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.

Redefining Success

If you asked me at any point during my life what the most important things to me are, I would say my friends and being creative. Art and the people I love have always been the things I care most about in the world, no contest. And yet, while I have so many incredible friends and so much time to dedicate to creativity, I’ve considered myself a failure for years simply because I didn’t have a steady job or other material things and, in my eyes, wasn’t “good” at life.

Now, as my editing business has grown exponentially over several months, and I am finally starting to see a glimpse of what could be a path forward, I’ve begun to do a lot of thinking about what success actually looks like for me. For most of my life, my measurement for success in life has been completely tied to my accomplishments and nothing else. If I’m doing good work, supporting myself, and checking all those boxes, I’m successful. When I wasn’t living up to those standards the past few years, it didn’t matter that other things about my life were good, I was unsuccessful and a failure, and it became a source of major problems with depression and low self-esteem.

Now, as things are starting to pick back up career-wise, ironically I’m finally starting to unpack how unfair it is to have spent so much time giving material things complete control over my perception of whether I have a good life, and really, over my self worth. It’s not a measurement I would apply to anyone else but myself, and I’m finally beginning to accept that my standards are impossible. I’m realizing it wasn’t my lack of material success over the past few years that was causing my mental health to deteriorate, but rather the pain of failing to meet standards that don’t even matter to anyone else but me.

Of course, having that realization isn’t quite enough to suddenly reprogram a lifetime of thinking, and it’s going to take a long time to fully separate my definition of success from my concept of self-worth, but it’s allowing me to become more realistic and gentle with myself as I start to consider what I want the next few years to look like, and what success really is. I think it’s still fair to have material goals for myself, but I’m also able to start giving more weight to my personal successes as well.

In the next few years, I’d like to get back to a place where I’m able to independently support myself again and am building my work as an editor to a point where I’m able to have a full-time career that I find fulfilling and exciting. To me, that’s what being successful will look like.

But also, I want to continue building and maintaining the friendships I have, and be able to dedicate time to my non-work related passions like theatre and making art for the fun of it, not just to pay bills. If I’m able to do that, even if I don’t meet my material goals, that’s really what being successful will look like. 

It definitely makes me sad that I haven’t been recognizing my personal successes for what they are, but as I work to release all of the screwed up, impossible standards I have for myself, I’m finally understanding. Though I may not have the career I want yet, or my own apartment, and I’m not always able to pay my bills on time, I’ve still been able to fill my life with fun, rich experiences and so many incredible, beautiful people who I love and who love me right back. 

Even in the times when I’ve only had $1.25 to my name, I’ve really been the luckiest, most successful version of myself all along.

Me (top row, just left of center; I’m the one in a bonnet and gray scarf) getting to do theatre in October 2022 with people I love. <3

Becoming the Perfect Adult

When the pandemic hit and we all went into quarantine, I was twenty years old, and had just moved out of my childhood home barely three months before. That means I only had from December 2019 to March 2020 to experience “normal” adult life, on my own in the real world, before everything shut down. I had finally made my big move to join the world, and then the world went dark.

Most of my first year away from my family was spent in near complete isolation, followed by a serious relationship that, without going into too much detail, ended up being even more isolating than the quarantine. 

Now the world has opened back up, and I’ve long since reconnected and made amends with the important people that got pushed away, but three years later it feels like I’m more or less right back where I started in late 2019. I’m back living with family and once again fighting for the ability to support myself and get back out into the world.

I’ve heard a lot of early 20-somethings say the same thing, that the events of the past three years somewhat forced a false start, and now we’re all trying to remember who we were and who we wanted to become before everything was put on pause. It’s difficult enough to figure out your early 20s when the world is normal, and I know I’m not the only one who feels like they’re only a few baby steps into climbing what looks like an impossible mountain.

I’m struggling to figure out the next half of this post, because I’d really like to spend it laying out what my plan is and how I intend to relearn who I was before global isolation and a damaging relationship made me forget, but honestly, I’m still not sure. And that’s okay I think.

Growing up as a massive perfectionist, it’s hard to accept that I can’t write out a step-by-step checklist with “HOW I’M GOING TO FIND MYSELF AND STARTCAREER AND BE THE PERFECT ADULT” at the top of the page and expect it to work. I thrive when I have structure, and the realization that I’m just as much of a mess as everybody else is a truly scary one for me.

But that’s the thing. I’m just as much of a mess as everybody else. There’s not a person in the world who doesn’t feel messy on some level, and it’s silly to think I’d be the one exception. I don’t love my friends or family any less when they’re not perfect. It wouldn’t even cross my mind. Every single organic being in the world is a little imperfect, and it doesn’t make them any less lovable or important.

Four-leaf clovers come from genetic imperfections or developmental errors, and they’re considered lucky. We’ll spend hours in a field seeking them out, not caring a bit about their normal three-leaf neighbors.

My black cat (ironically, an unlucky symbol), Nero, had an infection as a baby that caused him to go blind. He has no eyes, technically an imperfection, and he bumps into things and misses the litter box and one time accidentally headbutted me so hard my lip was bruised for a week, but it doesn’t make him any less lovable, important, or smart.

If we can recognize that in nature and in our pets, we can recognize it in ourselves. I am imperfect, and messy, and certainly very lost after the last few years, but it hasn’t made me any less smart, caring, talented, funny, and creative. I may not have a good grasp of who I am and who I want to be outside of those things, but those are the most valuable anyway, I think.

I may not have a plan, but I am still important, imperfect, and alive. And that’s enough.

The Birth of a Writer

My sister (right) and I (left) at our childhood home in Houston, TX in 2007
I’ve been an artist for as long as I’ve been alive. I was blessed to grow up in a family that valued individuality and creativity and did their best to foster the talents that my sister and I have, so from a young age I spent most of my time learning and creating and discovering what I love to do. I’ve sewed, painted, crocheted, acted, directed, but through it all one of my very deepest passions has been writing.

I taught myself to read around the age of two, so books and writing are as innate and instinctive to me as walking, talking, and breathing. Books have been the love of my life since before I was able to develop conscious memory, and while I certainly have grown and changed and lived so many different lives over the following two decades, that’s one thing that has always stayed the same.

While I can’t remember learning to read, or the first time I put pen to paper myself, I do remember the first time a book made me feel something. I was about five years old, reading my first “big chapter book”: Charlotte’s Web. When I finished that book, I think I cried for the rest of the night. I had never been so moved by something that was entirely fictional, and while I didn’t know how to articulate it at such a young age, I understood in that moment the power of words and their ability to create such complex feelings, even about something as small and seemingly insignificant as a fictional spider.

Words are powerful enough that even twenty years later, I only have to think of the final sentence of that book and I instantly revisit that combination of grief, tenderness, gentle hope, love, and recognition that while tragically fleeting, every single life has the ability to make such an impact. I’m now twenty-three and have since experienced my fair share of all of those things in my real life, but at age five, every one of those concepts was entirely new and it completely rocked me.

I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision, but in the following years, I sought out to develop my own power through words. As a child, I mostly wrote stories about the life I wished I could have. I was quiet and anxious, so I envisioned myself as a superhero saving the world, unconsciously allowing myself to experience what I was too afraid of in my real life. I wrote similar stories over and over, putting my inner self on the page and absorbing the stronger version of myself that manifested right back in.

More than anything, writing always has been, and continues to be, the number one way I am able to express every part of myself. Whether it’s fictional stories about people I want to be or things I think are interesting, reflections about things I want to talk about but don’t know how to express verbally, or silly Facebook posts because I love to make my friends laugh, the words I write are who I am, and I’m so thankful to get to share them with all of you.