The experience of having depression while freelancing
Mental Health at Work has partnered with Simply Business to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing. Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental health at work through our brand new Self-Employed Support Hub and the Mind Your Business initiative from Simply Business.
Here, Vincent Wood, a former freelance writer, shares his story of working in such a volatile position while also experiencing depression. He also offers some advice for those who find themselves in a similar position.
Freelancing can open you up to a world of working freedoms, but it also comes with its own set of challenges and uncertainties that can be particularly tricky for those of us who suffer from mental health problems. I’ve always been grateful for freelancing as it was through this form of work I was able to pick up my first professional writing job as well as turning to it in moments of.
I also, however, associate it with unemployment, and so it’s become both a blessing and a curse.
The hard reality of it was that I was not making enough
A copy/content writer by trade, writing has always been my passion and I’ve always sought to work in the field, but it hasn’t always come easily. With little experience, I turned to doing pro-bono work in order to build up a portfolio, and freelancing for well below a decent rate, just so I could claim professional writing credits on my CV.
The hard reality of it was that I wasfrom writing to survive and struggling to find work, both freelance and full time, and on top of that, I’d recently been diagnosed with depression.
Struggling withis one thing, but having a lack of income and feelings of failure and feed into that just exacerbated the situation. At the same time, however, finding snippets of work, no matter how small or fleeting, was also a lifeline in a time of desperate need.
With that in mind, there are ways of working with depression as a freelancer but it’s not without its own set of trials and tribulations. So, what exactly are these issues and what can you do in order to minimise their impact?
Having a set routine can really help ground you
The most obvious challenge that comes from freelancing with a mental health issue is dealing with the lack of consistency. As almost anyone will tell you when it comes to dealing with depression, having acan really help ground you and let you regain a sense of normalcy when you’re feeling down about things.
The problem with freelancing is that it just doesn’t work that way. Without consistent contracts or a steady workflow, it’s entirely down to you to create what routine you can.
Whilst this may seem like an impossibility, the best way to look at this is to include the constant search for work into your daily habits, setting time aside to complete the work you have in hand, update your own books etc. and then also building in a portion of the day to reach out to others or look for new opportunities.
Lack of Motivation
A massive problem for myself, when suffering particularly badly from depression, is a lack of. Whether it be spending days in bed or just not wanting to commit to anything, the freedoms of freelancing can mean you’re so often tempted to just not bother looking for work at all and just wallow in your own self-pity.
Fighting that urge can be a struggle but the benefits of having got up and felt productive are self-evident, especially when that productivity leads to an income and, potentially, more work.
I’ve often just been straight up scared to take on or tackle work
For me, I’ve always oscillated between not wanting to do anything and yet not wanting to disappoint anyone and so I quite often yo-yo between crises as I try to drag the spirit of inspiration out of myself whilst frantically trying not toby missing deadlines. This can lead to situations where I’ve often just been straight up scared to take on or tackle work and that fear doesn’t necessarily ever go away.
If you’re not a particularly money motivated person, this can then become really problematic but the freelancer life offers you certain freedoms and you have to balance those with the limitations it brings too.
In writing, as in most things, you have to keep working to move forward. No matter how much you plan, or set out to only pick up things that suit you, you need to keep producing to keep your name out there and have an up-to-date portfolio to generate more work, so finding that well source of inspiration can be self-sustaining but it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
Lack of Communication
With no set manager, and not being on the regular payroll, communication can be a little spotty with some clients. This would be okay if it didn’t plague you with a sense of uncertainty, and it’s down to you to drive those conversations. Don’t be afraid to let clients who you’ve worked with before know that you are available and looking for work, and if they’ve mentioned a potential opportunity, it’s not impolite to follow up and ask if it’s still available.
Did Vincent’s story resonate with you? Check out our resources for the self-employed, freelancers and sole traders here.
You can also visit Mental Health at Work’s dedicated Self-Employed Support Hub for toolkits, resources and powerful stories to help improve workplace wellbeing, and the Mind Your Business initiative by Simply Business to find out more about the challenges facing the self-employed and small business owners.