As a disabled person, working from bed makes it possible for me to have a job.
I’m lying in bed with my laptop on my bed desk, taking a break from my freelance journalism work, scrolling on Twitter, and something makes me stop in my tracks.
I click the link, already feeling my blood pressure rising as I read the headline: Why Working from Bed Isn’t Good for You.
The article, the latest in a long line that I’ve seen all lockdown, goes on to insinuate that, by working from your bed, you’re not going to reach your full potential — because you can’t work productively when you’re lying down.
Inevitably, articles like this always have a comment section or Twitter replies full of readers calling people who work from bed “lazy.”
Articles and posts that tell you not to work from bed miss out on a very important voice: disabled people for whom working from bed opens up a world of opportunity and makes it possible to work at all.
I work from home as a freelance journalist and writer because, as a disabled woman, a full-time office-based job isn’t an option for me. Trust me, I tried to work in those environments for years, but my chronic fatigue and ability to catch every bug made it nearly impossible.
I applied for full-time journalism jobs, too, but every employer told me it was essential that I work from the office. So, I took control of my own story, and I carved out a successful career as a freelancer.
You can imagine my frustration when it suddenly became the norm for everyone to work from home during the pandemic. The companies that told me for years that it was impossible were now boasting about how accommodating they were.
Once I got past my annoyance that it was actually quite easy to make working from home a possibility, I realized the upside. I was now at a more level playing field with my peers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, disabled people are almost twice as likely to be self-employed than nondisabled people.
In the UK, disabled people are 28.6 percent less likely to be employed than non-disabled people, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Remote work is something that could significantly narrow the disability wage gap.
As a disabled freelance writer, working from my bed makes it possible for me to work at all.
However, societal expectations around what really makes people productive, or what constitutes “actually” working, gave me a lot of negative feelings about working from home.
This internalized ableism made me feel like I had to work at a desk, because working from bed was lazy and meant I was just lying in bed all day.
I ignored the pain this caused in my body: my hips, legs, and pelvis were on fire, and I was exhausted from fatigue and barely able to do anything else in the house. I ignored that the sunlight near my desk was making my lupus worse and bringing on migraine attacks.
I would struggle through one whole day of work, putting my body through this extreme stress and wind up out of action for the rest of the week.
Having to stay in bed or rest for 4 out of 5 working days made me feel even more useless, which, in turn, made me push myself even harder the next week.
Looking back, I can’t believe I put myself through this pain to try and be “normal,” when the only person I was affecting was myself.
It was only when I made the jump to being a full-time freelance writer that I realized this wasn’t sustainable. Not only was I not bringing in enough work, but I was making my illnesses worse — the opposite of the reason I chose my career in the first place.
It was a coincidence that this came at a time when my community was grieving, but it’s no secret that disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. According to ONS, nearly six out of every 10 people in England who died of COVID-19 in 2020 were disabled.
This meant that I had to speak out more than ever to try and stop my community from being decimated in any way that I could.
I couldn’t do this if I was pushing myself too hard to conform to a certain way of working, so I had to cut myself some slack. A dear friend reminded me “the world needs rested activists,” and this also included making my work space an environment that didn’t exhaust me.
Now, I still work at my desk if I feel well enough, but, most of the time, I balance my workday between my living room sofa and my bed.
My greatest purchase was a bamboo adjustable bed desk, which allows me to work from my bed without the weight of my laptop resting on my hips, legs, and pelvis.
This means I can not only be comfortable, but that I also don’t have to cut my working week short from working too hard one day.
I realized that, as a disabled writer who works to highlight disability rights issues, I had to also look after myself. To do that, I’ve had to release the feelings of shame and guilt that I wasn’t doing enough.
It took a mind shift and a lot of reassurance from those close to me. I wasn’t being lazy. I was working in a way that was best for me and made my life easier.
One piece of advice I’d give others experiencing the same feelings is that, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that old work structures aren’t sustainable. You shouldn’t sacrifice your health for your job.
The world needs you to be rested.
There will always be debates over which is the best or most productive way to work, but, truly, the best way is the one that works the most for you.
Rachel Charlton-Dailey is a freelance journalist and writer who specializes in health and disability. Her bylines include HuffPost, Metro UK, and The Independent. She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Unwritten, a publication for disabled people to tell their stories. In her spare time she can be found (slowly) chasing her dachshund Rusty around the Northeast English coast.