On Freelancing Despite Depression

Apart from working for free, what could conceivably go wrong?

“I’m sorry, I’m exhausted, I just want to get home,” I tell the chap gesticulating in front of me about the environment and we wish each other a pleasant weekend, both equally surprised by the intensity of my bluntness, so dispassionately factual it was impossible to argue with it.

Exhaustion is etched on my face, into my bones, and it has stolen the light from my eyes. I go through the motions required by life but not always consciously. Every morning starts with unbidden floods of tears as I sit on the toilet, trying to wake up, peeing from my eyes. The effluvia of exhaustion shows up unannounced but on schedule, sometimes before I’ve even had a chance to get out of bed.

And so I observe it and the patterns that made it reappear, comparing them with the last time this happened, parsing information. Chronic depression has broad shoulders but what it isn’t the root cause of my exhaustion.

Desperation is; it can and does lead you astray.

The tendency to apportion the blame to whatever diagnosis might be attached to our person is a cop out. Depression isn’t synonymous with lapses of judgement but desperation is, and this has been my reality for far longer than I care to admit owing to what may well be a misplaced sense of loyalty toward words.

The words I write keep saving me. During the five years I lost to depression, I had no words, tough luck for a journalist, and so my entire life ground to a standstill and then fell apart. Too sick to work, too cash-strapped to get well, too isolated to overcome. So I held my own hand, the hand that was still clutching a pen out of habit but didn’t know what to do with it anymore.

Bourdain showed me and thus began the uphill struggle to rewrite a life gone awry, one word at a time, thanks internet. Keep thinking, see what sticks, dig deeper than is comfortable so you might extricate yourself from illness and hardship through the strength of your words.

No pressure then.

Take it from someone who thinks about dying several times a day, life is a drug and I am only trying to support my habit with words. This is what I used to do, albeit under different parameters, so I know I have it in me to do so again, at least in theory. In practice, desperation does tend to cramp’s one’s style, especially when work is what gives you life; I owe mine to vocation but it also keeps me in poverty.

I am obsessed with my work but only because it is indistinguishable from my definition of being fully alive; I identify with it. Tellingly, the only time I ever had an identity crisis was when depression precluded thinking and therefore writing; I found myself bereft of purpose. I do not need work life balance, I just need to eradicate desperation by taking on more work, which might, in time, afford me care and rest at last.

And so desperation takes on new tasks, expanding time by pawning rest, always doing more but not without some quality loss until more and more time is required to do it all, compounding exhaustion.

Deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of decrepitude I go as greed cheers from the sidelines.

Freelancing sometimes happens by default rather than by design; to me, it was the only way to combine earning a living with a non-standard life. I spent a year living out of a suitcase between two continents and several countries so I could remain by my parents’ side as they navigated stage 4 cancer. Even though I earned little, I couldn’t have done this without writing and I gave it all I had. No days off, no holiday break, and no one would care enough to make sure they happened, starting with me.

Vocation’s only concern is its survival and the more threatened mine feels, the more it takes to the page for safety and confirmation it is still operational.

This, in a nutshell, is the problem: no rest, no relief, no respite. I keep drowning several times a day and every time it gets harder to come back up for air, I have no stamina left, and my strength is running out. There is no switching off the fight or flight response, it is my pulse and it’ll likely explode my heart it I don’t find a way to stop it thrashing in my chest.

Desperation is not a social media status but it will be the recurring test case for a new society if the gig economy keeps selling us mirages of unattainable success as it taps out vocation and replaces it with snake oil salesmanship. What if the internet is nothing but a global pyramid scheme with friends selling us the prospect of financial freedom, not food containers, to satiate our hunger?

I’m not that friend, sorry.

💛 If you enjoyed these words, please consider supporting my work with a modest cup of coffee. It’s cheaper than 🍽 and it keeps me warm. Merci! 🐱

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