So you’ve already seen a thousand articles about freelancing, but I’m here to talk about me, me, me. How did I end up freelancing? Well, that’s very polite of you to ask and I’m so glad you did, because shit’s gonna get intensely personal. It has taken me over a year to work up the courage to write this, so please, be kind.
Before we start, I’m aware that I have fairly huge dollop of privilege. This is partly why this piece isn’t “how to freelance,” instead it’s an account of how things in my life unfolded over the space of a few months. I’m aware that just acknowledging privilege is not particularly useful and pushing back against it is what’s needed; this is something I’m trying to do more often. However, so many of the decisions and situations in this piece were assisted by my privilege that I had to at least mention it, I can’t pretend to be oblivious. This is something I’m still learning about. So, all that in mind, onwards.
Not too long ago, I was working in a job that was affecting my mental health. I never really wanted to admit that publicly, but there it is. I feel the need to tell you, the bald truth is that my job was fucking me right up.
Early on, I’d had some misgivings about the role but was pretty much told to suck it up. Like many employers, they heavily leaned on the whole, “you’re so lucky, people would kill to work here” thing. Which was true, by the way. But I didn’t feel lucky; I felt miserable. Some colleagues thrived but I didn’t, and I certainly wasn’t the only one. The icing on the misery cake was that I felt even more miserable because I felt miserable. Thanks to a combination of several work-based issues, my anxiety levels shot through the roof, like a shitty glass elevator smashing everything in its path.
The increased anxiety had nasty real-life consequences. To let you in on a huge secret, on a normal day, I have a bad phobia of heights and escalators. This is a laugh riot when you use the London Underground daily, believe me. I knew my levels of anxiety were approaching Distinctly Not Good when I couldn’t even get on the escalator at my home tube station.
I’d stand inside the ticket barriers pretending to check my phone, tutting as if I was reading an important email. Secretly, I would be waiting for a specific set of circumstances which would ‘allow’ me to board the escalator. My brain would whizz off into the distance like the rabbit at a greyhound track, too fast to catch and shake sense into. I couldn’t even focus on the words on my phone. I’d feel as though my heartbeat was visible through three layers of clothing, half convinced that my scalp and hair could expose my thudding pulse, giving away my secret phobia, my pathetic fear. Even now, I’ve got sweaty palms as I type.
The usual coping mechanisms stopped working. Panic attacks became ‘normal.’ It became ‘normal’ to sweat through my clothes and for the dampness of fear to kink my straightened hair. It became ‘normal’ to have my vision blacken at the edges.
Then, things stepped up a gear. It became ‘normal’ to take two buses to a different train station, where I felt able to board the tube without feeling like I was going to die. It became ‘normal’ to add an extra hour to my commute. I was doing my best to work around the issues, but I was a fucking mess and obviously, very obviously, this wasn’t normal.
After a few months on Super Mega High Alert, something snapped. Self-preservation? I don’t know. I did something I never imagined myself doing and handed in my notice without another job lined up. I’d finally realised that none of this was fucking worth damaging my mental health for, and I needed out. Now.
I was able to leave knowing I’d be ok without a job for a few weeks. I was lucky. My partner and my parents supported my decision with a smidgen of incredulity and a lot of kindness. I didn’t have a plan, but I knew I wanted a little time to myself, to sort my head, to calm down.
Then, as if I’d subconsciously sent a flare into the sky, the offers of freelance work started to arrive a week later. I didn’t even ask, they just came and I took them. Did I mention how fucking lucky I am? So that’s why I became a freelancer. While the route was terrible, I can honestly say that I’m still glad, because I would never have made the leap otherwise.
It’s not completely idyllic though. Work isn’t consistent so I’ve cut my outgoings. I’m fearing my tax bill. I still feel residual anger over the job I left, mainly with myself, despite the fact that I had very legitimate issues with the place. Sometimes I get horribly lonely during the day. If I’m really busy, I might not leave the house for a few days straight. Small things have changed, I go through more toilet roll and teabags than before and my gas and electricity bills have increased. I miss being in town. There’s no sick pay, holiday pay or pension, and naturally I worry about where my next job will come from. Imposter syndrome still exists.
But all that said, the flexibility afforded by freelancing came at the right time. I can see more of my family; I stayed with my sister during her maternity leave, so she wouldn’t be alone if labour kicked in. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible people like Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and David Bowie’s producer, Tony Visconti. I worked at Latitude Festival. I’ve worked with some of the UK’s best commercial radio brands. I can do errands during weekdays, as well as my laundry. I’ve met really talented people and worked on interesting projects. And most importantly, more than anything else, I’m much less anxious.
I’m sure I’ll want to return to a full time role eventually, but now I’m enjoying spending my time on my terms. I feel so lucky and grateful for every damned thing in my life these days, and perhaps that’s been the biggest benefit and the biggest surprise. I’m generally a cynical and grumpy old boot, so when I began feeling this way, it confused me. I thought something was going wrong, like an errant chemical imbalance was causing me to feel excitement and joy bubbling in my chest daily… but no, it’s something far less interesting. I’m just happy.
It would be remiss of me to write this whole bloody thing then not tell you what I do. If you want to hire me, hit me up for copy writing, social media production, management, strategy, digital content management, curation, community management and so on. I have experience in all kinds of things and have the capability to do more.