Mental health, work and the realities of freelancing: by Eleanor

 

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This article was voted for on my Facebook group last month but as always, there has been a lot going on and I wanted to give this one the time it deserved.

Mental health and work is a huge topic. Mental ill health affects peoples ability to work at times- depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other symptoms can stop us from working and disrupt careers. It is one of the biggest causes of sickness, with people being signed off work by their doctors- from stress or other mental health issues. However, some  people are able to manage their health symptoms and work through it. For me, and many others, I had to switch to self employment, in order to work more effectively.

I started off at uni studying English Literature and Drama at Goldsmiths here in London, got a 2:1 degree and then worked for a year as a teaching assistant in a primary school. I decided then that it may not be for me and I applied to study a masters degree in Applied Theatre at the Royal Central drama school. This was amazing and eye opening- but I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks (possibly part of my bipolar disorder or just general..).

The anxiety attacks were debilitating for me at times- but I managed to get my Masters. However, I have often found that certain work places are far less forgiving of people with mental health issues- if they are still symptomatic.

I always thought that I would work as a teaching assistant and become a Reception teacher. I worked in several schools and I loved working with the children. I also tried working for a mental health charity. However, I found that my anxiety was getting worse and worse (despite taking medication and having therapy) and that the career just wasn’t working for my health.

So,  I decided to go self employed and become a freelance writer. The perils of freelancing can include: late payment of invoices from clients, having articles pulled at the last minute because the editor changes their mind, clients wanting you to write for free, waiting months for work to be published and some clients only paying on publication- so you don’t get a regular ‘salary’. Income is less stable, its harder to trust people and that you are often sending out pitch emails for writing work- only to get ignored, as editors are often busy with their in house team and work.

The pluses of freelancing: some regular gigs (Thank you Metro!), being featured in Glamour UK is a huge honour and in Happiful and Cosmopolitan/ Elle. I have written a lot this year and I am grateful every day for the editors who have taken a chance on me and commissioned my work.

However, its a balance. Yes working from home is great. Yes setting own hours is good. But, it means that income is less stable for sure. I have far less anxiety and panic working like this. Thats a major plus.

I often feel bad for not earning enough. Or because you have to develop a thick skin to deal with rejection.

In terms of mental health at work- there is SO much that needs to be done. Sickness records mean employees are still penalised, despite their genuine need for a mental health day. Each work place should be trained in signs to spot and have a mental health first aider. Some work places are disability friendly, but many just see you as a worker and if you have a mental illness, will only tolerate so much time off.

I don’t really know what to suggest if you are also in my position. In the UK, we have the benefits system which has been very important for me due to my illness. However, I would love to get to a stage where I can earn enough not to need it.

If you are struggling with your mental health at work, speak to a trusted colleague. HR will not always be supportive – it depends on the organisation, but don’t suffer alone. Just be aware that if you are off sick a lot, some companies will see you as unreliable. This may be 2018, but outdated attitudes at work still exist unfortunately.

There are positives and its important to know  there are good, wonderful people out there. I have met many. 

What is your experience?

Eleanor x

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8 thoughts on “Mental health, work and the realities of freelancing: by Eleanor

  1. Yes, this! Your blog post really hit home for me. I’m in a similar situation, having lost a career to a chronic physical illness, but then getting saddled with mental health baggage that commonly comes along for the ride when you have a chronic incurable illness and it steals your career and sense of self-worth. I’ve also been trying to freelance, and discovered it’s not easy at all. Still, I agree with you that it’s the best option for a lot of people with chronic illnesses (physical and/or mental–I don’t see much distinction, an illness is an illness and doesn’t impact your life any less just because of the label that’s slapped on it), and that “traditional employers” have a long way to go accommodating employees with chronic illnesses/disabilities. I struggle with that feeling of not being productive enough or earning enough, too, so I’ll just say you’re doing perfectly fine and your self-worth has nothing whatsoever to do with how much money you earn. Thanks for this post. It really spoke to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kevin. Thank you so much for writing and sharing your story with me, it means a lot. Im so sorry to hear you also have chronic physical illness too that is so so hard. I agree that traditional employers don’t have a clue! Its super difficult isnt it? Huge hugs to you. We will both get there I am sure of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really loved reading this. I got made redundant last year due to mental illness. It was a blessing in disguise though, I didn’t like the job for a large corporate company. Now I work and volunteer for a charity, not earning as much but so happy compared to before, they are a breath of fresh air!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was really interesting to read, Eleanor. I’ve had times when I’ve been too unwell to work at all, and other times where I’ve (just!) about managed full time. I’ve recently switched to working three days a week, then spending the remaining two starting to build on some freelance work, in a bid to help my mental wellbeing, though the anxiety of the change in itself has been a bit difficult to deal with. I hope the freelance lifestyle continues to work for you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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