When I decided to do an internship in New Zealand last year, the original plan upon my return home was to search for work in my selected field of journalism with the hope that my Master’s degree would help me land a job. I didn’t expect it to be easy, journalism isn’t typically considered a lucrative, high-demand job. I thought I might have to go back to the pharmacy job I had before leaving the country while searching for work in what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how long it would take me to get where I wanted to be career-wise. But I figured now that I had my Master’s, I was equipped to apply for the types of jobs I wanted.
I also wanted to travel more. The program I worked through to get my internship was the one I wanted to use to do a work abroad program that I was eligible for up to a year after I graduated university. Before leaving for New Zealand, my therapist also advised me to get certified for work as a substitute teacher, as she claimed it was relatively easy, flexible work I could land with my Bachelor’s degree. I thought teaching part-time was much preferable to going back to retail, so I planned on taking the exam to get that certification. I also figured that having teaching experience would help in getting certified to teach English as a foreign language, so I could both work and travel.
When I was in New Zealand, I considered taking on freelance work, since I always liked the idea of working independently and being able to write. I created a profile on a freelance platform but hadn’t really put any effort into making myself marketable as I figured I wouldn’t need to worry about finding work while I was out of the country anyway.
However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S. last March, I knew returning to my old job was not an option. I have a medical condition that makes me particularly vulnerable to the virus, so working at a pharmacy would be way too high of a risk for me. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to teach or travel for a long time, at least until after the pandemic was over. So when I got home in April, I went into quarantine, where I have been for a year now. I focused on applying for remote positions and polishing up my freelance profile because now I desperately needed the work. Unemployment was not going to be enough to cover the cost of living on its own and the stimulus checks would only go so far in helping financially.
While my focus was always on journalism, I have managed to get a decent amount of work doing editing. It doesn’t make a lot of money, but I do get a consistent flow of projects to work on. It also allows me to utilize my skillset in editing and writing, and it has made me a more attentive reader and a better writer.
Getting so many projects has had an interesting effect on the way I work. I used to loathe being busy, constantly having tasks to do, and vastly preferred having ample downtime to just relax. The first eight months of my quarantine had me wallowing in my depression, which was amplified by my isolation and the dire state of the world. I didn’t immediately get any work upon my return home because the packages I offered through my freelance profile were not attractive in price or scope. When I finally got around to fixing these, I got a constant influx of orders, and still do.
The result of this is that I pretty much always have work due. I’m never at a point I don’t have an upcoming deadline, and my perpetual awareness of this keeps me continuously working with a fear that if I stop, I’ll fall behind. I feel guilty for taking time off because I feel as though I’m not doing all I can to complete my work on time and maintain its quality. My therapist asked me if I thought going so long without a break was sustainable. I told her no, I wanted a break. But even after fixing my schedule to allow myself more time off, I find myself wanting to work during my allotted downtime.
Realizing how much this has exhausted me has forced me to set boundaries for myself in how much I am working and also how I am interacting with the world. Before the pandemic, I was convinced I needed to be on social media as often as possible to maintain a following as a journalist. Anytime I was not occupied with work, I was on Instagram and Twitter, making sure to post, tweet, like, and share other posts regularly.
With so much time to myself during the pandemic, I ended up preoccupied with social media to the extent that it was harming my mental health. My anxiety was at its worst, and I felt like my interactions were empty and inauthentic. I knew I was only on social media for the attention and the validation, not out of a genuine interest in interacting with the world through it.
So I gave up on the schedule I had established for myself to go online. I refused to check any of my social media accounts unless I got notifications on them. If I went several days without hearing anything, so be it. This made the interactions I did have more genuine, as they were usually with my actual friends sending me videos or funny memes. While I still struggle to limit how long I am logged onto social media, my motivation for going on has become more about connecting with who I care about rather than clout chasing.
I still want to travel and I still long for relaxation and I am still an introvert with social anxiety. Being locked away from the world has been traumatizing, depressing, lonely, and anxiety-inducing. But it has forced me to evaluate where I actually want to go from here and what I really want from life. The pandemic has allowed me to explore my passions and skillset more thoroughly and sparked a need for companionship and adventure that I hope will broaden my horizons and keep me growing as a person.
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