by Maya Capasso
Medically Reviewed by:
Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW
by Maya Capasso
Medically Reviewed by:
Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW
Not having structure can feel scary with depression. But in practice, self-employment has done wonders for my productivity and mental health.
I live with long-term depression that impacts my motivation and energy, which makes it tough for me to work a traditional full-time job. To make ends meet and feel more like a capable member of society, I found a way to work that works for me: I’m a freelance writer who works entirely remotely and on my own schedule.
Here’s how I make this career path work for me and my life with a chronic mental health condition.
Our capitalist society values productivity above all else. It expects everyone to spend as much time as possible at work, bringing money home to support their families and futures. If people don’t work, society sees them as lazy freeloaders. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Research suggests that people living with mental health conditions are twice as likely to be unemployed as people without mental disorders. People with mental health issues want to work, but it can be challenging to maintain a 9-5 job day in and day out when your mind turns against you.
These people aren’t lazy but desperately trying to stay above water, which is exceptionally challenging and consumes a ton of energy.
It’s tough to accept that I can’t mentally handle working a full-time job right now. I want to be valued by society in the same way as my hardworking friends and family members. I want to feel “normal.” I want to make enough money to support myself individually.
But I remind myself that it’s OK to not be OK, despite what our productivity culture tells me.
It’s OK that I haven’t moved out of my parents’ house, and that I don’t spend all my time working. I’ve tried pushing myself too far before, and that only leads to burnout and visits to the psych unit. I have to live my life for me, not for society’s expectations.
That being said, the reality is that money rules our world, and living without an income isn’t an option for most of us. Luckily, I found a way to make some money while also prioritizing my mental health: I became a freelance writer.
I graduated college in May of 2020, right when the COVID-19 pandemic began to heat up. I moved back in with my parents and struggled to find a job amid a global shutdown, while at the same time, my already fragile mental health took a turn for the worse.
I tried working as a nanny but quickly realized that job wasn’t sustainable. Waking up early and spending all day completely “on” was too draining and caused unbearable anxiety. My mental health couldn’t take it.
After my attempt at finding full-time work during the pandemic failed, I began searching for remote jobs, and freelance writing called my name. Throughout my life, my parents, teachers, and friends all told me that I’m good at writing. So I went and ran with that.
My first few jobs paid pennies, but over time, I’ve built up a successful and sustainable freelance writing career, writing for entertainment publications like Wealth of Geeks, Fangoria, and Horror Press, along with well-known brands and companies like Jansport and Sittercity. Plus, I get to write about my experience with depression for Bezzy.
The job isn’t perfect, but I’ve made it work for my current situation.
Freelance writing gives me freedom because of its flexible, forgiving, and passion-driven nature. It helps me pay the bills and advance my career skills on my own time. Here’s how my writing career fits into my life.
One of the best parts about being a freelance writer is that I work remotely. Instead of spending hours every morning finding the right work outfit, getting dressed, grabbing a quick bite to eat, and sitting in rush hour traffic, all I have to do to get to work is roll out of bed. I get to wear whatever I want.
If I feel chipper one day and want to dress up, I can go for it. But most days, I’d much rather be comfortable and wear my sweatpants.
Plus, it’s much easier to find the motivation to go to work. On bad days, I’ll wake up, and my first thought is something along the lines of, “Ugh, another day. I’d rather stay in bed than live this monotonous nightmare.”
On those days, the thought of getting up, putting on uncomfortable clothes, and going into a workplace feels like an insurmountable task. But when my bed is about 20 feet away from my desk, it’s easier to convince my depression to let me get up and start my day.
The best part about being a freelancer is the freedom to create your own schedule. I don’t have to work a specific set of hours each day. I just have to get my assignments done by their due date. That gives me wiggle room on days when I can’t get out of bed, or my motivation is at its lowest.
If I need to take the morning or entire day off, it won’t cost me my job. In the private industry, full-time employees in the United States receive an average of 7 paid sick days per year. I took 6 days off in September alone for my mental health.
Freelance writing’s flexibility also allows me to take time for myself throughout the week that I wouldn’t have access to if I worked a traditional job.
Every Tuesday morning, I go to ceramics class, and I attend a creative writing workshop on Thursday mornings. Both of these activities are essential for my mental health because they help me connect with my passions and my community.
My freelance writing career wouldn’t be possible without my parents. I’m lucky because they’re the kindest, most supportive, and understanding people I know.
I moved back in with them when I graduated college because the pandemic hit during my final months of school. And I’ve stuck around not only because I don’t have to pay rent, but because I love spending time with my parents. We eat dinner together every night, and we often sit in our living room together to talk about our days. They’re the best roommates ever!
Because I don’t pay rent, I have the freedom to keep money-making low on my priority list. I know I’ll have a meal and a place to sleep each day in a loving environment, no less.
If you have the opportunity to live with a family member who can support you during a mental health crisis, there’s no shame in that. It can be life-saving. And we’re not alone. In 2022, a whopping 56% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 lived with their parents or guardians.
I have difficulty overcoming mental resistance to engaging in activities I don’t enjoy or see as meaningful. And work is often a task that feels terrible to me when I’m deep in depression.
While I do often struggle to find the motivation to write, it’s much, much easier to get myself to sit at my desk and write an article about incredible horror movies than to get myself to put clothes on and go to an office to work for some random company that I don’t care one bit about (and that probably doesn’t care about me, either.)
When I get to make money by engaging in my interests, like horror movies, LGBTQ+ representation in the media, and mental health advocacy, it makes working much more manageable. I have a reason (besides an income) to write that feels meaningful to me. It helps me get my work done when my energy levels or motivation are low and a due date looms on the horizon.
I’m in a better place with my mental health than I have been in a long time because I’m able to rest when I’m overwhelmed, take a break when my motivation drops, or take a day off when my depression takes over.
I have time to do the things that bring me joy, which make life feel worth living to my brain that constantly tells me my life is meaningless.
I can pay my bills and build essential career skills that perhaps one day I can bring with me into a full-time position. But for now, I must prioritize myself and my mental health to build toward a sustainable future.
Full-time work is out of the question for many of us who live with severe, chronic depression. That’s part of why I became a freelance writer.
My career is flexible and sometimes even fun. Despite society’s stigma that says people who don’t work full time are lazy, I prioritize maintaining my mental health over making money because I don’t believe I have another sustainable option.
Medically reviewed on December 07, 2023
Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at email@example.com.
About the author
Maya (she/they) is a professional freelance writer and cold pitch coach. Her writing is featured in TransLash News & Narrative, HorrorPress, the Episodes Newsletter, and more. They’re passionate about mental health advocacy and social justice. She manages the Accessible Cold Pitch blog and email newsletter to help freelancers connect with their ideal clients. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.