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Dayna Mcalpine writes on how sufferers of chronic pain may benefit from embracing the freelance lifestyle.

I’m Dayna – a full-time freelance journalist, digital content creator and social media manager. I’m 25, Scottish and live between Edinburgh and London. I’m 5’9, a fake ginger and I spend 99% of my life working my ass off.

I also happen to have an invisible chronic pain condition.

Costochondritis is a pain in the tits, literally. My sternum, the long flat bone located in the central part of my chest, likes to get super inflamed and the pain level is compared to someone pushing an ice pick through the middle of your chest. It’s a barrel of laughs.

That with my fibromyalgia diagnosis, a grim side helping of joint pain and fatigue that renders me immobile a few times a year, means that working five days a week within office hours is a nightmare.

After struggling with balancing a ‘normal’ 9-5 job with an unpredictable chronic pain illness, I decided that enough was enough and last March I took my journalism career freelance. The irony is, since becoming freelance, the condition that makes me so stiff has become something that has made my life so much more flexible.

My neck, my back, my joints always crack

It’s 7.30am – I’ve just woken up for work and I already know how my day’s gonna go. My joints ache, I’m already struggling to focus and all I want to do is sleep. The next 10 hours are going to be a waste of time and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I’m going to stare blankly at my screen, run the risk of my colleagues seeing how many painkillers I’m popping, get mistaken as having a cracking hangover and have to debate a mid-afternoon nap in a toilet cubicle just so I can get through the day.

I’ll finish at 5, rush home deliriously, sleep, wake up and do my work from the daytime – my boss will never know.

Let’s not forget the time when trying to sneak yet another painkiller out of my bag, I took a Valium instead of a co-codamol and I spent the afternoon practically tasting colours.

Iona Bruce, top boss lady at Not Normal Creative, set up her own business after years of trying to juggle CFS/ME with a 9-5. She knows oh too well the joys of trying to function in a working environment that isn’t chronic pain friendly:

“Somehow, I managed to work full-time within my chronic illness stint, but only for a few months at a time until I’d have another flare up where my body would be incapable of moving at all. I’m an extremely determined (some may say stubborn!) individual, that just doesn’t do giving up, so I went through the cycle of starting a new job, fighting through my illness with a brave face and then collapsing into a few months of recovery, over and over.”

You get the picture – full-time work and chronic pain conditions ain’t a match made in heaven. This where freelancing comes in.

The freedom of freelancing

Like many others with chronic pain illnesses freelancing has given me total job freedom. In the words of Iona: “When I was working 9-5 jobs I wasn’t functioning, I was (just) surviving. Freelance has allowed me to not only function, but to thrive.”

Not only that, it’s pushed me to follow my dream profession – becoming freelance means that I work harder than I’ve ever done before, but on my terms.

Two-hour nap needed? Catch you in my inbox in a bit, I’m out for the count. Physio appointment? I don’t have to ask for someone’s permission for yet another afternoon off.

Sarah-Louise Kelly, a freelance writer and digital strategist who suffers from fibroids and endometriosis, wishes she’d become freelance sooner:

“It’s so much easier. I can work at my own pace, in comfort and with the time there for naps, doctors’ appointments etc. If I have a flare up, I feel more comfortable having a day off as I’m my only concern really. Clients have deadlines and I work to them, but I add a day leeway in order to ensure there’s the time there if I need it.”

Sara Tasker, a creative and online business consultant and podcast host who has dysautonomia and EDS, uses freelancing as a way to make her career flourish:

“Freelancing has meant I can play to my strengths instead of constantly trying to force my weaknesses to fit into the accepted paradigm. My health has gradually deteriorated since I left my 9-5, and I’m pretty certain I’d be claiming disability benefit now, unable to work a traditional job. Instead, I have a six-figure business, helping to empower others to build businesses that work for them too. That’s the power of being able to play to our strengths”.

But don’t you miss out the benefits of a ‘normal’ job?

In a short answer: NOPE.

Look – I miss out on things that only a full-time in-house position can provide. I don’t get running feedback on my work, I don’t get holiday pay or sick pay and RIP to a pension plan.

It can get lonely but If I’m feeling up to it, you can find me co-working with fellow freelancers in an office and since being able to take time off when I need it you can even spot me doing the odd in-house shift.

Sure, the practical aspects of a permanent job are missing but I’ve found so many psychological benefits. As Sara says:

“I’ve been able to make peace with my body, cultivate real self-belief and no longer believe that my limitations mean I’m an inferior human to everybody else. The system is built to be very one-size fits all. If it isn’t fitting for you, it’s the system that’s broken – not you or your body and needs.”

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