Last week, I crashed hard. Between marketing an immigration rights fundraiser and being dragged into a crisis involving a former volunteer gig, I’ve spent most of the past few days relaxing. Losing two assignments have resulted in a more diligent search for freelance work, but my mother’s health issues have meant an increase in caregiving responsibilities. Balancing caregiving and freelancing is difficult, but adding self-care increases the overall challenge in maintaining balance.
Part of integrating self-care into my freelancing and caregiving lifestyle is setting boundaries over my time and efforts. When Facebook refused to promote ″political content” (especially after numerous online efforts encouraging that action), promoting that event meant a bit more work. However, that also meant cutting off efforts to engage me in a former volunteer situation after I had resigned. (Ironically, this was for an organization that claims to be focused on freelancer rights yet treats volunteers like unpaid employees). It also means not regretting being terminated from a freelance assignment for a local agency with high turnover (both in employees and freelance staff), disorganized and poorly trained staff, and using outdated principles.
In short, leaving all of those situations improved my mental health; being nearly dragged back into one cost me time and energy in setting boundaries. But it also means engaging in balancing the search for work with caring for an ill parent. Unlike caring for a child, the dynamics of "parenting a parent" can be more ambiguous and difficult to navigate. Taking time out for self-care often feels selfish, yet it's necessary to avoid compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout.
One of the other challenges in self-care has been dealing with friendships. For the past year and a half, I have been in the process of simplifying my life and letting go of activities that don’t really engage me. This has resulted in opening up my time for other things, including connecting (or reconnecting) with many people. Face-to-face time with people outside of social media often results in greater enthusiasm as well as a reminder about the importance of having healthy relationships. Self-care also means distancing myself from people who...well, their attitude tends to reflect these sentiments:
″You’re not doing enough, Gordon, you need to hustle. You need to do more so you can get work to take care of your mother. You’re failing at everything you do.”
Of course, these are the kind of people who believe that ″crushing it” in the gig economy is possible. (It’s also encouraging me to write a post entitled: Gary Vaynerchuk: Toxic Masculinity or White Male Entitlement – You Decide!). Part of the grind is securing freelance work, which often means placing a lot of effort that may not pay off immediately. Applying for full-time work also results in the question, ″Why are you moving out of freelancing/consulting?” Criticisms about ″charging too much” or ″why not just take any job” abound, meaning that freelancers like me are continually challenged to assert (and are continually denied) our value. Opening up about these challenges when networking often leads to the same cookie-cutter advice from self-appointed ″career coaches”: getting a job is a full-time job...and caregiving for an ill parent means less time at that particular "full-time job".
It also means that my romantic life is...non-existent at this point. Dating becomes harder, mostly because many women aren’t that eager to date someone caring for a sick parent. Discussing these issues either leads to awkward pauses, criticism for being selfish (as in ″What you’re doing is such a blessing, why would you complain?” or simply lack of interest. (And don't get me started when there are unrequited feelings...despite being difficult to handle in normal circumstances, those feelings can be even more difficult to work through without the help of a mental health professional). As much as I know my high worth as a human being...freelancing and caregiving can get especially lonely. Although reconnecting with friends can be rejuvenating, pursuing anything further can be rather heartbreaking and frustrating. Engaging in self-care means accepting this, but quite honestly...it's difficult with various other pressures. However, it can be handled with grace.
If I ponder about these matters excessively, I can easily fall into depression. As I wrote when Antony Bourdain passed from suicide, I tend to have reactive depressions rather than full-on depressive episodes. Although I’m not incapacitated or kept from seeking work, it does mean that I have to work harder to identify and follow up on leads. It also means that rejection takes on a harsher tone. My self-care regiment means shutting out the negativity from those around me and realizing that I am doing the best I can in a difficult circumstance. It means that eating healthy, getting regular sleep, engaging in healthy social behaviors and making my self-worth a priority makes me a better freelancer...and a better person.
(And a word on ″positivity” - having a positive attitude does not mean that I refuse to acknowledge hardship in my past nor present difficulties. Adopting an attitude that ″there are no victims – only volunteers” results in a lack of compassion, empathy, and overall self-regard. Taking stock in the small victories of the day despite present difficulties – and having hope that matters will work out for the best – is a good thing. Adopting a counterfeit positive attitude that never acknowledges that sometimes things may not work out can be hazardous. I have adopted an attitude of defensive pessimism when it comes to dealing with matters – I’m not putting my eggs in one basket, but I make sure that I know my options when storing eggs.)
(That metaphor...really doesn’t work, does it?)
Balancing freelancing and caregiving can be a challenge; managing both while integrating self-care becomes especially critical. For many freelancers (especially those of a specific age who are ″reluctant entrepreneurs”), this work style is not aspirational as much as it is practical. With more people adopting a ″gig economy” working life, understanding their struggles and helping them progress in their work life can provide positive benefits. After all, freelancers are doing two jobs: doing the work that pays the bills and providing administrative support that finds and enhances the work that pays the bills.
So when you’re dealing with freelancers either personally or professionally, please try to have some compassion. Avoid the usual ″work in your pajamas” or ″you have it easy” cliches. Because freelancing is a work style, not a lifestyle. Life still happens, and freelancers who are caregivers are especially challenged with self-care…
...and taking care of ourselves should be celebrated.
As always, thanks for reading!