In July 1996, as I was coming home from work on the night shift as an editor at the New Haven Register in Connecticut, a man I’d never met followed me into the vestibule of my apartment building. I didn’t know it at the time, but he’d spent the past 20 years of his life wrestling with the demons of paranoid schizophrenia. On that night, he was off his meds, on probation for hitting a police officer, and hearing voices talking to him about women drowning in pools of blood.
I don’t remember all of what happened next. I know that at some point, he was choking me, because a few days later, I had a string of bruises around my neck like a pearl necklace. And at some point, I was knocked unconscious, because when I came to, I was on the ground. And the kitchen knife he stabbed me with was serrated; that one, I only know because the police told me later.
The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder came fast, and at first, it was acute and severe. I was fortunate to have good lawyers and a good psychologist, and though I live with the remnants of PTSD today, I’m one of the lucky victims of violent crime who was able to go on and have a life. I did have to leave my dream job as a daily newspaper editor behind — you can’t get your blood pressure down and stop the panic attacks completely if you’re sitting under a police scanner at a metro desk editing obituaries and crime reports — but I found my way to the slower pace of boating magazines, and then to freelance writing and editing primarily for them.
Since 2003, I’ve been able to work for those boating magazines and more as a freelancer from home, where I completely control my environment: all the sights, sounds, smells, people coming and going, pretty much anything that could possibly trigger the PTSD. I rarely have an episode anymore, and I’ve enjoyed major success in my career. I even get to do some freelance newspaper reporting now and again. Today, people can read my byline everywhere from Yachting magazine to The Washington Post. In 2019, I won the Donald Robinson Prize for Investigative Journalism. Not too shabby for somebody who, at one point in her life, couldn’t stop her own hands from shaking.
Some of us, like me, become freelancers by choice. We love our lives. We love our independence. We love the control over our environment. We love the money we can make if we work hard. And we love the fact that, if we have a bad night of dreams about a guy with a knife, we can sleep in a little and make up the time later that day, because we get to set our own hours.
For me, being a freelancer has been a life-changing career choice. I know how to fight for my life, and I won’t let any misguided lawmakers take my career away from me.