Today I’m writing about depression. This is a subject that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, but I’ve shied away, not wanting to get it wrong, trivialise it or misrepresent the reality of life for those who suffer from it.
But it’s become clear that within our growing family of independents and freelancers, this is a much bigger issue than any of us know.
I don’t have depression, but a significant number of people who are dear to me do. So, as I write this, I am already reflecting a second hand view. I can’t possibly really know what it is like to wear this oppressive black cloak every day. But stick with me.
We write frequently on this blog in positive terms about the independent life. The creative freedom. The camaraderie. The ability to define your own future and go for it, with support from others who own their own destiny too. Who wouldn’t want that? But we also write about the isolation of working alone, the days when your confidence hits rock bottom and you just can’t find your mojo. These are moods and situations that affect every freelancer at some point in time.
Now imagine what it’s like to freelance when you have depression. Actually, rather than suppose, here are some of the descriptions of depression used by people taken from the Depression Alliance website:
“A non-emotion. Being frozen. Total confusion. Like the whole world has changed. The smallest of tasks take monumental energy to begin.”
“Complete loss of hope, energy and belief in the future or myself. An ability to function at a most basic level – wanting to sleep all day, not face the world at all and a feeling that there’s just not point to anything. In an episode I have a tremendous feeling of being a complete failure.”
“It feels like you’ve been evicted from your own body and taken over by a black monster who keeps you in a small room where you scream and scream but nobody can hear you. You feel as though you are bad and everything you touch is bad and everything that goes wrong in your life is a punishment. I have a sense of derealisation where I can see myself from outside my body and my body is empty. I don’t feel like a real person anymore.”
The stigma surrounding depression is still prevalent. Researching this article, I read some of the testimony on the Time to Change website and found myself angry that so many workplaces are places of hell for anyone trying to deal with depression and stay on top of their job. We should be ashamed that our society still tolerates the bullying and discrimination towards people dealing with mental health conditions in the average workplace.
This morning, the news was full of Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer and her decision to keep staff working at the office rather than at home. The pundits were discussing the pros and cons of working at home as an employee, but much of this applies to the individual freelancer working from their living room or bedroom with a laptop. The discussion centred around the need for people to be self disciplined and focussed. Really? Who’d have thought it?
However, as much as I evangelise for being in control of your own career and destiny, doing work that you love, I had to ask myself whether it was right for everyone, particularly when you have depression. Of course, I can’t answer that, because everyone is different. But I can talk about the alternatives.
Many of those I have spoken to who suffer from depression tell me that simply knowing that they won’t be judged is one of most important ways that we can support them. Not being able to talk about it must be so constricting.
You don’t have to work alone when you work independently. We’ve been learning a lot about the way freelance communities support each other and how embracing we are of very diverse mixture of views, styles and emotional needs.
I don’t know how many people who are part of our freelance community suffer from depression, because it’s not obvious in the same way that physical illness is. But we are tuned in to the signs – a dip in motivation, a few weeks when we don’t hear from a regular contributor or someone who wants to sit quietly for a while, but be part of the group. We find discreet ways to include them and let them know that they aren’t alone.
We know that we can’t fix it, but because all freelancers ‘get’ the isolation and experience feelings of disconnectedness and low self confidence, they will, by and large, understand a little about black days. Signing up for your local Jelly or pop up coworking meetings provides something to head for. Because it’s not a networking group, as such, there’s no pressure on you to ‘perform’ and you can be as involved or not as you wish.
To be honest, I can’t think of a better career to be in than one that you own yourself. Being able to do the things that will help you manage your depression, like making time for being outside, being in the company of others if that’s what you want, getting fit, or simply by being able to go with your own rhythms without having to explain.
But I want to make freelancing even more attractive as an option to everyone, and that means that we’ve got to make safe spaces where people can say they are not coping and where the response is ‘how can we help?’ Where you’ll be told that you’re doing a great job, that not everything has to be brilliant all the time.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
And here are some brilliant resources I found while I was researching this article:
Time to Change – the campaign to end mental health discrimination
Depression Alliance – a fabulous online resource about depression for sufferers and their friends and family.
Big White Wall – Big White Wall is an online early intervention service for people in psychological distress. It is provided in partnership with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.