The anxieties of freelancing…

I read an article today titled ‘Freelancing with depression‘ by Shayna Hodkin from the Nu School website. In it she talks about her experiences with depression and how she ultimately dealt with them. It resonated with me a little so I wanted to share it. With mental health being pushed more into the open these days, I wondered if any of my other fellow freelancers have experienced anything similar.

I don’t think I’m depressed. I’ve never been diagnosed as depressed… but I would say I am somewhat an ‘anxious’ person, even if I don’t outwardly show it. Ever since I was a child I was always the one at kids parties who would have a bit of a cry if my mum left, or if my mum was there, I would check constantly to make sure she didn’t disappear. Growing up in school I was fairly easygoing but I was quiet and introverted, sometimes a target for bullies but I eventually found my way in life.

When it came to work and getting a job, I was always that little bit scared to try new things. After my degree  I carried on working in a retail job I’d had throughout studying. When I eventually go the opportunity to apply for a ‘proper’ design job, as much as I disliked the retail job I was scared to leave what had become my ‘norm’. Surprisingly when I got the design job, that fear went and I found confidence in learning the ropes of design and the new technologies that came with it.

So when I found myself redundant for the 1st time in 2006, it all came as a bit of a shock. It didn’t hit me at first as there had been such a long build up to our company collapsing, it didn’t seem quite real. But I remember standing in the veg aisle of a supermarket and just suddenly having a panic attack at how I was going to pay for stuff in future. Luckily I found some freelance work almost 2 weeks after being made redundant and my anxieties eased a bit. The offer of a Full Time job came in Jan 2007 with an ex colleague, which was doing similar stuff to what I’d always been doing since starting work in 1998, so I took it. It seemed a safe option. The 3 years I worked for said company beat any shred of confidence out of me that I had. It was an all male environment, the work was not at all what I’d hoped it to be and I felt I just didn’t fit in. I used to wake up and immediately think of excuses not to go in. When the economic crisis was in full swing, this company laid me off in 2010. Whether it was to save money or whether it was just to part ways with me as I didn’t ‘fit’, I don’t know, but it was actually like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and it was a chance to re-evaluate what I wanted to do.

I was out of work for 4 months in the summer of 2010 before a chance opportunity via a friend of a friend meant I started freelancing full time. Those few months whilst I was out of work were very up and down. Money was tight with a mortgage to pay and I hated signing on but needs must. The flip side was that it was a glorious summer that year and I made the most of it with friends and even went camping by the sea on my own.

My freelance career began in September 2010. It was in a completely new environment for me, much more design based (the job I previously had that I’d hated ended up being more like a developer), was fast paced and I got to work on several big brand campaigns. I worked steadily for the first 3 years without much of a break. In 2013, I had a minor car crash and it seemed to co-incide with a time when all my regular clients went quiet and stopped using freelancers. Not only was I faced with the financial worries of getting a new car so I could least GET to work (if some came in), there was also the worry about how I would pay for said new car. Luckily I was able to get a banger that got me from A to B so I was at least mobile. (As an aside, I am always slightly envious of fellow freelancers I meet who own expensive or swanky cars! Most freelancers I know own bangers… must be a perk of the job… or not!) But from that point onwards, work was always a bit up and down with regards to its regularity, which in turn brings its own worries about money etc.

When work IS steady and regular and the cashflow is good, even then there is always that little anxious voice in the back of my mind, saying “Am I good enough?” “Can I do this?”, “Do I know enough?” … Some days I can be confident and say a resounding “YES” to all of these, but other days, not so much. Often I think,“Can people see right through me and that sometimes I am actually terrified I will mess up”. Its usually at it’s most prominent when I start working for someone new, but then I realise, actually I DO know what I’m doing, I CAN do this and whilst I may never always know enough, you are never too old to stop learning things and sometimes it’s okay to SAY you don’t understand.

That said, I AM so much more confident now than I used to be. If you’d have said to ‘young me’ than I would have to go into new places every few weeks/months, learn how they work – often at a frantic pace, speak to new people, have conviction in my abilities…. ‘Young me’ would have probably stayed as a till tart! And every now and again, you get a client who praises your work, or a piece of design you’ve done gets recognition and the anxieties quieten down a bit to be replaced with a warm glow. I like those days.

I know that every now and then I will always have anxious moments. I will have doubts in my abilities and worries about my finances, but it’s how I cope with them that matters. I try not to let them overwhelm me. Also it’s about knowing when to take a step back… I love getting into the garden, feeding the birds, doing a bit of DIY, talking with friends or even just a walk in the sunshine… It all helps 🙂


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