By Christine Peets
If you choose to make New Year’s resolutions, you might notice the same themes arising year after year. They often involve trying to be healthier by getting more exercise, eating healthy food, balancing the work/life stuff, etc. etc.
Or, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, “Yada, Yada, Yada.”
Those with chronic illness or pain, however, don’t have a choice: they have to try and be as healthy as possible every day. So what’s the best way to manage your health while keeping your freelance career on track? I contacted three freelancers who all live with chronic illness and pain. They shared some interesting perspectives and strategies for taking care of the work while maintaining their health.
Figure out new ways to work, and be engaged
Paul Lima is a Toronto-based writer, writing instructor and business-writing trainer. He has been freelancing for more than 25 years and in 1998 he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Paul has published 20 books, with his latest two being about living with MS.
Paul notes that he has reduced his workload by 50 percent or more. He used to teach longer classes and conduct training sessions that ran from a half-day to two days. Now his classes are not in real time, so he provides material ahead of time and has weekly online contact with his students. His training webinars are now only two hours long. His advice for others who have a chronic illness?
“Do what you can do; don’t overextend yourself, and know your limitations: Let that guide you to what you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to doing. Monitor yourself carefully.”
He also says that acceptance is a huge part of living well with his illness. He now has to walk with a cane — and he says his dog is very patient because Paul can’t walk very fast. It’s a large dog, so walks generally last two hours and then both Paul and the dog have a good rest when they get home. He’s grateful that he’s still able to walk, as many MS patients lose their mobility. As for the work, Paul says that whatever you are doing has to be engaging.
“The writing engages me; excites me,” he says. “Being engaged is more important than the work itself, because it keeps me going.”
Juggle different projects to meet varying energy levels
Emily Schooley is an award-winning actor, filmmaker and entrepreneur who runs a small business in Toronto creating podcasts and videos for clients—all while managing chronic fatigue and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“The chronic fatigue may be more chronic mono, which I’ve been dealing with since a bout in high school and I’m still working with doctors to get a more accurate diagnosis,” Emily says. “Now, in my day to day life, I still have significant sleep issues: There are days when I cannot be awake for more than 12 hours and there are many times when I cannot fall asleep at night on a regular schedule.
Stimulating myself with coffee so that I can push through and work can sometimes lead to disastrous results… but also is sometimes exactly what I need, and this is a hard balance to strike.”
The PTSD started after Emily left an abusive relationship six years ago. The combination of the two illnesses has led to weight gain. She believes this has had a severe impact on her work as an actor. While she tries to exercise to control her weight, that sometimes exacerbates the chronic fatigue, leaving her feeling weak, so it’s a struggle either way.
Juggling several careers means that Emily is rarely working on one project for very long, which has its advantages: She can adjust her work schedule to meet and maximize her energy levels: staying up until 3 am editing videos for a business client, and then sleep until 2 pm and slowly get ready for an audition or client meeting at 4 pm.
There are days when she just has to give in and lay on the couch with Netflix playing in the background while she sleeps on and off, but those days are few and far between. What keeps her going is her passion for the work and her joy in collaborating with others.
Don’t be alone too often
Writer Alex Huls says that being around others in a comfortable surrounding helps him stay well, physically and mentally. Alex suffers with chronic pain in his tailbone so when he needs a break from the standing desk in his home office, he heads to a local café to do some work.
He said he’s found a few in his Toronto neighbourhood that have comfortable chairs, which is an absolute necessity. Being in the hustle and bustle of a busy café is a welcome distraction than working alone at home where he is likely to be more aware of the pain.
“I’ve never really had an explanation as to what exactly is causing the pain, which started about eight years ago—almost 10 years after having some surgery,” Alex says. “The best guess is that it has to do with scar tissue. I can’t sit or stand in the same position for any length of time. I have a young son now and he doesn’t like to stay in one place for very long either so maybe he’s looking out for me, knowing that I have to keep moving around.”
Some days are better than others and if the pain is really bad, then it’s a good excuse to justify a little procrastination. Alex also thinks that having a good sense of humour is important.
“Somebody must have had a bad sense of humour giving a writer chronic pain in his tailbone,” he says. “Chronic pain can wear you down, and I’ve tried various medications and other remedies but nothing works for too long so I have come to accept the situation as it is and make the best of it.”
Long after most people have forgotten their New Year’s resolutions to be healthier, freelancers with chronic illness or pain have to carry on putting their health first. As Emily put it, “I’ve come to realize that I need to make health my priority, so I have allowed myself the space and time to practice the self-care I need, above all else.”
I totally agree with that, and I think others would too.
Christine Peets is a freelance writer based in Napanee, Ontario who deals with her own chronic pain and illness, including fibromyalgia. Aside from the writing, she teaches a fitness program called Essentrics®, a type of gentle exercise that strengthens and stretches all of the muscles keeping the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue at bay. Details about Christine’s work are on her website, www.ChristinePeets.ca