Six months ago I left a successful career in private media largely to focus on my mental health. I did not have much of a plan at the time, but I knew that my situation was not sustainable. I eventually turned to offering freelance services to keep food on the table and pay the bills while figuring out where I wanted life to take me.
For the first couple of weeks, freelancing seemed like the answer to all my prayers - I could get much more sleep, have a lot more time to myself and design my own schedule. The best part? I never had to leave the house. I would finally have time to take care of myself and my mental health in a way my demanding 9-5 in broadcast news simply did not allow. That was the plan. I pictured myself waking up early, actually having time to make breakfast, meditate and work out, instead of rushing off to sit in traffic on my way to an office where I would spend most of my day.
The reality, however, has been much different. Six months into freelancing, many of my mornings are actually spent forcing myself out of bed 10 minutes before my virtual meetings. Sometimes, when things are really bad, I don’t even bother to get out of bed. I simply get work done from bed and then put the laptop away to retreat right back into the dark depths of my covers. I know what you may be saying - that sounds like the life! I initially thought so too. But I’ve come to understand that there is a big difference between healthy rest… and simply hiding in bed to escape yourself and your realities. I’ve battled crippling depression and anxiety for many years… and unfortunately, I realize that while leaving private media has been good for my mental health overall, working from home has not always had the same effect.
When I worked a regular 9-5 I was forced to get out of bed and out of the house even on the days when it seemed impossible. I was forced to get dressed, go out into the world, pretend to feel human…and interact with other humans. The reality is that many of us have become used to being a part of the ebb and flow of the world outside of ourselves. From the strangers you meet on your commute to work, to the clients and colleagues you interact with while carrying out your duties… most of us have become used to a ‘normal’ level of social interaction that comes with employment outside of the home. Unfortunately, now that I work from home, on my worst days I have nothing to force me out of bed… nothing to push me to comb my hair.. and go outside into the real world. I can go days and weeks without leaving my house, without putting on proper clothes, without hearing the buzz of activity and life that fills the world outside of my home. I’m learning that sometimes you need that buzz to remind you that you are still a whole human part of a whole world. Enveloping myself in the quiet cocoon of my home and my mind makes it very easy to spiral into dark, lonely places… and even harder to claw my way out.
With a significant number of companies across the world switching to new modalities of work, I know I’m not the only person battling the unexpected toll that working from home can have on your mental health. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. It’s just as important to remember that ultimately, you have a responsibility towards yourself to do things that make you feel human again, things that remind you that you are whole and alive, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Even if work was the main thing getting you out of the house every day, it’s now your duty to find new reasons to get out of bed.
Going to the gym has helped me with this significantly over the last few weeks. Many days I look forward to my workout sessions because they represent the few times during the week when I will actually leave home and exchange a few brief words with another person. The physical activity itself has also helped. Feeling your heart racing, becoming aware of the soreness of my body, feeling myself pushing my limits and growing stronger… these little things remind me that I’m still alive. Spending hours losing myself between my pillows and bedsheets tends to have the opposite effect.
Exercise might not be the solution for everyone. But that’s why it’s important to find what works for you. That could mean pushing yourself to get dressed and going out to lunch, or going to work at a nice cozy cafe or restaurant. If you’re as lucky as I am to be living on a beautiful island, then the beach could be your office! One of the blessings of freelancing and working from home is that I do not have to remain tied to a desk. I’m reminding myself to take advantage of the opportunity to be able to work from anywhere that I can maintain a stable wifi collection. I try to remember that this should not always mean my bed. Sometimes just going outside, breathing fresh air and looking cute makes all the difference. I guess the lesson for me has been this: as with everything in life, working from home comes with its advantages and disadvantages. It’s really up to me to make the most of the benefits and find ways to combat the not-so-pleasant aspects.
Written by Amanie Mathurin