I’ve finished my fourth week of full-time remote work as a visual journalist at FiveThirtyEight, and I feel latent forms of stress continuing to uncoil within me. Though it’s only been a month I can overwhelmingly say being remote—or elements of remote life—has tremendously helped me become a better developer and healthier human being.
This is my first time being remote for a full eight-hour day, every day. I didn’t realize the amount of mental navigation working in a traditional office atmosphere required for me. I no longer start my day off with the stress of a commute and having to constantly be aware of the time, a documented difficulty associated with ADHD.
I’m understanding now that a major source of anxiety is how I appear to others. I’m no longer worried about looking presentable to anyone but myself. I get dressed in comfortable clothes and don’t wear makeup. (A plus for my skin.) Physical presentation is just a piece of this. Now that I don’t see anyone save thrice-weekly video calls, I can distill that I carried a lot of shame over how I worked best into the office with me. This compounds on the shame of having disabilities, and of being chronically ill. Visible disability accommodations are essential to my ability to be productive, but reinforce how different I am from other people.
I have a circadian rhythm disorder, and sometimes my internal clock gets off the regular “normal sleeping hours” track. I also suffer from insomnia. In past jobs I’ve struggled with working around these obstacles; even if I woke up an hour late I would still have to get out of bed, shower, get dressed, eat (or else I’ll get nauseous while commuting), commute to work, and then start my day. Plus there’s the shame aspect, of not performing the same way or being as “productive” as my coworkers. After several days of shitty sleep, I’m basically a zombie. In an open office I can’t take a nap for twenty minutes to deal with that fatigue. I can’t get up and walk around every half hour to burn off nervous energy. Without the restrictions of acceptable behavior in an office, and the self-censoring that came with it, I’m figuring out the best way I work.
Now, no one cares if I stare at the ceiling while trying to debug something in my head, because no one can see me. The furthest I have to go to commute is the four feet to my desk. And that’s freeing.
Of course, remote life isn’t all sunshine and roses. I’m mostly saying that as a caveat, because I’m sure more concerns will arise in the future. Right now it’s freaking awesome. I do need to be more intentional about socializing and am trying to make a schedule. I did not sign up for the working space like I planned to because not having to leave my house during Chicago winters is a definite perk. I’m hoping to sign up in the summer, so I can bike there.
This reflection has also prompted me to remember to trust myself. I had been thinking about working remotely full-time for a while; I’d done plenty of remote work before, but it was always outside the confines of nine to five. I talked to many people I knew about their experiences, did lots of research online, and tried to make balanced pro-and-con lists. I was worried that my excitement was leading me to ignore difficulties of remote work I hadn’t considered or wasn’t taking seriously. The reality is that remote work has not only raised my quality of life in the ways I expected, but it has exceeded them. I can cook myself multiple meals a day, eat healthy snacks on schedule, do my full skincare routine, cuddle my cats…I can list so many improvements to my daily existence. And I never expected I’d end up working to understand myself better, learning how I work best and in what kinds of environments my disabled body and mind can thrive.
I’m looking forward to this future. ✨