‘Twas the month before Christmas…

Wow, what a whirlwind November was. I mentioned that the first week was kind of quiet, but things definitely picked up much more than I was expecting. If there’s one thing I can say about freelancing, is that when you’re starting out, it isn’t the kindness of strangers so much as the kindness of friends that gets you going. 

Do you remember when you were looking for your first job? I do. I remember reading ad after ad, every one of them for an entry level position ‘with experience’. And where, I asked, were you supposed to get experience when you had only recently finished studying?! Welcome to the working world, honey, where nothing is as you think it should be.

Anyway, starting out freelancing feels a little bit the same, as though I’m starting my career from scratch again and, I guess, in many ways I am. This time around, though, I’ve had years of work experience and strong relationships to fall back on, which has been invaluable. I’ve had work from an old colleague who now works elsewhere, and a referral from another ex-colleague, who started her own business a while ago. Aren’t friends just the best?! Guys, I’ve even been paid (more than once!), and taken on a retainer client, all in my first month! 

Is there any wonder that I’m feeling a bit exhausted? Because, truth be told, even though I’m not ramping things up for the busiest time of the year, as I’d have to be at my old job (still feels weird to say that…), I’m shattered. We are 24 days to Christmas, 31 days until 2017, and I’m tired. 2016 has been… real. In many ways, it was amazing, and in many other ways, it has been really, very, incredibly hard. 

I’m trying to look ahead now and see what next year might look like, and I’m a bit stumped. I’ve always mostly known what at least the next few months might look like (except when I fell pregnant and then had a baby, those were both curveballs I was not prepared for) and this next year looks like it might be the same. A hard grind, with some rewarding moments and possibly some tears (hey, my emotion control is pretty wrecked after pregnancy hormones).

I’m getting this same feeling from many people at the moment. 2016 was hard for a lot of people, and while we naturally want to look forward positively, it’s hard not to look at 2017 with a bit of trepidation. How are you feeling about the next year? Are you glad to be waving goodbye to a crap one? Or looking forward with a touch of anxiety? How can we work to make this one a good year, guys? I’m keen for a nice one, for a change…

Captain’s Log: we are one week down…

So, it’s been a quiet week. The last two months, since I resigned from the full time job I held for five years, were a frenetic whirlwind of trying to get everything done that I had promised to do, and trying to put in place all the things I needed to start my own business. Some of those things I managed to do, and others not. Overall, it was a positive few months.

It’s hard to leave a job that you were not unhappy at. Yes, every job has ups and downs, up weeks and down months (a certain year in social media is not one I look back on fondly). But overall, my experience of the past five years was extremely positive, and I left in a blur of tears (mine and others), hugs, and an outpouring of love from my now former colleagues and friends. Yes, it was hard to leave.

Leaving has left me open, vulnerable to the world. When I went on maternity leave last year, I realised for the first time how much of my personality and self-worth is derived from my work. I had always imagined, before that, that I worked to support my life, but it was at that point, when I was not working, except as a full time mother to a newborn (which is, it should be noted, a pretty hard job without much in the way of positive feedback), that I realised that I need to have something that I do every day and something that I do well in. I guess it was a good time to learn that.

Knowing that now, though, means that I am not happy to simply parent my son and clean the house. God knows, that isn’t something I’m good at, anyway. So I have spent the last week signing up to all the freelance sites I can find, trawling job postings, and generally trying to hunt down something to do. I sent out my first quote, which was then declined. I have even offered to do some pro bono charity work, just to have something to do, so you must know how desperate I feel.

The anxiety behind selling myself, selling my skills – it’s high and it’s real. But I know that I am good at what I do, and that is what spurs me on. Setting a price to my skills and my time? That’s a whole other ballgame, and one I’m afraid it may take me years to figure out.

So one week in, and I’m not much further than I was when I started. A little greyer, a little more anxious, and all the laundry is done (until the sun stopped shining, and laundry had to be put on hold). 

Have you got any advice for a budding freelancer? Anything I should do to keep myself busy? Any sites I should sign up to to find work? I’d appreciate all of that. Here’s hoping things pick up a bit next week. And now that I am unemployed (unemployed until I start earning money – then I will be self-employed), does anyone want to meet up for coffee?

on knowing when what you needed is no longer what you need

Over the years, my relationship with change changes. Sometimes I welcome it, others I run screaming from the room if you so much as mention it. I guess I could read something into that, like maybe when I run it’s because the change isn’t a good idea, and when I’m happy for it, it is. But I think it also has a lot to do with my current mental state. When I’m overwhelmed, I just need everything to stay the same, for things to be stable, or I fear collapse.

So it’s quite a thing for me to be excited about a big change that’s about to happen in my life. No, stop looking at me like that. I’m not bloody pregnant. I promise (I don’t get nearly enough sleep yet to be walking down that road).

No, I’m talking about work. Over the years, I’ve thought on and off about working for myself, and almost every time I have looked at the idea and laughed, while running screaming from the room. The idea of going out and working on my own, for myself has been daunting to say the least.

But (yes, this is the news) I think I’m finally ready. As I look at the next phase of my life, I know it features adventures, probably quite a lot of hardship, lots of growth and a ton of learning. I hope it features clients, people to collaborate with and fun projects. I look forward to reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, and figuring out what my work life will look like. I’m taking the plunge, guys. I have resigned from my day job, and I’m going to be a freelancer.

Once upon a time, not very long ago, I needed the stability of my 9-5. I needed to know I was going in every day, getting a salary every month, and I needed to know what was expected of me. The company I work for is awesome, it’s filled with incredible, hardworking, passionate people who also have a ton of fun together. I would never trade working there for working somewhere else. The only thing I would trade it for is working for myself, and getting to spend a lot of extra time with my little guy as he grows up.

So, this is my sign to the universe. Universe, if you’re listening, from the beginning of November, I’m all yours. I’m a helluva proofreader (I can spot a double spacing from across the room), I copy edited my friend’s doctoral thesis on a science subject I know nothing about (and she did super well because of it), and I love to write. Food, kitchen and hospitality are my main strengths, but I’ll take on parenting, babies and almost any other subject (not golf) because I also love to research. So, hit me up. I’ll put a website together with some examples of my work, so keep an eye out for that. And, if there are any of you out there reading this, hold thumbs for me? This is a big leap for this almost-32-year-old girl, and I really, really want it to work.

a year and a bit

I had a dream last night that I had a newborn again. I had just left the hospital, and I knew I had this tiny little thing to care for. The moment felt big, even in my dream, but what was missing was my anxiety over it all.

It’s taken me a long time to admit that anxiety has been one thing that has characterised every single step of my experience of motherhood this far. From the moment I fell pregnant, I felt anxious. I stressed throughout my pregnancy, about everything. I was anxious, depressed and stressed throughout maternity leave. I’m still anxious today. And it’s something that’s been hard for me to admit, because that’s not who I am.

I was never the anxious type. I was a happy-go-lucky, take-it-as-it-comes, never-really-stress-about-much kind of person. Sure, I experienced stress, but always in relation to a specific activity and it would always end. Never have I ever felt a low level of stress and anxiety like this for close on two years.

What do I worry about? The better question is what don’t I worry about. I worry that he isn’t eating enough; that he isn’t drinking enough; that his nappy might need changing; that he’ll run out of clean clothes; that his bathwater is too hot/too cold; that he isn’t warm enough/cool enough while sleeping; that he isn’t sleeping well at night/during the day/ever; that his nose is runny; that his development is too slow/fast; that he’ll be a picky eater; that he’ll be a bully when he’s bigger. And that’s just scratching the surface of things I worry about. Will he grow up insecure if I don’t co-sleep? Will he be clingy if I do? Will he be malnourished if I don’t breastfeed? Why can’t I breastfeed? Am I even any good as a mother if I can’t do it? What if I never find a formula that he thrives on? Why won’t he eat anything I’m giving him? Why won’t he sleep through the night? When will I get a full nights sleep again? How do people have careers and babies? How do people do this without stressing out all the time?

But I don’t think that this anxiety was a choice. I don’t think it’s something I could have ‘snapped out of’ at any point. Believe me, I have tried. I think that, for some people, like me, the combination of hormonal changes coupled with extreme sleep deprivation (and a whole host of life changes) basically deprived me of happiness, and quite badly marred my first year as a mom. And, in our culture of putting on a photo-ready smile about everything, I’ve felt kind of ashamed admitting that.

As we go into his second (!) year, I’d like to write over the anxiety of the first. We are a year older, a year more experienced, and a year greyer and more tired than ever before. We also laugh a lot (and cry, quite often). We marvel at how quickly he grows and learns things, how much he changes and makes us laugh all the time. It’s still incredible to me that I built that little human from scratch, but he is his own, wild and crazy, personality.

I think, often, about whether it was worth it. Whether all the stress, tears, anxiety, grey hairs and sleepless nights were worth it. And while I loved my life before, the cliché is true: on balance, it is richer for having my small boy in it. And I reckon it will get even richer as he grows up. There is nothing in the world like the love I have for that boy. And I owe it to him and to myself, to sort my anxiety issues out so that I can be the fun, carefree mom I imagined I would be.

9 months in, 9 months out

Although, as I like to point out, that last is a lie (the average 40 weeks of pregnancy are closer to 10 months than 9, and you really feel that in the last few weeks).

Yes, I’m still alive. By some miracle, we all are. Although you haven’t heard anything for a good couple of months, we are all ticking along, trying to figure this family thing out. Want to hear something funny though? Although it is crazy, hard, emotional and insane, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever done. And that in itself is pretty surprising to me.

You might recall, I was pretty pessimistic and skeptical about the whole exercise. Pregnancy was a pain in the ass, and early motherhood was, without one single doubt, the hardest and most crap thing I have ever lived through. But lived through it, I did. And what do we have now? An 8-almost-9-month-old (hell, he’ll probably be 9 months old before I get around to posting this), and I love him to pieces.

That connection I was hoping for? It didn’t come in the first second, the first week or even the first month. Although I loved him and fiercely wanted to protect him, it didn’t come all at once in a brilliant flash of light at all. It snuck in, during all the sleepless nights, and pacing up and down the corridors with him. Through the endless drives back and forth to daycare and the doctor and everywhere else in between.

The first time I realised that I loved my child in the way that I believed a mother should, was when he was sick. It was an ordinary night, and we’d had an ordinary day. I can’t remember how old he was – 6 or 7 months, I guess. We had some level of sleeping routine going by then (all hail the odd full nights sleep) but this was not a night I was going to get a full nights sleep. No, that night, my poor boy got a mad high fever and cried as though his tiny heart was breaking. And I didn’t feel mad or upset, I felt sad and worried and helpless. I wanted to hold him and make him feel better. I wanted to cure all his ills. I cradled him all that night, through his fever and out the other side, just offering him all I could, which was my comfort (and painkillers to manage the fever). And it was that night that I realised that I loved him. I loved him as much as I had ever hoped, and luckily, that love has only increased.

In those first weeks and months, I thought I was defective. Every cry and every need felt like an extra chain looped around my neck. I thought I’d never escape all the chains that bound me to this helpless little thing. As an aside, I think I am not a good newborn mother. We got through it, but it was through grim determination and a LOT of help from my husband and my in-laws and especially my sister.

These days, although I do the majority of waking during the night (husband is much better in the early morning than I am, and tends to manage the 4-5am wake up calls), and I’m much happier. Maybe it’s the fact that our little love is more interactive these days or that his face lights up when he sees us. Maybe it’s the fact that I am happily and gainfully back at work, and he is at daycare which allows us both to get the daily stimulation we need. Maybe it’s watching him grow from a helpless newborn into a bouncing (crawling, eel-like, climbing) baby boy has been one of the most fun things I’ve ever seen. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m grateful. I’m grateful that it did sneak up on me. That defective feeling, the endless sad and hopeless feeling, that has faded (I’m also taking a herbal supplement to manage anxiety, so that might be helping).

But if there are prospective or new mums out there who are concerned about a lack of feeling – try not to worry to much. It might not come like a tidal wave or a flash of light. It might not even come at first, but you’ll get through it. And one day you’ll realise that your heart is squirming around on the floor and bashing himself into everything, and it’s all OK.