This is something it took me a long time to figure out as a freelance writer and developer, and it’s a mistake I still make much too often.
You can’t let the whole world be your job.
What I mean by that is you can’t allow every place, every time, and every contact to be work-related. Yes, you may be someone who gets freelance work done at 7am, 9pm, or 3 am depending on how your insomnia impacts you. But you can’t let your expectation be that you should be working at all those times.
Similarly you may well need to have your home workspace overlap with your personal space (though the tax benefits of a home office are not to be underestimated), but you can’t allow ALL your home space to be a place where work often gets done.
It’s great to have friends in the industry… but you need to have conversations and activities and interactions with them beyond things you do for your career.
The reasons for needed to at the very least carve out SOME time and space that is kept separate from work concerns are many and varied, but they can be boiled down to one basic idea.
Sometimes you don’t want to go to work.
Now, whether you can spare the time off, get vacation time, can take a mental health day, or need to play hooky is beyond the scope of this article. The important thing is, if you don’t want to go to work, and you have allowed your entire life to be defined primarily by your work, then you don’t want to get up and engage with life.
And that’s a problem.
Burnout, depression, imposter syndrome, introversion, and even panic attacks are not uncommon in creative writing careers. To survive, you need to know there is a way to exist outside your job.
Yes, your email may be ubiquitous, and your editors may always have a question, or a panicked demand, asking about changes, availability, late projects, and so on. But you can decide there are hours when that isn’t your problem. Time when, even if everything is on fire, you get to read a book, or sit on the balcony and listen to the rain. Whatever works for you.
I can’t tell you how to achieve work/life balance. There’s no magic number of hours per day, or per week, you need to take away from being “on call” to your career. But you need to know you CAN take time away. Subconsciously, your brain needs to be able to grasp the idea that after this project, this crunch time, this weekend, you have a place you CAN get away.
Because, to quote one of my editors, you are no use to anyone dead.
Speaking of My Career
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There’s no moral or point to this post, just my thoughts and experiences on what it’s like to worry about clothes as a fat man. It’s not really career, gaming, or geek-related, so feel free to skip it.
In many ways, I think it would make sense for me to ignore fashion entirely. I’m a 430 lb. man, plus or minus 2-3% of that depending on when you catch me. I am regularly mocked, and rarely even assaulted, based entirely on my obese appearance. Wearing a custom fit 3-piece suit doesn’t change that (I happen to know), and thus there’s a part of me that would like to paraphrase She-Hulk’s line “I’m six foot seven and bright green! People are gonna stare no matter how I dress!”
Sadly, I lack that level of self-confidence.
So, I strive for a level of comfortable casual 99.5% of the time, and dress up (as uncomfortable physically, psychologically, and sartorially as that always is) as needed for funerals, weddings, formal parties (which I mostly just avoid), and job interviews. Over the years that comfortable casual has evolved into jeans/khakis/dockers, an undershirt and a Henley (though with the occasional polo) and sneakers. Colors stick to a pretty narrow palate of grays, browns, blacks, darker blues, purples, reds, and greens, and rarely white.
I own a few things that fall outside of this. A mustard yellow Henley, for example. (The colors for fat men’s clothes are often described in food terms – I have much more mustard, chocolate, eggplant, and mint clothing than I do yellow, brown, purple, or green.) But that’s fraught with peril. I once wore the mustard Henley with khaki pants, and up[on entering a room literally silenced ongoing conversation as everyone stared at me in shocked silence at so much tan-to-yellow in one place. I counted to five before anyone managed to speak or look away.
I neither desire, nor manage, such attention well.
I like white, but it attracts too much attention. A white shirt on me can look like a spotlight trying to flag down passing planes. I do own some white undershirts, but they attract stains… and while dressing well doesn’t cut down on abuse, a fat man with a food stain does invite it.
I keep a Tide stick in my desk at work, so that a careless bite of lunch doesn’t send me into such a panic I have to flee home fighting tears.
Darker shirts are much more forgiving of a drop of food, and less likely to have an old stain I don’t notice become obvious in juuuust the right light. Light gray is about as bold as I get for outer shirts at this point.
I also prefer dark undershirts, because I can’t afford to replace my shirts often. At my size even t-shirts are often quite expensive, and sales are less common and more likely to only include things like bright orange camo patterns with a big red bear on the back… which I simply cannot wear. Cheap stores don’t go to my size. So I tend to wear my shirts until they are worn threadbare, and don’t have the luxury of giving them up with they develop tiny wholes. But a black undershirt generally conceals a tiny hole in a navy blue Henley. A white undershirt highlights such imperfections, limiting them to be matched with as-yet pristine shirts or my few light gray choices.
Wearing a shirt with obvious flaws and holes is at least as embarrassing as wearing one with a food stain. I tend to check them every day, so see if this is when I need to retire one, and spend a few hours online trying to buy a replacement I can afford. Stores are a disaster for me, and I have almost entirely given up on them.
I have noticed that no one seems to care about the color of my socks. Even the most offensive of fat-shamer doesn’t care if my socks are white, black, purple, or have little brown bears all over them.
Often my geek choices are limited. There are t-shirts I would wear… that don’t come in my size. This is also often true of company shirts, vest, and jackets, though a work-around can generally be found.
At conventions and other geek-heavy events, I suffer a lot less harassment at the event itself… and a lot more just outside its borders. So that’s a wash.
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I am always surprised when people express shock that my life includes a fair amount of mockery. I am fat. I don’t deny that, nor do I have any interest in discussing it with anyone other than medical professionals.
And as a result of being significantly and obviously overweight, there is an unwritten social agreement that says I am a fair game for any level of rudeness or mockery anyone wants to disk out, as long as it is weight- or laziness- based. Society feels I am ugly, a drain on resources of others, and clearly a huge problem in all aspects of my life. It reinforces that time and time again, both in broad sweeping strokes, and in it’s reaction to specific incidents in my life. Despite there being no treatment for obesity with a high success rate, and ample evidence that mockery makes weight loss more difficult, people actually bee live that shaming me for being fat is not just acceptable, but is doing me a favor.
Now, because I am a little of 6 feet tall, such mockery is rarely to my face or at close range unless the mockers significantly outnumber me. Thus my wife and other friends don’t see or hear mocks directed at me nearly as often as I do, since when they are with me I am less likely to be directly mocked.
I go through an average of roughly one loud, insulting, active fat-shaming based comment directly loudly and exclusively at me, out of the blue, with no previous interaction, each month. These are most common in men’s restrooms and parking lots. The number is lower if I don’t go out much, and higher if I travel by airplane. But that’s pretty much my life. It’s hurtful, but I have enough therapy under my belt to know how to cope with the pain of anyone so desperate to look important that they insult people they have known for all of 30 seconds.
But I also remind myself that this very experience, and the fact that no one is ever going to see most of the abuse directed at me exactly because it is largely the work of cowards, is a sign of how little we see of other people’s lives, or understand what forces might shape them. So if I feel like someone else is over-reacting, or being unreasonable, while I must measure that against some standard I must also remember there is no way for me to know what has driven them to that point.
We are all the only complete witnesses of our own lives.
More than one person I know is dealing with the suicide of a friend sometime over the past two weeks.
I didn’t know any of the lost personally. My sadness is second-hand (for my friends and colleagues who are hurting and have suffered loss) and third-hand (I truly do weep for all the lost).
In many cases the suicides were a surprise.
That’s one of the problems with deep, serious, persistent depression.
Life teaches those of us that suffer that we can’t keep talking about it. That if the answer you give to “How are you doing?” is constantly “I’m depressed and thinking of killing myself” you
-A: Get stuck in a lot of extremely painful conversations that don’t help anything
-B: Drive away the very social contact you might need to survive life.
I’m almost always in pain, both physical and mental. Thankfully, many days I am only in a little pain. Sadly, some days I am in a lot of pain.
But I can’t talk about my pain all the time. I don’t have the energy, for one thing.
I don’t want to scare off friendly acquaintances who might someday become friends, for another.
And trust me, constantly being barraged with how crappy a depressed person is feeling will drive some people away. Including people who don’t think it will. Which means my life experience is that when you try to pop in and let me know you AREN’T one of those people, I can’t believe you.
I can’t afford to.
And, I’m sorry to say, 9 times out of 10 if I do confess how bad things are to someone, they make it worse. For example, being told to cheer up, or it’s not so bad, or “hey here’s a thing you can do to improve the situation you are mentioning right now” don’t help.
They are damaging. They are worse than not talking about it. They make a depressed person feel stupid for not being able to fix it, or piss them off that they can’t explain why the problem IS a huge problem.
I do have family and friends I can talk to about the worst feelings, thank goodness. But that trust took years, and a few terrifying risks. It can’t be duplicated quickly.
A good therapist helps, too. And that can be arranged for pretty fast, if I think I need it.
Most of the time “I’m fine” or “Not too bad” are the only answers I *can* give to people who ask how I’m doing. Anything else is a risk and an expenditure of energy I may not be able to afford.
That does, of course, suck for people who want to help. I know that. I’m sorry.
From my own experience, there are only a few things you can do.
If someone is depressed, try to invite them to things. Even if they don’t go to anything you invite them to. As long as they seem happy to be invited, keep inviting. Their depression has them in a prison. Sometimes they get a day pass, and sometimes they don’t. But if they do, it’s helpful to know they COULD go be with people. That they are welcome.
If they do reach out to you listen. Be understanding. They are telling you about the things ruining their lives. Don’t try to make those things sound small, or easily overcome. “That’s rough. I sympathize.” is much, much, much better than “Hey, it’ll all be okay.”
And try to remember, we often can’t ask for help. Literally can not. We are incapable. And you can’t force help on us. But you can let us know, by actions more than just saying so, that you are willing to listen, and willing to be present.
That’s all I have on the topic.
For those of you suffering, please try to find someone who will listen to you. I promise, it can help.
For those of you have have recently suffered loss, my sympathies. It wasn’t your fault. I hope you all have people you can turn to as well, because this kind of pain can be viral.
And well-wishes to you all.