Dealing With Pandemic PTSD.

Let’s talk.

I have had some things brewing under the surface for weeks, but these kinds of things always have to work themselves out before I can write with any sort of clarity.

So, I’ve wrestled with it, and I’m finally ready to share in hopes that someone else can relate to how I’ve been feeling lately.

In March and April, I know I mentioned some about how my client work was low. I’ve been working as a full-time freelancer since the end of 2018.

I have had ups and downs, of course, but before the pandemic, I was working constantly. While it was not an ideal way to live, I was taking it as an opportunity to pay off debt and build up my savings account.

And then, on April 1st, 2020, I lost my main job — where a majority of my income was coming from. I, unfortunately, am all too familiar with the kind of meetings that happen between a boss, and an HR person, and sometimes an attorney.

So when I logged onto Zoom that morning and saw the HR rep, I knew I was done. I got laid off — along with about half the company.

Not only did I lose that job, but I lost a majority of my clients due to COVID. And while, I was able to get by, I found new clients, and actually got some good gigs, I can say with certainty that nearly half of my income in 2020 came from unemployment checks.

It wasn’t a great year.

I’m not even going to get into how hurtful it is to hear people say that we (those of us on unemployment) were enjoying milking it. For the record, it’s not enough to live on, and I had to drain the savings I did have in order to not be homeless.

At the start of 2021, things were not looking much better and, although I was applying to several jobs a week, I was really getting desperate and I started applying to 10+ jobs a DAY.

I told everyone I knew that I needed work or else I might have to move home — and I wasn’t even sure that was an option.

I took every interview I got, every call, I sat through the mansplaining, and I picked up a few new gigs that would help me get by.

I also got emails to interview for a full-time job. While I wasn’t 100% sure I was ready for full-time work, I didn’t want to pass up a possibly great opportunity, so I vowed to take any interview that came my way.

Between taking interviews and calls, running the blog and Patreon, and managing my new batch of work, I’d manifested myself into a place of working almost 80 hours a week.

This was very similar to my life pre-pandemic — a life I quietly told myself I didn’t want — only this time, I was really feeling it. I was getting, what I assumed were the side effects of stress.

I was getting headaches (which are rare for me), stomach aches, I felt tired but never could get sleep because I felt guilty that I wasn’t working.

I didn’t have time for self-care, wasn’t reading books, wasn’t taking a break, and sometimes I barely took a regular shower. I was working every waking moment.

On Friday, I had a real quick realization: I was going to die if I didn’t quit.

Running myself ragged was not worth my life.

After 6+ weeks of waking up at 5 (even on weekends) and working until I passed out was not right. I had to fight back tears as I talked to my mom about it: “When do I get to even read a book for fun?” I asked her.

I decided to work as a freelancer so I could have more control of my life and I’d done the opposite — I let my fear take over, and as a result, I’d run myself into the ground.

I blame a majority of this on the pandemic. I don’t know about you, but it made me feel like I have to have 10 jobs in order to get by in case 1, 2, or 3 of them drop me without notice.

It made me feel like I need to have $30,000 in my savings account in case I can’t find work for a majority of the year.

It also made me feel like I need to have a Plan B, but also a Plan C, D, E, F, and G.

For others, I know the pandemic brought about a need to stockpile physical things like toilet paper or pantry items. Hell, the Texas freeze pushed me to buy cases of water that are now shoved into random closets in my apartment in case I’m without running water and can’t flush my toilet.

The wild part is, I’m not sure what amount of money would really make me feel differently. If I had X amount of income, would I feel “safe” or if I had X amount of money in my savings would I feel okay to let work go?

I honestly don’t know.

I know for many, the post-pandemic world is more about navigating social settings and life without masks, deciding whether or not to hug someone.

But that hasn’t been an issue for me, at least not so far.

It’s the logistics of just getting by, really. How do we know things are okay again?

When I had my realization on Friday, I closed my computer, and took a bath. Even sitting in a hot bubble bath, my heart was racing. I couldn’t get it to slow down.

It was storming outside, and my power was knocked out, which also left me with no cable or internet (I actually still don’t have it and am working from a hotspot).

Leave it to the universe to tell me to slow the hell down.

So, I turned on an audiobook, took a sleep aid, and slept for close to 10 hours.

Over the weekend, I met up with a great friend who works in HR. I explained my feelings, and he said a lot of people are scared right now. What if I go back to work and get let go again? He said it’s a common feeling, which made me feel better.

Obviously, I can’t just wake up one day and decide to be chill and that I’m not going to do my work. But I can grab ahold of the reigns and point myself away from a path that would likely have me dead.

So, what am I doing to help myself right now?

I’m prioritizing sleep. This is funny coming from me, because I’ve suffered from all sorts of sleep problems over the last decade and the pandemic certainly didn’t help that. But, sleep is vital to our health and for me, I need it to do quality work. Anything I do while tired is full of typos and crap that doesn’t make sense.

So, even though I have a love/hate relationship with OTC sleeping pills, I’m proud to say that last night was night 4 in a row of taking them (currently I’m taking the Ora Organic Knockout, which is all-natural). But, I am also going to bed at a decent hour (10pm) and committing to sleep… and getting up at 6 instead of 5.

I’m nourishing my body. I’m grateful to be alive after putting myself through the ringer. For the last few weeks, I’ve been more mindful about what I’m putting into my body, including healthier meals and snacks, and actually taking my vitamins. I even put them in my little weekly container by my coffee pot so I don’t forget. And, I’m taking a Liquid I.V. daily to make sure I stay hydrated.

I’m doing the self-care that I can. Even when I was running ragged, I was making time to do my skincare routine and my morning journaling, but that’s about it. I have been going to yoga classes a few times a week, which is, of course, good for my body, but it’s nice to get out of the apartment and see people that I haven’t seen since 2019.

I’m also listening to music and audiobooks while I work. Like I said, I can’t just abandon my work, but I can try and make it as enjoyable as possible, and over the weekend, I listened to two whole books while I cooked, did my laundry, and caught up on emails.

I’m reminding myself that I’m only one person. I am not a machine, and even though it’s hard knowing I have a pile of work due, I know it’s not worth getting stressed about. I have to put myself — and my mental and physical health — first, and I’m going to do what I can, and as best I can, but I can’t make any promises beyond that.

I know this is all basic stuff, but getting back to the basics is sometimes what it takes. Now, I can’t sit here and tell you I’m a changed person overnight. I come from a family of doers. All we do is get stuff done; it’s in my blood to be productive, and well, I like getting stuff done! Can you tell I’m an enneagram 3?

So, it’s going to take some time, but there’s one more thing that’s changing around here…

Today is the first day at my new full-time job!

As I mentioned before, I wasn’t sure I was ready for a full-time job, but I kept taking the interviews, and getting asked back, and I was being more transparent than I’d ever been in interviews before. And I really, really liked everyone I met.

It was also the most impressive job offer I’ve ever received and for that, I am really humbled and grateful.

It’s been a helluva year, and although part of me is sad to part with — what feels like — my identity as a full-time contractor, I know that there are seasons of life, and change is part of that.

We all have to do what’s best for us, for our families, for whatever, and we have to do it when it makes sense. Does the economy make sense for freelance writers right now? Possibly, but that certainly hasn’t been my experience.

A full-time job certainly doesn’t make my fear go away; in fact, it brings me a new set of anxiety, but I’m going to show up, and strap in for the ride. After I’ve had my sleeping pill and a good night of rest, of course.

I hope this resonates with some of you; and I hope there’s a grain of something you can take on this first day of a new month.

I’m rested, I’m ready, and well, let’s fucking do this!

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