Self-care, self-employment, and Magical Minibreaks…

I sometimes find that working from home means I’m never quite “at home” and never quite “off work”. When in peak physical condition and feeling my absolute best, I really enjoy this situation and can be found bustling around the house, smashing through a to-do list like a champ and doing nice life maintenance tasks in and around work activities. But this year has been a little different; my hands are sore and my energy and mood are really low… I really don’t have the spoons to crack on with everything in the way I’d like to. Currently, when working, I can see all the housework that needs doing and, when houseworking, I feel bad because I can see the creative work I’m neglecting. I love what I do and am lucky beyond measure to be able to focus on KNITSONIK as my full-time vocation; I truly wouldn’t want to do anything else and am thrilled that this is where I get to focus my creative energy. However, for me the discussion about how wonderful it is to be self-employed and following our dreams etc. is sometimes mismatched with the realities of being self employed and disabled. Speaking for myself, there are some significant gaps in my knowledge regarding how to make self-employment include good and positive self-care. I feel like if I was employed by someone else, I would want them to make the workplace accessible for a disabled employee like me, and also to create a nurturing and positive environment to actively encourage my participation and confidence. However, as my own boss, I’m not sure I get this right all the time.

It feels scary and difficult to talk about this publically, but in thinking about how to make KNITSONIK LTD. a more nurturing and sustainable place to work, I have been really inspired by Jen Gotch – founder of ban.do – who is refreshingly honest about managing a massively successful company and her mental health. I also love Allison Sadler – who, together with her husband Christian Sadler – founded The People Shop. Allison Sadler really shows the highs and lows and freedoms of running your own business, but she never does it in a way that makes you forget she’s a person with a whole life outside of work. Her instagram makes me so hopeful, inspired and happy. I love the realness with which both Jen Gotch and Allison Sadler talk about self care and self-employment… and the inspiring and truthful ways in which they negotiate between what they need as human beings with what they need to do for work.

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Two years ago (left) I was sitting in a meeting at work trying to be a strong leader, while internalizing a great deal of pain and carrying the burden of emotion turmoil, years of stress on my brain and body, and a myriad of mental health issues that I was ignoring and discounting. My marriage was over, my life was drastically changing and I felt disconnected from my work, my friends, my family and myself. My body was a foreign object and my heart was packed up in a shoe box under a pile of old video tapes in the attic. And even with this intense disconnection to myself my body somehow managed to literally erupt in tears, right in the middle of a marketing meeting. Proof of life, I guess, and a blatant reminder of the work I desperately needed to do. Two years later (right) I am on the other side of so much pain. I have done the work to get here, moved through the pain instead of burying or circumventing it and skipped out on a shitload of McDonald’s French fries in order to feel healthier. My body looks different. My skin, my face, my extremely long hair 😜. And you’ve seen that. You’ve even noticed a change in my mental state and all of that recognition has fueled me. Tank you! Now I’m working on my spirit and it is the most empowering thing I have done and I’m incredibly grateful to have that opportunity. Today my body erupted in tears of joy and gratitude and I let it wash over me in the same way I let my pain do so long ago. That’s all. Just wanted to share and give hope and remind you that we all have the potential to change and grow at any age and any time. Have a good weekend.

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This is a woman who gives zero f*cks about what society says she should be doing and instead does exactly what she wants to be doing 99% of the time. I’ll give the meagre 1% to the food shopping. We gotta go to the supermarket to buy the gin right?… Everything in life is set up for us to follow a pattern. When you should work, when you should holiday, when you should buy a home, when you should start a family, when you should sleep… sheesh even what time you should wake up in the morning! Ffs! One formula does not suit everyone. And it sure has hell has never suited me. I swear I’m allergic to routine and the rat race of regular living. It makes me feel suffocated if I try to do it. So basically I don’t. I decided a long long time ago, actually .. it was never a decision I had to make .. to just let myself be and this was the outcome. So here I am, after a couple of weeks of hustling, back in my favourite place having another holiday… We all have the power to decide how we want to live, so take that 🖕🏽 society. You can put your rules and restraints in the bin. If you’ve fallen into the trap of following that ‘outdated’ formula it’s never too late to break free. Be brave my friends, you can do it x x x P. S this is also a woman who does not like to waste a drop of deliciously chilled rosé! 😆

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For work right now, I’m feeling like I need to be here at home all the time, cracking on with ten million projects… but for myself, I need to break up the scenery a little bit so it’s not all being at work but not being at home, all the time. I thought some of my reflections might resonate with fellow comrades who are also self-employed and managing long term chronic illnesses or disabilities. For me the main things to focus on right now are boundarying the time I spend on administration and fulfilment so that there is time to work on the creative side of my business; making sure I support my body and mind properly; doing what I can to not be in the house and therefore at work ALL THE TIME; and putting plans in place so that much-needed time off occurs. Thinking through things on here helps, even though I find it hard to write about this stuff and feel conditioned by toxic capitalist business culture to never show any weakness, any sense that I don’t know what I’m doing, or the slightest whiff of vulnerability. Nevertheless, I shall plough on.

Social media and having a phone with work stuff built into it are part of the problem. I have been putting some careful boundaries in place around my phone usage (I love you, OFFTIME app) but Magical Minibreaks and seeing people in real life and not only ONLINE are essential. I loved my break in the US so much. It made me realise how the always-at-work-never-at-home feeling can be shifted by a simple change of scene, even when what I am doing, while away, involves some work. Last week I went to North Devon – a destination I cannot recommend highly enough – for one such Magical Minibreak.

For the drive, I was accompanied by the amazing chapters of Jes Baker’s recently published book, Landwhale. This book is an essential companion to any mood of self care; in it, Jes talks about body image and body liberation in terms that are funny, moving, poignant and utterly real. It’s opened up an amazing space in my head for rethinking everything I thought I knew about diet culture and my body size and – just like its author – it’s beautiful, ranty and unapologetic. The miles of my drive disappeared into a haze of new insights about fatness and joy. Hurrah for Jes – if you are interested in her work, I recommend this TEDx Talk as a starting point.

First on my list of joyful things to do in Devon was a date with my friend Nic and The Ocean. Is there anything nicer than swimming in the sea? We bobbed around in the water off Minehead, which was about the temperature of a tepid bath, for an hour or so. Then we had chips, which tasted amazing because swimming makes everything extra delicious.

I’m an enthusiastic but unskilled swimmer and I have a lot of fun in the sea, but not too much confidence. I found that a pair of prescription goggles were game-changing for me. From leaving the car in my bathing suit to jumping into the water, I could see everything. This was enormously empowering and if you are a short-sighted swimmer I feel these will change your life. It’s just so nice to be able to properly see your surroundings and I love how the water supports my sore body and how easy it is to move while in it. Regular swimming sessions must be established. And I have to give a shout out to my fellow disabled business owner, Kate Davies, for giving me the prompt I needed in this direction with her amazing account of swimming in the lochs where she lives.

Hurrah for swimming!

Next, there were stones I wanted to see.

My number one activity for filling the creative well is taking close-cropped photos on my SLR camera, using a prime lens, of things like lichen, flowers, bricks… I was so happy to play on Porlock beach with Nic, Russell and Maisie the dog, filling up an SD card with rocks…

The next day included a mill tour with John Arbon and my friends Anna and Adam. I’m currently knitting with John Arbon’s Knit by Numbers range (more of which in a future post) and am in love with the chromatic possibilities that it presents.

Each Knit By Numbers colour range is made by blending a Falklands merino base that is dyed a very saturated shade, with successive proportions of white merino fibres. This is what enables a mathematically precise gradient to be achieved through each different hue. This kind of gradient is magical for exploring values and patterns in stranded colourwork and I’m enjoying a new direction of thought for my knitting… KNITSONIK By Numbers, if you will. I always love to have more connection with where my yarns come from, and it was superb to meet all the machines in the mill (they all have wonderful names) and to hear John talking about the processes of combing and blending through which different yarns are produced. I recorded all the sounds for future KNITSONIK purposes and thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiasm and joy with which John told us how yarns are made in his mill.

After the tour, social fun was had at a legendary local pub – The Rising Sun. The night ended with a delicious pie (thank you Juliet) and some old records from John’s incredible vinyl collection. A pot of tea primed me for the road home, on which I was again accompanied by the amazing words of Jes Baker.

It was so good to get away… and good to return home, too. I’m learning that rest, research and development trips are vital. While my business is home-based, I think more Magical Minibreaks like the North Devon adventure are needed; I felt like I did do some good work while I was away, but it was a really nice change from the home office and paced with joyful things like swimming and talking in real life to friends.

Magical Minibreaks are one way to make sure that working from home all the time doesn’t send me into a spiral of mess-induced depression; daily walks are another vital element to the working day. While I have this much going on with my health – monthly blood tests, regular doctor appointments, vitamins regimes, weekly and fortnightly injections, medication side-effect management and other time-consuming health admin – I find I need fun things to make the work easier. Nice stationery helps (hello washi-tape) and I am very much drawn to both bullet journalling (which lets me include both self care and self employment tasks into my scheduling) and the colour pink.

If you’ve made it this far, well done and thanks for reading. I’m interested to hear from other folks who are self-employed and disabled, and who work from home: how do you balance self-care with self-employment and how’s it working out for you? I’d be really interested to hear… I don’t know if it was listening to Jes Baker, drinking in the fresh sea air, the bright colours of Porlock beach, the superb company or the glorious tones of Knit By Numbers, but I’m feeling totally done with my own internalised ableism and the toxic capitalist culture that says that when we are talking about running our businesses, we should only talk about our bulletproof success. I’m here for the ways in which we can lift each other up, make businesses that really support our disabled bodies, and change the culture into one that celebrates interdependence and humanity.

FOR NOW, FEELING LUCKY AND JOYOUS,
YOURS IN STONES, FRIENDSHIPS, SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN AND KNIT BY NUMBERS,
FX

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6 Responses to Self-care, self-employment, and Magical Minibreaks…

  1. Beverley Dott says:

    Great article Felix and one which will resonate with a lot of people. Everything sounds very familiar. I have tremendous guilt for giving up on a 16 year career seven years ago. A decision I didn’t take lightly and from a financial perspective it was a disaster since I was the main breadwinner. That leads me on to more guilt. Guilt that our two kids don’t get everything they might want. They definitely get everything They need but I sure would like to be able to really spoil them once in a while. Add to that a progressive health condition (with possibly another one on the horizon) and you have a perfect recipe for all sorts of problems. However, one of things that keeps me going is the knowledge that I am not alone. I have truly made a huge effort this year and I’m looking forward to launching my first “proper” patterns. I’m no diva and I’m definitely not expecting to become a millionaire… (Well not overnight anyway ) but it would just be nice to feel like I am a worthwhile human being again. Somebody able to contribute to the household bills once again but also the big wide world.of business.

  2. Maggie says:

    Thanks for your honesty. I’m currently self employed, which I’m trying to balance with parenthood, whilst also managing my anxiety and depression and some not great side effects from the medication I’m currently on. I have good days and bad days, and I’m working on not feeling guilty about the bad ones. Years of being employed have made me feel it’s better to go in to the office and try and work no matter what: what will the team think of me if I don’t? But I’m increasingly realising that when those days come along I am best off doing what I feel like, which is hiding at home and resting until they pass. I’m also trying to learn to let myself rest – my symptoms are so much worse when I’m tired. It’s hard, but I wouldn’t change things. Having this flexibility is something I need to embrace and use to my advantage. I just have to learn to ignore my preconceived ideas of what I ‘should’ be doing.

  3. Nora says:

    Thanks for this..as a self-employed person (and a “mature” student), this balance is so hard. I’ve learned the hard way to take the breaks, get out of the house, and work in new places that give me joy. Hence I try to spend part of Thursday’s working in a covered museum courtyard wit the most amazing natural light and a water feature. Getting out for my walks, better yet starting the day with one is a huge part of my self-care as well.
    Thanks for being the inspiration you are.

  4. Louise says:

    Thought provoking post, thank you.

  5. Meredith MC says:

    Your lovely post has me again mulling over the insane, freaking guilt I feel when contemplating a day off. Why is t that if I have a rough day or an illness I am wracked with guilt about the things I couldn’t accomplish? Obviously this mindset makes it almost impossible to take time from work if I’m not literally unable to do it, adding to the stress and setting me up for illness. I’ve tackled this problem by reminding myself that I definitely give others a break, and I deserve one too; Taking time off occasionally, despite the protest my thoughts give; And trying very hard to be as kind to myself as I am to others. I’ve been practicing for several years now, and the guilt still comes.
    Is this built into the foundations of our culture? I notice that my husband doesn’t share the guilt, so maybe it’s part of being a woman in our society. In any case, I’m quite ready to be over it. I’m going to borrow your Magical Minibreak idea, and plan little lovely experiences for myself before I’m completely overwhelmed and ill with stress.
    Thank you as always for your thoughtful and courageous posts, and of course for the inspiration.

  6. Nancy Johnston says:

    When I lived in Colorado, USA, there were mineral hot springs nearby. What an absolute joy for body, mind, and spirit. Perhaps you and Mark or you and other friends might find a natural mineral hot springs trip worthy.

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