Wednesday, October 10th is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme is depression. I suffer from depression, and it is one of the reasons I have chosen to work for myself for the last few years. It’s also one of the reasons that working for myself can be a very, very bad thing.
The symptoms of my depression are pretty typical. I lose interest, lack motivation, and crave sleep. When my illness is at its worse, this can go on for days. It’s tough to be a good employee if you can’t get out of bed for a week.
It’s also tough to force yourself to get out of bed - or leave the house - when you don’t have to.
Being my own boss means no one is going to make me take care of business, or myself. My husband and children leave the house in the morning and no one has any idea how I spend my days unless I tell them. When you’re depressed, you come up with a list of excuses to hide from the world, and knowing no one will notice if you do is a powerful one. Sure, my checking account will reflect my lack of work, but you don’t think that far into the future when you’re in the midst of a depressive episode.
I’m painting a bleak picture. I don’t mean to, but depression isn’t pretty. It’s grey and bland, an overwhelming cloud of nothing that stretches as far as the mind can fathom.
But it is not insurmountable.
This December will mark five years that I’ve been treating my depression. During that half a decade, I’ve learned how to manage my illness while making an income and building a body of work that I’m proud of. I haven’t mastered depression, but it is no longer my master either.
First and foremost, I take antidepressants every single day. I work with my doctor to make sure I’m on an effective dosage, and I use a plastic dispenser to help me remember to actually take the pills. More often than not, this medication keeps me functioning at or above what I’d consider “normal”.
I also know exactly how much money I need to make in any given month, week and day. Knowing my minimum threshold motivates me to at least do what needs to be done on days when that’s all I can manage. Meeting these basic goals is the equivalent of not getting fired in my world.
Most importantly, I listen to my body. I sleep when I’m tired, eat when I’m hungry, and take a break when I’m stressed. I have to. If I ignore the signals to slow down, I will inevitably hit a wall and no longer be able to work, for myself or anyone else.
What I don’t do as often as I should is socialize out of my house and off of the Internet. I often joke that I couldn’t work for anyone else because I need to be able to nap in the afternoon, but I know that I’d be better off in some ways if I had a reason to go out into the world every day. Most people get their daily dose of human contact at the office, and they get their connection with the outside world during their commute. That may not be ideal, but it’s something. Working for myself, it is all too easy to stay confined to my house for five days in a row.
Obviously, there are simple ways to overcome isolation. For example, I’ve experimented with going to a coffee house to work; but, I get annoyed at the time it takes to walk there and back (cutting into my work hours!) and the money I have to spend on coffee and food while I’m there. Lunch is much cheaper at home and I don’t have to ask a stranger to watch my stuff whenever I have to pee. It’s easier to just stay home and work. Easy is depression’s best weapon.
It’s easy to hit snooze, and then just shut the alarm off after the kids have left for school.
It’s easy to count coffee as breakfast.
It’s easy to sit down at the computer in your pajamas instead of taking the time to shower and get dressed.
It’s not easy to take care of yourself when you have depression; it’s even harder when you’re isolated. And yet, I maintain this self-employed lifestyle, in part, because it gives me the freedom and time to fight my depression (and I really hate cubicles and paperwork.)
Today I remember that my work-life balance is not just about making space for career and family. It’s also a delicate dance between my need to work for myself and self employment’s effects on my mental health. It’s a dance I’m still learning.