Self-Employment with Invisible Illnesses

In the 40 or so years I've been working (and I do count babysitting as my first "job"), my job path has taken many twists and turns. I have tried and thought about a variety of options for a career - wanting to be a stay-at-home mom, being a full-time nanny, thinking about majoring in math in college, volunteering as a DJ at a local college radio station, working a short stint as a professional audio engineer, and several others. I finally decided on teaching.

I won't go into the details, but burn-out, government interference in the teaching profession, and my mental illnesses and health issues all led to my leaving that career. 

However, a former teacher who has spent her whole life working with children but is now completely burnt out in that area doesn't have many other job possibilities. I never worked in food service or at a desk; technology has changed so much that my audio engineering days are long gone; plus I don't have the money to go back and get another degree in math or another field.

My dream was always to be a professional photographer and/or writer. In the past, I didn't have the self-confidence that I could make it so I opted for the safe route of a salaried career path. I did side work as a photographer for a long time and even got published a few times in a local newspaper. I wrote journals and essays for myself, always wondering if one day my writing could be published. Even as the realization came that I needed to leave teaching, I still thought I wouldn't be able to make it by working for myself.

Through the encouragement of family and friends, circumstances that made it the right time to try, many "God-coincidences", and a LOT of trial and error, my photography business started taking off. Then my writing also started becoming a good means of income. It's still not to the point I can make a living off solely my photography and writing, but I'm doing so much better than I ever dreamed. 

That said, there are a lot of pros and cons of working for yourself when you are also dealing with mental illnesses and several invisible health conditions. I've listed a few I've dealt with in case you are considering doing the same thing.

Pro... The freedom to set your own hours: If I'm extremely depressed or my anxiety is getting the best of me, I can do what I need to do for myself without having to clock in every day at the same time. Having flexibility also allows for the many doctor visits that go with having more than one chronic health condition.

Con... The freedom to set your own hours: Sometimes it can be hard to not work, especially when I'm in a hypomanic cycle. I get obsessed and have a hard time stopping, even when I need to eat or take a break. Not having set times to clock in and out means I often work evenings and weekends. Other times it can be hard to make myself sit at my desk at all and even when I do, my focus is all over the place. 

Pro... Not getting a steady paycheck: Working on your own means that you have the potential to make a lot more than in some jobs, especially one that pays minimum wage - the only kind of work I could get as one who is burned out with my initial career and who hasn't really trained for anything else. The sky is the limit if you work enough hours and hard enough.

Con... Not getting a steady paycheck: As Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of my most impactful mental health issues, not having a steady paycheck can add a lot to the anxiety I already feel on a daily basis. Even though I've recently built up a small savings cushion for the first time since working for myself, there is ALWAYS the anxiety that it could be wiped out at any moment if I can't get more work. There is also the issue of not being able to get certain financial perks, like a loan or a credit card, if you can't prove a regular income.

Pro... No day is the same: Every job is different. Each photography shoot, each writing assignment, each mystery shop, each Uber or Lyft ride... each one has unique aspects and I'm always having to be on my game to do each one to the best of my ability. 

Con... No day is the same: Again, my anxiety comes into play with not knowing the conditions I'm going to deal with in each individual job. There are times I wish I knew what I was going to be doing each day; what environmental conditions I would have to deal with; and exactly how long it would be until my work was completed for the day.

Pro... Being a business owner without training: Everything from marketing to social media to doing taxes means expanding my horizons and learning a lot of new information. As one who loves to figure out how to do something new as well as not having to rely on others, it can be fun to figure out the aspects of working on your own like building a website, designing a marketable logo, or producing a brochure of your work.

Con... Being a business owner without training: Sometimes it's extremely easy to get overwhelmed. That research I mentioned earlier is fun but it's also something that takes a lot of time, which is something in short measure if you are working for yourself. Every hour I spend on that website... or logo... or brochure... is taking away from time used actually earning income (though I always recognize that it's those kinds of things that are the way to get income later). 

Pro... Learning how to rely on God: As a Christian, I very much believe that God will take care of me. This means not always finding that provision in the exact way or timing I'd prefer (I would love a lot bigger savings account and often nicer "stuff") but I do know that what I need will somehow be there when I need it. This has made me realize that I can get by with much less than I thought I needed and has helped me appreciate what I already have.

Con... Learning how to rely on God: It's a great lesson to learn but it's HARD. My anxiety leads to many nights of tossing and turning when I wonder if I'm ever going to get more work. Fear of not having that steady paycheck or what the next work assignment will bring can overwhelm me at times. But I do know there's no other way to learn something like that kind of reliance except for living it.

As you see, there are pros and cons with the exact same points in every aspect of not holding a traditional job. Though it's not for everyone, for those with multiple mental and physical health needs, working for yourself is definitely something that should be considered as a means to doing what is needed to make it.

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