Working With A Chronic Illness – Part 4: New Pathways

Accept It.

The key to dealing with anxiety is acceptance.  If you fight it, you will only make yourself more anxious about it and then, ironically, should you feel even the slightest hint of anxiety, you feel more anxious… about feeling anxious!  Humans can be very silly beasts sometimes.

Dealing with a chronic medical condition is hard enough at the best of times but trying to attend work when you’re sick is enough to make anyone feel anxious.  Once again, the secret to overcoming it, is acceptance.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying if you have epilepsy and you “accept it” that your seizures will miraculously stop and life will be peachy, I only wish it were that simple.  What I am saying is that if you, like me, have a condition that makes you feel sick sporadically and that makes you worried that you’ll be unable to work, then accepting your condition and your limitations may well be your ticket to freedom and happiness.

After a year of therapy with my psychologist and several months working with my biochemical doctor, we decided my gut problems might never go away entirely and although I could wait for my anxiety to subside before I went back to work, I wasn’t going to have any income until that day.  In addition, we agreed, the line of work I had been in was a very high-stress environment and possibly wasn’t suited to me.  The very notion of having to back to that job was making me feel anxious in and of itself so my therapist suggested looking for “new pathways” that suited my needs rather than trying to squeeze a piece of myself into someone else’s jigsaw puzzle.

So, what next?

So what next?  A different kind of law, perhaps?  It was what I was trained to do after all.  It seemed a waste to throw away 6 years of full time study (and a $30,000 HECS debt too, thank you very much Howard Government) but I wasn’t sure.  Law is, by its very nature, confrontational.  Law is generally about conflict and the clients who come to us are in states of high emotional distress.  Being the person I am, I can’t ignore that.  I want to help them.  I want to go above and beyond, bend over backwards and extend myself to help them, to ease the suffering.  This unfortunately at legal aid, resulting in me doing far too much overtime, feeling quite devastated when the cases weren’t successful and being especially crushed when my clients became angry and accused me of intentionally not helping them for whatever personal reasons they imagined I had.  My therapist said to me, “It sounds like you’re just not suited to being a lawyer.  That’s not actually a bad thing, you know.”

I tried to think what other kinds of law there might be that didn’t involve emotional clients.  Barristers didn’t have to deal with clients but they did have to deal with scary judges and even scarier, court.  It’s kind of funny; when I originally set out to study law I thought I would be a crash-hot barrister because I was a fierce and fearless public speaker, confident on stage and very quick at picking flaws in testimony.  But 7 years later, after 1 year in practice, the thought of attending court terrified me.  All of a sudden, it wasn’t about striding past the lectern, gesticulating wildly to a rehearsed and flamboyant speech about what we, as humans, can possibly ever truly “know”.  Now it was about real people’s lives and if I stuffed up, it wasn’t just my shame that would occur.  My clients could lose their homes, lose their families or go to prison.  The pressure was intense and I confess, I simply couldn’t handle it.  In a nutshell, I cared too much.

At this stage, my body was giving me grief.  Daily nausea and IBS do not make for a happy worker and trying to imagine a workplace where I wouldn’t be bothered by it was virtually impossible.  I decided to search for options working from home.

Working from home…

Anyone who’s ever tried to work from home will tell you, it ain’t easy.  First, there are no real opportunities.  I mean, what are you going to do?  You can set up your own online store if you have the know-how but so few of them are profitable, it’s a huge risk and you generally need financial backing to get started (I actually sell quite a lot on eBay but it’s only ever made just enough revenue to scrap by).  You can contract for someone else, there are typing jobs that can be done at home but you will need specialist equipment and software and the pay is low.  I actually decided to give that a go as I type fairly quickly, but after filling out countless application forms and online tests, never heard back from any agencies.  I decided this illness was my serendipity.  I had an opportunity to change my life, to start afresh doing something I loved.  Ok, so I’d studied law, big deal.  I never signed a contract saying I had to be a lawyer (and any lawyer would tell you contracts can be broken anyway) so why spend the rest of my life being miserable just ‘cause?  What did I love?  What was I inherently good at?  What would suit my needs now and forever?  Then it hit me; writing.

I originally studied law not because I actually have any interest in law (I don’t) but because I had a gift with English and I wanted a guaranteed income from it.  Let me tell you now, if your parents ever tell you to study law because “you’ll always have a job at least” (thanks Mum) do not listen.  In fact, as I graduated, two other universities in Adelaide were cranking out law grad’s like a catholic rabbit makes babies and my grades were not the best.  To add fuel to the fire, I happened to complete my studies right smack bang at the crescendo of the Global Financial Crisis and also happened to possess the dubious honour of being a woman of childbearing years… read: risky.  I applied for literally over a hundred jobs, interviewed for about ten and still it took me twelve months to get my first job in law.  Actually, it’s a bit of a funny story… I eventually got that job not because of merit or even because I applied for it but because a man abused my father on a holiday in Borneo and then wanted to do him a favour to make up for it.  Turns out he was a lawyer, so you can put two and two together…  It’s like an episode of Seinfeld!

Anyway, the point is, I like words.  I am a wordsmith (or so I like to think).  Other people out there were “writers” so why couldn’t I be one too?  Now was the perfect time to try.  I had time on my hands and my hands on my keyboard.  It might not happen straight away, but nothing ever happened without somebody starting it.

I’m not cut out for novels (short attention span) and I’ve never been good at fiction (lack of imagination) so I decided to start a blog.  I wrote my political opinions, product reviews, film critiques and quasi-comedic commentaries.  It was a bit of fun but it wasn’t going to draw an income.  I needed an actual writing job.

How to be a writer

I wish I had the answer to this question; I don’t.  I guess in a way I do… just write!  But of course, the getting paid to be a writer part, I’m still kind of stuck on.  Ok, so that’s not entirely true.  I am actually a writer now and I do actually get paid.  BUT I only have one client and I get paid peanuts.  So how did I get my first gig?  Well that’s the hard part.  Waiting for your first big break can be what puts most people off freelance writing and I’ll be honest, had I not struck it lucky, my patience would have run out too.  Being a sickie and something of an internet-freak, I spend a lot of time on Facebook.  And websites.  And forums.  *blushes*  Yes people, I am a nerd.  Now that we have that out of the way, we can understand how it was that when one of my favourite personal finance websites posted in my Facebook stream that they were looking for guest writers, I pounced.  Within 10 minutes I’d penned an extensive (rambling) application letter explaining my history, my health and my ambition to write.  I don’t think I even proof-read it, I just typed and clicked “send”.  Within a day I had a response, they’d love to have me, and before I knew it I was negotiating a contract to write regular articles for a prominent savings site.  Not everyone will get an opportunity like this and I must say, finding the next one has been much harder than I thought (editors it seems, will simply ignore your emails if they are busy or don’t like you).  But a start is a start!

But what about the money?

Writing a few short articles a week does not earn me much.  I am not Sarah Wilson or Mia Freedman with an entourage of sponsors and followers.  I have neither the credibility nor fame to charge high prices.  It is something I am building upon gradually, week by week my portfolio grows and one day I hope my name will be one that a few learned readers will recognise.  In the meantime, I have to do something else to make a crust.

I extremely lucky that my partner owns his own business.  Well, it’s a mixed blessing actually because it means he’s extremely busy and if he worked for someone else, he’d be making double and probably wouldn’t need me to work.  But c’est la vie; we play with the cards we are dealt and I choose to consider this an opportunity, not an obstacle.

When I became ill and was home all day it seemed silly that I not help out with the business.  I’d previously worked in an admin role and knew vaguely what needed to be done.  I started keeping a register of all incoming mail, date stamping everything and the like.  I drafted procedural documents, office policies, employment contracts and more.  As time went by and my health improved, I was able to come to the office and assist with more and more things, eventually taking over the invoicing and the accounts.  I became the self -proclaimed “administration and finance manager” and excelled in my role.

Having a job to go to can feel a burden when you are feeling really sick but it can also be extremely rewarding.  Even a relatively banal job like admin can be self-actualising in that you are actually doing something with clear and obvious results.  It may sounds silly, but I get a little kick every time I post out an invoice or deposit a cheque.  And what I love about business is that while problems do arise from time to time, it is not intrinsically confrontational.  Most people I deal with are friendly and happy and trying to make an effort to get along.  We are focused on building relationships and construction systems (it’s an engineering business) not destroying people and cutting them down.  I’m confident in what I do and I know if I feel wretched I can generally still hunch over my desk and get my work done without over-hyped clients thinking I’m not really listening or managers breathing down my neck about billable hours.

Onwards and Upwards

While I write about money to earn money, it’s not the love of my life.  It’s not my true calling and it doesn’t fulfil me spiritually.  Further, writing for someone else is a good gig in that you get paid regularly, but if the business isn’t in your name, you can never build upon the reputation and more importantly, the profits.  I don’t even own the intellectual property rights of my own articles!  I decided to start a different writing venture… one I could update when I felt like but knew wouldn’t be too mentally demanding to require research for each post.  I started “Get Well Or Die Trying” as my own little way of telling the world (or whoever would listen) about my stories, my experiences and, of course, my recipes while I was getting better.  Every time I write I feel better and I hope, my dear reader, that some of what I say can make you feel better too.

I’m not sure what the future holds for my career.  One thing is for certain, it looks good.  My partner has recently decided to expand his business to include an online shop and I, with all my eBaying experience and the anally-retentive attention to detail (typical undermethylator), am to be the e-commerce manager.  It’s a little bit exciting and a little bit scary but working for the “family business” is kind of like being your own boss and I’ve come to the conclusion that if you suffer an invisible chronic illness, that’s the way to go.


1 Comment

  1. January 16, 2013 at 4:29 am

    Howdy! This blog post could not be written any better! Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept talking about this. I most certainly will
    send this information to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a very good read. I appreciate you for sharing!

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