Christie Donato on Cabin Fever

I love living in a place that experiences all four seasons. I don’t think I’d enjoy a relentlessly sunny locale where there’s never even an inch of snow. I’d rather be too cold than too hot any day, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. Especially as the Winter months drag on in Upstate New York, where I live. I don’t know what it’s like to not have to drive through a full-on, white-out blizzard as a normal part of my commute, which is why I was convinced that freelancing was the way to go this year. No more twenty minute drives that turn into forty minutes thanks to the snow. I’d be able to wake up and work on my time, and at first it was wonderful. Every time the temperature dropped into the 20’s or 10’s, I sat smugly in my slippers, sipping on my coffee and reveling in the fact that I didn’t have to deal with the frigid cold. I clutched my blanket tighter and watched as the snow piled on, content in the knowledge that I wasn’t going anywhere that day.

This was the kind of Winter I’d always wanted. One where I didn’t have to battle the elements, but as the the chilly weather has dragged on into February and March, it’s become harder and harder to get motivated. I’ve found that I often feel sluggish and tired all day long, despite the fact that I’m able to get my full eight hours of sleep every night. On top of that, my days were feeling both endless and fleeting at the same time. My relationship with time was untethered, and my experiments with productivity hacks only backfired, making me feel even worse. Part of the problem was my insistence on denying myself basic pleasures in the name of sticking to a budget. As freelancers, we often don’t know what life will look like in five or six months, which is why it’s important to really save the money that we do have for when one of those rough patches inevitably hits. Just after the holidays, when money was tight already, I told myself that I needed to cut back my spending to an extreme. I wanted to have as many “zero dollar days” as possible. Why go out for coffee, food or drinks when I could make it all at home for a fraction of the price?

So at the same time that I stopped leaving the house for work, I also refused to give myself a reason to leave the house at all. This was a mistake. Options for leaving the house become limited already when it’s cold outside. Walks, bike rides, beach and pool trips, or spending time in your yard are all simply out of the question. That’s why I’m here to give you permission to let yourself spend a few hours in your favorite coffee shop, or enjoy a night out for dinner, drinks, or both. It will help you to feel less like a hermit who can never relax. For me, the simple act of changing my surroundings can inspire boundless creativity. No one wants to spend all day in the exact same spot, alternating between different screens. On the days when you do choose to work from home, and the luxury of a home office is not an option, I suggest choosing different spots in the house for specific activities. I try not to eat meals in the place where I typically work, and I never bring my laptop to bed. I also recommend experimenting with setting boundaries around “screen time”. Lately, I’ve been doing my best to stay way from my phone and laptop in the evenings. It doesn’t always work, but when I do follow through it does a lot to improve my mood.

Finally, when I’m feeling especially anxious and unmotivated, I pick up the phone and call a friend. We spend all day on our own, which can result in unhelpful thought-patterns that are hard to shed without help. This isn’t about venting or unloading on someone else, in fact, try your best to stay away from doing this. It’s about being honest and connecting with another person who understands your struggle. A good friend can offer advice, help you to see the positives in your situation, and make you feel less alone. I usually leave these conversations excited to tackle the days ahead.

In places where Winter is especially harsh, this time of year can be hard for everyone, but as freelancers we don’t necessarily have that outside source of accountability. It’s easy to feel alone in the process, but so many of us are dealing with the exact same anxieties. Forgive yourself for the days where nothing seems to get done, and remember that Spring is just around the corner.

Christie Donato is a writer based in Syracuse, New York. She is a co-founder of Rogue Dialogue Productions, and co-writer of the Sci-Fi audio drama, Windfall. Selections of her work can be found on Breadcrumbs Magazine and Syndicated

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