Like many US-based high school students, I started planning for college early. I took the SAT and ACT. I toured college campuses with my parents. I applied to four colleges my senior year (and got into every one). But unlike many high school students, I was sick. I’d had health problems for years and I was getting worse, not better.
As my body continued to get sicker, I finally came to the realisation that college wasn’t going to be a realistic option for me. I felt at peace with my decision when I tossed the acceptance letters in the trash.
However, I was still left with a major question mark about my career.
What was I going to do now?
Chronic illness derailing plans
I’d dealt with health issues for years growing up — random things like GI problems, seizures, and issues with my vision. My family didn’t think much about it until I was halfway through high school and things really started to get bad.
I tore a ligament in my hand that required major reconstructive surgery and six months of physical therapy. I’d just recovered from that when I was hit with a slew of new symptoms — dizziness, breathing problems, extreme fatigue, nerve pain, and more. Doctor’s offices and hospitals became my second home, but at the time, nobody could give us any answers.
Years later, as my health continued to deteriorate, I would finally be diagnosed with a genetic condition that, for me, causes at least half a dozen other chronic illnesses.
Together, these illnesses affect almost every system in my body. Among other things, I now have a permanent feeding tube because I can no longer eat or drink by mouth, and I sometimes have to use a cane to help me walk.
But back then, we didn’t have the clarity we have now. We just knew that I was sick and I was going to have to find an unconventional career path.
Discovering freelance writing
I never wanted to be a freelance writer or content marketer. In fact, if you’d asked me about the term in high school, I probably didn’t know what those terms meant. But as high school graduation approached, I realized I needed to find a new job fast.
I had always loved to write; I was a good writer and I wanted to be an author growing up, so turning to the written word made sense. A reread of Little Women inspired me, like Jo March, to begin submitting articles to magazines. And I fell into the world of freelance writing from there.
I got my first client the week after I graduated high school. It was a marketing agency that created content for CrossFit gyms. I wrote ten articles a month and was paid per piece. When I worked out the numbers, I realized I made four times the hourly rate I’d earned as a nanny in high school. Plus, I worked far fewer hours per month and worked them whenever I wanted. I was hooked!
I spent the next year researching freelance writing and slowly accumulating more clients, mostly in the fitness industry. After a year had passed, I felt as if things had plateaued. I’d gone as far as I was going to go on my own. I was interested in enrolling in a six-month intensive course for freelance writers, but it was pricey — and even though the course promised to help freelance writers 2X their income, I wasn’t sure if the investment was worth it.
Was I truly committed to freelance writing? Was this really what I wanted to do? Would the investment be worth it? I enjoyed freelancing and the flexible work-from-home schedule was the perfect fit for my body; I wouldn’t be able to hold down even a part-time job outside the house. So finally, I signed up for the course.
Investing in myself
The six-month course was a mixture of private coaching, group masterminds, and additional resources and homework. It focused on teaching you how to run a freelance business and market yourself to find good clients, which was just what I needed — I was already a good writer, and now I was learning how to be a good business owner, too.
Through the course, I ended up not only 2X’ing my income, but actually 7X’ing it (and years later, my monthly income is even higher). I was working with highly recognizable clients like Dell, Barnes & Noble Education, Healthline, and many many more. Investing in myself by taking the course was the best decision I could have made.
Thanks to everything I learned in the course, I felt like I now had a sustainable freelance career. I wasn’t worried about whether I’d make enough money to support myself. I had the tools I needed to find the right amount of work for me.
Two years after graduating high school (during that time I was privileged to live at home with my parents), I moved out into a luxury apartment complex by myself and became financially independent. It’s been several years since then and I’m thankful to still be running my freelance business (and planning to buy a house in the next couple of years).
Running my business long-term
My health continued to worsen. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my health took a major nosedive right around the time I moved out. Over the next couple of years, my body was very, very sick. Thanks to freelancing, however, I was able to continue working. Maybe I only worked a couple of hours some days, or maybe my monthly income was lower than I’d like it to be. But I always made enough.
Today, things are similar. My health is still poor; in some ways it has improved, but in some ways things are worse. My illnesses are chronic, so they have no cure — we just manage my symptoms as well as we can. Things can be unpredictable, but that’s why freelancing is so helpful. Sometimes, I’m working on client blog posts from the infusion center, or taking two days in a row off work to go to doctor appointments. As I write this article, it’s 13:00 and I’m just now sitting down to work for the day because my body needed to rest this morning. (And in the middle of this article, I took a break for a two-hour nap!)
My career is also very lucrative. Freelancing allows me to pay all of my living costs, as well as all of my medical bills — and buy concert tickets, book short vacations, or purchase other things I want to buy.
I’ve even started writing about my experience with my chronic illnesses. I work entirely from home, and my disability is not visible on a shoulders-up video call — so, most of the time, I have the option to keep my medical issues completely under wraps. At first I was scared to say anything publicly online about my chronic illnesses. But I’m passionate about doing ministry and advocacy work in the disability and chronic illness field, so over time, I’ve become more and more open on the internet.
I’ve been surprised that, far from turning clients away, being vocal about my illnesses has actually helped me get more clients. I’ve been able to tell clients in the healthcare industry that I can relate to their target audience (patients) because I am their target audience (I like to call myself a “professional patient”!). I even landed a home health company as a client after straight-up telling them during our interview that I use a home health company myself for my tube feeding supplies, among other things.
My chronic illnesses and my body’s limitations make daily life extremely difficult. There is no way I could work any other job besides the one I have. It took a lot of hard work to get my career and my freelance business off the ground. But I’m so thankful for the opportunity to build a career for myself that’s the perfect fit for my chronic illness and disability.
Even if you feel like there are endless obstacles in your path — that life has gotten you down, and the hits just keep coming — you don’t have to be a victim.
By thinking outside the box and working as hard as you can in light of your circumstances, it’s possible to carve out a path forward.
Maybe there are new dreams to dream when old ones die. Maybe you’re more resilient and hardworking than you think. And maybe with a little creativity, you can build a career for yourself that helps you not only survive, but thrive.