Despite putting on a brave face about it, and knowing in my heart that leaving behind my career in the games industry to focus on my health was absolutely the right move for me, admitting that I'm too ill for traditional employment has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
A lot of well-meaning people express envy over my ability to spend the day in my pajamas and binge Netflix. On the surface, this does sound admittedly great -- for about the first two weeks. When you're someone who's used to being the smartest kid in her class, or the standout employee; when you're the person who technically started working before they were even old enough to do so legally, selling crafts and original fashion designs or picking up odd jobs here and there; and most of all, when you live in a society that emphasizes how much you can produce over everything else, the switch from doing something to doing nothing destroys your self-esteem and feeling of worth.
As unhealthy and irrational as the belief that a person's worth is linked solely to their productivity may be, I still felt like a burden to Ben because he was now the sole breadwinner. I kicked my perfectionism into overdrive, trying to compensate for not working by throwing myself into home improvement and cooking projects that would make Martha Stewart feel inadequate. I would have panic attacks every morning that I slept past 9 a.m., chastising myself for being a lazy, useless lump while not even stopping to accept that the reason I was so exhausted was because I was having a flare-up. I got so used to being sick without having any of the answers that now, despite finally having them, I still forget that yes, I am really chronically ill. I got so used to hearing people tell me I was clearly just faking it to get out of work, or that I was trying to get attention, or that I "looked fine" that I started internalizing it and believing it myself, even if it was wrong.
Before I left my career I had inquired about remote work opportunities, even if I would only work from home on the days where I was really too ill to make it into the office. I was told that those opportunities did not exist. And so my hand was somewhat forced into making my ultimate decision to stop working, because at the rate I was going, my already weakened body --and mind, thanks to the associated brain fog and depression -- did not have a bright future ahead of it. I got into streaming to try and keep my mind active, and while that helped a little bit, it's certainly not a steady source of income that would allow me to feel like a member of society again.
So I sat on my couch, feeling terrible physically and mentally, until I couldn't take it anymore. I made an offhand tweet about being available for freelance writing projects, since writing is something I've been doing for most of my life and is possibly my strongest passion, expecting absolutely nothing to come out of it.
Thing is, I'd spent so much time using social media as my sole connection to the outside world while unwell that I've ended up connecting with a lot of people. Within an hour, a longtime follower and friend, Michael, had contacted me with an offer for a role as a writer and consultant for the startup he co-founded. The best part? It was a remote position.
Remote positions I can do. Remote positions don't care if I've been able to grip a hairbrush enough to make myself presentable, or if I'm laying on the couch to work from a mobile device, or if I need to do an hour of work, take a break, and then do another hour. I have a prioritized list of tasks that need to be done. I can set my own schedule, saving the work for days when I'm healthy enough to crank it out, and not feeling guilty for the days that I'm not. Working with a team of like-minded people who understand and accept and don't consider me any less of a coworker just because some days I forget how a doorknob works has restored my humanity and given me a real drive to get out of bed and do my best, even if my best is simply existing for another day.
I am constantly baffled by the vast number of companies out there who don't seem to think it's important to offer even just a few remote positions. Office space is always at a premium, especially for growing companies. Sometimes it's not feasible to find additional property to build on, and for small companies, having to pay a lease can really cut into profits and make it more difficult to succeed in the long-term. Having remote employees can also mean that's so many workstations you don't have to pay to set up if a requirement of the job is having even a mid-range PC that can connect to the internet and send email, which so many of us have these days. Eliminating as much overhead as possible is a godsend when you're trying to get started with a business, but it's also not exactly a bad concept for a major, established company -- who out there is really going to turn their nose up at getting to keep more money within the business? I don't think there is such as thing as "rich enough" to turn down a situation where you lower your costs without negatively affecting your current income.
There is a huge potential workforce in people like me. We're sick, and we can function enough to do something, but maybe not well enough to make it into an office every day. I'm friends with lots of stay-at-home moms who are perfectly capable of doing something from their living room, at the very least while the kids are at school or after they've tucked them into bed, if only those positions existed. Housing shortages are becoming a reality in places like Orange County, where I currently reside; the market for single-family homes here is extremely competitive despite restrictive HOAs, Mello-Roos, and sky-high property prices, simply because there are so many tech companies here. The same can be seen in other areas, probably most famously Silicon Valley, whose mortgages and monthly rents make Orange County's look like pocket change. Imagine a world where people aren't limited by what they can afford to pay for housing or how much they're willing to sacrifice their standard of living, where they can work for the company of their dreams while still being close to family and friends, where the length of the commute doesn't matter because all you have to do to make it to work is walk into your living room and turn on your computer.
Offering remote positions not only benefits businesses, but boosts the net social gain at an unbelievable rate. I cannot tell you how much my state of mind and my energy levels have raised in the short time since I was brought onto the team as a remote employee. I'm damn happy to go to work, to devote the time and energy I have to something again and feel like I am contributing. I have money in my account to go out with friends, to buy new clothes that make me feel better about myself, to donate to charities to continue that cycle of improving the world and giving others opportunities they might not have otherwise had. And yet I'm still able to focus on my home life and my personal care, the two most important things in my life; it's great to be able to write a press release in the morning and be able to still cook a healthy, delicious dinner for Ben and I that evening without being rushed or exhausted.
"But what about security concerns?" I've heard before. If a business takes the time to develop good security policies -- complex password requirements, changing those passwords every so often, reliable firewall or antivirus/antimalware protection, teaching employees best practices for security -- it shouldn't take much more effort to extend those to remote workers, too. Things like only whitelisting certain IPs to connect to company networks or mandating that certain tasks must be performed on a hardline instead of a wireless connection can help, too. There is a misconception that major companies rarely, if ever, experience leaks or security breaches on-site; if this were true, there would be no pressing need for a Red Team on their staff. In fact, as someone who's done plenty of shady things on the internet in her time, I can honestly tell you that the number one weakest link in any organization is not hardware or software, it's the people. Social engineers don't care if you're at home or sitting in a high-rise office building. Something as minor as a publicly accessible company directory can be all that's required to illicitly obtain information or convince someone to bypass security software to install a piece of malware on a company system. It already happens every day to on-site employees at big, sophisticated companies across the world on at least a small scale.
If you're looking for a remote position that isn't just a thinly-disguised multi-level marketing scheme or other type of scam, check out We Work Remotely for job postings that are updated all the time. In the meantime, start tightening up your skills and putting yourself out there -- connect with people on social media, make sure your online resume or LinkedIn profiles are up to date, and join in on conversations. Networking is key no matter what position you're going for, or where your home base will actually be located.
We live in a time where technology has made cloud services and tools for remote collaboration inexpensive and easily accessible. I'm hopeful that as time goes on, remote positions will eventually become something that's no longer considered "cutting edge" and will instead be part of the status quo. In the meantime, I'm thankful for all of the businesses who have opened their eyes to see the undeniable perks of welcoming remote team members into the fold.