That cottonball is not going anywhere.

I guess there comes a time in freelancer’s life when your body – after months of nonstop work, school and travel – simply gives up and crashes. Mine was coming on for a while, but the worst day was this past Saturday, which I spent mostly in the emergency room, hooked up to IVs, getting shots and chest x-rays.

It’s hard to say when this started, except maybe last September – I went to Malaysia, thought I was getting a cold, never really got sick, and as soon as I landed back in Jordan, developed a horrible cough that has never gone away. It’s gotten a little better at times, but I’ve been having breathing problems for six months now. Then, two weeks ago when I went to Germany for school, I got the flu. I missed an afternoon of classes and a night of sleep, but managed to power through the week, until I got back to Jordan, where again, as soon as I landed, the nasty cough came back and turned into a lung infection. After a few visits to a clinic for antibiotic and steroid shots and various cough syrups, I kept getting worse, which is how I ended up in the hospital and prescribed with the biggest antibiotic pills I have ever seen. I wish I had a picture of myself sobbing in the ER with the nebuliser and IV tubes – mainly so I could put it on my fridge and remind myself not to let this happen again.

Incidentally, my birthday was six days ago, and I then thought I was getting over this flu and had intended to sit down and write a “well that was close, I guess I need to take better care of myself” post, until things got much worse and knocked me down for the count.

Today was the first day I could get out of bed – I dragged myself to the corner store and that was overexerting myself. For about the last seven days I’ve been pretty much confined to bed – just walking to the kitchen was agony. I think I’ll still have to stay home from work tomorrow, mostly because apparently when you do nothing but cough for 10 days straight, you lose important things like bladder control.

So on Saturday on the way to the hospital I found myself reluctantly cancelling or postponing shoots, feeling too terrified to even check my inbox, for fear of hateful emails from clients declaring me unprofessional, telling me they’d never work with me again. And I don’t really know why. I don’t know if this is a condition of being American or of the freelance economy where sick days are never a good enough excuse – but I’m done. I’m done because my body won’t let me carry on like this any further. And what for? Working 60+ hours a week just to earn something approaching a middle class income?

Right now I intend to finish up my contract over the next month, probably request an extension on a term paper, not take on any more freelance projects for March (unless it’s editing a report or something I can do in my pajamas) and then that’s sort of it for a while. I don’t think I’m going to look for any more office/full-time jobs in Jordan. I will just freelance and apply for more consultancies, but I’m done trying to juggle this much work.

More disturbing is the fact that the longer I’m in Jordan, the less healthy I seem to be. I used to get sick with a cold for 2-3 days once a year and then be on my way. When I get sick now, I stay sick for months. I have migraines several days a week. I can’t breathe outdoors. Just commuting 15 minutes to an office becomes hugely stressful. And then my work is stressful. I don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I can’t very well just leave. But I’m also contemplating a more extended stay in the US this year. Or checking myself into a yoga retreat somewhere with good air quality.

I don’t know what the answer is and it’s hard to change anything overnight. I saw a headline (to an article I didn’t actually read) that said something about the need to stop thinking about freelancing as a “hustle” and instead as a career. That, for now, I think means setting some actual limits for myself. No overtime. No overbooking myself. No heavy shit after banking hours. And hopefully building my strength back up, which means eating some decent food, getting some sunlight (even if I have to wear a surgical mask to be able to breathe) – it’s going to take a little while. In the meantime, I guess I have my handy bullet journal to keep track of my habits.

Take care of yourselves, everyone. You only get one body.