The nature of freelance work tends to encourage isolation. The work I did during a freelance contract relied –– as it tends to –– on intense and individual work practice. Long hours in my studio, non-collaborative work, and busy, fleetingly-communicative clients meant isolation became a big theme during the long months I was working on it. This isolation –– self-induced and necessitated further by work –– is definitive of my experience with depression.
A lot of the work I do and have been doing will lead to isolated environments and therefore I have to have coping mechanisms and safety nets in place. Recognising isolation as one of the main problems made me take a few opportunities to get back in touch with tutors for advice and mentors for guidance when I was able. I got in touch with friends who were in similar positions to me and found peers that I had lost from not going into class. I tried to stabilise and contain my isolation.
Working freelance (successfully) also means, by definition, being extremely self-motivated. Which is great and empowering and really, really difficult when you are feeling low. Self-motivation is, for me and for many people suffering with mental illness, the first thing to be impacted by a depressive spiral or low.
But self-motivation doesn't mean driving yourself to the point of punishment or past the point of sanity. This realisation took the poison out of small low days and stopped them from spiralling further. I allowed my brain to need them. Learning that having downtime –– walking my puppy, going to the park, lying around and doing nothing but wallowing –– is not the height of evil and as much as my brain tries to, I won't punish myself further for needing that time.
Working to break the dangerous cycles of my symptoms won't cure depression –– but it has helped me manage work and manage life in a healthier way. Trying to get help, letting people know, and being kinder to myself has blunted the edge of the issue.
You’re not defined by the work you don’t do on your worst day.
You won't feel like this forever.
Letting people know you're struggling will usually ease your guilt.
And you don’t have to justify to yourself or to anyone else why it’s painful –– sometimes / often / sparingly –– to do your dream job.