“I’ve really got to get on with writing this post. And pitch an idea to that interesting blog I found, too.
But… I don’t know… maybe I’m not good enough for them. Maybe I should go back to bed and leave the writing until I feel more inspired. Meh.
Wait, did I put a fork in the spoon compartment this morning? I better go check… OK, no fork. Back to work!
Muhahaha, this post is brilliant! I’m a genius. No, I’m an idiot. This is the worst thing I ever wrote. Delete, delete, delete. There isn’t enough delete to undo my stupidity. I suck. My clients will hate me and I’ll lose this gig.
If I can’t pull this off then I’ll never make it as a freelance blogger, and then I won’t be able to pay the rent and I’ll wind up homeless and oh god I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe and I think I might die right here face down on my keyboard and my cat will eat my corpse and nobody will notice because everybody hates me anyway and… wait, did I check the spoon compartment carefully enough?”
Does this sound familiar to you?
Sure, these could be the thoughts of almost any freelance blogger under pressure. But if your thoughts run like this a lot of the time, then it’s also possible you’re a freelance blogger with a mental health problem.
Freelance blogging isn’t easy. Having a mental illness isn’t easy. And trying to be a freelance blogger with a mental illness really isn’t easy. Take it from someone who knows.
Actually, take it from three someones who know:
That’s right, all three of us are mentally ill. And all three of us are successful freelance bloggers.
Sophie and Kelly are both Bipolar while I have OCD, Major Depression, General Anxiety, and mild PTSD. And while we’ve all been very open about our mental states online, we wanted to take it a step further for BAFB’s readers – because we know that you may be struggling with similar issues. And we want you to know that your mental illness does not have to stand in the way of your success.
Take a look at what each of us has to say from our personal experiences, jot down the BAFB Blogger Takeaways for future reference, and feel free to leave your best mental health tricks in the comments section to help others in need!
Who or what was the most helpful to you on your worst “mental health” days?
“I’ve had medications that were helpful – including fluoxetine and noradrenaline, in case anyone’s curious – but on my worst days, even medicated, it still felt like nothing could help or ever would again. My coping strategy on those days involved a lot of duvet time with a side of staring blankly at the wall.
Aside from medication, the other thing that helped me was visiting online forums for people experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. (I didn’t look for any “mania forums”, though – I doubt that talking to lots of manic people would be at all therapeutic for me!) Reading other people’s experiences and seeing how they managed mental illness brought me relief that I wasn’t alone, as well as some helpful tactics for coping with my own illness.
My mother was my biggest help. She rarely got involved, because I hardly ever asked her to. But I always knew she was there if I needed her, and that she wouldn’t ignore me if I asked for help. She came to visit me when I couldn’t stand to be on my own, and she cared about me no matter what. That knowledge alone made me feel a lot better – even if I didn’t use her help as often as I probably should have, I felt I had a last resort that would never let me down. [Thanks, Mum. You’re amazing.]”
“Apart from a strong support network and doctors you trust (which are SO important), the biggest in-the-trenches help to me has been the motto ‘you are not your thoughts and feelings.’ Mental illness is so damaging because it’s not like other health conditions. When you have a heart problem or a broken leg or a migraine and you’re having an off day or you need to take it easy, no one blames you. You don’t blame yourself or feel like you’re lazy or less-than. It’s something that is happening to your body, and you don’t self-identify with it.
Mental illness is tricky because we’re used to believing our thoughts and feelings represent who we are at the core. If we’re feeling depressed, it must be because we’re dwelling too much on things or we’re not looking on the bright side or we’re simply too weak to deal with things the way everyone else does. If we’re having a panic attack, it’s because we’re being melodramatic and blowing things way out of proportion.
But mental illness is a result of a chemical imbalance in your brain. It takes your thoughts and feelings and warps them to play tricks on you. When I’m going through a really dark or hard period, reminding myself that my awful thoughts and feelings aren’t really ME, but are symptoms of my illness, helps me to get through them. It doesn’t make them go away, but it helps me stop beating myself up over them or seeing them as the be-all, end-all. It lets me ride them out the way you’d ride out a really bad headache that’s not responding to medication, trusting that tomorrow things will be better and this too shall pass.”
“Medication and therapy have done wonders for me; however, you can’t always call your therapist when you’re having a ‘freak out’ moment. Sometimes you’ve got to take care of yourself. Scratch ‘sometimes’ – most of the time you’re going to have to take care of yourself.
Friends are, of course, my main helpers when I’m feeling off-kilter. But I also have a journal filled with positive thoughts that I flip through when I’m having negative obsessions or I’m feeling particularly filled with self-loathing. Traditionally these statements are written on index cards – called coping cards – but I can never keep track of index cards so I wrote them all down in a journal.
I also have bubbles, Play-doh, and dolls. I feel a little silly sometimes, as a grown woman, playing with Play-doh when I’m stressed out, but it helps. As does taking a moment to brush a doll’s hair, or to blow a few bubbles. It’s especially helpful for those times when I feel like self-mutilating: Instead of cutting myself, I now ‘cut’ a piece of Play-doh.”
BAFB blogger takeaways:
- Having a good support system is essential.
- Restructure your negative thoughts into positive ones. Write them down if you need to!
- Don’t be afraid to try something silly if it’s going to help you feel better.
How did you let your clients know about your mental health issues — or did you?
“Most of the time, I didn’t. I don’t see a need to keep my clients updated with info about my health, unless it affects my work. Plus I don’t like to feel that I’m making excuses, so whether I take a day off with a head cold or with depression makes no difference — it isn’t the client’s problem. I just try to work far enough in advance that a few days off won’t stop me meeting deadlines.”
“I don’t explicitly let my clients know about my bipolar disorder and depressive episodes. I’m extremely open about having BP on my blog and talk about it on other sites, so it’s ‘out there’ if anyone ever wants to dig deeper, and I’m not ashamed of it. But there’s still a certain stigma over it, and when I worked a 9-to-5 I was hesitant to let anyone know why I was really taking sick days because I was afraid that a) they’d think I should just be able to ‘get over it’ or b) they’d start to treat me with kid gloves, like I was volatile and couldn’t handle stress on an everyday basis.
One of the great things about being a freelancer is that you have much more freedom to handle your life and everything that comes with your life as you see fit. I don’t have to count the number of sick days I have left or give doctor’s notes to a boss or HR department to justify precisely why I had to take some time off; all my clients care about is that I deliver my projects on time and at the level of quality they’ve come to expect.
If a bad episode is making that difficult for me to do, I let them know as soon as possible that I’m dealing with ‘health issues’ and work with them to find a solution — letting them know the soonest I can get them the work, turning over what I’ve done so far for a partial payment, etc.
Maybe someday I’ll feel comfortable going into more detail; maybe I won’t. And if they ever asked outright what was wrong, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them. But as long as there’s no need to go into the details, right now I don’t feel like it’s necessary.”
“In late 2014, I was put in a mental institution after a suicide attempt. It meant that I missed a few weeks of work out of nowhere. So I figured I had some explaining to do…
For most of my clients, I told them I was in the hospital dealing with a ‘health issue;’ however, for clients I was close with, like Sophie, I was more specific. And I was happy I was because it turned out some of my clients, like Sophie, also deal with mental health issues and were able to help me with my journey toward better mental stability.
I also had to take some unexpected time off when I was first getting used to my medications. I had never been medicated before (I was previously a half-a-dose-of-Tylenol type of girl – a totally non-medicated individual) and it was an extreme transition for me. So, when that happened, I made the same judgement call: I told the bare minimum to most and offered more details to those I thought could help.”
BAFB blogger takeaways:
- Your clients don’t have to know anything you don’t want them to know. Your mental health is your business.
- Don’t be afraid to share your issues with clients you’ve known for a long time/are very close with. They’re human beings too, and might be able to help.
How do you arrange your schedule?
“It’s all in Google Calendar with colour coding to help me see what’s what, and I aim for 3 days of freelance work per week (unless I’ve agreed in advance to commit more time to a specific project). And I reserve plenty of time for family, vacations, and my reading list!”
“I’m a big fan of energy management — knowing how your energy levels rise and fall throughout the day and working with that. I’m the most alert and creative first thing in the morning, for instance, so that’s when I tackle my most challenging projects. I know that if I leave them until the afternoon, they’ll be twice as hard to write and the results won’t be as strong.
I also have to remind myself constantly to take care of myself. I’m a workaholic (I think most freelancers are), and I feel guilty whenever I take some ‘me time’ to read, relax or simply do nothing in particular. But you can’t do a creative job if you’re well is dry, and if you suffer from mental illness, you’re even more likely to burn out if things get too stressful. I try to tell myself ‘the project of me’ is just as valid and important as any client project I take on and that I need to give it the same priority level. It sounds cheesy, but it puts things in terms my to-do-list-loving brain can accept. :)”
“Like Kelly, I try to work with my energy levels. Unlike Kelly, that means I’m usually working at night. For me, my energy levels start getting good around the early evening and stay strong throughout the night. My medications leave me a bit hazy in the mornings.
Speaking of my meds: For whatever reason, my medications have made my menstrual cycles an absolute nightmare. So I’m now out of commission for about five days per month, every month. It sucks, but I’ve learned to plan my projects around my period now. I don’t set any deadlines or take on any mentoring clients for the week ‘Aunt Flo’ will be visiting.
Oh, and I always take two days off per week. Mandatory. In 2014, I went for several months without a single day off, hit burnout, and tried to keep going… I ended up slitting my wrist. Don’t be me. Take at least one day a week off.”
BAFB blogger takeaways:
- Use the tools that are available – online and off – to make project management easy (and color-coded!).
- Know your body and schedule your work around your natural rhythms.
- Take days off. Seriously.
What’s your best productivity tip (for freelance bloggers)?
“Plan before you write. A plan that exists only in your mind doesn’t count — write it down somewhere. Even if it’s only a few bullet points, a plan makes it much easier to get the work done without wasting time.”
“Don’t try to take on too much. You’re not an assembly line worker in a widget factory who can install the same number of widgets whether you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed or whether you feel like crap. Your health, energy level and mood all play into how well you’re able to produce your ‘product.’ Allow yourself some wiggle room with project deadlines so you have the time you need to do your best work. Focus on projects that give you the highest ROI for your effort. Look for work that rewards you personally and monetarily. And give yourself plenty of opportunities to feed your creativity rather than constantly spending it outwards, outwards, outwards.”
“If you’ve been given medication: Take it. It helps! I would spend so much time obsessing over stupid stuff – or sitting around feeling nothing at all – that I would barely get anything done. Now, with medication, even on my bad days, I feel ‘okay’ enough to keep working.
It’s also vital to keep a positive attitude. As freelance bloggers, we have one of – if not the – best jobs on the planet, and it’s important to remind ourselves of that every chance we get. Personally, I have it written on my wall in front of my writing desk!
Also, like Sophie said: Write down a plan. You’re going to thank your Past Self for writing it down when your Future Self is freaking out or feeling ‘meh’ about work. Maybe it’s the OCD, but I’ll sometimes write out blogging plans months in advance!”
BAFB blogger takeaways:
- Write down a plan and stick to it, even when you’re feeling crummy.
- Don’t take on more than you can handle.
- Schedule in plenty of time between deadlines.
- Take on projects that feed your creativity as well as your wallet.
- Stay positive: You have one of the most awesome jobs in existence!
Every individual’s struggles with mental illness are different. However, we here at BAFB all have one thing in common: Freelance blogging. And a lot of the struggles freelance bloggers go through are the same – whether it’s fears about pitching, feeling lost on where to find clients, or learning new techniques to up your blogging game.
We’re a community.
And if you, or someone you know, is having trouble: Don’t be afraid to reach out. We want to help. (Note: Don’t be afraid to get professional help, if you need it as well!).
What helps you be a better blogger when you’re having an “off” mental health day? Let us know in the comments! There’s no judgement here. <3