Having a Side Hustle with Endometriosis: The Life of a Chronic Illness Writer
One of the hardest things about having endometriosis is how it has affected my dreams and life goals. I have a burning desire in me to create something big and I want to make a real difference to the world with the thing I create. I've done this to a degree throughout the various stages of my life, but my desire is for this creation to be my bread and butter. I want to build something on my own terms, tailored around my illness.
You see, I don't really have a choice in the matter - I once wanted to run my first business, IDOL Magazine, forever and ever, but I hadn't yet been diagnosed. Feeling that I couldn't keep up with my business partner and the industry, I fell into a deep depression. I thought that I was weak and incapable, and so I left. I moved on to charity, which was my other big passion in life (I have always been torn between creativity and working with people/psychology) and intended on climbing the ladder and eventually breaking away to start my own social enterprise. After 5 - 6 years in the field, I also had to leave, because I could no longer cope with the demanding hours and emotional toll the work had on my already tired body and fragile mind. And because for me, I feel there is no other option - I don't even think if I wanted to give up on this dream I ever could - I've had to design yet another path to create this.
Enter: The side hustle. Once I left charity, I took a break to go and work in media, four days a week - and the other three days of my week? I hustle. I write for This EndoLife and SoulGraze, and I take pictures, create recipes, interview guests for the site and soon-to-be launched podcast, run the shop (poorly), try to set up the mentoring scheme (poorly), attempt to master social media, plan workshops and continue developing a large project I'm not allowed to talk about (yet!).
This side hustle, if it paid, would be a five day week job. But it doesn't pay, so I need to make money. I don't have the financial backing of wealthy parents and endometriosis isn't yet recognised as a disability, so trying to get any form of benefit support is challenging (though not impossible, for those of you out there who are considering it). I can tell you that having a side hustle, or at least this particular side hustle, with a 4 day a week job is, in short, exhausting, when you also have a chronic illness. But though I think it can be challenging for anyone, I don't think it has to as exhausting as I make it.
I know many entrepreneurs and side-hustlers and part-time students. Most don't have a chronic illness or endometriosis. Most can burn the mid night candle on a Wednesday, and go out on a Thursday for drinks. I admit - I am envious of those people. I can't go out after work to see friends, if I do, I feel it the next day and I struggle at work. And burning the mid-night candle? Hell, burning the evening tea-light is hard enough for me. I try to be in bed by 10pm most nights and when I'm not, that small loss of sleep results in low energy, negative thoughts, depression, anxiety and tears.
So yes, it's hard to see people whizz past me on the road to running your own thang. I want to tell the world "If I was well, I could do that too!" I feel panicked that I'll never get there, that I'll never be the young start-up social enterprise founder and writer I've always dreamed of being. But then I eventually manage to remind myself to stay at my own pace, that none of us are on the same road or aiming towards the same destination and that comparison is not just pointless, but unhelpful in this situation. I LOVE getting inspired by other people's journeys, and I often learn so much from their experiences that it helps my own, but being envious of other people's journey results in low confidence, fear and a lack on inspiration and motivation. In short, it paralyses you. Instead of moving forward with what you need to do, you end up focusing on what they're doing, and how much more you could do if you had that kind of energy.
Well, my friends, we don't have that kind of energy, and we have to be a little kinder to our bodies to get this team to work; but work it does. Admittedly, there are days when I really can't pull it together, I look longingly at the bath tub, or Harry Potter, or my boyfriend watching a movie in bed and I just desperately want to chill. Or sleep. For a really long time. Sometimes, because when I'm that brain fogged with endo I just can't write to save my life, I just give in to this yearning. I find it hard - I'm learning not to beat myself up about it, but it's a slow process. After all, there's no point in relaxing if the whole time you're just feeling resentful and angry at yourself - that's not good for the body either.
On top of the entrepreneurs etc I know, I also know a lot of women with endometriosis or other conditions, and they are too side hustling or their side hustle is now their full-time gig. And we all struggle from time to time. But we keep going. I am so in awe of these women and their strength and determination to not give up on their ambitions in life, they're just learning to accommodate their needs. So the point of this post is not to terrify you into not starting that project, but to show you it can be done, that it can be hard, but it's also very very rewarding. How do I know? Because I keep doing it. We keep doing it. We can't not. And, it is possible. Go check out these babes if you want some proof - The Endometriosis Coalition, The Uterus and The Duderus, Womanology, EndoSoak, The Endo Store, Skin and Tonic London and One Part Plant.
As I said earlier, I know you can have a side hustle with a chronic illness and not feel so exhausted. My personality and some hard-wired habits makes doing this more difficult for me, but I am aware of these things and I'm working on them. I'm hoping by talking about them, you can learn from my 'mistakes' and find a balance more quickly than I am. The next part of this post I will talk about the key lessons I've learnt from having a side hustle with endometriosis and how you can take my 'mistakes' and successes and make it work for you.