How I Cope – Arnelle Paterson
Freelance journalist Arnelle Paterson shares her journey as part of our blog series How I Cope. How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.
How I Cope
From the moment I walked into my freighting and logistics work experience job at the age of 15, I knew that office work just wasn’t for me. ‘Variety is the spice of life’ is my working mantra. I am a juggler - I thrive on working on multiple projects at the same time, and being able to utilise different aspects of my skill-set.
Over the course of five years, I juggled A Levels, a Journalism degree and five part-time retail jobs, all whilst completing 12 internships. Currently, I’m self-employed with three jobs – journalist, creative writing and speaking teacher and consultant.
Being a juggler is great, but it also has it downside, especially as someone who struggles with depression and anxiety. It’s imperative that I keep a happy balance – but that isn’t always so easy. Too much work, and I get very overwhelmed feeling out of my depth. Too little work, and my mind goes into overdrive with negative thoughts. I’m a self-confessed workaholic, and changing this way of working can be incredibly difficult. Unfortunately, being a freelancer isn’t all cute Starbucks trips, lavish holidays and lounging around in your favourite trackies all day. It’s bloody hard work – but incredibly rewarding.
The precarity that comes with being a freelancer means that you’re constantly battling the voice in your head telling you that you need to work harder. Then there are the nightmare scenarios your imagination conjures up (what if I never ever get any work again?) But if the car has no petrol, how can it run efficiently?
Through experience, I’ve learnt to pay attention to the signs that I’m taking on too much without sufficient rest – an unexplained, sustained drop in mood, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, a change in appetite, and withdrawing from human interaction. It’s my body telling me to chill out. It’s important to be as self-loving as possible, rather than scolding yourself for not working like a machine, or for not being able to pitch as many ideas as you could last week. Even Superwoman needs a day off.
When you are Team Stress PMS, it’s like you are a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. I’ve learnt to work around my cycle and that makes a huge difference. Usually, I work in two-hour blocks with breaks in between. I change my schedule during the last week of the month; working in shorter blocks with more breaks in between. I’ll give myself the day off if I really need to.
I’ve found that another great way to deal with the insecurity of freelancing is to have a contract freelance job. This means I can work remotely or in-house on a part-time basis for a set period of time. It guarantees that I have a certain amount of money coming in, allowing me to plan ahead. Plus, I can build up my CV. I’d highly recommend signing up to Sian Meades’ newsletter, which is full of part-time/freelance gigs, as well as magazine editors looking for pitches.
Juggling multiple internships
I did internships in the journalism industry throughout my A Levels and during university. At Spear’s magazine, a senior journalist I was working alongside told me about the internships he used to do during the summer holidays, and advised me to do the same. It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given. Every winter after that, I’d start sending out my CV and cover letter to maximise the chances of having something lined up in the summer.
I had a few in-house placements, but because the majority were remote, I could do two at a time, whilst still enjoying the holidays. My roles ranged from showbiz news reporter and features writer, to being the fashion editor of my university’s magazine. I even tried out some online music presenting. Making sure I had a schedule and a list of deadlines was a key skill that definitely paid off while I was at university!
The importance of scheduling
I am most energetic at the beginning of the week (the mid-week slump is real), so I generally schedule my hours to suit - doing the bulk of the work on Mondays and Tuesdays. I tend to work between 9am to 9pm. I also schedule breaks in order to grab some lunch, and catch up on a Netflix documentary (or Celebs Go Dating). I find that the best ideas can come quite serendipitously when I’m relaxed.
Mental health and working
When it comes to a depression or anxiety episode, my brain’s natural response is to shut the outside world out, and fixate on the fact that I’m feeling anxious or depressed. On a conscious level, I’m aware is counterproductive. The sense of accomplishment that work can bring contradicts the negative sense of self that mental illness can bring. I find that when I’m writing, my internal rumination disappears for a while; it’s almost like being in a trance. All that matters is the subject at hand and the expression of that. I’m grateful for the escapism. It acts as a powerful reminder of who I am, and that depression and anxiety isn’t a part of that.
The importance of working smart
When I first ventured into paid freelancing in September 2017, I was working seven days a week, with very few breaks. Emails were answered at all times of the day, and I was working myself into absolute oblivion.
It wasn’t until a particularly demanding client decided to contact me in the early hours of the morning that I had a wake up call. It reminded me of an equally demanding remote internship that I once completed. I’ll admit I stuck with a few internships that were horrendous and made me question my journalistic abilities. It’s really not worth it! If it doesn’t feel right, gracefully leave your internship and find something else.
I feel very privileged to be able to do what I love everyday. My various roles are all about giving to others in some shape or form, which serves as a constant reminder to remember to give to myself first.
Arnelle Paterson is a freelance journalist
How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.
Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice, How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.
If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.