I hope this doesn't come off too confused (or too entitled or too naive) but my head's a bit of a mess right now. I've been at my current job as a senior creative for nearly two years. I came on as a contract player and had no intention of staying but the offer was too good to pass up.

There have always been major process and project management issues at this company. It's chaotic and messy and claims that's because it's a "startup" even though it's been around for a decade. The turnover is kind of insane. Just before the pandemic, a previous project manager left (who many had issues with, myself included), but we had no idea how good we had it…he was replaced by an incredibly sweet incredibly dense girl whose job I ended up essentially shouldering. This was totally unnecessary (should have let her sink or swim) and came with a high cost…

This past year I burnt out and had to take a mental health leave for 1.5 month. I would attribute this to a combo of pandemic/wfh adjustment, preexisting anxiety and depression, and the overall stress of essentially running a department without the title or official responsibilities. I will add that while this workplace has its issues, my leave was handled really kindly and with a lot of empathy by HR. The only person who was less than thrilled was my boss (understandable!).

My return in general was slightly rocky—it was immediately suggested I take back on all the extra responsibilities that I am not hired nor compensated for, and I reflexively balked. Since my return, things have been quite strained with L, as I've had to put boundaries on our "friendship" for my emotional sanity and she approaches leadership in much more of a "bonding" and "emotional" capacity. She's essentially frozen me out at this point which is in its own weird way a blessing because she is a huge micromanager.

In my absence, a junior creative and friend of mine (A) had essentially risen to the occasion and taken on many of the responsibilities I shouldered (and enjoyed). Good for her! She is immensely talented and deserves it. Also relevant is that a new department head was installed above L and they have set about reorganizing our department.

Essentially as a result of all these changes, my time out, and my friend's elevated status, I've been put in a box, stripped of everything that gave me seniority and given only the most menial and cursory work to attend to. No flashy projects or large campaigns. I totally understand this…it makes a lot of sense! I basically forfeited any seniority when I went on leave and I know that, however some of the projects I've been taken off were core to my role and experience and I'm honestly quite sad to have lost them. I'm feeling alienated and punished and my self-confidence and self-worth eroding more day by day. I'm quickly realizing that staying at this company will likely no longer benefit my career or even my portfolio (which isn't QUITE where I'd like it to be). I've begun looking for full-time work elsewhere but am freaked out by colleagues who have left and fallen into equally toxic workplaces.

I know that I would like to leave, but I'm unsure of whether I want to begin a track at a new company or try to go freelance and rebuild my client roster. To recap: full time work can aggravate my anxiety and depression and make me miserable, but a salary and health care provides a lot of peace of mind. I'm having trouble choosing between these options:

  1. Stick it out and brownnose my way back into my boss' good graces. Keep my head down and put in excellent work in the hope of one day being rewarded.
  2. Start looking for full time work at another company so I can jump ship.
  3. Do the absolute minimum while rebuilding a freelance roster on the side. (legal? unclear.)
  4. Propose going contract/part time in my current role for a time (not sure if this would fly) so that I can either look for full time employment elsewhere or pursue freelancing.
  5. Quit my job and freelance for a bit while I do a little self-discovery to figure out what my next step should actually be.

Thank you all SO much for your help and advice on this…I am constantly taking the temperature of everyone I know (including my therapist yes) and I just need some outside opinions from people not invested in my mental health.

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