“In 2011, I was forced to quit my job due to chronic illness. This is my story of how I coped with losing a job I loved and creating a new career working from home. Doing so gave me the means to work my way back to good health. Today I’m enjoying a satisfying work/life balance and am healthier than I’ve been in years.
Let’s jump back to 2011 when my old life ended and my new life began…
My job as an environmental researcher was wonderful. I had spent seven years working outdoors and in the laboratory doing research on aquatic weeds. I loved it, but my body didn’t. I had chronic back pain and pain in my feet. It was such a struggle walking up and down river banks and wading into the water.
Although I had reduced to part-time hours, working mornings only, I was constantly exhausted and in pain.
The stress of pushing myself through pain every day was taking its toll. I developed severe auto-immune hives — huge itchy lumps all over my body. I was surviving by taking loads of antihistamines and going to acupuncture, massage, physio, osteopaths, chiropractors.
All of the above was costing me a fortune just to barely function. I had to go on a very restrictive diet too. You name it, I tried it. Treatments would give me relief for a few days, but nothing lasted. None of the practitioners or doctors had any idea why I just never got better.
In the end, the job got the better of me and I knew I couldn’t deal with the fatigue any more. I quit, and my work from home journey began.
Working From Home Gave Me Time to Get Better
Once I was working from home, I had more time to research my health conditions and find answers. Eventually, in 2012, I happened to come across a book on fibromyalgia. Everything finally seemed to make sense. I had something to work with. I changed my diet again, started doing yoga and slowly began to make progress.
(Actually, it wasn’t the correct diagnosis — that only came in 2019 at the ripe old age of 56 after a lifetime of strange random symptoms no one could explain.)
Meanwhile a new symptom had raised its ugly head. Attacks of dizziness, which turned out to be POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) after a battery of unpleasant tests.
The final piece of the puzzle was only put into place when I flew up to Australia’s Gold Coast to see a doctor who knew about fibromyalgia, POTS and chronic fatigue. It was he who let me know I didn’t have fibromyalgia and that my POTS and other symptoms were caused by hypermobility (Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic condition).
He let me know that many of the things that I had been doing instinctively to help myself — low carb diet, yoga, pilates, acupuncture, walking, swimming, meditation — were precisely what I should be doing and hence I was in better shape than most people he knew with these conditions.
Fortunately, because I had given up my job, I had time to do all these things to look after myself and gradually work my way back to health. It also allowed me to lower my stress levels, which I believe was the most important factor. Now, coming up to my 60th birthday, I’m fitter and healthier than I have ever been.
What I Did for Work When Forced to Leave My Job
I had known for a while that I was going to have to leave my research job. I knew my body wouldn’t stand it much longer so I had started looking around for hobbies that make money and that I could do from home.
It was the heyday of eBay. I had been buying and selling vintage stuff and antiques for a few years already as a hobby. I’d built up quite a collection of Bakelite jewelry that I could sell. It wasn’t going to be enough to live on, but it was a start.
I began researching online businesses and websites and was lucky enough to come across a website about Art Deco, which I love. The website had been built on a platform called Solo Build It! (or SBI!), and the rest is history.
SBI! turned out to be my savior. It was a web hosting company in Canada, and so much more. I knew nothing about websites, and they taught me everything I needed to know.
My Content Websites and Freelancing
My first website — Decolish.com — was born. That site developed into a content-based blog about everything from the 1920s and 1930s. I adored working on it. It gave me a sense of purpose and allowed me to immerse myself in something I loved. I even traveled to New Zealand to attend the Art Deco Festival in Napier, which was enormous fun.
I continued selling on the auction site, and also became an affiliate marketer. Later I built my own online store on Shopify. Learn more about how I built my sites in the video below.
The wonderful thing about working from home was that I could work lying on the sofa if I wanted and I could stop and exercise or relax any time I liked. I loved the real-life auctions and garage sales I went to at the weekends to buy stuff to sell.
However, my house was beginning to look like an Amazon warehouse and I was getting tired of packing parcels, so I began to concentrate on more passive forms of income, such as affiliate marketing.
During those years, I did some freelance work helping other people with their online businesses and writing content. I even did some travel writing about Bali, as I’d been able to go there frequently once I’d quit my job.
At that point, I made the mistake of starting another website, and then a third and spreading myself far too thin.
I was getting tired and pushing myself too much again. I sold the second website, but it was the third one which, in the end, was the one that gave me the traffic and the passive income I really needed so I could stop doing so much freelance work for other people.
My most successful website came about after my father died and my mother started writing about grief. She had been a nurse for 45 years, so she knew a lot about helping others after a loss. When I saw what she’d written I just knew I had to put it on a website.
GriefandSympathy.com was born. Now it has well over 300 pages and helps over a million readers every year.
Never would we have achieved such an amazing result if I hadn’t had to give up my day job due to ill health. Not only have my Mum and I had the enormous satisfaction of being able to help so many people, but the website has given me a more passive income and thereby a lot more freedom.
A Built-in Retirement Income
Our grief website is now ten years old and I’m semi-retired. The website has allowed me to take time off to care for my partner who died of cancer, to travel, and to live where I like.
Recently I sold my house, set off in my campervan and traveled 3000 kms north to the warmth of the tropics. When I got here to Far North Queensland, I fell in love with the place and have now settled here.
These days I only work a few hours a week, when I feel like it, and I have a passive income, which has set me up for retirement.
Surprising Benefits of Chronic Illness
Having a chronic illness makes you concentrate on self-care simply to function at first. But gradually you realize just how important it is for your physical and mental well-being to make time to look after yourself.
These days most people spend their whole lives in a state of constant stress, which is so bad for them, and probably the main cause of all our sicknesses in the first place. As a perfectionist, it took me a long, long time to work out the secret of a good work/life balance.
It’s only as we peel away the layers of stress that we realize how much pressure we (or life) had put upon ourselves.
Since I was forced to give up my day job, I love having the freedom to:
- Get up when I please in the morning
- Eat when I want
- Work when I want
- Exercise when I want
- Rest when I want
- Travel for longer than a couple of weeks
- Be creative
- Be my own boss
I feel incredibly lucky that I found a way to create a content-based online business. I would have gone crazy if I had not been able to work on something that challenged me and stretched my mind.
Working on my websites allowed me to continue contributing to society and to feel useful. They gave me a connection to other people, which is so important when you’re stuck at home with an invisible illness. They were essential for maintaining my mental health as I worked on regaining my physical well-being.
I now truly believe that my ill-health was a gift that has allowed me to achieve a quality of life and a well-being I don’t think I would have otherwise had.