Freelancing While Depressed


Note: This post is written from the point of view of someone with depression and anxiety. If you have written a similar post related to other mental illnesses and/or visible and invisible disabilities and illnesses, please comment and let me know so I can link to you. This post can apply to anybody that does contract work, whether you call yourself a freelancer or not (I stopped referring to myself as a freelancer at the beginning of 2016).

Freelance work presents its own challenges that you might not see while working for an employer. Instead of your hours being decided by your boss or a department head, you tend to select your own. Instead of answering to your boss, you answer to yourself and your clients. Instead of getting a salary or being paid by the hour, you’re paid based upon the projects you complete – and if you don’t have projects coming in, you don’t get paid at all.

I was diagnosed with depression in December 2009, and was jobless six months later. Unemployment contributes to depression, and that’s also added anxiety to the mix.

Think of the combination as being kinda like not having the energy to do anything, while inwardly being in a massive panic over all of the things you know you have to do, and the things you might have to do, and the things you should be doing – but you still can’t give a damn. It’s constant worry and not having the ability to do anything about it.

Freelance work helped to ease the burden.

I found that freelancing gave me a sort of freedom I didn’t have when I was working, even part-time. I could set my own hours, pick and choose my projects, and since I was a bit of a night owl, I could work overnight instead of during the day. I knew what my duties were. I didn’t have to guess at what I could or couldn’t do, based upon what the store allowed, and I wasn’t guessing on my availability for appointments because that was something I decided.

This didn’t mean that freelancing was easy.

A pug wrapped in a blanket.

There were days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. There were days when I didn’t want to work, when that project that was waiting for me just seemed like too much. There were days when applying to gigs just felt like a huge drag that I wanted nothing to do with, and checking in on clients was not something I felt I could do.

I did those things, though. I knew I needed to work, and I knew that the extra money coming in would mean that I could feed myself and help pay bills. My cat needed to eat. My clients depended on me. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt my clients.

Not everyone can do it.

This isn’t to say that I’m not sick anymore – I am. As low as I was at that time – and I’m still struggling – I had been a lot worse, and known people who weren’t nearly as lucky as I was. My doctor was great, my housemates understood and were encouraging, and I had a cat that was really good at head-sitting.

For some, trying to balance a freelance career while dealing with their mental illness is not something they can do – and they certainly shouldn’t. It just makes things worse, hurts them, and hurts their fledgling business. Those folks need to take care of themselves first.

How do you freelance while facing an illness?

  1. Only take on what you can. No more. If you can only work with one client at a time, then do that. It’ll help you feel like you’re accomplishing something, and it’ll give you something to focus on.
  2. Write down everything. Lists can help you focus. When I have a step-by-step “this is what I have to take care of for this person” list, then I know I’m not going to miss anything, and that may work for you, too.
  3. Set specific working hours. Even if you’re only going to be “active” for a couple of hours per day, that’s fine, as long as you settle on it.
  4. Take breaks. Go outside, get up and stretch, get a glass of water. Breaks are important.
  5. Take it one day at a time.

Are you a freelancer with a mental illness? What challenges do you face and how do you do it?

This hasn’t been in-depth by any means. I want to hear what you have to say.