Since I started working for myself, I’ve noticed a really destructive pattern that occurs and reoccurs. I recognize it, which is good, but I’m making basically no headway into overcoming it. Even a little. Maybe writing this will help me work towards that.
Overwork is a problem that has plagued me all my life. Ben jokes that I have two speeds: Maximum and Collapse.
At the last year of my desk job, I got fairly okay at self-care. The day was very regimented, I showed up at the same hour and I left at the same hour. With very little exception, I ate lunch at the same hour, and I took my breaks at the same hour. All that monotony was depressing, and the hour or more in traffic each way to sizzle under the halogens eight hours a day was horrific, and I’m glad I never have to do it again. But it was easy.
Now that my work hours are basically infinite, I’m having a difficult time keeping perspective.
When I first started, I woke up every morning at 6:30, the same time I woke up for my desk job. I was at my desk in my home office promptly at 8 am, breakfast or no breakfast, showered or not showered. In the early days, my “work” was more about trying to feel my way around how to be a freelancer. Every action I took caused me massive anxiety. Am I doing this right? What will people think? Will this cost me? Benefit me? Everything from how to get clients to why my neck suddenly hurt more than it had ever hurt before (combination stress and bad lumbar support) was on the top of my overtaxed mind.
I didn’t give myself time to mourn my job. I didn’t give myself time to relax from the stress of soul-sucking work paired with imminent layoffs. I got the news on a Wednesday, my last day was Friday. I worked all weekend on the first version of my company website, filling it with as much content as I could muster in a non-stop 72 hour blurr, and on Monday I “launched” what became Marina Martinez Consulting.
To this day, I have no idea if that was awesome or stupid. If I had to do it again, I might do the exact same thing. Although probably with a little more optimistic excitement, seeing as how this worked out pretty well.
But there’s a long term issue with my working style. I don’t like getting side-tracked. I like finishing something before I leave the room. I was always the “one more chapter” kid, and I have a lot of good memories of staying up all night to finish a project I started the same afternoon. I’m a sprinter at heart. But the world doesn’t work well for soar and crash systems. So I’ve tried, and sort of done okay, at learning how to marathon. Pace myself, take breaks, set short-term goals that add up to long term goals. Only give 70% instead of the instinctual 110% I usually run with. But this shit is hard on a good day.
And the majority of my days have been qualifyingly bad. I say that because I don’t think of them as bad days. But things that would have knocked me on my ass ten months ago, things that still are sometimes difficult to navigate, are happening every single day as a freelancer. I haven’t had a budget in nearly a year. I’ve never gone that long without one since I was fourteen years old. I used to get grumpy if I’d gone more than a week without balancing my checkbook. But there’s no way of knowing what my income will be month to month. When things get more steady, I can make a plan that incorporates heavy savings on boom months that can be drawn on in bust months, but we’re not that solid yet. I have negotiations with people on a weekly, sometimes daily basis that would have terrified me before. And, at the bottom of all of it, I’m my own safety net. If this goes wrong, there’s nobody to catch me.
That’s a lot of new shit to have to try and be kind to myself around.
But something has to be done. I’m anxious over not working when I’m trying to relax, and when I am working, I end up a wreck because I work through breaks and don’t eat or hydrate. Sometimes I’m completely brain dead so I zone out on something stupid and then I think that counted as a break, when I was obsessing over work the entire time, I was just too exhausted to do anything but scroll mindlessly through Reddit.
I know that taking breaks and taking good care of my body are necessary for good concentration. I know that when I don’t do these things productivity goes down, and when I do them it goes up. And yet, that’s not what I do.
What is the motivation to ignore things I know to be true? Is it so that I have an excuse? I can say I’m working hard because here I am such a wreck, when the truth is I don’t have enough clients to fill my roster? Every month, work threatens to overflow and I teeter on the brink of overwhelm, but every month it fails to actually do this. So I stretch the work I do have to fill the time available? This answer doesn’t feel right to me.
Could it be that, having come from a life of chaos, it doesn’t feel like work if I’m not freaking out about it? I need the emotional high of deprivation in order to be assured I’m taking action? That doesn’t sit right either.
There’s always the old standard: I don’t feel like I deserve to be treated well, therefore I’ll go against reason in order to deprive myself of that which I perceive myself to be undeserving of. There may be something to this one. The concept that a person, specifically this person (me) could be motivated by love has always been very foreign to me. And that is especially true lately. I’m having a really hard time feeling compassion for anybody right now, and past experience has shown me that first place that system breaks is inside myself. If I can’t feel compassion for anyone else, it’s because, at some point I decided that I didn’t have any compassion for myself.
Something is keeping me from treating myself with the respectful loving kindness I would give to any of my friends. It could be fear over not being able to produce, it could be the belief that I need to “pay” for this wonderful life and career I’ve made by working myself to death at it. Like I need to justify my working at home by never stopping work.
To make matters worse, I haven’t taken good care of myself through this move. I’ve taken better care of myself than in previous moves, but previous moves haven’t lasted months like this one seemed to do. I haven’t eaten good food, in fact, quite the opposite. I haven’t listened to my what my body needed, choosing instead to power through based on an idea of what a person should do. I’ve been reckless with money, and it’s made me more than usually anxious about work.
There’s a lot coming to a head, and my own bad treatment of myself is throwing sticks in my tires just when I really need to go go go. I was terrified I wouldn’t get work. As of this writing, that’s not the problem. The real problem is doing the work. Every day, I have to be CEO, accountant, office manager, human resources, secretary, and janitor before I even think about doing my “real” job. I like variety, and I like what I do. I love all my clients, and I am genuinely excited about my career. But the way I pay for it is with good, solid work, excellent service, and brilliant, creative innovation. Not with this: misery, exhaustion, uncertainty and being so tired and anxious my output becomes unreliable.