Full Time Freelancing

One of the things that has been most difficult to adjust to in becoming an author publisher is getting used to full time working hours. When I first started last year, I was doing things as and when suited me. I did this to finish Mundane Magic, to have it edited, even publishing it – it wasn’t until November, months after the book had been released, that I started to solidify my working hours and schedule.

I had a breakdown when I was 17, and then went to university (whilst hideously ill; not the best decision I’ve ever made). By the time I came out of university, I was so unwell that I couldn’t do anything. I tried here and there, but got no success with anything until I made recovery the thing that I tried – but that’s a story for another time.

The point is, I’ve never had a full time job. I worked a little bit in the village shop when I was a teenager, I did bits of work here and there, I once attempted to get a standard job but quit after four days when I’d chained three panic attacks one after the other. Over the years I got volunteer jobs where I effectively worked part time hours, but even this wasn’t scheduled.

I am now going into my sixth month of working regular hours, and my fourth month of those hours being full time hours. I’ve talked about precisely what my routine is before (ideally here, realistically here), and covered a bit of the pros and cons. But I’ve wanted to go into more detail about the impact this has had on my mental health – so, here we go.

Routine is Amazing

Let’s start with the fact that, frankly, this schedule and my working hours have been a resounding success.

It is now two years since I was last in therapy (I just have medication now), but in those two years I have continued to improve in bounds. I am more mentally resilient now than I was before this. I have a lot more spoons to get me through the day, and that makes a huge difference.

Having a routine has made me achieve more, it’s made me feel happier, and it’s done all these things not just professionally. I’m doing more outside of the professional too, because I’m organising things better. Because I’m organising things better, I’m less anxious. Because I’m less anxious, I’m able to appreciate my relationships more.

This isn’t surprising – we’ve all heard how important routine is for mental health. What surprises me, if I’m honest, is that I was able to do it. And that’s the real question, isn’t it – how have I managed it? When I’ve tried things like this before, it’s never stuck. Why now?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that – at least not one that I know to be certain. I believe that we are constantly subconsciously processing things, and that this process that we cannot see does a lot for our recovery from trauma. I think this is why sometimes you are ready to take a risk and sometimes you’re not, but it’s really hard to tell which is the case.

So this time, I was ready, where I hadn’t been before – and that’s all I can really say. I’m very grateful for it whatever led to me being capable of it this time.

Time Off Matters

But if there’s one lesson that I learnt early on, it’s this: no matter how well you’re doing with your routine, time off is still really important.

I took a week off over Christmas to go and see family, and I was terrified about doing so. That long away from working? What if I forgot how to write? What if I missed opportunities because I wasn’t there to get them? Or if everyone thought I was a terrible person for taking time off?

Spoiler: no one will ever think you’re terrible for taking time off.

In fact, you have to take time off. In that week I had off, I rekindled my love for reading, which in turn improved my subsequent writing tenfold. I got to go and do things, free of responsibility – I took a laptop, but was rigid about not allowing myself to do any work.

It was brilliant, and it was important, and if you are going to do any kind of freelancing or self-employment then you need to take holidays too. Fight for them. Insist on them. And yes, you might have to turn down work to keep them. But there will be more work.

Flexibility is Key

Holidays, however, aren’t the only time where it’s important to give yourself time off.

My anxiety and depression are not the same every day. I have days where I barely notice them (though they’re still present), days where I cannot do anything at all, and a huge number of days that fall somewhere inbetween that. I can have partially good, partially bad days too.

So something I have found incredibly important is being compassionate with myself and considerate towards my illness. Obviously, I always strive to do everything – but I’ve gotten quite good, almost two decades into being unwell, at spotting when I need to take a step back and when I can push that little bit more.

I genuinely believe that a lot of the success of my full time working is due to the fact that sometimes I do not work full time. I know that sounds counterintuitive. But to give you an example: this week I worked 100% of my hours from Monday to Wednesday and felt really satisfied with myself.

Then Wednesday night I had trouble sleeping (ironically because I was in such a good mood), and so on Thursday I didn’t get up on time. In fact, I didn’t get up until 11am. When I did, I did the ‘bare minimum’ of work – which is generally social media and any blog or Patreon posts I have to do – and then did nothing else for the rest of the day.

Today, I got up a tiny bit earlier, and have been able to sit down and write this blog post. I’m optimistic that I’m going to be able to work the rest of the day. I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t been kind to myself yesterday.

So be kind where you can, because it will give you the strength for the times where you can’t.

Change as Needed

The schedule I have today isn’t the same as the schedule I had when I started this in November. This isn’t just because I started with a part-time schedule (running from 10am-3pm daily) and now have moved up to a full time schedule (9am-5pm), though that’s obviously part of it.

It’s also because as I’ve gone through it, I’ve revised how things are going and I’ve adjusted accordingly. This past week I’ve added a second block of writing time in. This means a few things: I feel better about the proportion of my time invested into writing. And, if I have a bad morning (see yesterday/today), there’s a second chance at getting it right. It’s early days, obviously, but it’s going well thus far.

I’m going to keep reviewing things and keep changing them as projects dictate. The schedule needs to work for me, and it can only do that if I keep making sure it does.

Sleeping Still Sucks

That’s been a lot of pros, so here’s a con: working full time has not fixed my sleep.

I thought it would. I thought the fact that I had to get up by 9am every day would mean that I would sleep better, because I’d be sleeping at the same time. That the more I did, the better I’d sleep, because the tireder I’d be. It hasn’t done that. I still, regardless of when I go to bed, regardless of how tired I am, cannot sleep for hours.

This is owed in part to the fact that in the same period that I’ve been observing this schedule, my medication dosage has changed. I’m on an SNRI that can make you very drowsy, so has to be taken at night. On the higher dosage, when I woke up in the morning it was always like waking up from deep sleep no matter where I was in my sleep cycle. But, helpfully, it also made me drowsier when trying to sleep.

I’m now on the lowest dose and don’t have that helping me. I go to bed and promptly spend two hours lying there restlessly. The fact that I’ve gone to bed at the same time every night (or close enough to it) appears to make no difference. The fact that I’m theoretically getting up at the same time doesn’t help either. To be fair, getting up on time is great for my mental health – I just can’t always do it.

I’m incredibly envious of people who have that ‘oh, I just wake up at 7am regardless’ bodyclock. I don’t have it; I never have. Instead I just sleep and sleep and sleep, as if my body were so grateful to have managed it that it refuses to let go.

But it’s a work in progress. It’s something I keep fighting to sort, and will continue to – and I know I’m better able to fight that because I’m stronger as a result of working full time.

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