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My life as a freelance artist battling ADHD and anxiety

Hey! I’m Ilena, or Nana. My main job—alongside creating content for Understood—is as an artist. It still feels weird to be able to say that’s my job and not feel like I’m just pretending.

I am an artist. I sell original pieces as well as creating custom art for clients. I mostly make drawings, T-shirt designs, woodcuts, hand-painted signs, and murals.

I’ve always done art, but I only began to take it seriously as a job a couple years ago. Now, I’m lucky enough to be doing what I love, and I have an awesome client base supporting me. 

I feel like I’m at a pivotal point in my art career where things look like they’re taking off. I have a solid list of commissions, inquiries for clothing designs and collaborations, as well as other artists reaching out to mentor me so I can have this be a stable and long-term career.

This is where my ADHD and anxiety start to be highlighted. With all of the opportunities around me, I’m constantly dodging self-sabotage and self-doubt. Once I feel like things are going well for me, a little goblin that lives in my brain wakes up and tries to drag me back to my old comfort zones. And usually, those old comfort zones are not healthy, happy, or productive.

Once I know it’s time to work, it’s always been extremely hard for me to calm down and focus. I’ve got all these tactics and techniques: planning my days, meditating, taking regular breaks, giving myself weekends off.

But a lot of the time, my brain goblin doesn’t like these rules and rebels against me, telling me to do anything but work. I can sit down in front of a project and stare at it for hours, not touching it even though I know I need to get it done.

My thoughts go wild—the middle of my workday is typically when I decide it’s the best time to go build a new easel, clean the entire house (again), start a garden, make music, go for a walk 30 minutes in any direction, or really, do anything that comes to mind and feels exciting and pseudo-productive.

I suppose it doesn’t help that alongside all of this distracted energy is the self-doubt looming over me. I’ll be nervous that my client won’t like their piece. Or that it has taken so long to complete already that they won’t want it anyway. Or what if I mess it up? What if a million awful things that I am entirely capable of making happen, happen?

Just writing that makes me feel like I’m spiraling. So, sometimes the easiest (and most unhealthy) way of getting around these feelings is to avoid the task.

I’ll have anxiety about the project, procrastinate, have anxiety because I procrastinated, and avoid the project until my deadline is right in front of me. I’ll get the piece done last minute, or tell my client I need more time. Both of these outcomes are not an optimal choice for me if I want to keep doing what I love. 

My first year doing art full time was kind of a disaster due to these issues. But since then, I’ve gotten a bit better at tricking my brain goblin into leaving me alone and letting me work. I’ve been trying to learn what motivates me and how to structure my days in such a way that I don’t feel as trapped or obligated by tasks.

Recently, I’ve been telling clients about my ADHD. Having that understanding between us tends to ease my anxiety. I used to think I had to be wicked strict to get anything done, and sometimes I still do. But what I need changes with my mood and mental state. Learning to navigate those shifts and learning to be forgiving with myself and flexible with my schedule has been crucial for me. 

Working for myself means I make my own schedule. I’m in charge of my hours and my environment. And being someone who wasn’t in school very much and didn’t have structure growing up, making a plan and enforcing it has been a huge hurdle for me to overcome. I’m still working on it, but it’s getting better!

I put checkpoints throughout my day to keep my brain goblin in its cave. Knowing when I’ll be able to play guitar, go climb a tree, or try a new recipe helps me not feel like I constantly need to escape.

And when I have those days when I just cannot focus and I need to move, I’ll allow myself that. I know I’ll get more done if I get it out of my system rather than sitting at my desk mixing paint for three hours because I can’t get myself to do anything else. 

I love being an artist and honestly, my ADHD and anxiety, although difficult to deal with, make me work harder and push me to create better work. I struggle to keep up with my growing clientele and scattered deadlines, but it’s helping me learn how to function and grow with my mental health and learning differences.

I’m excited for the future and to see how much stronger and more efficient I can get. The decision to follow this path has been life-changing for me. I couldn’t hold most traditional jobs for very long, and going back to school isn’t a viable option for me. The challenges are part of the ride and I’m looking forward to learning how to overcome these challenges and sharing how I do it, how I feel about it, and how others can do it, too. 


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Share My life as a freelance artist battling ADHD and anxiety

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom