I feel the need to preface this with a statement that should be obvious: everyone’s situation is unique. There’s no blanket answer for anything I’m about to discuss; this is more about how I personally cope with my mental health and balancing maintaining a home-based workstyle. What may work for me may not work for someone else, but I’m hoping it’ll shed some light on a little-discussed struggle.
I’ve been fully committed to the home-based workstyle for nearly 5 years now. While it wasn’t something that was as much of a choice, I have learned to thrive within a very difficult way to build a career. For me it meant having to hustle and fight for quality long term work for companies I could be excited about. I took it as seriously as how I’d approach finding traditional work; I was not interested in anything that was just a means to pay the bills. I wanted something I could feel passionate about doing. I wanted to be kept on my toes.
I know how I am- if something is monotonous and repetitive, I get bored as hell. I am always pushing to do something a bit different or contribute a bit more. That eventually paid off long term, as I have been able to minimize salary negotiation, often getting exactly what I asked for. I knew my worth and both my record and presentation showed I was worth every penny. And this isn’t a matter of arrogance; time is the one thing we can never get back, so it had to be worth it for me to dedicate mine to something.
However, the past few years have been an incredible strain in ways that were initially financial, then emotional and physical. First, I was laid off of a very well-paying full time contract I was on because they had to cut back 30% of the staff. That caught me entire off guard, as I had sold myself on the idea that THIS was the long term role I was after as an Operations Manager for an Australian company. I loved it so much, so I was understandably quite crushed when I found out that I was no longer employed.
This happened on the heels of my partner and I having to have our entire relationship tested by what was the first of three legal matters involving his ex (to date) and trying to cope with the fact that I had to throw my support behind him and what he was going through. While we knew what the end game was going to be (an eventual custody case) it was just the start of over three years of legal-related stress, which eventually took a toll on us financially.
I was also only finding work where I was employed initially as full time just to end up part time within a couple of weeks. I was getting discouraged and felt defeated, and I realize in retrospect there was a multitude of things that contributed to that. My partner didn’t fully understand why I’d sometimes just break down in tears or spend entire days in bed, not bothering to human. But, because it wasn’t all of the time, neither one of us really said or did anything about it, until one day…..
He suggested that, perhaps, if I was more active with housework that maybe I’d feel better. Of course I totally took offense to it at first, but then I crumbled. I tried to explain to him the level of anxiety that I was at where I felt like everything was out of my control and I felt like I was suffocating under a non-stop task list I could never conquer. It got worse before it got better, and I could tell he still couldn’t understand.
Part of his perception is that I was feeling claustrophobic from being in the house so much. I was always either working or trying to find more work until I found myself abundantly employed again in late 2016. By then, the third court case had begun….but I was motivated to conquer some of the setbacks we had and was excited about planning our upcoming wedding.
And, not surprisingly, pieces of the puzzle started breaking loose faster than I could put them together. Setback after setback kept coming but this time I maintained my 60-70 hour a week work schedule. And again, I found myself entirely consumed by being overwhelmed and paralyzed by anxiety. The only time I was okay was when I was working, but that was because I was distracted and felt in control.
I stopped going to social obligations and offerings almost entirely. I also had a very strong wave of homesickness, because I felt the people that understood me the most were the least accessible. My friends knew about my struggles. My friends accepted me regardless and I felt safe. When my anxiety hit an all-time high for me, I felt entirely isolated and that I didn’t have anyone I could speak with that didn’t pass judgement or insist they could tell me how to fix the problem, like it was just a squeaky hinge that needed some oil.
Between the depression coming around for another visit and my anxiety, even as recently as a couple of days ago I was spending entire days in bed, only bothering to get up and shower, hydrate and go back to bed. I was finding myself forcing meals because, logically, I knew I had to eat, but I had no interest in it.
A major setback had caused us to have to postpone the rest of the wedding planning for three weeks and I started to crumble realizing the entire month of June was going to leave me scrambling to put together the rest of the pieces so by August everything was done and done well. And I was still juggling working more than full time from home and trying to look after domestic needs with what little time I had. I was hitting a wall at high velocity.
Something made me decide to try to explain it to my partner again, especially when I realized he knew I wasn’t doing that well when he found me in the kitchen looking pained. Except this time he didn’t try to reason that I wasn’t staying busy enough. I told him I felt overwhelmed again and asked him to just empty the dishwasher so I could load it. He didn’t even hesitate and went further, loading the machine for me and asking me how my day was. I started crying, and he didn’t judge. Eventually we went to watch a movie and everything was peaceful.
There was something very relieving about being listened to and not told how to fix it as if it was no big deal. And today I find myself in much better spirits and incredibly motivated. I haven’t felt that in a while. I spent time doing the one thing that I really find to be helpful to ease the lack of feeling of control: rearranging things. I decided it was time to move my entire home office setup near the dining room so I could be near the brick walls and plenty of natural sunlight. I happily busied myself in crafting the setup, knowing that I’d probably find myself moving it again in a month….but it gave me such a sense of calm that I was overdue for.
That’s how I learn to cope, really. I find something I can feel in control of, like a small project or even working on my blog. And, more often than not, it helps reset what’s making me go haywire and I can function again. But sometimes it’s just having to push myself to get out of that bed, to communicate, and to achieve.
If you live with someone who is struggling, by all means, be that ear if they ask it of you. Most times they’re not looking for your advice as much as they’re hoping to be heard, so don’t offer it up unsolicited. Understand that the little bit of consideration could legitimately make or break us. Understand that the little extra love can mean everything to someone that’s drowning in their own head.
Today I am optimistic. I’m ready to kick the shit out of this day. I hope I can stay on this path more often.