In August I was made redundant from my job in digital marketing. Rather than starting the job hunt straight away, I quickly decided to become self-employed and tackle the huge to-do list of passion projects I’d spent years creating.
From wanting to turn this website into a profitable business to dreaming of writing a novel, there are so many things I’ve wanted to do for myself. For a long time, it felt like having a full time job was one of the biggest obstacles standing in my way. I often wondered how long it’d take me to save up enough to quit without another job to go to.
And yet, I was also grateful for my job. At the start of the year I was in a really bad place emotionally and extremely depressed. Reaching the top of a counselling waiting list helped but in many ways, I believed my job was good for me too. Having a reliable income, getting out of the house each day and being surrounded by people made me feel better – or at least I thought it did at the time. I thought that if I sat at home with no structure or discipline, I’d have all the freedom in the world to dwell on my problems.
In July, a series of problems in my personal life made me feel more reliant on my job than I was before. It was as if I was in a co-dependent relationship with my job. Except, of course, the company wasn’t as dependent on me as I was on it. I remember thinking that if I lost my job on top of all the other things that had gone wrong, I’d feel even more hopeless.
And yet, when I learned my chance of being made redundant was much higher than the likelihood any of my colleagues would be let go, I thought to myself: “I can’t let this be yet another thing that drags me down and keeps me from happiness. I’ve survived worse than this so I need to pull myself up and get on with it.”
With that in mind, here are a few things I’ve done to take care of my mental health over the last couple of months.
Managing my money as best as I can
Thankfully, in the lead up to the loss of my job, I’d spent months saving for an emergency just like this one. Each and every pay day I’d put between £300 – £500 into a savings account and I’m so grateful with my former self for having that level of discipline – particularly when I was not in the best frame of mind mentally.
Now that I’m self-employed, I’m having to be more mindful than ever before with my money and manage it as best as I can. My friends’ willingness to have nights in with me have been an absolute godsend.
Making exercise a priority
When I worked full time, exercise was not a part of my routine. Sure, I’d have the occasional week where I’d go to the gym religiously, but I’d quickly lose interest and go back to a life of inactivity.
I knew that regular exercise would have a positive impact on my mental health, but it kept slipping down on my list of priorities. It always felt like there was something more important to do. “I could go to the gym or I could spend the evening working on a book that’ll one day make me rich,” became a common excuse, as if I’m E.L James and will become a millionaire from my debut novel.
The last thing I wanted after a long day at work was to knock about in the smelly cesspit that was the Pure Gym near my office. Side note: Is it just me or are Pure Gyms the stinkiest of all gyms?
When I became self-employed, though, my perspective completely changed. “I can’t spend all day every day cooped up in my flat,” I thought to myself, the day I snook into the office at 7am to collect my things before any of my colleagues showed up.
After hobbling to the station looking like the pigeon lady from Home Alone 2, I managed to grab a seat on the tram. With a rucksack on my lap and three bags by my feet, I sat there thinking about how my daily commute made up most of my exercise. I made a promise to myself that I’d try to walk 10,000 steps a day and either ride my bike or go to the gym at least three times a week.
I’d heard self-employed friends talking about how little exercise they get when their workloads are heavy, but with no clients and all this sudden freedom and autonomy at my disposal, this wasn’t an excuse I could use.
I also figured that no matter how much work I had on, I could surely find time for exercise. After all, I was going from spending 8.5 hours a day in an office and 2 hours a day commuting to having all that time to myself. I suddenly had so much control.
I’m proud to say I’ve been working out between four and six days a week. Exercising so frequently has had a huge impact on my mental health. Even on my most unproductive days in terms of work, I still feel like I’ve accomplished something if I’ve taken myself to the gym and have had a good workout.
Going easy on myself
There are some days when I don’t even start work until 4pm. Maybe I’ll get up at nine, potter around the house for an hour, go for a two hour bike ride, shower, have lunch and then before you know it, it’s not far off going dark outside and all I’ve done is answer a couple of emails from my phone, replied to a #journorequest on Twitter and post memes on Instagram.
I’m trying to not beat myself up about it because often, I’ll end up working from 4 until 10. Sometimes I’ll get so in-the-zone with really important work that I’ll work right on through until 2am.
My body clock is all over the place and although that might not be healthy in the long term, I’m going easy on myself. It’s not like I sit on the sofa all day watching daytime TV. I spend a lot of time working in one way or another – it’s just hard to measure sometimes.
Besides, planning Instagram content might not be the most important task I could do, but considering my old job used to involve getting paid to do this for brands, it’s still work and it’s still valuable.
One thing I’ve been doing is complimenting myself as if I’m a teacher praising a child.
“You’ve done so well to meet that deadline!”
“Well done for submitting an article that needed no edits!”
“It’s very brave of you to keep pitching even though the last 20 ideas you sent didn’t get a reply!”
“How wonderful that you went to the gym today when you were in the mood to do absolutely nothing!”
Now I think about it, some of these compliments seem like patronising backhanded insults, but as long as I’m the one giving them, they work for me.
Making time to read and learn
At the start of the year I set myself a challenge of reading 100 books by the end of 2019. I’m extremely behind schedule, but by aiming high and setting myself such a difficult goal, I’ve read more than 40 over the last nine months.
Since becoming self-employed, I’ve largely considered reading time as working time. If I spend three hours giving a book total attention in an afternoon, I don’t chastise myself for not writing blog posts. I see it as a way of investing in myself and becoming a better writer.
At the end of September I’m also taking part in Laura Jane Williams’ pitching course, which I’m really excited about.
Spending as much time as possible with friends
Old Me often turned down social invites because I had too much work to do. New Me says ‘yes’ to as much as possible because investing in friendships is important. I can’t afford to live my life as a recluse, even if extreme solitude may seem like an effective way to invest time into growing my business.
I can’t say yes to absolutely everything, especially since my income is extremely low right now, but I can switch my schedule around and delay work that isn’t urgent if it means spending time with friends.
Another thing I’ve been doing is meeting up with new people for coffee. When I lost my job, I received messages from lasses on Instagram who’ve been in a similar situation and wanted to meet up and become pals.
Last week I met up with one lass and we instantly hit it off. It was like going on a date but without a snog at the end. This in itself felt amazing because I would probably never had met her if I still worked full time.
All in all, becoming self-employed has been a learning experience and while I’m still grieving the loss of my job (I know that might sound pathetic since it’s been almost two months), I’m just glad that my mental health is the best it’s been in ages. In the words of Big Little Lies’ Renata Klein, “I will be rich again. I will rise up!”