongoing commitments.
4. Add a week onto all deliverables
I have spent the last year bitching about freelancing. I see it as a by product of maternity discrimination and another chapter of our exploitation. But freelancing is amazing when you are in a strategy meeting with the client and they say “When can you get this back to us Cat” and I can pick tomorrow, next week, two weeks, a month.
The timeline is my oyster. And that is a lovely feeling.
Now pre-GF (for some reason making me think of the GC and making me giggle),
I’d have said “tomorrow”. In a meeting on Monday I said “2 weeks”. I have yet to make a start on that report as I’ve had 2 doctors appointments, 1 hospital appointment and 1 blood test to fit into my week, on top of general life and feeling like hell. So from now on even if I’m feeling all on top of things I’m adding a week on – just to be safe.
5. Look for the silver lining
I’m not going to lie and say “so my business will carry on unmarked”. I am about to earn a lot less in the next 6 months than I did last year. My pipleline is going to slow down as cutting back to just a brain-stem of a business is going to cost me. I’m predicting attendance at 0 networking events for the next 6 months, and all my plans for 2019 are just not possible anymore.
So I’ve signed up to Code Academy and am learning Ruby.
I know that by choosing to be less busy while this virus runs its course I will negatively impact my future pipeline and won’t have the work I need waiting for me when I’m better. So I need to use this time to finally learn to code and be able to look back at 2019 not as the year when glandular fever cost me my business, but the year I learnt to code.
As freelancers in the gig economy we don’t get sick leave. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. It’s worth thinking about whether you want to get insurance against a serious long term illness. I don’t and a cheque for a few grand would have provided much appreciated grease for my freelance wheels this quarter.
And it’s worth thinking and writing down (when you are well) a crisis plan if you get ill. Because trying to figure this all out on the hop hasn’t been fun, and a “this is what you should do now Cat” word document would have been useful.
Peace, love, and get your doctors to give you blood tests if you have felt rough for more than 3 weeks. Like an idiot I waited 6. It didn’t magically get better.