Working with anxiety

Folks who've been following this blog from as far back as yesterday will know that I have chronic anxiety problems. I don't think there's any area of my life where I feel the effect of these problems more heavily than in work, and there's definitely no area where I have more fear of the stigma associated with anxiety than in work.

I recently put a "Hire me" link at the top of my blog. I really do need to start finding more freelance work, and that need is becoming more and more desperate as my stopgaps and backup plans dwindle at a rate exceeding the rate of income I've managed to get down so far. But it's so far been too scary to direct people to that link, because I know anyone who wants to hire me to work for them is probably going to scroll through my personal blog a bit, too. One of the problems with having your whole life in one place, right?

On the other hand, compartmentalizing my life is exhausting. Maintaining separate names -- my tax-form name for employment and my name here for my life -- is constantly draining, and I have basically zero motivation to do any upkeep on the other name. The website associated with it has been 404d for like a year now, and I know I have a twitter for it but I don't know the login. I'm waiting on one last check before I remove the saved login to that google account from my computer, because it's cluttering things up.

I think the thing to do is just be totally honest: I have an anxiety disorder. I am medicated, and it helps a lot, but medication for mental illness is more management than cure. Like any chronic illness, sometimes it affects my work. Like any person who lives with a chronic illness, I have strategies for handling it when it affects my work. 

Being upfront about it is scary, because it feels likely to drive away a lot of people who might otherwise want to work with me. But what it's really more likely to do is create a natural filter: the only people who are going to hire me knowing I have mental illness are people who have a base level of empathy about it that I can rely on. That means it'd be easy to tell them whether and when I can take on more work, it means I can tell them when I might need more time -- early enough that they can handle it -- or when I might need to bring in another person to help. 

It's never in my interest to bite off more than I can chew, and I think one of the fears people have about hiring people with mental illness is actually a fear that they're un-self-aware about the limits created by that illness. I hope that being upfront about it signals to people that I am aware of my abilities and limitations, and that I'll take on work in proportion to my ability, not in proportion to the ability I imagine I'd have if I weren't mentally ill. 

I'm having a really rough night, and getting this out is helping. I've been thinking about writing this post for a few days -- I'm planning on writing a more concise version, in a letter-to-potential-employers format, to link from my "Hire me" page soon.