Anxiety, Depression, and Freelancing

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Originally published July 12th, 2018

When I quit my job in marketing to become a full-time freelance writer, I was fully aware of both the challenges and benefits that were ahead of me. I’d have to learn how to file my own taxes, get used to working totally independently, and begin to fight for gigs in an incredibly competitive market. However, I’d also get to work from home on my own schedule, and fully use the creative talents that I knew were hiding somewhere within this brain of mine. Most importantly, I’d finally be living my dream of being a full-time writer. I still feel incredibly lucky to be able to make a living doing the thing I love the most!

However, there was one area in which now, with hindsight, I can see I was a little bit naive. I thought that as soon as I began living that freelance life, all of the work-related depression and anxiety issues I’d been having would melt away. I thought that freelancing would be nothing but beneficial for my mental health. Now, it’s not all doom and gloom here: there are some aspects of freelancing that have really helped me in my path to recovery. The fact that I’m my own boss means that if I wake up feeling utterly awful in every way, I can take a few hours (or even a full day) off without worrying about “calling in sick”. I can be a lot more compassionate with myself because of the flexibility of my job. I’m also blessed with wonderful editors who totally understand if I need to slightly push back a deadline because an anxiety attack has left me shaken and exhausted.

On the flip-side, there are some aspects of freelancing that are made a lot more difficult because of my anxiety and depression issues – and vice-versa. Don’t get me wrong: none of these problems are severe enough to make me regret pursuing freelance writing as a career. Ultimately, the benefits of the job totally outweigh these less-than-great aspects. Still, I think it’s important to be honest about every aspect of my freelancing experience – including the ways it negatively impacts my mental health. I don’t want any other future freelancers who suffer from issues like mine to go into the job thinking it’ll all be sunshine and rainbows!

Since I’m currently going through a bit of a “meh” mental health week, I thought that now would be the perfect time to have a little bit of a ramble about the ways that anxiety, depression, and freelancing sometimes clash!

1) The Lack Of Stability

Possibly the main thing about freelancing that really sets my anxiety on edge is the comparative lack of stability that it gives you as a wage-earner. In a “regular” job, the majority of people have a consistent, set payment program – whether that’s a monthly salary, bi-weekly wages, or another arrangement. In the majority of jobs, you know exactly how much money you’ll be getting each payday.

As a freelancer, however, you don’t necessarily get that safety net. How much I earn each month depends on how many articles I write and have published, the payment terms for each specific article, the exchange rate, how much of my work my clients can publish according to their schedule… Basically, there are a lot of factors here, and I control approximately one of them (the amount I write). Some months, I earn what I would consider a comfortable wage; in others, I barely get enough to pay my bills. As I’m someone whose anxious brain craves order, routine, and general stability, this ever-changing pay rate sets me off on a worry spiral more often than I’d care to admit.

As of yet, I’ve not cracked exactly how to stop this lack of stability from turning me into a living, breathing ball of stress. It’s one of the things about freelancing that you can’t really change – I’m just going to have to learn how to cope with it somehow. When I’ve worked out how to do that, I’ll let you all know!

2) Always Wanting To Do More

Disclaimer time: this particular mental health/freelance work issue is, for me, hugely rooted in my own past experiences and self-perception, so I don’t know if it’s a common one that you should all be on your guard for. However, it’s a big part of my freelancing experience, so of course, I’m going to blab about it anyway! Basically, one of my most common twisted anxiety thoughts is “you haven’t done enough work yet.” For years now, my mind has placed “having fun and relaxing” way, WAY below “work” in its list of priorities. I always, always feel guilty for having downtime, and question whether there’s something more “worthy” that I could be doing. It’s not a healthy mindset and I’m trying very hard to change it, but I’m not quite there yet.

When you’re in a “traditional”, 9-to-5 job, this kind of “no fun allowed” mindset is a bit easier to overcome, because once you’ve come home from work for the day, you have no choice but to kick back for a bit – at least, that was the case in my old job. I physically couldn’t do any of my work at home, as it was all stored on confidential databases in my office building. I had to chill! However, when you work for yourself and work at home, it’s a lot easier for your work-life balance to become unhealthy. My house is my office, and it’s super easy for me to just sit and work for every waking hour of the day – because, put simply, I can.

This constant “wanting to do more work” is also interlinked with the fact that as a freelancer, you frequently get paid per piece than per hour. Thus, the more pieces you write, the more you earn; therefore, my brain tells me “work ALL THE TIME so that you can be totally financially secure. You’re being a “bad businesswoman” if you don’t. In the freelancing community, there’s often a lot of focus put on “hustling” and being the ultimate “boss woman”: often, you’re told to work yourself to the bone to make sure your business gets off the ground. In reality, this is a deeply harmful attitude to have, both in terms of mental and physical health. Everyone needs breaks and relaxation: skipping your downtime is just going to leave you burned out, stressed out, and miserable. Still, it’s hard to actually look after yourself when your anxiety is telling you it’s a sign of weakness or failure. Trust me. It’s one of my biggest daily struggles!

3) The Loneliness 

To be honest, this is a bit of a difficult struggle to admit to, because I’ve always been made to feel that there’s shame attached the loneliness. When this issue crosses my mind, I always imagine some of my more, shall we say, “critical” former friends laughing – “Ellie’s got no friends! We told her this would happen!” But, hey – time to spill some truth tea. I do have friends, but none of them live in the town I’ve just moved to, so the loneliness is real. It’s only made worse by the fact that as a freelancer working from home, there are no co-workers for me to chat with on my breaks or share my burdens: it’s just me, my cat, and – in the evenings, at least – my boyfriend.

Freelancing has a tendency to be a bit of a lonely career, especially if, like me, you find it difficult to work while surrounded by people. I’m at my most productive when I’m holed up in my office room all by myself, which doesn’t do wonders for one’s social life. Maybe this will get a bit better when I’ve met some new people in Loughborough to go for coffee with, chill with, and, you know, just talk to! For now, I get all of my social needs met through the power of my phone and the Internet, which isn’t quite the same as face-to-face chats. I’ve tried looking for co-working groups around here, but there aren’t any. I’ve considered setting one up, but I’m not sure I can cope with that pressure right now.

Basically, I’m missing the feeling of having co-workers who aren’t based in Canada like my editors are! I can’t exactly pop across the Atlantic for a chat when I get a bit lonely. I’ve already met a couple of lovely Loughborough writers and bloggers online who I’m looking forward to meeting, but hey – if there are any more of you out there, let me know! I’d love to maybe get used to the idea of working around other people or at least having people to take coffee breaks with.

So, there you have it – these are just a few of the myriad ways that my freelancing career and my mental health intertwine. Have you had similar experiences to mine, or even totally different ones? How do you keep your mental health in tip-top condition as a freelancer? Make sure to let me know in the comments!

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