Three years ago I was bedridden and unable to sit up on my own. I had gone against my doctor’s advice and tried to get back into work but it didn’t go quite to plan. Starting work as a self-employed artist I pushed my body too far trying to get my business off the ground. It took me a year to recover and learn how to stand and walk again. I should have learnt my lesson but my gut told me to have one more go, so I tried again and this time I succeeded. In October last year I decided to give up my art business as I wasn’t getting enough sales and my condition deteriorated which made sitting for hours in front of photoshop impossible. If you haven’t figured out yet, I’m pretty bloody stubborn so rather than give myself a pat on the back for keeping my business going for two years despite serious health issues, I packed my art supplies into a box and stole Mrs Wifey’s entire collection of writing magazines.
By December my blog was rolling, I was writing for The Huffington Post and I had secured my first regular paid client.
Freelance writing + Chronic Illness
and I want to show you how it works for me.
A Quick Background
I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a connective tissue disorder which means my collagen is fragile and weak. My joints dislocate easily, some of my organs are stretching and failing, I’m in constant pain and chronic fatigue is a major issue. EDS often goes hand-in-hand with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) which means my body is allergic to gravity. My body can’t adjust when I stand (or sit for long periods) so my blood pressure drops and my heart beats too fast. My brain doesn’t get enough oxygen and I pass out. POTS also means I can’t control my body temperature, I suffer from adrenaline surges, chronic insomnia and terrible brainfog. EDS + POTS have caused my digestive system to slow down to the point where it doesn’t function properly. I am feeding tube dependent for food and fluids – although I can eat and drink, it varies daily how my body copes with oral intake. Finally, I have Mast Cell Activation Disorder which means my allergy cells don’t work properly and are too keen. I’m allergic to everything one day and not the rest. Even sitting in a warm bath can cause a major reaction and symptoms include alopecia, flushing, pain and bladder dysfunction. I have other health issues caused by EDS but I’d be here all day. In a nutshell my body literally cannot hold itself together and my internal systems are pretty messed up.
As you can imagine, 9 till 5 jobs don’t work when you have a complex condition. I cannot tell how well I will be hour-to-hour never mind day-to-day. I spend a lot of time in hospital and at least 3 nights a week awake due to pain and insomnia. Working for myself means I can work around my condition. I can work through the night when I can’t sleep and rest when I’m too ill to get out of bed. I’ll even work while staying in hospital so that I can take time off when I’m discharged.
There are loads of benefits to freelance writing/blogging when you have a chronic illness including:
-Improving confidence and self-worth
-Helping with depression that can come with chronic illness
-Improving the relationship you have with your body – which can often be very negative when you suffer from chronic pain and illness.
-Improving coping skills
-Improving condition management
-Helping develop better pacing methods
So where on earth do you start?
Here are some tips I’d like to share with you that have helped me get to where I am today.
It’s as simple as that. Start off with the easy bit and pick up a pen and write whatever you want. It can take a little work to get the brain into gear if you struggle with fatigue or brainfog so focus on getting words onto paper to begin with.
Find a place to share your work
There are lots of websites and blogs that are aimed at giving people a space to share their voice. The Mighty is a great platform to share personal stories of disability and chronic illness and they offer suggestions each month to give you a helping hand. WomenMakeWaves is a great platform for women writers no matter what level you are at. Just register and submit your article and wait for it to go live. Editors on both these sites are very supportive which is why I recommend them for finding your feet.
Build an online portfolio.
There are a number of websites where you can build an online portfolio of your work. Link your best bits of writing and get ready to showcase your work whenever you get the opportunity. Having an online portfolio is a great way to show editors your work when you a pitching ideas.
Be brave and start pitching
You only need one or two big names in your portfolio to look like a pro and move on to the next level – paid work. Learn how to write a great pitch and go for it. I pitched a piece to The Huffington Post just two months after starting writing and I received a reply within 8 minutes inviting me to join their blogging team.
Look for paid opportunities but don’t undersell.
Your chronic illness may mean you can only write one or two articles a week which means you need to make sure they pay well. Avoid content-mills and low paid adverts because you will burn out before you get started. My first paid client paid nearly £100 per article which meant I only had to write one piece that week. I was able to pace myself, keep on top of my pain and when my brainfog kicked in I could take my time.
Listen to your body
This is THE bit of advice I cannot stress enough! The difference between a writer with a chronic illness and a writer without, is a body which will not stick to a routine. I can’t work in the morning because I’m usually exhausted after getting dressed and doing my medical routine. My brainfog is worse in the morning and my energy levels are very poor for the first half if the day, I don’t really get going mentally until mid afternoon so I spend the morning chilling out, spending time with Mrs Wifey and giving my body a good rest. At 2pm my brain is starting to wake up and my fatigue begins to lift. I tend to work through early evening and give myself an hour or two to wind down before bed. When I try to force myself to work earlier in the day it just doesn’t work. I struggle to form sentences, get distracted easily and my energy levels crash to the point where I can barely talk never mind write.
Use your Chronic Illness
One of my most problematic symptoms is chronic insomnia. I haven’t slept more than a few nights in a row my entire life. In the past I spent most nights watching tv, tossing and turning in bed and getting really frustrated. Now if I’m not asleep by 2am I move into the spare room, grab my macbook and start writing. I’ll write a few draft pieces which I can edit at a later date or jot ideas down for future posts. Sometimes I’ll spend the night researching, working on my social media presence and searching for writing jobs. By the time my brain eventually starts to feel sleepy or my pain calms down at 5am I try to get some sleep. I spend the rest of the day taking things easy and letting my body rest unless I’m feeling ok in which case I’ll work again in the afternoon. I’ve managed to clock up 15 hours in one day many a time which means I get more days off later in the week to rest.
Be honest with your clients
My clients know I have complex health issues, it’s why I got the job. Some editors may be seeking personal experiences with certain health issues. My favourite client and I email regularly throughout the month rather than just when I’m submitting an article. It makes it much easier for both of us if I have a health crisis and can’t get my piece written in time. It allows her opportunity to find another writer to fill the gap which means I’m not letting her down. It also means if I’m having a good month she may ask me for an extra submission to cover for another writer who is unwell that month.
Subsidise your low income with benefits.
Working Tax Credits provide extra income if you have a disability which means you can top up your earnings.
If you are unsure if you could manage regular freelance work you can start by blogging or writing for non-paying sites. That would allow you to test the water before you take the plunge and commit to coming off ESA or other sickness-related benefits and support.
Use Support Networks
There are loads of bloggers and freelance writers out there who have a chronic illness and know how much harder things can be. There is nothing better than getting support and advice from people who understand you best so make the most of online networks specifically for people doing what you want to do. #spooniebloggers and @ChronicBlogs are just two Twitter networks that will be able to support you on your writing journey.
Go For It!
Being a freelance writer with a chronic illness is hard. I can go days unable to get off the sofa and sometimes I’m fighting back tears just getting my brain to focus for one hour to meet a deadline. However, if you are like me and working from home is your only option, then give it a go, what have you got to lose?