I got sick

coughs in frustration

I fell victim to “The Cold That’s Going Around” at the weekend. We went to a lovely lodge in Northumberland with the dogs to celebrate my 30th birthday, but I was struck down by the lurgy. As always when I get ill, I was immediately frustrated with my past self for not expressing enough gratitude for breathing freely through both nostrils.

Snot city, population one.

I’ve always had my suspicions about the theory that we are more likely to fall ill just before a holiday. Being a freelancer, I rarely take more than a half-day off at a time, so the prospect of a long weekend at a hot tub lodge was warmly welcomed by both myself and Craig after a busy few months.

This 2015 article from the BBC explores so-called “leisure sickness” - the idea that the build-up to a holiday can be stressful enough to tip us over the edge, made worse by the germs circulating on aeroplanes (pre-covid masks, of course).

But I think it’s more than that, especially for those of us who work for ourselves. It’s almost as if we don’t allow ourselves to get ill, and then as soon a day off approaches, our brains (and bodies) can schedule in the sickness.

Pair that with the fact that many of us will continue to work through illness, due to a lack of sick pay or cover. I recently read a tweet that said something along the lines of “If you’re a freelancer and you get sick, it’s a sign to stop taking on new work and focus on getting better” (paraphrased, but you get the point.)

The person who wrote this clearly has no idea how freelancers work. Some freelancers may work on one project at a time, but most of us are juggling many jobs at once, with an ever-growing pipeline, too.

I am fortunate to share my business with Craig, so even when I was lying in my pit on Monday, he was able to bash out a few articles for this month’s retainer clients. But that’s only a short term solution. As things stand now, our books are closed for new clients in 2021 - and we can only deliver to existing clients if we’re both healthy - physically and mentally.

To say I’m rubbish at being ill would be an understatement. I find enforced rest so frustrating. Not being able to run for the last few days has been driving me mad, not to mention the coughing and spluttering. I also recognise my privilege as someone who isn’t immunosuppressed or generally susceptible to illness, so I don’t want to come across in the wrong way.

Whether you catch every bug that’s going around or you’ve got an immune system of steel, it’s always worth taking a step back to consider what will happen to your business (and your clients) should you get ill.

So, fellow freelancers and small business owners… what can we do if we get ill?

  • Take it easy as soon as possible - Don’t wait until you feel worse. You know that scratchy throat that comes at the start of any nasty cold? Take that as your first sign to arrange some time off, push back deadlines and avoid anything you know will aggravate it more (alcohol, smoking etc.) Many of us have ignored these early signals and pushed on, only to get even sicker as a result.

  • Be honest with clients - Believe it or not, your clients are human beings. They will likely understand if you are unable to deliver the work by the deadline provided you’re honest and up-front with them. Instead of putting yourself under extra pressure (and making yourself feel worse in the meantime), just tell them that you might need a few extra days as you aren’t well.

  • Befriend other freelancers - In the unfortunate and unlikely scenario that you are out of action for a while, offer your client the choice to move over to another trusted freelancer. As you know, I run a Discord for freelancers, so you’ll find many people ready to help there. And if you’re a copywriter, then ask the #ContentClubUK crew for a hand.

As the seasons change, I’m sure I won’t be the only one to fall victim to this beastly common cold. So, hopefully, this will be of help to my fellow freelancers and just anyone who is so busy that they literally have to schedule “get sick” into their frantic diaries.

Any tips I’ve missed or do you just want to chat? You’ll find me on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or you can reply to this email for a confidential chinwag.


📺 Disclosure Documentary (Netflix) - Fantastic and eye-opening documentary about trans-representation in Hollywood. There are some moments I had forgotten about and feel horrendous about now (such as Ace Ventura’s vomiting moment). Really recommend watching this one.

📚 Boy Parts by Eliza Clark - When I learned that there was a female American Psycho set in Newcastle, written by a fellow Geordie, I knew I had to read it. Not one for the lighthearted but worth a read if you enjoy those truly dislikable protagonists.

📚 Assembly by Natasha Brown - You can inhale this masterpiece in one sitting. Brown tells the tale of a British black woman who faces micro (and macro) aggressions at every corner.

📚 Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé - A YA tale set in a private school, Ace of Spaces is Gossip Girl meets Get Out. There are some dark themes here, but it’s a great read so highly recommend it if you like the sound of it.

That’s all from me this week - see you next week, where I am hopefully back to full strength,

Ellen x


Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

13 October: This girl is me

6 October: Everything is awful… or is it?

29 September: That’s dope

22 September: Have a word with yourself

15 September: Running changed my life

8 September: Okay, boomer

25 August: Bridezilla returns

18 August: Find your zen

10 August: The fear factor

3 August: You shall not pass

28 July: Recharging your mental battery