I'm Self Employed Because I'm Chronically Ill

Last updated: October 2022

In 2008, I created a plan for how I could become self-employed so I wouldn’t have to worry about losing a job because of my chronic illness.

I dreamed about running a tutoring business, working with students during hours that made sense for my body, and building plenty of time for rest and creative pursuits. It seemed like a pipe dream. Although I was a part-time tutor, I didn’t know how to run a business.

In addition to tutoring, I worked part-time at my grad school’s library. I missed many work days around my cycle, and this pattern worsened until my first and second ablation surgeries. My symptoms improved greatly after those procedures, but I missed two weeks of work each time and had to take a lot of unpaid time off to recover.

Luckily, my partner at the time could cover our bills. But after that experience, I felt guilty for being off work so often and for being out of work and not contributing to the household income (hello, internalized ableism!).

I also realized just how deeply I wanted to work for myself and be able to set my hours rather than being expected to show up at the same time and have the same energy every day.

Being able to structure my own workdays

Fast forward seven years: I took a business class that was essentially an MBA crash course. After hours of stressing over spreadsheets and profit and loss statements, I felt confident that I could leave my part-time job as a marketing coordinator and start my tutoring business.

It’s been seven years since then, and I haven’t looked back. I work four days a week and have a three-day weekend. Although, admittedly, I still need to work on my boundaries around that because admin and prep work often creep into Friday or Sunday.

Having a business has allowed me to schedule time off, set my hours, work during the hours when I can be at my best, and even sometimes work from bed when needed. I’ve even taught some lessons from bed with long-term students with whom I have a good relationship.

Creating a business that accommodates my illness

None of my clients have ever complained about my need for time off for surgery, and they all understand when a migraine attack interferes with my ability to show up for a session.

I find time to make up lessons when I’m feeling better and don’t feel I have to hide my symptoms.

I’m lucky that I have an educational background and skill set that allowed me to create a job with little overhead and flexible hours. Not everyone has that privilege.

My business required no start-up money; I was already tutoring students part-time, and when I was ready to make my business official, I filed the proper paperwork and took on a larger client load. Some businesses require a lot of money upfront and planning to get it off the ground.

If you know you have skills that would translate well into a work-from-home, a self-employed job. I highly encourage you to find your business class and create a job that allows you the same freedoms I enjoy.

There are some downsides: I am single and pay triple for health insurance compared to the plan I could get through an employer because I have high healthcare needs. I must remember to always save for quarterly taxes because I don’t have a traditional paycheck from which taxes are taken each month.

I don’t get paid holidays or paid time off. But I also don’t have a boss or HR department that I have to ask when I need time off. I just take it.

I would not trade my work for anything. I enjoy my work, I love being able to set my hours, and I do not miss commuting.

Maybe you’ll want to consider creating your own business as well.

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