You’re NOT Alone: Surviving Depression as a Freelance Writer

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freelance writing with depression
Illustration by Sandpaperdaisy Art

This is either going to be one of the best, most helpful, posts I’m ever going to write (on LittleZotz Writing or anywhere else), or one of the worst. Either way, it’s going to be very long and deeply personal. I’m holding NOTHING back.

Why write about mental illness on a website dedicated to freelance writers? Why not write another post about how to up your blogging skills, or how to earn affiliate income? How could this possibly be useful to anyone on this “niche” site?

Well, in my experience, freelancers – particularly freelance writers – are more often than not “mentally ill” in some way or another. In fact, more than any other post I’ve written in my career, THIS is the one that I get emailed about the most. It’s a post I wrote, along with Sophie Lizard and Kelly Gurnett (both fantastically successful – and mentally ill – freelance bloggers) about dealing with mental health struggles as freelancers.

There’s something about being a freelance creative that really appeals to those of us with “brain problems.” So, yes, I think this post – even with its largely personal focus – is valuable for my audience.

However, unlike most of the posts on LittleZotz Writing, which provide clear and “actionable” advice for the problems they tackle, this post is going to be more-or-less a long ramble about my personal experiences dealing with mental health issues as a (successful) freelance writer. I’ll offer my opinions on what “works” and what doesn’t, of course, but there’s no definite “do it THIS way” advice I – or anyone! – can provide on this topic. Everyone’s mental health journey is different, and what worked for me might not work for you.

What I do wish to provide with this post is encouragement, honesty, and hope.

My dream is that, by being candid about my own life and experiences, I can help YOU – even if you’re just ONE reader – improve your life in some minor-yet-significant way. You’re NOT alone.

MY Series of Unfortunate Events

I presented depression-like symptoms starting at a very young age. However, my lapses into darkness were usually cured with a healthy snack.

I have, and have had for the majority of my life, reactive hypoglycemia. It’s a form of low blood sugar that can be maintained almost solely through diet.

However, if your blood sugar crashes (this applies to those of us with blood sugar “issues,” and even normal human beings who just haven’t eaten recently enough), you get some gnarly “mental” symptoms. For some, it’s irritability (angry + hungry = “hangry”); for others, it’s depression.

I could be the most unreasonable, gloomiest girl on the entire planet one minute… but as soon as I ate a small handful of nuts, I’d be bright and bubbly again – as if nothing had ever happened. At the time, the “depression” from my low blood sugar felt all-too-real. My world was ending. But, one snack later, I was back in action.

That’s how it was for the first part of my life. And how it is now that I’m feeling well.

However, once I got to high school (age 14), things changed. That’s when REAL Depression hit me. Hard.

For the next eighteen years, no amount of healthy snacks would be able to bring me out of the Pit of Despair.

I had a timeline of unfortunate events that just continued to strike blow after blow to my brain. To the point that I was absolutely unable to recover on my own.

My story, in short, is as follows:

1999 – 2003 = My high school years were an absolute Hell. Many didn’t know at the time, but my mother was very ill. She had a life-saving surgery my Senior year, and has since regained her health and happiness (65 and still going strong!); but, throughout my entire high school years, Mom was in terrible shape.

A teenager, despite what they might tell you, is still just a child. And having a massive chunk of a child’s support system (in my case, my mother) virtually taken away – via illness or any other means – can be crippling. I felt lost. I had to go through all the “usual” teenage issues (puberty, homework, school dances, etc.) on my own. I also had to quickly become an “adult” in some aspects: I had to get a job to help support my family, since my mother could no longer work and Dad’s paychecks weren’t enough.

Stressful, to say the least. And, of course, illness of a loved one – especially if there’s a good chance they’ll die from it – is one of the leading causes of situational-based Depression.

But that wasn’t the only thing I was dealing with at during that time period.

One so-called “teacher” went out of his way to target me as the object of his vastly inappropriate “affection.” No, he didn’t rape me in the locker room or anything TOO newsworthy (though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he admitted he wanted to!); but it was enough to make me hate going to school. HATE it. To the point that I didn’t go to college after I finished high school.

He would “accidentally” fondle my breasts, look up my skirt, insist on daily hugs, and pull me aside into empty classrooms to scream insults in my face if he saw me talking with boys my own age. Every girl (and many of the boys!) in school knew he was a “creep,” but few had to deal with him on the level I did.

I, of course, reported him. Unfortunately, the principal in charge at the time dismissed my complaints. “I’ve been friends with him since I was in high school – there’s no way,” he said. End of story. (Side note: fortunately, under a new administration, girls’ complaints about this man were taken more seriously and he’s finally being reprimanded).

Hurt and confused, I started cutting (self-mutilation) starting my Freshman year of high school. I didn’t stop until I was 29. Why? Initially, it was because I didn’t want my ill mother to see me cry. I wanted to be “strong” for her sake – for her to have the courage to keep going and pull through – but I still needed to release the pain and frustration I was feeling inside. Blood was more silent than tears.

2003 = Toward the end of my Senior year, I ended up dating a guy who was severely bad news. He was the second guy I’d ever dated, and I didn’t know a whole lot about him when I agreed to date him. He wasn’t someone I went to school with (since that particular “teacher” would’ve never allowed it), and so my contact with him was minimal-yet-turbulent.

He had a violent streak that he’d repeatedly take out on me. Since I was already a hardcore “cutter” at that point, and already sinking deep into depression, I didn’t really care. What were a few more cuts and bruises to someone as already self-mangled as I was? He’d beat me mercilessly, and I’d let it happen.

But, at one point, he finally took it too far. He attempted to rape and murder me. Suddenly, my life – and my precious virginity! – were worth saving. My years of martial arts training kicked in, and I was able to escape.

What followed was a dark spot on my family’s history. I had to come clean to my parents (even my ill mother!) about what had been going down. The police had to become involved. There was a court case. A restraining order was issued. My parents no longer trusted me for years to come due to my poor judgement. Which made making future mistakes nearly impossible to admit for fear of disappointing them on that level again.

And I made plenty of mistakes.

2003 – 2007 = Let’s just call these the “bad boyfriend” years. None of them were physically abusive, murderous, or rapists – but they weren’t “good” by any means either. While I was physically unscathed (and somehow still managed to hang onto my virginity!), my emotions and mental state were rubbed thoroughly raw. My self-esteem had plummeted and my head was in an overall bad place.

2008 = On January 1, 2008, I was raped. My precious virginity – one of the only things about myself that still gave me a feeling of “self-worth” – was violently stolen from me. I was 22, just shy of turning 23. I was at a New Year’s Eve party, and my drink used to toast in the New Year with was drugged. Martial arts can’t save you from harm if you can’t move your limbs.

This incident broke me. I had nothing left. Depression, at long last, had smothered me to the point of no return. And it brought along its good pal: severe PTSD.

2009 = By the end of 2009, my relationship with my parents (with whom I’d been living with) had deteriorated into something very broken and sad. Due to the trouble my mistake in 2003 had caused our family, I kept the brutality of 2008’s rape entirely to myself. I kept it completely secret, choosing instead to “deal with it” on my own rather than break my parents’ hearts once again.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t dealing with it. At all. I was lashing out and hurting them. Badly. To the point that I had to leave my home, and my family, behind.

Moving out was awful. I held a lot of anger for many years. I didn’t understand how the two people who meant the most to me couldn’t just automatically look at me and go, “We recognize that you’re in immense pain! How can we help? What’s wrong?”

Years later, I realized they DID do that, to the best of their abilities, but Depression wouldn’t let me hear them.

I moved in with my “boyfriend” and his family. I remained there for several years.

2010 = I tried hard to better myself. I started LittleZotz Writing. I tried to put the past behind me and focus on building a future for myself.

But the Depression was ever-present. The Anxiety. The PTSD.

I stopped doing anything I cared about other than work. I became completely sedentary, and I packed on a few pounds – letting my figure “go.” I went from 140lbs (size six jeans) to 180lbs (size ten jeans). I didn’t care. Apathy was the name of the game. I had to “not care” in order to survive.

If I acknowledged the never-ending night terrors, flashbacks, panic attacks, dark moods, crippling anxiety, or…anything… I knew they’d break me. So, I became numb. I pushed on.

2014 = I finally snapped. I attempted suicide.

Here, on LittleZotz Writing, I was winning awards for my work. Behind the scenes, I was in Hell.

An incident with my “boyfriend” made me realize my entire personal life was a lie. I had this shiny, idealized future that I kept telling myself I was working towards – and it suddenly became crystal clear that it was NEVER going to happen. Not (entirely) the dude’s fault – he can’t help who he is – but the realization that our “relationship” wasn’t what I thought it was (or could be) sent me over the edge.

I sliced open my arm with a boxcutter. Thankfully, despite our friendship being on thin ice, my “boyfriend” still cared enough about my life to call 911.

I lost a LOT of blood… they almost “lost me” in the ambulance ride to the hospital.

The ER doctor repaired my cut tendon, stitched up my arm, bandaged me up, and sent me home. Why? Because I lied. I told him it was NOT a suicide attempt – that I was “just” a cutter, had been for many years, and had just “slipped up.” I doubt he believed me in full, but he believed me enough to send me home.

Less than a month later, I emailed my official suicide note to my then-best friend. I hated my life. I hated that it had been saved. I was going to make sure it wasn’t this time.

She called the cops on me. I was hauled off to a mental institution.

My time in the mental institution was horrific. I’ve since written many letters to local officials to try to get that place straightened out. Mental health centers here in California – and, I’m told, across the country! – are unquestionably sub-par. It’s hideous and downright criminal. How can we treat those who are so desperately in need of TLC so horribly? What possible pleasure is there in kicking someone when they’re already down?

Caring for others gave me new purpose and a reason to keep living. I still wasn’t “quite” to the point that I cared about myself – but I wanted to keep going to give hope to those who were “like me” and suffering. Once again, I stashed my personal pains aside to be “strong” for those who were hurting “worse” than I was.

But I also knew, from my previous years of being “strong” for others… that that strength was always going to be a lie. A sparkling veneer of “I’m okay” over a thick board of “I’m super NOT okay.”

In order to TRULY help others, I had to help myself. Whether I wanted to – or felt I “deserved” it – or not.

Life on Lexapro

I started taking Lexapro (escitalopram) in September of 2014. I was prescribed a few additional antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications over the following years, but was eventually weaned off of all of them. Lexapro, on the other hand, was a constant in my life – and I didn’t stop taking it until VERY recently (more on that later).

I was put on 20mg of Lexapro right off the bat. That’s the absolute highest “safe” dosage for Lexapro available. Anything higher than 20mg hasn’t been approved by the FDA. And, even with FDA “approval,” Lexapro at the “highest” dosage can still really mess you up.

During my years on Lexapro, I experienced the following:

Weight gain. Remember how I said I was originally 140lbs (size six) and then ballooned up to 180lbs (size ten) thanks to my Depression? That was NOTHING compared to how chubbo I became on Lexapro! At my heaviest, I was 320lbs (size twenty-six). And it was nearly impossible to lose it! Like many antidepressants on the market, Lexapro makes you super-duper hungry (encouraging you to eat more) while simultaneously wreaking havoc with your metabolism. So cutting back on portions, exercising, or anything else you attempt to do might not make a dent in your weight gain.

Bowel and bladder issues. I had a lot of the same symptoms one has with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I also had the bladder control of a woman in her mid-seventies. It was embarrassing. I had more than a few pants-wetting incidents, sometimes in public. I feared drinking any liquids when I wasn’t positive I’d have immediate access to a restroom, if needed. Which sucked extra hard because Lexapro makes you super thirsty due to dry mouth.

Speaking of which, I also had dry mouth, frequent migraines, ongoing fatigue (which got worse every year I was on it), heavy sweating (even when it was cold), random nausea, nosebleeds, sleep-related issues, and a host of other side-effects. One of the strangest side-effects I experienced – which is apparently fairly common on Lexapro! – was that I could NOT stop yawning. Seriously. I could be deeply invested in the most stimulating conversation imaginable, and I’d be randomly hit with a non-stop yawning fit! Awkward…

I used to joke that “the side-effects are how I know it’s WORKING!”

Side-effects suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. But I would stay the course because “side-effects are a small price to pay for being SANE.”

Of course, dealing with all those side-effects may have been completely unnecessary considering studies are now coming out that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Lexapro, have the same effectiveness as taking placebos (fake/sugar pills). Live and learn?

Whoa. Hold Up! Is Lauren Against Antidepressants?!

Not exactly. Don’t dash to my comments’ section to flame me JUST yet.

I absolutely think antidepressants have their place. However, I think that some are more effective, on a biological level, than others.

SSRIs, like Lexapro, seem to do a lot more harm than good, for many (like myself!), in the long run… and the still-emerging research showing that patients on SSRIs would be equally “well” taking sugar pills is certainly alarming, and something to take into consideration. Why put already depressed and/or anxious people through additional pains (thanks to side-effects) if it’s not absolutely necessary?

That said, in theory, I feel antidepressants have real benefits. And, even IF my medication didn’t work as it should have (I’ll honestly never know for SURE if I was experiencing legitimate medicinal benefits or the placebo effect!), I was still grateful to have it.

I’m well-aware of the complexity of mental health issues, but I’m going to speak very simply here:

Your brain, just like one of your bones, can BREAK under too much strain. But, in the case of a “broken” (depressed/anxious/whatever) brain, the strain usually happens over a long span of time. If you go through trauma after trauma after trauma – each wearing thin the delicate wiring in your cerebral matter – your “wires” will eventually “snap” and your mental health will go in the toilet.

Your brain has essentially been through SO much that it kinda just… forgets HOW to work properly. It’s sitting there in your head with broken wires going “Uh… does the red wire connect to the blue wire to make happy, or…?”

In theory, antidepressants basically go in, set the wires in place (red to red, blue to blue, whatever), and “holds” them there while your brain relearns what it’s supposed to do and ultimately makes the necessary repairs. This process, of course, can take longer for some people than others (for example, if you were born with “broken wires,” causing clinical depression); and that’s perfectly fine. Nothing to be ashamed of.

So many describe antidepressants as a “crutch,” and they’re not exactly wrong. I would describe them more as a splint or a cast – a temporary device used to protect, straighten, and allow for healing. They sort of “cover” the damaged areas of your brain and encourage them to rebuild in the “right” alignment.

That said, the right “mindset” for healing is of utmost importance. After all, if you break your arm, even the best cast won’t be enough to force your bones to mend if you’re actively slamming your arm into a brick wall for a few hours each day. In other words: If your brain is splinted via an antidepressant, it won’t be enough to “mend” your mind if you’re still immersed in the environment/activities that “broke” your brain in the first place.

That’s why, above all else, I recommend therapy.

Either have therapy on its own or therapy with a medication regimen… but do NOT rely solely on medication alone. Please. It’s 100% okay to need extra help (medication), but don’t risk having too little. Medication on its own is not enough.

Get ALL the Therapy!!

Taking the time to find the right therapist for YOU will be the most important part of your recovery. Just because someone went to school and has a degree in something doesn’t mean they’re good at it. Or, even if they ARE “good” at their job, they might not be good for YOU.

Don’t feel guilty about moving on from a therapist to find someone more suitable for you. For better or worse, you’re going to be in a “relationship” with this person – you want it to be a good, healthy one. “Swipe left,” as the kids say. Keep searching until you find The One.

If the relationship metaphor is too personal and weird for you, here’s another reason to keep searching: You’re PAYING this person for their services. Why would you continue to pay someone for what you regard as sub-par work? You deserve quality.

Of course, don’t use the search for quality as an excuse to immediately dismiss every therapist you meet. Give them an honest chance. Search your feelings to see if you’re not “clicking” because they’re truly not right for you (their personality, their methods, etc.), or if it’s because you’re grossly uncomfortable with the subject matter(s) you’re tackling together.

You’re going to be in an excruciating amount of pain no matter who you speak with. You’re going to be endlessly uncomfortable. But if your therapist is “right” for you, you’ll be able to feel that pain and know you have a trustworthy ally to help you push through it. If they’re “wrong” for you, you’ll spill your guts out onto the floor and, instead of helping you sort through them and place them properly back into your body for healing, they’ll smack your eviscerated bowels around for a few minutes and then hand you a bill as you army-crawl your bleeding body out their door. Neither feels good at the time; but, with the former, you’ll feel good eventually – with the latter, you’ll just be wasting your hard-earned cash.

I had plenty of bad therapists over the years. But, when I found the “right” one (shout out to Shawn!), I immediately started making progress towards bettering my mental health.

That said, even with the “right” therapist, healing still took several years. Immediate “progress” doesn’t mean I was immediately “cured.” Progress was slooooooooooooooooooooooooow… but slow progress is a zillion times better than NO progress.

The more “broken” your brain is, the longer it’s going to take to “fix” it. And that’s okay! Just be patient, and kind, with yourself and keep going. Celebrate every personal wellness victory, no matter how small.

I was in therapy from October 2014 to June 2018.

I started out going twice a week, then once a week, then twice a month, then once a month, then once every other month, then once every few months… until I eventually didn’t need to go at all.

However, I will actively engage in “self therapy” for the rest of my life. Using the CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and mindfulness techniques I was exposed to in my therapy sessions to monitor my well-being from home.

And, of course, I will turn to my support system for those times when I can’t go it alone. Being in a good place mentally doesn’t mean you’re going to be “free” from Depression for the rest of your life. Things will always turn up: Job loss, illnesses, the death of loved ones…

It’s in those moments you’ll most need to lean on someone else. For me, it’s my husband, my family, my friends, and my pets. I’m truly blessed. I know not everyone is as lucky as I am; but, believe me, you have SOMEone out there who cares about you and wants to help.

If you honestly can’t think of anyone, contact me. I’m by no means qualified to handle your (or anyone’s!) problems, but I can at least lend an empathetic ear and, if possible, give you some resources to get (professional) help.

NOTE: This isn’t an invitation for anyone to send me explicit descriptions or photographs of what they’re going through. I’ve had that happen before and, even in my best mental state, I’m not equipped to handle that. Also: if you tell me you’re suicidal, I absolutely 100% WILL call the cops on you – I don’t take chances with that kinda talk. If you’re truly feeling that way, please skip contacting me, and dial 911 yourself.

Living a Better Life

In 2017, a miracle happened: I fell in love.

Yup. Me. I didn’t think it was possible, but there you have it.

In August 2018, I left my super toxic living environment and moved back in with my parents. Our family was whole again, and better than it had ever been before.

On April 27, 2019, I married the love of my life: Frank Spear. I officially, legally, and forevermore became Mrs. Lauren Spear.

I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life. Even happier than my pre-depression era childhood days!

I revamped LittleZotz Writing. I had a fresh start. In life. In business. In everything.

There was just one last thing to do…

Going Off Lexapro

The side-effects from Lexapro were taking a serious toll on my physical health, but I was reluctant to get off of it because I feared I’d no longer be “sane” without that little 20mg pill each morning.

I was wracking up huge medical expenses, treating this ailment and that (all related to the side-effects of my antidepressant), but I was scared.

My family doctor told me that I should’ve been off Lexapro a long time ago. He told me that most patients are only on Lexapro for six months to a year – and that longer usage could have serious, sometimes permanent, repercussions.

Despite his warnings, I still dawdled and delayed and made excuses.

But, then, a SIGN FROM GOD: I lost my insurance.

Okay, so maybe that was just another “unfortunate event” in my life and not a sign from the good Lord. But, whatever you decide to attribute my circumstances to, the “message” to ME, at least, was clear: NOW was the time to stop.

If YOU decide to stop taking your antidepressant, please do so gently. Taper it off slowly, and be under medical supervision. At the very least, be in contact with your doctor.

But, if you end up in a situation like mine (or are just “xtreme hardcore”), and are forced to go “cold turkey” off your medication… keep reading… My story might help you prepare by giving you a glimpse into what to expect.

Lexapro Withdrawal: Quitting Cold Turkey

Day One

“Day One” happened a little sooner than I’d expected. I misremembered Lexapro’s half-life (the point when it’s half out of your system and withdrawal symptoms really start kicking your butt) as being 48 hours. It’s not. It’s closer to 28 hours.

Cue INSANE amounts of diarrhea.

When that “half” mark hit me, I could NOT stay out of the bathroom. By the time it finally stopped, I was basically peeing out my butthole. I hadn’t had any food, just water, and yet I was still “pooping.”

That all happened around 11am, pretty much “on the dot” for 28 hours after my last dose of Lexapro. (Side note: If the filmmakers behind 28 Days Later or 28 Weeks Later want to make a horror movie – 28 Hours Later – based on my experience, hit me up! Haha).

By that evening, I was having “flu-like” symptoms: Increased temperature, cold sweats, fatigue, and achiness.

I was also getting the dreaded “Brain Zaps” that are oft-referred to by those going through antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. Google it. It’s wild. It seems to be different for everyone, but it also seems to be a pretty much guaranteed effect.

For me, the “Brain Zaps” would come on with a static-like “zap” to my temples… which would then “drill in” and give me excruciating pain – very much like a hardcore migraine without the accompanying ocular disturbances. They would last for about ten minutes at a time and then disappear like nothing had happened. But, when they were happening, I’d feel them all the way into my teeth. It felt like my jaw had been wired shut – I couldn’t unclench my teeth to save my life!

Day Two

“I can’t feel my butt. Do I still have a butt?” I asked my husband. He assured me that I did, in fact, still have a (“very fine!”) butt.

My entire pelvis area seemed to go “missing” overnight. My rear-end and lady bits were numb to the point that it felt like they’d disappeared entirely.

That sounds humorous, I’ll admit, but it was actually fairly problematic. For one thing, peeing when you can’t feel anything in those areas is really weird. I had to keep checking to make sure I was actually ON the toilet. And then I wasn’t always sure when I was actually “going”…or when I had STOPPED “going.” I had to depend solely on sound pretty much. (Note: Pooping was officially NOT happening at this point – which felt like a blessing considering Day One, but it got pretty uncomfortable by the end of Day Three).

It’s also REALLY hard to walk when you can’t feel your pelvis. I could feel my legs and I could feel my torso, but trying to determine if my torso was aligned/balanced properly above my legs when I tried to move around proved very challenging.

Not that I was moving around much… By Day Two, I was in a LOT of pain. The “Brain Zaps” had picked up the pace and were coming more frequently. It was absolute torture.

I ate a small meal which was almost immediately forcefully ejected from my body. I remained nauseous for the rest of the day.

Plus, except for my inexplicably missing pelvis area, my entire body was on fire. I swear I could feel every single nerve in my entire body, and they were all in PAIN. It felt like I had billions of tiny bugs zipping around just underneath my skin, and they were covered in spikes and on fire.

Sleeping was pretty much impossible. When I did sleep, my dreams were extremely vivid. I wasn’t scared, so I wouldn’t classify them as nightmares, but the subject matter was often irritating/annoying and they felt very “real” no matter how absurdly surreal.

Day Three

I still had no butt. However, considering how the rest of my body felt, I was grateful.

I was also having dizzy spells. Really bad vertigo. My husband had to pretty much carry me back into our bedroom at one point.

Pain, pain, pain, pain, and more pain. My body just… hurt. For whatever reason, my right hand was especially bad. This was, by far, my worst day pain-wise.

The “Brain Zaps” were just as frequent, and much more painful; but were dissipating more quickly.

I also had a low-key hallucination at one point. You know that one scene in Donnie Darko where he’s kinda following that “trail” in time up to his bedroom so he can [SPOILERS FOR AN 18-YEAR-OLD MOVIE ALERT] get crushed by the jet engine? It was kinda like that. One of our cats (Tina) walked past me and it looked like she was leaving a trail behind her. I freaked out and did a Google search: apparently this happens to people getting off Lexapro sometimes. I was still kinda freaked out, but I felt relieved knowing I wasn’t alone and that it was “normal.” (I felt even more relieved when it never happened again!).

Late that night, my butt finally returned. It was numb and tingling, but it was definitely there. Walking became much easier. As did bathroom activities.

Sleep that night (what little I had), again, was accompanied by vivid dreams.

Day Four

I dreamt I died in my sleep. It felt real.

ME: Am I awake…?
HUSBAND: Uhhhhhhh… I think so? [Note: considering I talk in my sleep a LOT, his doubts were warranted].
ME: Am I alive…??
HUSBAND: Oh! Yeah. For sure! THAT I can definitely say “yes” to. Why? Did you think you weren’t?
ME: Yeah. I wasn’t sure.
HUSBAND: You’re alive, and I love you. Don’t worry. Can I get you anything?

After my initial confusion as to my status among the living, I quickly realized that most of my aches and pains (except for my right hand and a stiff neck) were gone.

Poop finally happened. Thank God. Not to be too TMI, but I typically “drop the kids off” at LEAST once per day; so going three days with nothin’ was getting really uncomfortable.

My symptoms of nausea had almost completely disappeared. I was super hungry. I ate breakfast. Later, I ate lunch. Then dinner. I felt very ill after dinner, but kept it down.

The “Brain Zaps” were barely there. When they did occur, they disappeared again quickly.

The worst was over.

So long, Lexapro!

In full, the lingering withdrawal symptoms lasted nearly a month. Those first four (4) days were the worst of it, but I had stomach issues (mild nausea, non-ideal pooping) for around three (3) weeks. And I’m STILL having strange, vivid dreams!

Mostly: I feel amazing. I feel…me.

Soooo… What Does All This Have to Do with Freelance Writing?

Illustration by Sandpaperdaisy Art

Like I said at the very start of this post: There are a great many freelance writers struggling with mental health issues.

If you’re one of them, I hope my story made you feel less alone.

Also, above all else, I want to remind you to put yourself and your health first. Clients will come and go – you’re going to be with YOU for the rest of your (hopefully long and happy!) life. Never put a client, a gig, before your own wellbeing.

The greatest thing about freelance writing is that it will always be there. You can’t get “fired” from being a freelance writer – you can only quit. And, even if you DO quit, you can always come back to it.

You, on the other hand, might NOT always be “there” if your mental health struggles are taking you down a very dark path. Don’t take that risk. Put yourself first, always.

I wish you the best of luck on your journey towards better mental health. Thank you for sticking with me and being a reader as I went through mine.


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13 thoughts on “You’re NOT Alone: Surviving Depression as a Freelance Writer

  1. Your sincere and unblinking testimony about mental health, therapy and medication withdrawal echoes what I have heard from many a dear friend! There are so many people I know and admire who have walked their own difficult paths through issues like these. And if a lil’ Midwestern artist like myself knows and loves that many people with similar challenges, how many folks are out there in the vast world suffering the same?

    I hope some of them see this post and know they’re NOT ALONE. Thank you so much for writing this.

  2. As a freelance writer who has struggled on and off with both depression and anxiety for years now, I really appreciated reading this. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone sometimes.
    Sending you lots of love because I know how hard it can be!

  3. Wow! That’s the longest blog post I’ve ever read that kept me hooked to the end. Thank you so much for sharing your life experience, Lauren.
    I’m so moved because I’ve also suffered from depression. For me, it happened in college while I was pursuing my medical training (I career path that I eventually left soon after graduating).
    I must say my experience wasn’t half as tormenting as yours, but it was still quite draining for me. I thank God every day I “feel okay” and at peace because I know it’s not something I can ever take for granted.

    I’m so happy for you for the way things have now turned out for good :-). I’m now off to check out your wedding post 😉

    May God help us all in this life where ups and downs are inevitable. We are surely NOT ALONE!

  4. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to spill all of your life history on this page, but congratulations for your courage. I’m sure this post is going to be a great help for anyone going through what you’ve been through. The fact that you’ve come out the other side of all that turmoil and pain is a testament to you. Feels a bit empty saying ‘Well done you,’ but I mean it with the best of intentions. Great post.

  5. Congratulations on your marriage Lauren! I wish you and your new husband happiness in your life ahead.

    I tapered off my SNRI Effexor over the course of 13 months. Still painful and scary. But I was on one antidepressant or another for over 20 years.

    I’m finally well enough to write steadily and put your coaching advice to use.

    (Not against going off SSRI or SNRI pills. But I would not recommend going cold turkey to any friend considering.)

    Glad you are seeing a therapist to deal with the stuff from your past. Wow!

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