THE BEGINNING OF MY SELF-EMPLOYMENT JOURNEY
Let’s rewind to October 2018. I had been studying to become a social and health care assistant for 2 months and had tried to balance a normal life as a student while dealing with PTSD – meaning being in constant high alert.
I was exhausted all the time from never being able to relax. One day felt like a week and I knew that if I had to continue studying I would also have to do intern work full time for 1,5 years and I just realised that I couldn’t take 3,5 years of that.
Being in constant high alert for me meant having a racing heart, being hypervigilant – always being aware of my surroundings, being hyper sensitive to other people’s actions, words, facial expressions, tone of voice and body language, sweating and blushing if someone just approached me, feeling a sense of doom around every corner – that something would give me a huge shock which would send me over the edge. It felt like having a gun pointed to my head all the time, not being able to breathe freely or relax, feeling in constant danger.
At the same time I had flashbacks every day. Often a teacher would forget about me and I was sent right back into childhood and felt so shameful, that the whole world hated me and I was unlovable which made me feel more unsafe.
At the same time it was like I had another life on the side (crocheting and selling crochet tops), that was more interesting, fun and filled with freedom – but a life that I thought to myself would always be an illusion, something unattainable and unimaginable for me.
TRYING TO FIT IN
I thought that I would have to live a normal life – work a full time job somewhere so I could provide for my children, go traveling, buy a house etc. Then I realised I actually didn’t want children, that I was happy about living in my tiny apartment and not owning my own place and didn’t feel a need to go traveling.
I just wanted to feel safe and I was happy by the thought of just earning enough to get by and feel relaxed. But it felt like my small expectations of freedom and relaxation were still not possible.
Even working 10-15 hours a week would still mean I had to be in constant stress to earn money to pay my bills. Just the thought of earning money was so stressful to me.
BEING GASLIGHTED BY THE SYSTEM
During the next 10 months – from October 2018 to August 2019 I was unemployed.
I was broken down, but I still had to fight the battle alone – the battle of authorities not taking my mental health serious and just wanting to get me through the system as fast as possible – into any job (even if that would mean I would then break down again and get back into the system again). It felt like screaming into an empty corridor only hearing my own voice echo back. No response, no empathy, no belief in me.
I had heard of so many people experiencing the exact same thing as me. If you didn’t look depressed, anxious or suicidal then you were not.
Imagine how traumatic this is when you have been dealing with being gaslighted your whole life and then the authorities that were suppossed to help you just continue the gaslighting.
BEING IN THE SYSTEM WORSENED MY PTSD
In the end just stepping into the job center to have my weekly meeting with a social worker I would sit with the hands over my head and my thumbs pressed into my ears to block out any sound or light.
I learned to be completely inside myself, because I knew that no matter how much I tried no one believed my symptoms were serious and that I needed their help. I had to change to become a person without PTSD, instead of them helping me find a place to work where my PTSD wouldn’t get so triggered.
I couldn’t imagine a life in freedom but I also couldn’t imagine a life in panic.
I WOULD RATHER BE POOR, IF IN RETURN I CAN BE FREE
So what drove me into self-employment?
It was the unbearable thought of living a life in fear and stress, controlled by authorities who didn’t care about my well-being. I would much rather not be able to pay my bills or not get food on the table, and then at least have my freedom, be my own authority.
I had to actually think: “what is the worst thing that could happen?” . The answer: “homelessness and starving”. And that sounded more appealing to me than being in a state of panic and hypervigilance.
The physical stuff didn’t scare me as much as everything I had already experienced.
Quitting welfare and going full time as a crochet designer was one of the easiest things I had done in my life, because everything else seemed even more impossible.
Choosing a life of self-employment and freedom was uncertain and something I had never done before – so at least I had to try it to see if it was possible, because I knew that a life in fear and stress would eventually kill me.
I had no other option left, there was no way back.
GETTING OUT OF THE SYSTEM FOR THE LAST TIME
In my last phone call with my social worker I laughed ironically while I told him “I might just move into a tent and create my own job” (though I didn’t actually mean or believe it).
So I quit welfare the 1st of August 2019 and somehow I knew that this would be the last time I would be in the system.
I was relieved but afraid because I didn’t believe that I would be able to earn enough money from crochet to make a living off it.
I had lived with as little as possible the past months so I had a little bit of money saved up that I could live off and I still had my part time job as a blind assistant but I usually only worked 2-5 hours a month. Though having a safety net helped the fear a lot.
ADJUSTING TO A LIFE OF FREEDOM
The first many months in freedom I still woke up every morning in panic (as I had done every day for the past many years) because I thought I had to be somewhere where I would be in constant high alert and fighting to be understood. I still couldn’t understand I was free of it.
All that time (in the system, in jobs, in school, in relationships) where I had worsened my PTSD and given me another layer of trauma to deal with.
I was finally free and there was a a great deal of relaxation but my brain and body was still reacting like I was a captive in my own life.
I started dumpster diving for food and I cut down all my expenses – no wifi, no streaming services, no money for any kind of unnecessary things. I only spent money on food and bills.
Six months went by and I had earned about 1/4 less than over the Summer, which meant if I put it all together I would have enough to pay my bills and food for maybe 1 month. So I was getting a little frightened and it was winter so not a lot of demand on Summer clothes either.
LEARNING TO MAKE & SELL PATTERNS
Gradually I started getting demands on the patterns for my designs so I started looking up crochet patterns online to see how the layout was and how they were written. And I tried to freestyle my way through it. I thought to myself: “How would I want to read a pattern?”. So basically I wrote a pattern for myself that I would then create a listing for on Etsy.
I upgraded my website subscription so I could start selling phsyical and digital items there as well. Suddenly I got a holiday pay that was bigger than I had expected and my friend out of the blue gave me money because her holiday pay was a lot bigger than mine.
I started having more and more money on my account and realised I wasn’t using my savings anymore. I suddenly had more more money than I needed to get by.
As the patterns started to sell more and more and my website got more and more visitors I started to feel that this might actually be possible. In August 2020 I officially became a registrered business – I had applied the year before but I closed it again immediately because I didn’t believe it would work out.
The past 10 monts I have earned more than any other job I have ever had.
It’s hard to understand and I pinch myself everyday.
I don’t wake up with a panic attack (unless I have had bad night). I feel relaxed throughout my day, even though I still struggle with PTSD, anxiety, depression and shame.
I am living the life I couldn’t even imagine – a life of freedom, relaxation, empathy and joy. With time and space for my healing process. Where I can respect my own boundaries, be my own authority, not minimise my symptoms and share what I learned with all of you.
When I look back at just 6 months ago I believe much more in myself and my abilities. I very rarely have the thought that “This won’t work out”, which I had everyday when I first started out.
It’s not just because it’s actually going well (because even though it’s going well I can still have doubts and fear for the future — will it last?), it’s more because I am actually living a life more in harmony with my values, needs and wants.
I am giving myself the life I deserve and seeing how it’s making me more and more comfortable in myself and in my life is giving me a greater sense of trust and belief in myself and the world.
I don’t have the same obsession about the future and wheter or not I will continue to do this kind of work or not. I try and focus on the here-and-now and do the things I enjoy doing on this particular day.
If at some point I want to do other things, like work as a chef, open a café, work therapeutically with other people, be a mentor or musician I have trust.
Because if I could do the unimaginable, I can do anything!
I feel extremely proud of myself and where I have come and so grateful for everyone of you who has been there by my side during this whole process. Those who have bought my digital or physical products, tagged me, sent me photos, reposted/liked/commented/read my posts and written to me and shared your own story.
Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t.
A FINISHING THOUGHT
I don’t believe the saying “believe in your dreams and they will come true”.
Yes, our thoughts have impact but what if we don’t believe? Can we only start living once we start to believe?
The other day in a feeling of hopelessness I was reminded that:
Just because you lose all hope, doesn’t mean that no good will come to you.
What if believing in ourselves comes from the process and experience of listening, being aware and showing ourselves patience and comfort even when we don’t believe?
So if you doubt yourself, don’t feel good enough, don’t feel ready, don’t have a support system, have been hurt too much in the past, fear that it will only go downhill – it’s okay.
Your life doesn’t require you to be fearless.
Your life doesn’t require you to believe, imagine or visualize something for it to become a reality.
Start now – do what makes you happy, enjoy your passion, take your time, go in your own pace.
Wanting something and going after it is enough for it to come true!
And if all else fails, just know:
I believe in you. There is a way, a place for you too.