Having a health condition or disability needn’t stop you from working for yourself, you may find that self-employment is the perfect solution. In 2011, having had health problems for eight years, I set up my own business, WordNerd, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Being ill gave me a huge amount of resilience and determination to succeed, both of which come in pretty handy when you work for yourself. Running my own business allows me to manage my health condition too so I’m healthier than I’ve been in a decade.
My story (the short version)…
During the Christmas of 2003, I was ill and never recovered. I had a bout of flu, then a chest infection and although I was prescribed tons of antibiotics I didn’t get better. In the autumn of 2004 I was diagnosed with a chronic illness called fibromyalgia and told that I could be ill for the rest of my life, I was 27.
The first two or three years of having fibromyalgia were very hard, I often couldn’t walk and sometimes I could barely move at all. For months it took me several hours to bathe and get dressed, some days I couldn’t lift a hairbrush or pick up a fork to feed myself. The DWP was signing me off by the year and I was living on £40 a week sickness benefit.
Working full-time was making me ill
Fast-forward to 2011 and I’d got myself back to work for a few years, I started part-time and built up to full-time. My health was never really up to it though and I spent most of my evenings and weekends resting and recuperating.
After two years of working full-time, my body couldn’t cope any more and I started having ‘episodes’ that looked like Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA’s or mini strokes). One day I had an ‘episode’ at work, I was carried downstairs to the waiting ambulance in a wheelchair and didn’t set foot in my office again.
After numerous tests and scans, a few trips to A&E and an appointment with a neurologist, the episodes were diagnosed as migraines that mimic TIA’s. I’d already been ‘encouraged out’ of my job by then so I found myself ill, pretty much unemployable and almost broke.
But instead of being angry or frustrated it felt like an amazing opportunity…
Finding my own work solution
I’d done some NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) sessions earlier that year with a lovely lady called Dawn. She’d given me her website designer’s details saying he was always looking for people to write web content. At about the same time, Cara, a good friend of mine, mentioned she thought that small business owners would pay someone to write their blogs for them.
That was all it took, WordNerd was born – a website and blog-writing business.
Turning my passion into my work
I’d always wanted to write, my English A-level teacher said I’d be a writer, it just took me 18 years between leaving school and setting up WordNerd to find my niche!
I’d written fiction, done loads of courses, had articles published, read like a demon and obsessed about grammar. I had all the motivation in the world and given what I’d been through, how hard could working for myself be?!
It’s a cliché – and writers aren’t meant to use clichés – but I’ve never looked back. I’m now happier, more fulfilled intellectually and creatively, more motivated, more positive and more excited about my future than I’ve ever been.
I don’t want to sugar-coat self-employment; I’ve had weeks (months at the start) when I didn’t earn anything. I’ve worked harder than ever before in my life – and I’ve done two degrees and worked 14-hour days in the finance sector but that doesn’t come close.
There’s so much to do and learn, it isn’t an easy option but it does give you the freedom to choose your hours and manage things around your health needs. I couldn’t have done it without lots of support from my amazing partner, and the support I’ve had from the NHS when I’ve needed it.
I was ill again for five or six weeks last year and that wasn’t easy. When that happens you have no choice but to look after yourself, get yourself better, not earn for a while, keep it together and pick things up when you can. At least no one could sack me for needing time off!
If it doesn’t kill you…
Being ill made me stronger. Fibromyalgia can’t kill you but the depression that tends to go with being ill for years can and fibromyalgia has a higher suicide rate than the general population. I knew I didn’t want that to happen to me.
When you have to sleep 12 hours a day and sit still the other 12, even though you have an active brain, you gain a lot of mental strength. When you have to drag your legs up the stairs behind you for the 100th time because they don’t work, crying in frustration, something within you becomes cast iron strong.
That strength probably explains why my self-belief is unshakeable now. That and the fact that there’s no plan B!
I wouldn’t want to go through it all again but neither would I change a thing, all my previous experiences and passions, my need to manage my own time (and my health) and the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever come close to my true potential in any job I’ve had before have all come together.
I love what I do. I love writing and training people, I love that every day is different, I meet and help all sorts of wonderful people and opportunities present themselves on an almost daily basis.
Opportunities are there if you recognise them
A lady from Leonard Cheshire Disability asked me to do some training for other small business owners last summer and suddenly training became one of my main offerings. I was approached by someone in the U.S. about running my course over there and an idea is born. You spot a gap in the market for online training and give yourself loads of work to do trying to fill that gap.
And one evening you find yourself drinking champagne in the House of Lords with other business women, then getting lost among the private rooms – but that’s another story! When you work for yourself you experience all sorts of things you never dreamt of.
Being ill has been the toughest experience of my life but if it was the only way I could get to where I am now I’m thankful for it. There’s nothing amazing about me, maybe working for yourself could be the solution you’re looking for too.