Fighting Isolation in Self-Employment

There are so many aspects of being self-employed that are brilliant, especially as someone with depression and anxiety. I’m my own boss: I’m best placed to give myself the support and care I need to balance working with my illness. Not only that, but self-employment inherently has the flexibility I need. Unfortunately there’s a downside that comes with it: isolation.

Regardless of whether you like your colleagues or not, working in a traditional environment gives you social interaction in a way you don’t get in a lot of self-employment. Of course, if you’re a self-employed counsellor or builder or something like that, you almost certainly get some company along the way! I’m thinking more of people whose jobs naturally keep them at home at a desk, like writers and artists.

I am very fortunate that my fiancĂ© works from home frequently, so for about half of the days I am working, I don’t have the same isolation. I have someone there who I can lament my inability to write to, or complain about the relentless presence of SEO. Even just the simple fact of having someone in the same room helps you feel less isolated. The option for contact is there, even if you don’t use it.

(Of course, when he’s been here a lot, I also find myself frustrated that I haven’t had the house to myself. Sometimes I just want to sing songs from musicals at the top of my voice, okay? But that’s besides the point).

But even I get days where I feel terribly alone. Though I have an amazing support network of friends and family who I talk to constantly, sometimes that’s not enough to beat off the isolation. Isolation is something to which, as a person with depression and anxiety, I am especially vulnerable. They delight in ganging up with each other to make that normal human experience feel much, much worse.

So how do I fight it?

Leave The House

First up, get thee to the outside. Yes, you have things to be doing. No, that task list isn’t going to do itself. But are you going to be able to do any of it when there’s a knot in your chest that won’t go away? No.

Even as someone who’s terrified of people, I draw some comfort from being around them. Now granted, I have to gain that comfort whilst wearing noise-cancelling headphones and making no eye contact with anyone whatsoever. But even I need to go outside where there are people now and then.

So find a reason – any reason – to go out. Walk to the shops. Just walk around somewhere. Especially now the weather’s getting better. I promise, no matter how much it takes you to make yourself get out there, it really will help.

Socialise Outside of Work

I can get through a day of isolation a lot easier when I know that, come the evening, I’m going to go and see my friends. I have something on almost every weekday evening and generally use at least every other weekend to see friends. Sometimes this is exhausting, because I naturally expend energy on socialising rather than regaining it. But it also gives me so, so much happiness and comfort.

It’s a balance, and there are times where I have to tell myself to have some time where I just veg out at home, but it gives me a lot more benefit than disbenefit now. This is something that I’ve had to fight for over the past decade and I don’t regret a moment of doing so. All those days I spent in bed because I’d been with friends the day before and I was exhausted are well worth it.

Because I can get myself through the darker times by remembering that those brilliant, blazing lights are at the end of it.

Admit Your Vulnerabilities

I am British, and as such I repress feelings as naturally as breathing. I spent the vast majority of my life utterly incapable of processing emotion. If I felt it, I got overwhelmed by it. Mostly I didn’t feel it at all. Sometimes both happened at once and I was just left confused. I know what it’s like to bury things.

But repressing your feelings ultimately hurts you more. So if there is one thing you should do to help fight the isolation of being self-employed, it’s this: admit that you are isolated.

Now this can be really tough, because as self-employed people we can spend a lot of our time justifying our employment to people. So the idea of admitting that there are negative things about our job? That’s super hard. It feels like it goes against all the defending of our job we do. But thinking in that binary fashion won’t help you, and it won’t help the perception of self-employment.

No job, even your dream job, is perfect. If you deny that then you’re just going to bottle up all of the frustration and, ultimately, you’ll be less happy than if you were in a normal job. Say it with me: it is okay to be vulnerable. If you’re feeling something, that feeling is valid. Nothing is all bad, or all good. Remember this, and you’ll be a darn sight healthier and happier than most people.

And on the worst days, remember that you’re not alone in feeling alone.

If you’re struggling with isolation, depression or anxiety, make sure you’re getting the support you need. Check out Mind’s guide to workplace mental health – even if you’re self-employed, it still applies to you.