So it's been awhile since I posted on here. So sorry about that. I'm really terrible about keeping up with my blog. I suppose maybe it's because I'm normally fairly active on my social media accounts so that I don't feel the need to update my blog? But that's not a good excuse.
Especially since lately I haven't been as active on my social media either. And now it's time to explain why. Strap yourselves in, folks, this is going to be a long post.
These last two months have been extremely stressful for me, to the point that I have had a number anxiety attacks. Now, I know a lot of people suffer from anxiety attack, but before this summer, I could have counted the number of anxiety attacks in my life I've had on one hand. I don't normally get them. I'm not saying this to brag, I'm just saying this to help explain just how bad my anxiety got.
It started the week before San Diego Comic-Con. I was feeling a bit stressed because I hadn't gotten a lot of freelance work in July and I was worried about paying my bills. And then, that weekend before the Con when I was rushing to try to finish my Keyleth costume, my sewing machine stopped working properly. That was what prompted the first anxiety attack.
I did manage to pull together my costume in time for Saturday, when there was a big Critical Role meet-up and I was in a group cosplay with my friends. Although my headpiece was causing some issues (it snapped in two on the car ride down to San Diego and getting it to stay together was proving tricky), the cosplay turned out pretty good, and overall the weekend was a success.
And then I went home and back to reality. Funny thing, when you go from a such high like SDCC, where there's so much fun stuff going on, and you are hanging out with amazing friends, and eating good food, and then you go back home, alone and completely broke, that kind of a severe contrast can really affect your mental and emotional state. For the first time ever, I felt depression. Real depression.
As the weeks wore on and I was still barely getting any freelance work, the anxiety just got worse. I'd wake up in the morning and immediately begin stressing, which many times escalated into an anxiety attack. I told my mom that I felt like a total failure. Sure, I've failed at things before, but there's a difference between failing at something, and feeling like a failure, and I've never felt like that before.
By the end of each day, right before bed, I'd start to feel a bit more positive and normal, but then I'd wake up the next morning and start the whole process all over again. Every day this happened, for weeks. When I wasn't working, I was just laying on my bed watching tv shows, trying to keep my mind off of my stress I finally got caught up on all of Netflix's Marvel shows though! Well, except for Iron Fist). I stopped posting regularly on Instagram and Twitter. I dropped 10 pounds. I'm pretty sure I started developing an ulcer.
And then along came the Monster, and a whole different kind of stress. This Monster took the form of a new client, who will remain unnamed, and an exciting job opportunity to do an illustration project. At first, I was super excited about this gig. It seemed like the thing I really needed to help me get out of this financial tar pit I've been in. Plus, this client was going to fly me out to meet in-person and discuss the details of the project! It sounded super exciting!
So I out I flew.
The flights themselves should have been my first sign of trouble. The first one was a red-eye flight, scheduled to leave at midnight, but delayed by two hours. And because it had a connection, I didn't land at my final destination until noon the next day. I don't sleep very well on planes, even red-eyes when they turn all the lights off, so I was very tired by the time I met this client in person. I also had no idea what to expect from the trip because they'd been super vague about any details.
The client had an event that evening, and after letting me rest for a few hours, I was taken to the venue. There was still an hour until doors opened and I didn't want to just sit around, so I offered to help out for a little bit. I somehow ended up helping run the front door, both before the event, and after when everyone was leaving.
By the time we got back to the Airbnb it was really late. The client wanted to cook some food before we went to bed and discuss the project, we didn't end up going to bed until 5:30 in the morning. And in those wee hours, when I was super tired, super hungry, and super stressed, I admitted to this client my current financial situation.
Yeah I know, that was really dumb on my part. Again, super tired, super hungry, super stressed.
The next morning, as we were packing up to leave and talking more about the project, the client asked me to fly out the next week so we could talk further. I agreed, especially since they had said that if they liked what they heard, they'd write me a check right then and there.
Oh the temptation of false promises when you are desperate.
Now, if the flight TO the location should have been a sign of things to come, the flight out definitely should have. My flight to my connection arrived at the gate a little bit late, and I ran to my connecting gate only to discover they hadn't actually started boarding yet. Relieved, I sat down and opened a book to wait. After half hour, the gate agent came on the loud speaker and announced that my flight was now delayed until 9 o'clock - the next morning. 12 HOURS LATER.
The airline was kind enough make hotel arrangements for passengers that wanted them, so I stayed overnight in a hotel and finally flew home the next morning. But, that was stress I didn't need.
The next week I flew back out, where I was put up in a fancy-shmancy hotel that required a $150 security hold placed on my card.
After getting that sorted out so I could actually pay my damn student loan, due the same day, I went out to meet with the client that evening and... Ran. Errands. Instead of talking about the project, I basically just tagged along with the team as we ran around getting ready for the event the next day.
I guess because I'd made the mistake of volunteering to do help our for a few hours on the previous trip, this client assumed that meant I was cool with just doing work for free. They made me rent a Uhaul truck the next morning to drive around and pick up supplies for their event, and they only paid for the truck's rental and gas. Again I helped out with getting ready for the event. And ran the front door. In fact this time I was in charge of it, since I'd already done it once before.
There was no asking, I was just told to do these things. I was basically a free roadie at this point.
On a side note, I will say I got pretty damn good at driving that Uhaul around. I went from starting the day going "I don't even want to back up in this monstrosity" to parallel parking the thing by the end of it.
Anyway. After the event, and yet another late-night dinner that really didn't agree with my stomach, I went back to the client's studio the next day and drew thumbnails for their project. We discussed things a little bit, but somehow we just didn't have time* to actually do anything related to getting a contract in place. Or, you know, paying me.
(*we totally had time. I was there for 5 f***ing hours)
Promising we'd get all that sorted if I flew out the next week, in my still very stressed and desperate state, I agreed to it. And I flew out, this time an entire day before the next event. We had a full day to sort out things.
Guess what happened. Myself and the client's other team members stayed cooped up in our Airbnb the ENTIRE day. We never saw this client once the whole day. They never called us over to talk about anything. I didn't see them at all until a few hours before the event the next day, and everything was already in chaos-mode.
At this point I was starting to feel quite peeved. My friends and family were all asking why this client wasn't paying me for my time or all of this extra work I'd been doing, and I had no answers.
Something else to keep in mind here, I'd also already drawn 5 sketches for the client at this point.
After the show, this client talked to me for a whole 20 minutes about the project, and I flew back home on an early morning flight.
That following Saturday, the client calls me up and tells me they wants me to fly back out again for just a day so we could finally get things sorted out with the contract and payment. I was feeling fairly annoyed by the whole situation, but if this trip was purely just to get contract stuff underway, then fine. Let's do it.
I waited all day on Sunday to hear my flight details. I had to find a last-minute sitter for my dog, and I dropped her off not knowing when my flight was. I finally got my information at 11 pm, for a flight that was leaving at 9:45 the following morning. And I wouldn't be getting back until...Wednesday?
The client had said they wanted me to fly out for ONE day, and now I'm going to be gone for three? I was so unbelieved pissed, I barely slept before I had to drive to the airport in the morning and catch my flight.
And I stayed pissed the entire trip. A trip where by the time I'd left the client's studio Tuesday night, WE STILL HADN'T DONE ANYTHING ABOUT THE CONTRACT.
I was supposed to go back to the client's studio the next morning to "get it sorted" right before my flight, but by then I'd had enough. I'd seen the pattern, I knew their game. And I was done with it.
I didn't even bother to show up the next morning. I just checked out of the hotel, went straight to the airport, and went home. I sent a letter of departure, along with high-resolution scans of what I'd done already for the project, over email to the client and told them not to contact me again.
It's the first time I've ever dropped a client before, especially a fairly big client. It was both incredibly terrifying and incredibly liberating. I had let this client walk all over me and take advantage of my desperate situation, but there is a point where I won't stand for that sh*t any longer. I'd rather stay broke and keep my dignity than be taken advantage of like that.
In retrospect, I could have handled the entire situation much better, but the truth was this client came around when I was the most vulnerable I've ever been, and they dangled hope in front of me. I took the bait. It was my mistake, and I know it. But I've learned my lesson.
The funny thing is, the whole experience with the Monster actually lifted me out of my depression and eased some of my anxiety. Yes, I'm still broke AF, and don't have a lot of freelance work right now, but you know what? I can take what life throws at me.
And I won't let another client take advantage of me like that again.