Thankfully, in recent times, there has been an increase in awareness around self-care and dealing with mental health issues. Personally, and openly, I have been dealing with my own depression at the same time as trying to carve a different path for myself. Across three different blog posts for The Study Room London, I am going to talk about different aspects of the freelance environment and how each one impacts on mental health.
On the surface, the life of a freelancer might seem great. Benefits include flexible hours, being in charge of your own deadlines and working from home. Sure, you don’t get the ‘watercooler moments’ or an office Christmas party, but on the flip side you could choose to work from any of the world’s greatest coffee shops or lie in bed a little longer the morning after those regrettable mid-week ‘we’ll just go for one’ drink with your friends.
You are often your own boss, which for some might come naturally, but to those people who might be struggling to look after their well-being at the same time as maintain focus and productivity, it could present more of a challenge than they might have first predicted.
My last post outlined how I had thrown myself into a new freelance life. My initial feelings were liberating, exciting and opportunistic. My low mood was nowhere to be seen and I felt such a sense of relief knowing that I might be able to make a living my own way without the restrictions of office life (and if possible, entirely avoiding Excel formulas forevermore)
Then came the reality check - when will payday arrive? This gave way to a slump of disappointment and a sense that my new career isn’t going to take off as fast as I thought and this made me feel less productive as a result.. Think less private jet and more back of the bus. It’s a rollercoaster that I will be riding throughout my transitional period into freelance life with highs and lows right alongside each other.
The tendency, for someone like me, would be to let the depression kick in at the low point and to focus on the bad elements. I could say that to return, even part time, to my previous career would be a failure and that people would think I had wasted my time. I could feel embarrassed and that I might never be successful in my chosen path as a writer.
The reality is, however, that it could be a beneficial means to an end and a way to support my new ventures whilst paying the bills. Using time management skills that I have already acquired, I will be able to write alongside my other work. From the beginning, I am showing myself that I am supporting and aware of my own thoughts, something that I need to prioritise throughout this solo journey.
Most of my family are actors and freelancers. Watching the variety of my families’ freelance careers and the impact that it has on those of us prone to depression, has given me a perspective on the other side of the lifestyle. We all know the phrase that compares opportunities to buses (if you don’t, you must be lucky) and in my experience, this rings loud and true for freelancers. One day you could have several opportunities on your plate; the regular slot in a long running soap, a chance to show your work in a trendy gallery or a global advertising agency seeking your copywriting skills. On the other hand, and I know this to be true for actors in particular, you can have months of unemployment and long periods where it seems you’ve been forgotten entirely by every casting director from here to Timbuktu.
Looking for acting work and indeed any other freelance work from copywriting to being an artist, can present multiple issues for those experiencing low mood. It forces you to look in on yourself and the tendency is to think ‘why me?’ when you’re not considered for a role or ‘I’m not good enough’ during times when no one wants to pay you for your work, which can be a huge drain on your self worth and your ability to work.
Without the stage to perform on, the commissioned portrait or the product to sell you are left to your own devices, and in this superficial world it’s incredibly easy to fall into the cycle of feeling that you are not good enough..
Rejection is an element of life that everyone has to deal with. It’s not a feeling that is reserved only for those experiencing anxiety, depression or any other mental health concerns. Unfortunately, those of us with those tendencies are more likely to open ourselves up to the demons in our head and it’s important for every freelancer to focus on the positive things our chosen work life can bring. I don’t know about you, but if I have to choose between commuting in rush hour on the Central Line or working from my wannabe Habitat (more like Ikea) catalogue living room – I know which one I’ll choose.
We can all have dark days, especially when you are working independently; these are a few things I have found to be incredibly helpful to lift my mood and get me working again.
Phone a Friend
No, you won’t become a millionaire if they answer your question correctly, but you will hopefully be reminded how wealthy you are in other ways if you pick up the phone and have a chat with a friend or family member. There are always people to call like The Samaritans if you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed who will listen to you with no judgement at all.
Get Up and GO!
It’s so easy to keep yourself indoors when working from home, especially when deadlines are looming. If you’re feeling anxious and upset, try to take some time to get out of the house, even if it’s just a short walk. You need ingredients for that dish you want to cook tonight, right? Pop out into the real world and get some air in your lungs.
Pump Up The Volume
For me, listening to music is an instant mood lifter. Nobody can see you dancing in your kitchen, or head banging whilst hoovering. Whatever your style, turn up the radio or plug in your headphones and feel the music help to bring you back to where you need to be.
By allowing ourselves to recognise our feelings, and by helping and supporting other freelancers around us, we are spending our freelance time wisely. For me it’s remembering why I am trying to make these changes, and to make sure that I stick at them without giving up. For others, further down the freelance line, it might be remembering that one day soon five buses will show up at once, just like they did before.