Managing Mental Health and a Freelance Business

One of the really great things about the work I do as an editor is that I have the freedom to make my own hours and adhere to my own schedule. I hate waking up early and have always done my best work late at night (I may be writing this at almost midnight, but shhhh), and I love being able to work around the hours my brain seems to naturally do best with.

This girl has a much nicer setup than me, but I don’t need to take a picture of what I actually look like working at night, sprawled on my bed in my pajamas.

One of the hard things, though, is having to be the one to enforce that schedule. Especially when things like mental health get in the way.

I’ve always made it a point to advocate for destigmatizing mental illnesses, and in past blog posts have certainly alluded to the fact that these past few years have been rough on me, like many others. So, leading by example, I have no problem sharing that I have had some pretty intense struggles with depression and anxiety, particularly over the last year.

Of course, I say I have no problem sharing, but there’s that part of me in the back of my mind going “NOOOO delete this and write something else, this makes you look SO unprofessional, people are going to think you’re falling apart and you’re unreliable!!!”

Which is exactly why it’s so important for me to share, because it’s not any more shameful than a physical illness. If I had chronic migraines, I wouldn’t be embarrassed about them keeping me from work or other life events.

And yet, when it’s a depressive episode or panic attack, it ends up being a big source of shame that I let something that’s “all in my head” prevent me from completing projects on time (and thus I feel unprofessional, and I’m ashamed, and that causes stress, and that makes the anxiety/depression worse, and then we get ourselves a nice little spiral). As always, not something I would ever hold against someone else, but our self standards are never as realistic or gentle.

In a way, it’s nice not having a regular 9–5 in these moments, because it’s much easier to take a day off without having to answer to anybody. I’m my own boss, and I can’t exactly fire myself or have myself written up for subpar work or unapproved absences.

But of course, I do have clients, and I do end up feeling incredibly guilty when I’m not always able to meet the deadlines I promised when I was in a better headspace, or I forget to answer an email and the anxiety of it all makes me put it off even longer. 

And so little time.

If I was injured, or came down with the flu, I would have no problem sending out emails to alert folks that I’m going to be a week or two behind schedule. But it’s not exactly a standard practice to send an email that says “Hey Jimmy, this is going to take me a while longer. Unfortunately I’m having a prolonged bout of anxiety because I had to deal with something triggering in my personal life and now I must lie in bed and watch all of Breaking Bad instead of attending to my work responsibilities while my brain calms back down.”

…Which may or may not have been what I was up to the last few weeks, hence this choice of blog post as I’m getting back to a better frame of mind and playing a great deal of catchup. 

I don’t really have much advice here or a plan of action for next time, other than therapy and becoming more comfortable at least saying, “Sorry, I have a personal matter to deal with.” But I wanted to write this anyway, to let other professionals and creatives know that if they’re dealing with similar things, they’re not alone. All we can do is be gentle with ourselves, do what we can, and nurse our souls back to a place where we’re able to pick back up and get back to our real selves.

And for the record, my Breaking Bad binge truly was epic. Not sure it helped my stress, but DAMN that’s some great TV. And a good reminder that as down or anxious or otherwise stressed as you may be, at least you’re not trying to build a meth empire in Albuquerque.

Sometimes perspective helps.

It could always be worse. At least you’re not this guy. Or, you know, I definitely hope you’re not. Maybe consider a good therapist if you are.

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