Articles - 28th November 2019

No more sick days: why freelancing is so attractive to those of us with a chronic illness

Words by Steff Green
Illustration by Will Francis

Winter is the time for a surge in sick days with workers battling coughs and colds but, for many of the population, living with an illness is a reality all year round. In fact, if you’re struggling with long-term health issues, you’re not alone: it’s estimated that there are almost 15 million people living in the UK with a chronic illness; which makes up over 20% of the population.

Not only is this number often underestimated but it’s a misconception that those with long-term health problems or disabilities don’t make up our county’s workforce. In fact, Scope estimates that 19% of the workforce is disabled. Working full-time is possible for many of us with health issues but that doesn’t mean it’s always straightforward. It’s easy to see why freelancing becomes such an appealing solution…


You’re guaranteed an understanding boss!

Having a long-term illness should mean your employer is required to make reasonable adjustments (since it’s covered under the 2010 Equality Act) for you; so not everyone with a chronic condition will need to make the switch to freelancing.

However, regardless of the legalities, many bosses just can’t comprehend what it’s like to live with health issues and the juggling of medications, doctors appointments and flare-ups that comes with it. Even if an employer does make adjustments, some can find the requirements of the role they once loved just too demanding.

“I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension in 2014 whilst working as a webmaster for a chain of hotels,” explains entrepreneur Nicole Gore. “I loved my job but my condition forced me into hospital several times. By the third time, they had enough and they fired me. Everything I’d worked towards gone.” Nicole went on to start CBD brand Hannabis with her business partner. She now finds working for herself, alongside a partner, much more effective than working for an employer and adds, “being self-employed has allowed me an ability to work around my health without the constant anxiety of letting someone down.”


A health condition is already a full-time job

Let’s face it, living with a chronic illness can seem like a full-time job in itself some days; which is why the regular 9-5 just doesn’t fit with most of us. Catherine Gladwyn, the author of How To Be A Virtual Assistant, has battled multiple brain tumours and also has Addison’s Disease. “I could not continue in a normal 9-5; stress kills me and I need to take medication three times a day to stay alive along with attending regular hospital appointments in another city,” she explains. For her, freelancing was the only way for her to continue her career. “I quit my job as a PA and turned it into my business. It’s evolved beyond anything I could have thought it was capable of. I’m just recovering from my 3rd brain tumour being removed.” Going freelance can help us manage all the life admin that comes with being chronically ill and help us take proper time to recover from surgery and flare-ups without any guilt.


It can improve your mental health too

When we think of going freelance, we might be focused on how it could benefit our physical health, but a recent survey by Mazuma found that 43% of freelancers believed going freelancing has positively impacted their mental health. One of the most frustrating things about living with chronic illness is undoubtedly the lack of control around it: we can’t control when it rears its ugly head, we can’t control that we have to call in sick the day before a big presentation or that we’ve already exceeded our sick days but can’t get out of bed. Freelancing can’t give you control over your illness but does allow you to be in control of your schedule; meaning you can adapt and change things when you need a rest day and work harder when your body allows it. That flexibility can be invaluable to many of us. 


Freelancing with a chronic illness? Here are our top tips…


Don’t assume you’re excluded from financial support

Getting access to financial support for your business idea might be trickier with health issues. However, there’s lots of specific help out there for entrepreneurs with chronic conditions. Have a look at the Stelios Awards; which offers grants for businesses run by those with disabilities, including long-term physical and mental illness. If you’re looking for a business loan but getting nowhere, it could be worth reading up on the Fredericks Foundation; a charity who offer a number of different loan options for those who can’t necessarily access traditional business loans. Disability Grants has a list of business grants available on their site too.


Talk to others

There’s plenty of ways to network and meet fellow freelancers, but seeking support from those who understand the challenge of juggling self-employment and health issues can be empowering. There are several specific communities out there. For example, Entrepreneurs against the odds is a free online support group for aspiring and established business owners who are dealing with chronic health problems. 


The government can help too

You might have heard of the Government’s Access to Work scheme; a scheme to help those who need adaptations in the workplace. The good news is that it’s also available to freelancers too! They won’t help with your actual start-up costs but if your long-term health condition means you need certain adapted equipment to kickstart your business, it could be worth applying.


Be realistic

It’s a well-known fact that us freelancers think we’re escaping the 9-5 but end up working around the clock to make our dream a reality. Remember the reasons you went freelance in the first place before burning out.


Of course, freelancing with a chronic condition does have its drawbacks (hello, no sick pay!) but the rise of self-employment has created a real solution for those of us whose bodies just won’t play ball with the standard 9-5; allowing us to continue to thrive in the workplace and give back to society on our own terms.

We champion the freelancers and every entrepreneur who took a leap of faith with their idea.

If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!

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