Today we’re proud to share the first post in a new series—”Working It”—where we interview people about mental illness and how it affects the work they do.
Too often we hear from people who are worried that they can’t achieve their dreams or have a successful career because of their mental health issues. We hope this series proves that it’s possible to do that and so much more.
We’re kicking this series off with a Q&A with writer Zan Romanoff. We reached out to Zan because we recently listened to an episode of a podcast where she talked about how important treating her depression and anxiety was to her creative work. We’re grateful to share her insights with you below.
TWLOHA: For our readers who aren’t familiar with your work, can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?
Zan: I’m a writer—I have two published YA novels, and I also write essays and articles for various online and print publications. I’m focused mostly on cultural journalism; some of my favorite subjects include food, feminism, television, teens and books.
TWLOHA: You’ve talked about your experiences with depression and anxiety. How do those two things affect your life and your work?
Zan: Right now they mostly don’t, but that’s only because of a combination of good therapy and good medication—and there are still definitely days when I can feel very acutely how bad it would be if I didn’t have those resources to draw on. I’m having one today, actually.
I was in therapy for a couple of years before I agreed to try medication, and during that time I was really, really struggling. I’d done a year of bad depression before even agreeing to go back to therapy, so it was helping, but not enough. I still hated myself and my life, even though I objectively understood that there was nothing wrong with me or it; I was sort of flailing at my day job and also creatively; eventually it got very hard for me to leave the house without having a panic attack.
So basically I’ve done both ends of the spectrum. I’ve been in very bad places and very good ones. I think the thing that’s changed is that for a long time whenever things were good I’d get like, well, I used to get depressed and anxious but that’s totally under control and will be forever, and now I’m finally made peace with the fact that it’s just something I’ll always have to be managing.
TWLOHA: We often hear from people who are afraid of getting on medication because it’ll make them less creative. You’ve talked about how so many people associate being healthy with being uncreative and how you’ve found the opposite to be true. Can you talk about why you believe that?
Zan: I wrote my first novel when I was relatively mentally healthy, and pretty much immediately after I finished it is when I started to get super depressed. I spent the next year trying to write a book that, I know now, is very genuinely terrible; I didn’t figure out that I needed to put that aside until I’d started therapy. I wrote my second book on the strength of that experience, but the third one evaded me until I got on medication.
I think a lot of people imagine being creative as just being like, open to the emotional experience of the universe but a) I’m open to precisely nothing when I’m depressed and b) feeling something is not the same thing as being able to make something from that feeling. Creative work requires a lot of focus and decision making, which, again, are things that desert me when I’m sick.
Art requires energy! Creativity requires energy! Being depressed and anxious is such an enormous drain of energy!!
I mean, don’t get me wrong, medication is not a silver bullet, and it affects everyone differently. It may be that it doesn’t make you feel better, or not better enough, or not better in the right ways. But the idea that you have to be unhappy to make work or be creative or interesting nauseates me. It’s a fetishization of illness that locks us away from ourselves. It only keeps people from getting the help they need and deserve.
TWLOHA: Did you ever feel wary about speaking so openly your mental health? If so, why did you decide to do so anyway?
Zan: I mean, it’s not easy to write any of this. I feel like a brat complaining, and I worry that people think I think I’m like, special or unique, that the world needs to hear my story. Depression and anxiety are relatively common, treatable mental illnesses. But also there is a stigma around acknowledging them, and I’m in the lucky position of being able to do so without fearing any kind of personal or professional repercussion. Many people aren’t that lucky. I guess I feel like my story is very common, but my willingness and ability to talk about it are a little more rare, so I try to take advantage of that, and be useful to people if I can.
TWLOHA: What would you tell someone who doesn’t think they can manage their own schedule or support themselves while dealing with mental illness?
- You’re not wrong that it’s harder than it would be if you weren’t sick.
- It won’t get better unless you figure out ways to work on it.
- It will be easier if you ask for help.
- You deserve that help.
- You do.
TWLOHA: Finally, is there anything you wish someone would have told you when you were struggling? Or something you’d like to share with our readers who are struggling right now?
Zan: If you want help—in whatever form, for whatever reason—you deserve to get it. You deserve to be helped; you deserve to be well.