Navigating Freelance Working Life with IBD

Guest blog post by Megan Harrison

Getting diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) halfway through my university degree was never something that was on the cards. Let alone was living with a chronic illness something I thought I would have to factor into my career aspirations.

Getting to grips with my diagnosis at university was one thing. I was able to finish my degree by studying from home (coronavirus also partially responsible), the work did not take up 100% of my time, and I had access to university study support systems to help me manage my time and receive access to additional resources.

While there were challenging times with my health such as flare ups, hospital trips and new medications, living at home with my family and a supportive university community around me, albeit digitally, completing my degree became feasible and come summer 2020 I was a new graduate.

Being a graduate in a pandemic is a tough experience, let alone being a graduate with a chronic health condition during a pandemic.

While being open to the prospect of full time employment, I had maintained a remote freelance writing role during university and spent most of my spare time writing for my own blog and social media. I started to see my online platforms gain more interest, with brand collaborations and digital media marketing trainings developing my enthusiasm for the self-employed approach to work.

This got me thinking, is this something I could venture into after my degree? So, I did. Moving into freelancing straight from university is not simple, but my previous work experience had given me a foundation to start with.

Flexible Working Schedules

One of the reasons that self-employed work appealed to me was to allow me the time to look after my own wellbeing. IBD symptoms can include irregular bowel movements, weight loss, nutrient deficiency, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, the list can go on. Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (the other form of IBD) are incurable conditions, and your health can fluctuate at times. There are ways to help manage the conditions such as medication and surgery, but even when you are going through a good spell of health or remission, there are still days when you can feel under the weather and need to take things a bit slower.

Freelancing gave me the opportunity to be more flexible with my hours and manage my time to suit my health. If I feel like I need to have an afternoon off or a later start to the day, there’s less pressure on me to be in a certain place at a certain time. Likewise, if I have any hospital appointments, I am able to work around them more easily.

Creating a Positive Home Working Environment

The main adaptation of freelancing is working from home. This is something most of us have had to get used to during the pandemic, but when you are self-employed, it is an ongoing part of work. Spending all that time inside sometimes has a negative impact on mental health, so it is important to create a positive home working environment as a freelancer.

Never have your workspace where you relax such as your bedroom or lounge area if that is possible. I find keeping that work/home split is important to maintain as much as possible when working from home. If you can, break up your day with some fresh air and a walk. Spending all day sitting at a desk is not great for anyone, and that burst of fresh air is the perfect time to clear your head and reset.

If you have a dedicated home office, take the time to decorate it with things that bring you joy and motivate you. You may have some inspirational quotes to keep you productive, or photos that make you happy. Creating an inviting space to work helps to boost my productivity and mental health. If you were to walk into my home office, you would currently find houseplants and nature prints. Bringing nature inside as much as possible is helping me feel more grounded during lockdown times.

Managing the Financial Side

The biggest struggle with the decision to try freelancing was the money. You don’t have the same financial security as being in employment or that same steady stream of money coming in each month. Things to consider when going self-employed are the fact that you will need to set up your own pension and you won’t receive any of the Statutory Sick Pay if you need to have time off work due to your health condition. I’d recommend having some dedicated savings in case there are times when you can’t work for a long period due to your health condition.

If you are new to freelancing and are not sure whether it is for you, then having some part time employment alongside your freelance work might be something to consider and adds some financial continuity.

Something to remember about freelancing is you never know where there might be opportunities waiting for you. Money can come in just as it goes out. Explore, network, connect, reach out to people. You never know what is waiting round the corner.

The UK government page on self-employment goes through the criteria and how to register as freelance if you are looking for a simple step-by-step guide to help you get started with finance side freelancing.

I always use Excel to keep track of my income and business expenses for each month. This is a must when you are self-employed as you will need to pay income tax, but you can claim tax back on business expenses, so note everything down.

Staying Motivated and Productive as a Freelancer

While the flexibility of freelancing sounds appealing, an important thing to remember is that you do need to work. Not having that office buzz around you and fellow colleagues surrounding you can make staying motivated hard at times. It’s easier to get distracted when you are working for yourself, and if you are susceptible to symptoms such as fatigue, having that drive to work can be difficult at times.

Something I have learnt to do is to get really clear on your to-do lists and prioritise the most important tasks. Take some time to find out what planning strategies suit you most. Are you a digital planner or a traditional pen and paper person? I find bringing as much clarity into my work helps me to reduce stress levels, which benefits me mentally and physically.

My personal go-to tool to keep me organised and on track is my bullet journal. Every month I can add sections or change the layout to suit how I’m feeling, plus I like being able to get some coloured pens out and have an art therapy session during the design process. Excel spreadsheets also help me to plan out content ideas when I’m working clients and I always have reminders on my phone calendar for upcoming meetings and Zoom calls. If you are a digital planner fan, apps such as Trello, Asana and Airtable are worth a look.

Depending on how your health is, your productivity levels may be higher at certain times. If you a time of the day that is your most productive, use this to focus on your work. Batch working and time blocking are productivity strategies for getting more work with less distractions.

Getting in touch with other freelancers in a similar position is something I would highly recommend. From Facebook groups to co-working clubs to networking chats, just because you are self-employed, it doesn’t mean you have to be alone with you work. Connecting with other freelancers is great for helping you to stay accountable, bounce ideas off of each other, and maintain that all important social side of life that is vital for your mental health. You never know, networking with people in this way may also be useful for bringing you future opportunities.

Being a freelancer comes with its benefits and challenges just like any other job. For me I love how I can pursue the work I want in a way that is adapted to suit my wellbeing. It is not the case that my IBD has forced me to go freelance, but rather I have found a way to develop my career and future in a way that allows me to take care of my health too.

If you are looking for more information about navigating the world of work and IBD, Crohn’s and Colitis UK is an incredible charity with support and guides on how to live with the condition.

Take Home Tip

Freelancing can seem daunting at first, but self-belief is key. If you have a dream career you want to go into, have the right skills, and feel like self-employments suits you and your wellbeing, then there is nothing holding you back.

If you want to find out more about Mega or are interested in working with her please see her social media and website below:

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest - @meganelifestyle

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