In this commentary, contributor Nicole Froio describes how the flexibility and privacy afforded by working for herself and from home enabled her to tend to her PTSD recovery whenever and however she needed—an experience, she argues, that should be a right, and not a privilege.
This commentary is part of the Voices of Disability Economic Justice Project, a partnership with TCF’s Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. Voices of Disability Economic Justice showcases disabled writers’ first-person perspectives on the economic issues that matter most to them.
In the documentary series The Me You Can’t See, in which celebrities open up about their mental health issues, Lady Gaga talks about her struggles with PTSD with the host, Prince Harry. She talks about dissociating and feeling separated from her body, not present in her daily life, unable to really reach the physical world she supposedly inhabits. She walks the viewer through everything she does to come back to her body: yoga, meditation, working out. The process might take hours of repeated refocusing on her body, both mentally and physically.
Eventually, she feels herself being present in her body again. She is back on earth and she is ready to get back to her life, to do whatever it is that pop stars do every single day. I remember watching her come-back-to-earth routine and thinking that it felt really comforting, to give the present so much time to catch up to you, to repeatedly remind your body that you are safe and that you don’t need to disappear.
The diagnosis was a relief and a shock at the same time.
A few months after watching that show, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I’d love to say I saw this coming, but it was truly surprising to me. I think about that episode of The Me You Can’t See a lot, and wonder how I didn’t see myself in it before my diagnosis. I had written off my moments of dissociation as panic attacks or depression, and had even speculated that I had ADHD. I even told my psychiatrist I might have ADHD during our initial consultation, describing feeling distant from my reality which made it difficult to focus on—or care about—everyday tasks. But after a two-hour appointment, my psychiatrist was able to tell me I don’t have ADHD; I am experiencing burnout from a highly competitive work environment and I have PTSD.
The diagnosis was a relief and a shock at the same time. I could finally understand why everyday life felt like such a struggle, and find ways to help myself that brought me back to the present. But it was shocking to learn that the pressures I had been under at my last job had become a bundle of symptoms that disrupted my present everyday life.
When Work Is On My Terms, So Is My Self-Care
It’s difficult to describe my previous job because I was a PhD student, which meant that I lived between being a student researcher and being a junior sociology teacher for undergrads. The teaching side of the experience, which was devoid of the high pressures and constant competition of neoliberal academia, was enjoyable: I got to read and teach topics I was passionate about, which was my intention when I entered the field. However, several incidents involving xenophobia, racism, and blatant toxicity in my department left me feeling like I was never good enough to be in that space. I braved my way through it, thinking I was a strong person for doing so—but my body kept the score.
I left that job at the end of 2020, and embarked on a journey to make freelance writing into a sustainable income for myself. I was tired of answering to academic standards, and was eager to make the knowledge I absorbed more accessible to a wider audience through journalism. I was no stranger to remote work and I’ve always loved the flexibility of working from home, but I soon discovered that remote work can be a great way to manage PTSD.
In the early days of my diagnosis and treatment, I used to have panic attacks that resulted in days of dissociation, even though my working conditions were different from my previous employment. It’s not relevant to talk about what triggered me exactly; it suffices to say that regular work interactions were difficult for me because of how the trauma wired my brain to defend itself. Something as banal as a quick email asking for some information could disrupt my daily flow and send me into a psychological spiral. I hated taking everything so personally, and I hated thinking that if I made one mistake, it would be the end of the world.
The flexibility of working from home and the contracts I was taking on that only demanded that the work was done with no specific schedule allowed me to manage my symptoms much more easily.
Working remotely was what saved me in those early days of diagnosis. The flexibility of working from home and the contracts I was taking on that only demanded that the work was done with no specific schedule allowed me to manage my symptoms much more easily. I don’t have to hide my tears or panic attacks from anybody, I can simply do my calming down routine until I feel settled enough to return to the tasks I need to complete that day or week.
Just like Gaga, I developed my own grounding routine to come back to my body. In hindsight, watching that interview really gave me permission to create this space for myself to love my body in the present. Yes, Gaga is a pop star and I will never reach the levels of capital she has available to her for self-care, but when I saw her take her time to care for herself, I realised there wasn’t anything stopping me from doing something similar, on a smaller scale.
No One Should Have to Choose between Security and Recovery
A traditional 9-to-5, commute-to-work arrangement wouldn’t allow me to take time to care for my mental illness. Tending to your disability when it flares up is a practice of self-compassion to which every worker should have access.
So when I’m feeling triggered, I practise yoga and meditation. I take a hot shower after working out. I do breathing exercises and go for a walk. I journal while holding onto something cold. I light a candle to my past versions and I give myself a tarot reading. I take a nap. I look for myself. And when I arrive back in my body, I am refreshed and ready for doing my work, on my time.