How I Freelance Through My Mental Illness

By Angely Mercado 01/26/18

This formula is especially helpful when I feel as if I’ll never get a job or that I’m not as good as my former classmates who seem to be breezing through life and working at interesting or well-known publications.

woman writing in bed
Discipline in adhering to a schedule can get you through the days of no motivation.

The corner of my bedroom is pretty productive on a good day. It’s just a few feet from my bed but there’s a desk with papers, my laptop, hard drives, notebooks, and papers. I have been freelancing from there most days since I finished graduate school in December of 2016. Other days I’m out interviewing sources, or taking photos to go along with my articles.

But there have been a lot of days when I’ve been on the other end of my room, lying down on my bed facing the wall and trying to pretend that the desk isn’t real. There have been days throughout the year, weeks even, where I haven’t been able to finish much work. Whenever I did, there were careless mistakes, errors that I would have caught before my anxiety and depression took a turn for the worst in the beginning of 2016. I had to make it through the last two semesters of graduate school and a summer long internship with only half the focus and motivation that I had during my first semester. If it hadn’t been for several people, including my therapist, I don’t think I would have graduated. And though school was difficult, freelancing has been difficult in a different way.

Before I had it, I didn’t understand why depression was the leading cause of disability worldwide. I also didn’t understand why it affected so many people when it came to maintaining a job, until the first day of 2016 when the panic attacks started and didn’t get any better for over a month. They’re nowhere near as bad this year, but they aren’t entirely gone. And when they start, I can’t help but feel lethargic for hours or give up every half hour when working on an assignment. Freelancing is different from being in an academic setting. I have to negotiate pay, deadlines, and aspects of the assignment. Most days I’m on my own, unlike when I was a student and had to hand in assignments around the same time when my classmates did. They helped me figure out what to hand in when and the standard I was being held to for each assignment.

During bad days, I lie around on my bed and close my laptop and avoid looking at any of my emails. It makes it hard to figure out what day of the week it is or even what time it is without looking outside my window. Everything stretches into one big boring day that isn’t even worth living, where all I do is take up space. It’s made it harder to keep up with freelance assignments. Often times I’ll write in my planner and organize documents and spreadsheets of things to finish and do, but I frequently abandon them, making it harder to find even more freelance opportunities in the future. During the weeks when I feel fine, I jump on opportunities right away. It’s why I’ve been able to attend fun events and pitch to publications I’ve admired for a while like NPR and Lenny Letter. I’ve passed on calls for pitches during bad times even though I logically know that on any other day I would be excited to write about a certain topic or for a website. But when I’m feeling particularly down, nothing matters, not even all the time I spent in graduate school learning how to become a better reporter and photographer.

In order to make it past those stretches of time, I’ve learned that I can’t rely on motivation, especially when there has been so much time when I don’t have any. It’s taken planning ahead and promising to go somewhere that gets me out of my house, or to get me out of bed before noon. I’ve noticed that if I work out or plan to, I become a lot more productive with my work the rest of the day in order to make the most of the hours I have left. I obligate myself to work out by signing up for classes at a location in Manhattan that charges if I cancel my place in class at the last minute. It makes me keep my commitments even when I don’t have the energy to do so.

I’ve also made myself send out a résumé or fill out a job application for every pitch that I send. It’s made it easier for me to have something to do even when I’m panicking or feeling lethargic. Having that “formula” for myself has made me a lot more proactive when it comes to finding a full-time job or regular freelance work. Before making that formula for myself, I missed out on several opportunities that I was initially hopeful about. It stops me from self-sabotaging projects that I know that I’m capable of completing. It’s also especially helpful when I feel as if I’ll never get a job or that I’m not as good as my former classmates who seem to be breezing through life and working at interesting or well-known publications.

Since February of last year, my physical health hasn’t been at its best. Sometimes my illness is fueled by my stress; and sometimes the illness triggers those long difficult weeks. I’ve caught over seven colds, have dealt with everything from fatigue to painful congestion, and muscle pain. But having a schedule and pushing myself, within reason, to finish work and to continue to pitch ideas makes it so that once I’m back on my feet again I have something to reference after I feel better both emotionally and physically.

I’ve also recently agreed to attend some food events and do social media for a publication. In order to attend some of the events, I’m obligated to schedule my freelance audio work, editing drafts, and working out around the event in order to make it there on time. The events also get me out of my house and push me to keep an eye out for interesting ideas for future stories to pitch. Agreeing to attend the events also makes me interact with other writers. I get to learn from them and though I don’t mention my depression and anxiety, I subtly ask how they balance work during stressful weeks.

2017 was a year of trial and error. And it’s taught me that I can strive for a career despite having to work through several challenges. Even with the ups and downs, I feel that committing to my schedule and celebrating small victories after a rough week will keep me on the right track. It’s not impossible to get out of this rut. And now that I’ve seen that I can work through it all, I look forward to maintaining a steady pace through 2018. It’ll hopefully be a good year for writing. Maybe even a great one.

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Angely Mercado is a freelance writer in NYC whose work has appeared in Lenny Letter, NPR, and Hello Giggles. She writes about culture, feminism, and breaking news and is obsessed with anime and anything green. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium.