6 Black women freelancers share what it takes to protect their mental health in the gig economy
In “I Rise,” a series from HelloGiggles, Black women writers examine Black women’s mental health from every angle—from what it takes to access treatment, to the exchange of trauma across generations. We hope this series arms women with information and power, and opens up more space for this important conversation to take place.
It’s no secret that we live in a gig economy and that more industries have started to rely on freelancers heavily, if not entirely, to keep organizations afloat. According to the Freelancing in America 2018 study, 56.7 million Americans are freelancers, and 64% of freelance work is being done online.
Freelancers are afforded a certain level of control over their schedules and projects, certainly more than traditional employees. But with that also comes instability, since freelancers are treated as independent contractors without the same protections as salaried employees. In fact, freelancers frequently struggle to secure affordable health care and enough work to make a decent living, and many have to follow up repeatedly with clients to be paid on time, if at all.
The uncertainty that comes with living the freelance life can be stressful at best and negatively impact your mental health at worst, even more so if you’re a marginalized writer. Black women and femme freelance writers have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to culture, but so often get tapped merely to comment on or react to instances of trauma and oppression. In addition to having to perform that kind of emotional labor, Black women and femme freelance writers never see the same rates of pay as their white counterparts.
To help Black freelancers lay the groundwork for better emotional and mental health, HelloGiggles spoke to six Black women writers about how freelancing has impacted their mental health and self-care, what it’s like to tell their most difficult stories, and how the media industry can be more supportive.
“I’m thinking of finding other work because of the way working as a freelancer has affected me. Working as a writer has made me more anxious, and I’m annoyingly glued to my phone and computer. I’ve been having trouble being present and connected to my surroundings.
[For self-care,] sometimes I don’t write a single word for days. It feels like I’m being lazy, but I know that’s necessary for me. I don’t like when the days and stories run together; I try to approach each one with a fresh mind, new ideas, and details. I also do small things, like wake up and immediately shower, instead of sitting on my phone for 30 minutes. It helps.
I would like for us to be paid more. I also would like for everyone to be given more freedom. Sometimes stories are cyclical and contrived, because editors know they’ll get clicks or because they don’t know what kinds of pieces are really important to Black audiences. It’s not right.”
— Brooklyn White, freelance writer and artist
“[Freelancing is] exhausting. I’ve been moving nonstop and think about work all times of the day. Basically, my work-life balance is non-existent.
I need to be more proactive about [my mental health]. But I’m afraid if I stop to think of myself, I’ll miss out on work.
My most difficult stories relate to the fears I have about raising Black children in the midwest. They aren’t hypothetical concepts, like many of the other topics I cover. They are everyday struggles.
I don’t want to be a ‘go-to’ for stories exclusively during ‘Black times’ of the year. I’m a multi-dynamic individual with a wide range of views. My Black identity is just one of many aspects of what I can cover.”
— Ambreia Meadows-Fernandez, health care journalist and content strategist
“Freelancing has had a massive impact on my mental health. The fluctuation of it, the constant hustling—this can all be detrimental to my mental health. As such, it’s taught me to make tending to my mental health much more of a priority than it would be if I had a ‘traditional’ job.
Radical self-care and tending to my mental health looks like many things. Day to day, it means staying on top of my to-do lists for tasks, tracking my budgeting/spending/invoicing daily, and limiting my social media time. I tend to do best with having set rules regarding my social media at the beginning and end of the day (I try not to take my phone off airplane mode for the first hour I’m awake, and get off social media by 10 p.m. to give me time for my nighttime routine). But self-care also means prioritizing time to take care of my body: stretching, drinking water, doing non-work/hustle-related things that get me reconnected back to myself after a long week.
I’ve recently begun talking more about my chronic pain, and I still find it challenging to intellectualize what I’m experiencing and my relationship to it because, well, I’m still sorting through it all. I want to honor the space that I need to sit with things for myself first before sharing them with the world, and I try not to let myself get too caught up in that pressure [to write about my personal life].
Above all else, I want us to be paid what we are worth from the jump. Too many Black women and femme writers expend so much energy to be paid, and most of the time, we end up getting a fraction of what white writers in our fields [receive]. I provide a lot of labor in my work as a freelance writer and sex educator, and many people will only count a fraction of that work as ‘billable.’ But that needs to change. I want Black women and femme writers to have their rates respected, and be paid what we deserve from the beginning instead of having to fight so hard for it.”
— Cameron Glover, freelance writer, podcaster, and sex educator
“Being a freelance writer is rewarding because I get to write from a place of passion as opposed to being shoved a topic/beat and expected to write well about something I couldn’t care less about or have no connection to. I get to craft something that’s near and dear to my heart and share it with the world. However, digital spaces are increasingly click-centered, so the pressure to pull millions of hits can be draining. It can be defeating to not meet a click goal or see/hear ANY response to something you poured yourself into. This has caused me a bit of anxiety and I’ve procrastinated with some of my work, fearing not being able to do a good job. And isn’t that wild? A good job is now defined by the tap of a finger, not the depth, breadth, vulnerability, research necessary to the craft.
Lately I’m starting my days free of internet, social media, or contact with anyone outside of my house. I used to check my emails and social media as soon as I woke up at 6:30 a.m. As a Black woman, that learned lack of boundaries to try to be all things to all people made me feel as though I was always treading water, just about to drown. Now, I’m practicing waking up with a prayer, a scripture, my journal, and some tea. I value what I do, but I’m not a brain surgeon. No one will die if I don’t respond to emails before 10 a.m. Letting my ego take her rest has been the most radical form of self-care. It frees me to be grateful, calm, and increasingly creative.
I felt compelled to write about getting fired from a job that just wasn’t right for me. We talk about vulnerability and authenticity a lot these days, but only a handful of us are really willing to be honest about the less-than-ideal slices of our lives. I didn’t want to be seen as a failure. Again, my ego popped up, terrified of taking that kind of hit. But in actuality, it was the most satisfying thing. It highlighted the uselessness of shame and gifted me the opportunity to build community with incredible people. It got a great dialogue going about what it means to follow the path that’s meant for you instead of trying to fold and mold yourself into a box that makes everyone else comfortable with you.
Black women’s experiences are varied, our expertise and interests are vast. It’s crazy to me that we must keep reminding the world of this. We embody a spectrum that too few care to call to the table. They want the monolith that gets clicks and sells papers and makes for edgy headlines and neat little obligation-filling-yet-ineffective diversity campaigns. I’m interested and invested in our invitation to actual conversations and not just the commodification of our ideas and creative expression.”
— Ashley Hobbs, freelance writer, director, and creative producer
“I was a freelancer for two years. In the 24-hour news cycle, it was a constant churn and burn of competing headlines and chasing late payments. I had to take time off indefinitely.
During my hiatus, I discovered yoga and wellness. I got certified as a teacher and use my Instagram as my creative outlet.
As a freelance writer, it often felt like the only way to get greenlit was to share a really deeply racialized trauma story. This was often tied to a current event, so it was like always reopening a fresh wound.
It is my hope that Black women will be able to write about whatever they want and all of our stories will be heard. Equal treatment can only come from sharing more of our stories unrelated to trauma or to at least offer more agency in the stories we choose to share.”
— Jagger Blaec, freelance writer and yoga instructor
“Being a freelancer is unstable, particularly financially. This impacts my mental health because if my pitch isn’t picked up, I don’t get paid, therefore I cannot seek out the care that I need around my mental health.
I don’t tend to my mental health enough. I put my job and getting paid first, and if I have the time and resources, then I will practice self-care and tend to my mental health. Though I can write about and acknowledge how necessary it is to our communities, it is difficult for me to put into practice, mostly due to lack of stability as a freelancer.
One of the most difficult stories to tell was one I wrote about my relationship with my mother, who is white, and the labor that I have to perform to educate her as her Black daughter. I was fearful of this story painting her in a negative light, and how I could tell it without feeling like I was exposing all of her faults, while still being honest to myself and telling my truth.
I want to see us holding editor positions, creative director, editor-in-chief, etc., not just freelance positions. Publications are quick to ask for our stories, but never want us holding the positions of power. They want our labor and creativity to get them revenue, but will never pay us what we deserve. I want to see us at every level in the journalism industry.”
— Dominique Norman, freelance writer, fashion activist, higher education professional