When you get sick as a freelancer

About a month ago now, I got sick. Like really unwell and I couldn’t work for the best part of three weeks. That’s a terrifying amount of time away from your desk for a freelancer. (I’m fine now btw!)

I wanted to write about this partly because some of you have been asking where this newsletter has been (❤) and also because I don’t want to gloss over the low points of freelance life.

So here are the things I did when I got sick as a freelancer. Most are practical, one is philosophical.

1. You need an emergency fund

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have financial reserves. At the age of 30, as someone who really does live a pretty healthy lifestyle, there was no way I was expecting to be completely wiped out for three weeks. Three weeks!!

I’ve written before about how I have multiple bank accounts and put my cash into specific pots, one being an emergency fund. While that was enough to get me through this, I'm still going to have to take on a few extra assignments to get things back where I want them to be. And that holiday I thought I might be able to take in the next few months isn't going to happen. But it’s ok, the point is that my finances are  f i n e because I planned ahead.

I looked into whether as a self-employed person you can claim benefits (in the UK). It seems like, in theory, you might be eligible for Universal Credit, but it’s quite complicated to claim. From my attempt to look into it, I wasn’t eligible because I do have savings (fair enough tbh), but it is available for those who qualify.

2. Tell your editors as soon as possible

I had about eight assignments in various stages of readiness on the go when this all happened. At first, I thought I’d be out of action for max a week, so I pushed back a couple of deadlines. As it became apparent the situation was a lot worse than I thought, I started to get really anxious about all the work that was piling up and I started to worry that assignments would be spiked. But that only made me more stressed and that wasn’t helping anything.

So I contacted all my editors, explained my situation and made it clear that I just didn’t know when I’d be back on my feet. I told myself that if everything had to be spiked, there was literally nothing I could do about it anyway. Thankfully, nothing was. Instead everyone was just very kind and patient.

3. Ease back into things

It took some time to get back on my feet, so I took things as easy as possible at first. You have to look after yourself if for no other reason than pushing too hard when you’re not fully recovered is only going to make things worse in the long run. I started with a few hours of work, then half a day rather than jumping heading head first into the deep end.

4. Do a work audit when you’re back on your feet

When I was feeling ready to start working, I started with a work audit. I wrote down all the assignments I was working on and tried to work out how many days worth of work it would take to get them over the line. I also told myself I couldn't book any new work until the decks were cleared.

The problem was of course that while everything had been spaced out before, now it was all stacked up against each other. I had to be realistic about how much I could get done and in what time frame. There’s no point promising three different editors you can file features on the same day,because you just can’t. “Underpromise and overdeliver” is your mantra.  

5. There’s more to life than work

Getting sick gave me some much-needed perspective about work and life. Health is so important. And that holds true mentally as much as it does physically. Lying on the sofa not being able to do much, I started to feel really down because so much of my identity to tied up in what I do.

It's important to enjoy what you do and as a freelancer building a career doing what you love, it's inevitable that work and the ability to work becomes part of your identity. But there has to be more to your life than work.

Take care of yourselves out there.