Finding a work-life balance with anxiety

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People talk a lot about finding a work-life balance. I know that’s something I struggle with, but for me it’s so much more complex, especially as a freelancer.

In my work life, I need to have a balance of having enough work, but not too much. This can be tricky—if not impossible—at this stage in the game. Some weeks, I’m offered full-time in an office plus a few time-consuming projects to do from home. If I knew more work was on the way to fill my time in all the coming weeks, I could turn some projects down. But I don’t know.

This week, work was slow. I furiously pitched stories to publications I’ve never written for and put my names in for projects. And then I panicked that I would overload myself if even half my inquiries were approved, so I pulled back to work on personal projects and spend a little extra time with friends, knowing that in a couple of weeks I won’t have the same kind of time for them.

My life outside of work is a whole other level of complicated. I need to juggle my basic human needs of eating with the less basic needs to exercising and have a clean home. My friends need my support through difficult times, and I need fun-time with them. My partner needs my support and love, but also time to just enjoy being a couple. And I really, really need time for me.

It’s recently been brought to my attention that the level of anxiety I experience on a day-to-day basis is not normal. In fact, it’s impacting my physical health in a huge way. That anxiety is what used to fuel me through working overnight and cramming weekends full of friend-time, but now it leaves me irritable, nauseous and otherwise ill. Maybe it always did and I’m just taking notice now.

I’ve had people interrogate me about what causes my anxiety, but I’ve never had a complete answer. Sometimes I just shake my head. Other times I make something up. Figuring out what sends me spiralling into a panic attack has been a long, slow process and I’m slowly putting together the pieces to get a picture of what my mental health issues really are.

One thing I’ve discovered is that this hectic, go-go-go schedule leaves me hyperventilating on my closet floor, terrified that my heart is going to explode or that I’m about to suffocate. Looking at my day-timer and seeing that every moment of my day is scheduled, my chest tightens. When am I going to clean? How will I find time to get home to feed the cats? When will I work on my personal projects? When will I craft? What if something happens to a friend and they need me? I pre-panic about how I’m going to panic going through those busy times. My anxiety skyrockets and remains on high alert until I get the time to tuck my phone away and sit quietly with a book, tea and a hours of kitty cuddles.

I’ve learned that this me-time is something I need everyday to calm my anxiety. I’ve also learned that I’m not going to change overnight. I know I won’t become the master of this work-life balance dealio anytime soon and anxiety is going to continue to be a huge issue in my life. But, with constant reminders that my friends—my true friends—will still love and support me even if I’m too busy, and that work will always keep coming, and that I won’t be able to keep doing any of this if I don’t take care of myself and kick this anxiety’s butt (at least a little, some of the time), I think I might start to get the hang of it eventually.

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Pros vs. Cons

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I’ve been doing this freelance thing for about a month. Overall it’s been pretty rad.

Pros

IMG_0115-I can work from bed when I’m feeling like crap.

-I can work with my cats within arms reach. Or in my arms.

-Or in bed with cats on me.

-Eating healthy is much easier when my kitchen and food is just a few feet away.

-After a big win, I can take the rest of the day off to have a private dance party.

-If there’s work I’m not interested in, I don’t do it. If there’s a publication that’s difficult to work with, I pitch somewhere else.

-If there’s a project I really want to work on, I can find time in my day for it and maybe even get someone to pay me.

I’m not looking to get tied down to a desk job again quite yet, but not everything is all cats and dance parties.

Cons

-After a big win, there’s no one around to celebrate with me.

-It can be hard to decide when to take a break to eat, so 4 p.m. might be greeted with a rumbling stomach.

-Other times, at 5 p.m. you realize you haven’t brushed your teeth.

-Friends and family have difficulty understanding that everyday is not a “day off.”IMG_0110

-Getting the cats to realize I’m not available for snuggles every second of every day is next to impossible.

-Too much work? Not enough? It’s a balancing act I’ve far from mastered.

Despite the cons, I know I’ve made the right decision every time I remember that I’m self-employed. The giddy, excited feeling almost completely covers up the fear that rent won’t be paid in just a couple short weeks…

Forage your fridge full

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Groceries are, and have been, pretty scarce around here. A $25-50 a week food budget isn’t much to go on. Really, it’s not enough to go on.

Food banks were my best friend in college. I’ve avoided going back, but it takes a lot of work to find food from alternative sources.

Foraging

Gardens are obviously a great place to find food, but food is growing all around us.

Did you know that dandelions make a delicious and healthy snack?

In Winnipeg, raspberry bushes, chives and rhubarb plants grow in some parks. Chickweed, purslane and goosefoot—fairly common weeds—can bulk up (or make) a salad.

Spend an afternoon wandering a park near you and taking photos of plants you suspect might be edible. Or maybe do a little research before heading out and have some in mind to look for.

Lucky for me, a good friend of mine is in greenspace management and joins me for hikes. He frequently stops to look at plants and I frequently ask, “Can I eat that?”

While foraging in urban settings will help reduce your grocery bill, it’s also fun and a great way to get into nature.

Trading

I’m pretty lucky to have a ton of friends who love me a lot. I could ask for handouts, but that’s not a very friendly thing to do.

Instead, I’ve been offering to trade work I can do for their food. A hand knit hat for vegan lasagne here, helping in the garden for fresh produce there. Maybe a ride to the vet in exchange for a burger.

Doing favours for friends is so nice, but if they can afford to give back and you can’t afford to eat, ask how they feel about filling your belly.

Preserving

Canning is a skill of mine and I’m lucky enough to own a dehydrator. If a friend has an apple tree and not enough freezer space for pie, I’ll offer to make apple sauce or chips in exchange for a cut of their haul.

For a couple years, I signed-up for Fruit Share. Basically, some folks sign-up to pick, others sign-up to have food on their property picked. Pickers do their job, leave a percentage for the home-dweller, give a percentage to charity and then take the rest. I usually missed sign-up for everything except crab apples, but that meant I had enough apple chips to last me a full year.

There are so many other ways to get free food! Dumpster diving, joining a community garden and starting your own garden are a few other ways.

Do you have any tips on filling the fridge without blowing the budget?

Potluck your belly full

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The first thing I did after giving my boss my last day was rework my budget. It was pretty tight to begin with, but now I have expenses listed in order of what’s most important. Rent and bills come before food, which means I might be looking at some pretty bare cupboards for the next few months.

It’s okay though. I have a plan.

When I was in university, I used to have a weekly vegan potluck. We’d end up with a table full of vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins to gorge on. Once our belly’s were full, we’d trade food.

Instead of trying to get through my week on plain white pasta and soup from the dollar store, I had salads, tofu dishes and more.

Having it every week is a lot of work (although it helped me keep my apartment clean!), but having one once in a while is a good way to help stretch out the last of your money before the next cheque comes in.

Here are a few tips for planning a successful potluck:

  1. Create an event page or email thread where everyone can say what they’re bringing. This does two things. First, it puts pressure on people to actually show up so you don’t have a bowl of hash browns for 12 and 10 last-minute cancels. Second, it ensures that you won’t end up with six fruit salads.
  2. Tell everyone to bring their own tupperware. This way, you don’t have to lend out yours and potentially never see it again.
  3. Make it fun! Turn it into a crafternoon, get everyone to bring their favourite board games, maybe pop in a movie. This is an especially good idea if you’re inviting folks who don’t all know one another.

Do you have any tips for throwing a killer potluck?

Setting financial goals

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Last week I decided I need to start moving towards making a goal income.

Writing down my number, I realized that I’m below half of where I expected to be after graduating. Which makes me really glad I managed to get out without any student debt.

So, why am I so far? Besides spending maybe too much time on projects I don’t get paid for, I’m not very efficient the four afternoons a week after my part-time job.

I often plan to grab coffee or lunch with a friend before I start working on freelance projects. By the time I get home my roommate is here being noisy or my partner is home and I want to catch up about our days.

This week, I’m going to try stopping at a coffee shop before home to work on freelance projects. I’ll also try to find a few more before heading home.

Working from home would be great if I had a space to do it and didn’t have a roommate who only has loud hobbies. So, until there is peace at home I’ll work elsewhere in my quest to make above the poverty line.

Taking time off

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This weekend, I relearned what it was like to have fun.

Saturday morning I slept in until 8, drove around with my partner and coffee looking for free stuff from “free weekend,” and made a fancy picnic which we had at the park while getting sunburns before taking a walk through three different gardens. 

What’s missing? Work.

I think of some of the volunteer work that I do as “fun” time. I enjoy it and the people I work with. But the fact is, someone dictates where I am and what I’m doing during that time. It’s not real time off. It’s not relaxing. It’s just one more thing to clutter my agenda with.

Saturday was the third full day off I’ve taken this year. It’s time for more.

This week, I’m going to set a goal amount of money I’d like to be bringing in monthly. Then, I’m going to have to start dropping the things that I don’t truly enjoy and that stop me from reaching that goal.

Will I drop all my volunteer work? Certainly not. But I plan on cutting back so I’m spending more time picnicking and less time working for free.

There’s always something…

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Last week I came home after a particularly long day of working two jobs with the goal of ploughing through a rather long freelancing to-do list.

Then I stepped into the bathroom. My socks were soaked two steps in.

The toilet tap has been leaking so the water needs to be shut-off. I need to call a plumber, but I haven’t been home during the day the past three weeks so I was putting it off. One of my roommates forgot our predicament. So I was left to clean before I could even start working. Let’s just say I didn’t get much sleep that night.

Six years ago, almost to this day, I left my parents house and found my own place. Since then, “There’s always something!”

Cats with bladder infections, appliances dying, getting robbed, dishwashers and toilets overflowing. For six years I’ve been complaining that “there’s always something!” Life can’t be smooth for more than a few days.

I came home Friday night and my perspective changed a little. That morning I went to pay my bills and realized that after six years of going to school with no student loans, I had finally ran out of money. Pay Hydro or my phone bill? The Internet isn’t so important because we can walk to the library, I was rationalizing, hoping it didn’t come to that. Wondering how to explain it to my roommates.

Then I come home from work and there’s a cheque from a company I freelanced for that just covers what I need to scrape by. And starting a job on Monday, it’ll be smooth sailing from there.

Yup, the toilets going to overflow sometimes. Sure, having three cats there will be giant vet bill from emergency middle of the night visits. And yes, I will have to rush to friends and family’s places with perishable goods when the fridge or freezer decide to stop working.

But at least I can afford to fix those things. And hey, it’s kind of fun getting a visit from a plumber! The things you learn… And those runs over to loved one’s cooling appliances, well, they show you who really cares.

Life would get boring if everything was perfect all the time. You need to look at the good side of things.

Thinking I was going to lose Internet access had me brainstorming freelance stories all day Friday. So now I’m off to send some pitches!