• Jenny Stallard

Freelance Lockdown Loneliness

This week is loneliness awareness week. Last year I wrote on loneliness as a freelancer for the same week and, reading over that post, it’s interesting to see similarities between the freelance world then, and now. Loneliness was a big deal for the self-employed before lockdown, let alone during and after. I think as freelancers we are perhaps even more lonely – but we also have plenty of tools to try and combat it.

Loneliness Awareness Week is run by the Marmalade Trust, and I wanted to touch on freelance loneliness again, this time on how things have changed for us during and as we come out of lockdown. It never goes away, and that’s one of the things the Trust notes in its definitions, which I’ve gone into a little further down.

I get very lonely as a freelancer. It can be isolating and feel very strange to just be ‘you’ at a desk at home all day. Add in lockdown and the challenges of lockdown work as a freelancer, and it’s exacerbated, for sure.

According to IPSE, which this week runs National Freelancers Day on June 18, loneliness is among the challenges of remote working for freelancers, with 19% affected.

Epson EcoTank talked to 1000 freelancers and found that 48% said it was lonely.

As a freelancer I rely heavily on in-person networking, and I really struggled to bring myself to join some online seminars. That surprised me, but I bit the bullet last week and did join one and I’m going to write another post on what I got from it as it was, once I was brave enough to sign up and log on, very enlightening! I was nervous of etiquette, my background (that is, the ironing board behind me in the office) and whether it was the right topic for me.

But it’s been hard to connect when I’ve been stuck at home. It hasn’t felt very ‘me’ to do Zoom webinars. I’m quite an ‘in person’ person. One of the things I love about being freelance is getting out and about. Going to events and saying hi to people – a good example is this Thursday’s National Freelancers Day. Normally I’d have been off to a day of talks and meeting people over coffee and sarnies. This year it’s online and I’m embracing it, signing up for different parts. But the lonely element pervades – I’ll be joining anything I sign up for from the same desk, the same room, that I normally work from.

One thing I have found that helps is talking to other freelancers, even if that’s on text or Facebook groups rather than the phone. I always talk about Facebook groups but they can be a lifeline to the lonely freelancer.

Loneliness is a strange beast, because it’s not just about being alone, is it? I was often lonely as a freelancer anyway. Days without replies to emails, scrolling on social and feeling like I was the only one who wasn’t thriving… you know the feeling?

Being alone as a freelancer is something a lot of us deal with, but we can often thrive when we’re alone, or enjoy that solitary time. But being lonely is a different feeling – and combined with the lockdown aloneness, a dangerous one, too.

Everything’s amplified when you’re a lonely freelancer. You create stories in your head about something you see on insta or twitter that isn’t true (well I do, anyway!). In the echo chamber of your own surroundings you might find you struggle with everything from getting dressed to sending that next email.

Being lonely doesn’t just mean not having a colleague to turn to – although it is that, for sure. It’s about not having another body there to just know another human is around that day. It’s not having a tea break buddy. It’s wondering if your ideas are truly rubbish as they get ignored…

Freelance loneliness is definitely worse during and post lockdown. But there are ways we can combat that. If you’re feeling up to it, an online webinar can help you realise you’re not alone as it did for me. Try a call to a freelance friend. As shops begin to open, it could be that you need a coffee in a place other than home, if that’s available to you.

The theme of Loneliness Awareness Week is ‘understanding loneliness one conversation at a time’ and so hopefully this post is one of those conversations. The Marmalade Trust lists different kinds of loneliness, which I found very interesting:

Emotional, social, transient (a feeling that comes and goes), situational and chronic.

I’m sure one or more will strike a chord and you can read more about them on their site.

Freelance loneliness is definitely transient, for me. There are days I love to be alone at home, nobody else in the ‘office’ to bother me! Days when I can just do what I want, tap away, scroll on social media and not be bothered by meetings. Other days I feel like the sound of my tapping is echoing off the walls.

Emotional is interesting from a freelance point of view, as they define that as ‘When someone you were very close with is no longer there. This could be a partner or a close friend.’

I can really relate to that as someone who went into freelancing (for the third time, in April 2017), following redundancy. All my work buddies were gone, overnight. I was used to freelance life but I felt bereft not to be with them anymore, and I still miss some of them every day. You form such close bonds with workmates and to have those bonds ripped apart so quickly can be damaging and leave us lonely. Meeting up can be hard at first, too, as they’re still at the place that ‘dumped’ you!

So what can we do today, this week, if we’re really lonely? Of course, if it’s a serious problem, reaching out to different charities can help, such as Samaritans. It can seem easy for me to say, but do try and get fresh air, something good to eat (or a treat!), if it’s sunny, take a walk or sit outside if you can. Take that notebook to the park, or see if a freelance friend can meet locally for a socially distanced ‘meeting’. Don’t be afraid to say you feel lonely as a freelancer, because I can promise you, you’re not alone in that.


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