I know, the connection isn’t immediately obvious, so allow me to explain.
The label ‘chronic illness’ covers a multitude of illnesses, it means a condition which is prolonged, doesn’t resolve spontaneously and is rarely completely ‘cured’. Diabetes, arthritis, COPD, MS, ME and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are all classed as chronic illnesses.
Chronic illness is on currently on the rise. If nothing changes, Diabetes UK stats suggest that 5 million Britons will have diabetes by 2025. In 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over displayed symptoms of anxiety or depression - a 1.5% increase from 2013.
Interestingly, new research has found that women suffer significantly higher levels of work-related stress than men, leading to an increased risk of anxiety and depression. Dr Judith Mohring, a psychiatrist at Priory’s Wellbeing Centre, pointed to workplace sexism, lack of support, and the difficulty of balancing work and family life as major factors in women’s increased workplace stress.
Here’s another statistic: self-employment in the UK increased from 3.8 million in 2008 to 4.6 million in 2015. Very few people report a negative reason for becoming self-employed - for many, they’re seeking flexibility, part-time work that their current workplace can’t (or won’t) accommodate or want to pursue a dream or a passion.
But for others, being self-employed is an essential coping strategy, vital for their health, their sanity and their general well-being. For my daughter Mary, and others like her who suffer from a chronic illness, self-preservation has to take priority, and their approach to work has to be more - well, creative.
Mary lives with ME, and therefore her days follow an unpredictable pattern. She rests when she needs to and gets up mid-afternoon at the earliest. At university when she has a morning lecture, she attends, heads back to bed to sleep, and attends again in the afternoon. For fellow ME sufferers, this will sound familiar - the day simply has to be organised around rest and sleep in order to avoid exhaustion and burnout.
Throughout all of the illness and worry for her future, Mary’s artistic talent has been her salvation. It has created a sense of purpose, and gives her that feeling of accomplishment no matter what time of day or night she paints. But what of her independence and earning a living? Even if she finds an understanding employer who can deal with her irregular schedule, dips in her health and unavoidable absences, the thought that you’re letting people down - however ridiculous that feeling is when you’re struggling with a very real health condition - is unnecessarily stressful. It’s early days, but Mary is looking forward to her adult employment prospects.Being self-employed and running her own business seems like a good fit.
We have a long way to go in terms of awareness and the understanding of chronic illness. It is more common than many realise and yet much of society feels afraid or discouraged to speak up about their own ailments. We live in a society which is still, despite technological advancements that make time zone sand geographical distance a minor inconvenience, obsessed with ‘the 9-5’. We still pride ourselves on our stiff upper lip, and not over-sharing - we’re British, after all. Things are changing, but in my experience far too slowly, and some businesses definitely need to be challenged more on their lack of flexibility in the 21st century.
However, for the time present, many sufferers of chronic illness find the flexibility and job satisfaction they need by setting up their own business or brand. They start out small in their local area. You’ll find them in market towns and rural communities. Have a look on your high street. Take the time to listen to a small business owner’s back story. You’ll be surprised at how often you hear them quoting ‘health’ or ‘sanity’ as the reason they do what they do. Time and time again, ‘less stress’, ‘a shorter commute’ and ‘more pleasurable and productive work’ are code for ‘I do this for my health’.
Suffering with a chronic illness makes finding fulfilling work challenging, but it’s certainly not impossible. Want to find out more? I highly recommend the advice given HERE for help dealing with chronic illnesses, and listening to podcasts by Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington (who I work with personally) which have inspired us immensely - both women have created their own successful businesses while dealing with many of the debilitating symptoms Mary suffers from.
And the next time you go online or head out onto the high street searching for independent brands, do so safe in the knowledge that you could well be helping someone who finds working within the confines of 9-5 impossible. Yet another reason to #shopsmall.