Freelance Editing: A Lifeboat for Those Living with Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 1

by Natalia Iwanek

Lifeboat by InstagramFOTOGRAFIN from Pixabay
Image by InstagramFOTOGRAFIN from Pixabay

Call it a sixth sense or intuition but sometimes the human body is capable of warning us of impending danger. Although strange symptoms had plagued me for years, I simply attributed them to overwork or stress and continued with my regular routine. Unfortunately, January 25, 2017, was the start of my life-altering journey.

I woke up experiencing an unusually severe stiffness in my lower back. As the day progressed, I felt a sharp snap in my spine. The pain took my breath away. Subconsciously, I knew that something had changed deep within my body and that this was no ordinary injury. Thus began years of physiotherapy, acupuncture, hospital visits, and perplexed doctors who could not understand why my spine refused to heal.

I developed increasingly concerning symptoms, such as debilitating exhaustion, memory problems, and severe allergic reactions, but doctors assured me that this was normal for those with chronic pain.  Meanwhile, I rapidly lost weight and grew weaker daily.

The time had come to revaluate my future plans. I needed to finish my education and choose a flexible career path. What better career than editing for someone who reads voraciously and has a strong grasp of grammar?

Between appointments, work, and excruciating pain, I enrolled in Simon Fraser University’s Editing Certificate program, and returned to Athabasca University to finish the remaining credits of my degree. Both programs are highly recommended for those who require a flexible, non-traditional route for their education.

Online education was a wise choice as my condition took a turn for the worse. In October 2018, I was hospitalized; by January, I was unable to walk and developed neurological symptoms.

I cannot begin to describe the sheer terror of losing control of my thought process. My physical body failing me was extremely difficult to accept, but now the illness was beginning to take all that was left—my mind.

Over the months, I slowly recovered. I will never forget the day I walked down a flight of stairs without assistance. I no longer needed a chaperone to leave the house, a great achievement for a formerly independent person. Most importantly, I could retain and comprehend information. Doctors still can’t offer a final diagnosis of what nearly destroyed me. Even now, though my mind is clear, my joints and nerves have not recovered.

To someone with health struggles like mine, freelance editing offers the chance of a fulfilling career. In a traditional arrangement, an editor may initially feel supported by her employer, but by the fifth MRI appointment, or weekly flare up, even the most talented editor can experience job loss.

Editing was my only reprieve during the three months I spent bedridden. Although editors gravitate toward this career for various reasons, some of us choose this career because we know that language and the written word have the power to change lives, including our own.

Editing a document that has been lovingly crafted and reveals the inner workings of another individual’s mind is an incredible experience. Every time I edit a document, whether a short story or a CV, I feel grateful for the opportunity to help others achieve their goals.

I have been hesitant to tell my story because the world can be unforgiving, and ableism and discrimination—despite  social advances—still exist in the workplace. In our society, a person’s worth is, to a great extent, still based on their productivity. In the end, I relied on the power of language to guide me. Words are tied to our identity and self-worth; we must give voice to our stories, as they connect us to the world around us. Representation and visibility are just some of the ways that we can move forward as a society.

This past August, I graduated from the Editing program with exemplary marks. The ability to work remotely has given me back my freedom, and with it, a chance at a life. I have never missed a deadline or disappointed a client; I simply work around my specific needs. For example, I struggle during the day, but am often wide awake in the early evening. I simply work through the night if I have an early deadline. Freelance editing has also given me financial security in a country where, despite our free health care system, chronic illness can be financially devastating.

The editing community is incredibly diverse. I hope that by highlighting our varied experiences through interviews with two other editors, I will inspire editors to see how life-changing this career can be.

To be continued…

(Click here to read Part 2.)


Natalia Iwanek is a Toronto-based editor and writer. She specializes in article and blog writing, copy editing, and proofreading.

This article was copy edited by Summer Cowley.

4 thoughts on “Freelance Editing: A Lifeboat for Those Living with Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 1

  1. I am actually in tears as I read through your post. I know how it feels because I have been there. I do not have an illness like yours but I have seizures every now and again and I know the feeling of losing control of your body and your mind process. It’s hard, but the fact that I see people like you fighting through gives me that push to go further- because of the inspiration that you share in your story.

    we do not let our weaknesses break us- but to take us a notch higher because we know that there is that someone in there who wants to fight further.

    In my hope to continue fighting, I have found and I simply hope this platform could provide as much support for those who have so much to offer as freelancers, even as they fight through the hardest of their lives.

    thanks again, and know that you are not alone in this journey.
    hats off to you- from the Philippines.

    Keep fighting and inspiring others in your journey.


    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I apprecate them so much. Wishing you all the best on your journey as well.
      – Natalia


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