Being sick when you’re self employed

Last Tuesday I tested positive for Covid for the second time. With a full week spent on the sofa my options were limited when it came to this weeks reflections. Spoiler: They are mainly about being sick!

Being sick when you’re self employed is another of those big differences to permanent employment. The main thing being, there is no one else. No one to pick up the slack, no one to tell you to rest.

So when the little red line appeared it was time to attack my diary. I managed to strip most things out. I rationalised that listening in on the Drink Aware workshops from the sofa was the same as watching Netflix. I’m not sure that’s strictly true as 99% of Netflix would likely require significantly less brain power. But that was my justification for attending.

The big challenge came with a kick off workshop I had planned for a new piece of direct client work on Friday. I was hoping to be well enough to run the session but on Friday I woke up feeling dizzy and disorientated — a scary symptom I hadn’t experienced first time round. 15 minutes before it was due to start I had to admit defeat and hand over the reins to the wonderful Sophie Rankin to run for me. We’d planned the session together the day before and I was so glad she was there to hand over to. I went back to bed and slept for 3 more hours.

I’m always very aware of Covid symptoms that affect my brain. Emily Bazalgette, a good friend of mine who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome, has schooled me well and her words always ring in my mind when these times come. I know how important it is to rest as much as possible to avoid the onset of Long Covid. However I also know I’m not great at resting.

This time it seemed to come more easily. I think because I found that Friday morning quite scary. Giving up tickets to a gig I’d been really looking forward to and missing out on Commonwealth cricket would normally have really got me down. However having good health suddenly seemed way more important than anything else.

All I can say is thank god for the new series of Virgin River and an amazing Commonwealth Games schedule. That combination has been enough to keep me pinned to the sofa.

The other problem when you’re self employed is none of the work you drop gets done while you’re off. It just roles over into the next week. I’m conscious my brain won’t be ready for 8 hour days, I got bad brain fog the first time round, and I’m feeling cautious due to the new symptoms I experienced this time. So I’ve politely asked to reschedule anything non-urgent again and spaced out the work that must get done so that I can do 4–5 hour days till I leave for holiday on Friday.

I think the thing to remember is that service design is rarely life and death. Things can usually wait. And clients are just human beings. They understand that people get sick and most would always prioritise people’s health over work.

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Emma Parnell

Freelance specialist in user research, service design and brand development. designforjoy.co.uk Previously @wearesnook, @nhsdigital, @wearewithyou.