#FreelanceFriday: Let’s talk about anxiety
A few years ago I was held up in my home. I was in the shower, getting ready to fetch my kids from school and head off to work. I’d spent a productive morning writing an article after interviewing a South African woman author. I was inspired and so full of hope.
As I rinsed the soap from my eyes a shadow appeared in front of me and before I knew it, I was yanked out of the shower, beaten on the head with the butt of a gun and thrown into the bathtub nearby. My attacker warned me not to make a sound. But kept asking for the jewellery and where the safe was. I sat shivering in the bathtub thinking: “Must I answer? He just told me not to speak!”
My old friend
I sat as still as I could, wishing I could reach for my towel to cover myself and waiting for the “worst to happen”. But then, as suddenly as it began, our home went silent. They’d left. My hope and inspiration left with them.
I’ve never spoken publicly about my experience – it’s always filled me with a sense of complete and utter lack of control. A whiff of sweat, a blue T-shirt or a silk gown can elicit sweaty palms, a racing heart and the feeling I cannot breathe. This experience has shaped my life as it is in many ways. I now live with anxiety like it is an old friend.
My decision to become a freelancer is inextricably linked to this incident. I think all journalists suffer some type of PTSD, as do doctors and nurses. It is what it is. Add to that an unsympathetic male boss, who told me to “just get back on your horse”, I realised the time had come to move on. But it took me five years to make that move and in that time my anxiety increased.
Now, almost two years after taking the plunge and venturing into new territory I can safely say it was the best decision I made.
Anxiety is still my friend though. And I am learning new ways to cope with it. The most important exercise for me was to accept it and own it.
I’ve been unpacking this concept of mental health recently. I belong to an organisation of professionals where I am watching how mental health impacts the lives of so many of our members. It is a humbling experience and it puts many things about my own condition into perspective. In the working world, there is very little room for “psychological” issues. There is very little empathy. And it’s so easy, as I sit at my desk tapping at my keyboard, to simply dismiss, judge and condemn.
This week I am writing about understanding and empathy. We demand empathy all the time. Yet, we often fail to extend it. We are selective and selfish about a bit of human decency.
I am fortunate that I have a family that is my due north. My partner, children and dad root me to reality and keep me going when I am ready to give up.
I also have a support system of strong colleagues. They are my tribe. They call me at midnight when I am having a panic attack. We collaborate on work and make the isolation of working in the gig economy more bearable.
This is my world, this is what being a freelancer means for me.
Read more about my freelance journey here.