I can’t wait to bid good riddance to winter and with it, all the ill health. It seems like everyone I know — adults and kids — have been bogged down with endless colds, flus and winter bugs over the past few months. It’s relentless and exhausting. As a parent, the concept of taking time to recover just seems to disappear in a sea of nappies and tantrums.

Add freelancing into the mix and it takes the woes of ill health up a whole other notch. Not working means not earning. No rest from work. No rest from parenthood. And no rest means no chance of a full recovery. No wonder everyone around me seems to be permanently exhausted, recovering from one bug only to be then knocked down by another. No matter the situation, we just have to crack on regardless.

Luckily, I’ve managed to stay relatively cold and flu free this year (touch wood, there’s still time yet!) but whilst everyone’s been battling the winter bugs I’ve been facing my own health issues.

I have ulcerative colitis. Or had. I never quite know how to phrase it because I had my entire bowel removed which, in theory — medically — is a cure but it’s a high price to pay in my opinion and one that comes with its own set of problems.

The intense guilt I feel means that I try my hardest not to lean on him… I overcompensate, acting like some kind of fiercely independent superwoman.

It was finally putting all my health issues (supposedly) behind me that gave me the confidence to quit my job, take the plunge and become self-employed. The time felt right. I’d never been able to entertain the thought before, knowing that I still had significant hospital stays on the horizon. But now I’d been freed to plan for the future. I’m healthy now, I thought. I can do this. So, in December 2016 I launched my business.

My body on the other hand has had other ideas. The past six weeks I’ve been knocked sideways with sickness three times. A diagnosis is pending but I know for sure something’s not right and it’s putting immense pressure on a work situation that was already stressful.

Over the past two months I’ve been trying to get a full-time business off the ground with only one days guaranteed childcare per week, working evenings and weekends, calling on family members more than makes me comfortable, all in an effort to get things done. When I get sick I need help with parenting and domestic tasks, as well a shoulder to cry on. My husband, already bearing the brunt of my extreme exhaustion, has to drop everything to help.

I feel like a massive burden.

Even when I feel well this has a knock on effect. The intense guilt I feel means that I try my hardest not to lean on him, appeasing the stress I cause when I’m ill. I overcompensate, acting like some kind of fiercely independent superwoman. I don’t ask for help so that I can work because I’ve already used up all my favours whilst I’m sick. Silly? Perhaps… but it’s the way my guilt-ridden mind works.

Plus, there’s the mental toll on me. The self-absorbed, this isn’t fair, attitude. Because hey, after my last op in May I was promised good health and I felt in good health too. After four years of ups and downs I finally felt like I could move forward in my life. Do something for me. Plan for the future. So, indulge my whining when I say, “Why does this have to happen to me now?!”

hope my customers are blissfully unaware as I continue to work from my bed and on my phone during snippets of time whilst looking after my daughter.

Meanwhile I hope my customers are blissfully unaware as I continue to work from my bed and on my phone during snippets of time whilst looking after my daughter. Perhaps I’m taking a bit longer to get back to them than I or they would like but I’m (fingers crossed!) still maintaining the professionalism that is so vital to my business. It’s great that I even have that option I guess.

As I face numerous doctors’ appointments to see what’s going on I realise that being self-employed does have certain benefits. No pleading for mornings off and guiltily explaining that yes, I have to go to the hospital, again. No begging the GP receptionist for the 8:30am appointment rather than the less popular 11:45am one.

I’m clutching at positives here though. There’s no hiding from the one, HUGE, glaring negative of being sick when you’re self-employed — going into panic mode and screaming, “I have to work, otherwise I won’t get paid!!”.

It’s really hard to do, but we must remind ourselves that nothing in life is more valuable than good health. I think only people with chronic illness truly appreciate that thought. Take it from someone who knows. Value your health above all else.

I was in full-time employment the first time I got seriously ill five years ago. As I was admitted to hospital the stress I felt at the prospect of leaving behind so much unfinished work was immense. In my head the whole company would collapse without me there (perhaps a bit egotistically dramatic). Yet when I returned after 3 months off everything was fine. I’d barely been missed. Yes, it may have dented my ego slightly to learn this but it taught me a valuable lesson — it is just work.

Repeat after me. It. Is. Just. Work. 

As self-employed parents, thinking like that isn’t quite so easy but remember — the world won’t end if one task is a day late or if one client has to wait. Most people are pretty understanding.

So, next time you’re sick ask yourself, “Must I do this now?” Applied rationally you’ll probably find the answer is no and you’ll thank yourself for it when you’re feeling well again.

Photograph by Kelly Pike.

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