I've done freelance writing (for no where you've heard of) and tech support for over five years. I am not an expert, but I've figured some things out.
This is a question from my semi-sort-of-not-really-regular column on Persephone Magazine, where it originally appeared.
I've been doing okay as a freelancer, but I'm in trouble. I'm in the middle of a pretty intense depressive episode, and it's making it almost impossible to do what I need to do. Answering emails or trying to be cheerful and helpful to my clients is frequently the last thing I want to do, even though I know I'm making everything harder on myself.
Do you have any tips?
Dear Fellow Contractor,
First, I have to start with the disclaimer stuff. I'm just a lady on the internet, and while I do know depression intimately, my advice is in no way a replacement for guidance from a professional.
Second, to paraphrase Leo from The West Wing, make some room in that hole, I'm coming down. I've been here before, and I know the way out.
When I started freelancing, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I'd lost my job, a month after that I had to have an emergency hysterectomy. Within six months, I lost four elderly pets, and two friends and a cousin to suicide. Then my mom died. Taking a shower or brushing my hair became a major accomplishment. I sped right through the part of depression where I cried to the part where I felt almost nothing, and I stayed there, in dirty socks and tangled hair, with no intentions of ever crossing back through the Sea of Sadness to "normal" on the other side.
Freelancing can be a blessing and a curse for people like us. It's a blessing because we can still eat and pay for shelter even when we can't face leaving the safety of our home. It's a curse because working at home means we're surrounded by all the things we think might give us a minute or two of reprieve from the dark place, so it's a haven of distraction.
While there's no simple anything that can defeat depression, there are some things you can do to keep functioning, including making a living.
1. Find some way to separate work from home. If you're working out of a small space, it's pretty difficult to give yourself a space dedicated JUST to freelancing, so you need to create other transitions. Start by taking a shower every morning before you start working, and putting on real clothes. You can go back to your comfy pants as soon as you're done for the day, but dressing like it's an outside job can go a long way towards increasing your motivation.
2. Make yourself go out even when you don't have to. Go grab a fancy smoothie or a cup of coffee or mail something at the post office to start. Even a ten minute trip changes your surroundings and can spark some inspiration.
3. Find the simplest way to stay organized that works for you. In my darkest times, Post-it notes worked for me. Cheap, simple, and I could see everything at once. Now I use Evernote (there are a million programs that do the same thing, Evernote was free and easy to find.) I use one "note" per client to keep track of all passwords, contact info, task lists, milestones, and invoice statuses. I've tried more feature-rich programs, but they don't tend to work for me and I've never found one I could make myself use consistently. The brilliant UfYH (Unfuck Your Habitat) principles have been really helpful to me, too, and I regularly use the UfYH app* to track my hours, set reminders, and motivate myself.
4. Give yourself office hours for communication. It can be really easy to get overwhelmed if you never let yourself step away from your email/cell phone/Skype. When you're overwhelmed, it's even harder to answer emails, make phone calls or chase down an invoice, and then you're stuck in an endless loop. Set strict hours for when you're available to communicate with clients, and make sure all the people you work with know when they are. This can work with any tasks you're finding especially taxing because it creates boundaries and a clear stopping point. Even when I'd rather pull out my teeth than answer an email, I can motivate myself into getting it done when I know I'll be done with email for the whole day in a couple of hours.
5. Be gentle to yourself. If you get behind or overwhelmed in spite of the tools you're using to keep things in check, it's okay. It happens. Don't waste time chastising yourself or letting the negative thoughts take over. Find your place and pick up where you left off, one thing at a time.
I know you can do it, I have faith in you.
Do you have a question about freelance work you'd like answered? You can use this form, on Pmag, to submit questions anonymously.
*Disclaimer, I helped work on that app.
Source image for graphic: MorgueFile