Hi, I’m Nikki and I’m a freelancer. I have a portfolio of freelance contracts and clients that I provide work for, or work in-office with to produce high quality marketing for their brands. For me, freelance is amazing. It offers me the opportunity to provide my best work at rates that work for my schedule, to skip all of the office politics and get straight to the work. It’s flexible, and enjoyable and I only provide the services I feel confident delivering meaning I drive the work I do.
But for some people, particularly those with mental health problems, freelancing isn’t quite so simple.
Why Work and Mental Health Don’t Work
When it comes to balancing mental health and typical full time work, there are always a few key issues that arise – from ‘my boss won’t give me time off for therapy’, ‘my meds make me too sleepy to focus’ or ‘I’m tired of having panic attacks in our shared office bathroom’. The pressure of the work itself can also be extremely impactful on mental health, with mounting pressure, looming deadlines or abusive workmates, your emotional state can suffer.
Therefore, you would think, freelancing is the perfect solution. You only work when you feel mentally capable, you don’t have managers breathing down your neck, and you can rest comfortably at home whilst you work. No nosy colleagues, no hiding tablets in your handbag, just you, the work and your mind. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the reality of freelancing.
Freelancing means becoming your own boss, setting your own schedules and structures. You can’t get fired, but you can get let go from contracts if you don’t provide a good quality of work. You are the only one responsible for your own motivation – so if you’re having a bad mental health day, without the fear of judgemental colleagues, what’s pushing you to start working?
Working as a freelancer can also mean spending lots of time alone – whether you work from home, in a coffee shop, in a library, etc… You miss out on a lot of the natural social bonding that comes from a work environmental and this can feel a little isolating at times. The lack of social interaction can also have a bad impact on your mental health, making you feel depressed and lonely, with even less motivation to focus on your work.
Finally, without a team or even a line manager to support you through your work, if something goes wrong, the blame can lie entirely on you. Your name is put to every piece of work, you are in charge of handling invoices, fees, deadlines, meetings, updates and communications. If there’s a mistake, there’s no one superior to take the fall or give you a pep talk. It’s just you.
So What Can You Do?
For a start – take some breaks. Yes, your freelance work is important, but you chose this path because you are good at what you do. You will still be good at it when you return after a ten minute mindfulness walk or a quick meditation session on your rug. You can also manipulate your schedule to your needs.
Plan your therapy around days where you have minimal workloads, as intense sessions can often be a little destabilising and might leave you feeling distracting. If you know you have a triggering event or situation coming up, try to get as much work done as possible before the event to give yourself the necessary recovery time.
Where possible, be honest (but professional) with your clients. If you’re not feeling focused enough to work on one particular afternoon, let them know – rather than wasting both your time and theirs on work that will never get done. Explain that you understand the brief, and you will have it completed by X deadline, but today your mental health needs to take priority.
If you can, try out some local co-working spaces. Whilst these aren’t for everyone, the concept of working in the same space as others can help you to feel less isolated, and might also encourage a little social interaction. From experience, a simple query about how other freelancers manage invoices can lead to a huge group discussion on late payments, helpful tip sharing and friendly banter.
Finally, reflect. Look back on your work and be proud of it. You are not lesser than your full time counterparts, your work is not worth any less and you are braver than you believe for doing it alone.
If you ever find that freelance work gets a little too much, take a break and step away from the keyboard.