Sara Radin, a writer, producer, and mental health advocate, will be moderating a discussion with some amazing panelists discussing self-care and social media at Space Ninety 8 in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month. Sara spent some time getting to know panelists Emilia Ortiz, Sebastian Rosemarie, Lauren Tepfer, Sammy Nickalls, and Kim Hoyos in anticipation of the event.
When I first realized I was living with aspects of mental illness, I felt alone and completely detached from the world around me. I realized that even though it was something many people experience, no one seemed to be talking about it out in the open. I decided to start sharing my own experiences on social media and immediately received positive messages from strangers and friends alike. In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to bring together a group of people who are also honest online for a panel about the constant pressures of social media and how to take care of oneself.
In this blog post, I sat down with our panelists to talk about mental health awareness, authenticity online, and self-care rituals.
Tell us more about you, who you are, where you are from, what you do.
Emilia Ortiz: I’m a spiritual advisor, mental health advocate, & writer/creative from Brooklyn, NY (Flatbush).
Sebastian Rosemarie: I’m an editorial fashion model. I’ve been modeling for 6 years now. I’m a third generation New Yorker born and raised in Brooklyn New York. I teach sex education on my social media platform and in college classrooms trying to spread more awareness of gender and sexuality expressions.
Lauren Tepfer: I am a 19 year old photographer and director! I grew up in suburban New Jersey, about 10 minutes out of Philadelphia. I’ve been shooting since I was 13 and mostly work in documentary style photography, creating scenes out of everyday moments.
Sammy Nickalls: I'm the departments editor at Adweek, and I'm currently based in Crown Heights. I'm originally from rural Pennsylvania but have been in New York for the past two years. I'm also the creator of #TalkingAboutIt, which is a hashtag that encourages users to speak as openly about their mental health as they would their physical health. Outside of all that stuff, I spend way too much time playing video games and binge-watching Netflix with my very cute cat, Peridot.
Kim Hoyos: I'm an NJ based Colombian filmmaker, advocate for women/minorities in film and I'm first gen! This month I'll be graduating Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies, minor in Gender and Media, and a certificate in Digital Filmmaking. I run a website by myself for women and gnc filmmakers called the Light Leaks. It's an editorial site but I'm looking to expand it to much more than that.
What inspired you to be an advocate for mental health?
Emilia Ortiz: Being a WOC who has her own battles with mental health inspired me because there were no narratives or voices I could relate to when I was growing up. I also, became an advocate for mental health because of seeing how it affected my family for generations as well as my community. I wanted to start the conversation that so many were resistant to having, so we could start to make change.
Sebastian Rosemarie: I felt inspired to be an advocate for mental health because I noticed a lot of people on social media speaking about it through memes but not really expressing a lot of the more real life details like access to healthcare and the quality of one’s therapist being very dependent on how you grow up and access your family has to money.
Lauren Tepfer: I have struggled with my mental health for my entire life and have been in therapy since I was 9, so it’s almost impossible for me not to be an advocate for mental health. Learning how to navigate my mental health has been super difficult for me but I’m slowly learning, and I think that’s important to share with others. I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 16 and it came as a complete shock to me, I was in the peak of my adolescence and was working all of the time creating photos - it was hard for me to not integrate it into my art practice. I began shooting self-portraits when I was discharged from the hospital as a method of recovery and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Sammy Nickalls: The simple answer is losing my friend to suicide back in 2012. I found myself thinking about how he could still be around if we lived in a society where people can ask for help (and get help, without fear of consequence or social backlash). The longer answer is that I started #TalkingAboutIt when I was deeply depressed living on my own in Lancaster, PA, and I could barely move from my bed. I saw a joking tweet from a friend about how she was barely going to move from her couch that day because of her cold, and I thought, "Why can't I do the same about my anxiety?"
Kim Hoyos: I have anxiety and deal with disordered eating when under extreme stress. In the past, I've dealt with depression and panic attacks. I'm not embarrassed by these parts of my life. They're hard to talk about sometimes but they are not all that I am. As a teen, I would have loved to see a young woman talk about her life, in this way, online. I feel like in a lot of ways, the work I do now is to make up for what I didn't see growing up. If I had realized there were resources for me online, language to explain how I felt, or witnessed other young Latinx women who were going through my struggles- my life would probably be different right now. Mental health is not one face, story, or level of extremity. I tell my stories in the hopes of helping someone else.
Why does authenticity about mental health matter online and offline?
Emilia Ortiz: Authenticity is important because it can be damaging to people who have mental health battles if we aren’t. If we don’t have honest conversations & honest representations of mental health, people will mistreat those who don’t fit the inauthentic portrayal of mental health.
Sebastian Rosemarie: Authenticity about mental health matters because there are so much unhealthy stigmas about mental health online when it’s a reality all people have to deal with. I hope that by talking honestly about my experience and what I’m going through online, it will help someone feel less alone offline.
Lauren Tepfer: Being honest about mental health is important online and offline because it allows others to feel less alone, afraid and isolated. When I was 12, I didn’t really have anyone telling me that what I was feeling was okay and it’s important for me to make sure that I’m very honest about my experiences and how I’m feeling that way others can feel comforted or even just less alone.
Sammy Nickalls: Social media is a toxic place when all you see are glittering highlights and "personal news!" on your timeline. But if we could all be open about our mental health - the good times AND the bad - we could not only make social media a healthier place but connect with people who are feeling the same way. Support systems can only truly be optimally supportive if you're able to communicate.
Kim Hoyos: I believe being honest to myself about my mental health is vital for growth, creation, and just simply for me to live a full life. Having that authenticity follow you both online and off is allowing yourself to truly love and respect yourself for even your messy parts. By being honest about mental health online I'm able to use my platform to normalize anxiety and the issues I face, helping others understand that everyone struggles. I think there's beauty in sharing imperfections online. We're only human and the world can be really hard. For me, it helps to share my feelings online and see the honesty of others as well. It gives me hope.
Are there things you don’t share on social media? Why?
Emilia Ortiz: I don’t share my personal spiritual practices (in depth), I also don’t share ALL of my darkest moments. It’s not always a safe idea. While many may reach out to me to offer kind words, there is a whole internet full of people who want the opportunity to kick someone while they’re down. So, I’m mindful about oversharing. Not everything is everyone’s business & I feel some of my stuff should remain sacred to me.
Sebastian Rosemarie: I’m more hesitant to share things about my family online because I didn’t have a normal upbringing and my family life has always been the most unstable part of my life. But I’ve been trying to open up about that too as I get older because I realize no one has a perfect upbringing and everyone deals with family struggles.
Lauren Tepfer: I’m pretty honest about a lot of myself online. It took me a while to open up about my eating disorder online, but I eventually did. I always want to be honest about my mental health experiences and have talked about my anxiety, depression and eating disorder online. I don’t think I’ve talked about having ADD, but it is something I’ve struggled with for a while.
Sammy Nickalls: I'm very nervous to share certain topics that may trigger my followers. Something that deals with a visceral topic, like specific eating disorder behaviors or self-harm, is something I'd speak more generally about because I'm afraid to trigger anyone who may deal with these issues. It's something I'm still learning about and trying to wrap my head around, because I'd never want my posts to be inadvertently harmful.
Kim Hoyos: I don't talk about my family or my boyfriend online in regards to mental health. The presence I'm building for myself online should not, in my opinion, mean they are subject to me talking about them on social media. When sharing online, I strive to be honest about mental health but in personal ways like how I am being affected and how I cope. With all personal relationships, there are rough patches but if my mental health is off because of a personal relationship I have, I rather keep that cause to myself and instead be open about the effects.
How do you manage the demands of maintaining a social media presence and taking care of yourself, especially since it is directly tied to your livelihood?
Emilia Ortiz: I make a big effort to include self-care into my everyday routine. Since so much of my livelihood is based on interacting with others & helping them through their stuff, it’s the best way I can ensure that I can fit taking care of me- into all that. I also have started to integrate taking a month off, from time to time to recharge. Which means, budgeting differently in the months leading up to that.
Sebastian Rosemarie: I try to take care of myself by planning things during my day to do even if it’s small, like take a walk to the plant shop on my day off and not document it. Once I start doing things like that I find myself clinging to social media less and trying to only work when I need to, not 24/7 because I feel like it does sometimes turn into a depressive problem where I scroll all day and then I don’t feel like I’m doing enough. If I already have something planned, then I automatically feel better and I don’t even worry about what other people are projecting onto their screens.
Lauren Tepfer: It’s hard! I’m still figuring it out! I think allowing myself to be honest with my audience is half of the battle.
Sammy Nickalls: This is something I've been grappling with a lot lately. I've noticed that it's been considerably harder for me to live in the moment when I'm constantly plugged in. That last sentence sounds buzzword-y and canned, but it's true—I've found myself completely burned out by social media lately, but I don't want to give it up completely, both for personal reasons and for aforementioned livelihood reasons. I've been trying to be more mindful of how I feel in the moment and let myself put away my phone and do something else when I'm feeling fried—it's helped immensely.
Kim Hoyos: When I started the Light Leaks, my personal following began to pick up, mostly with creatives looking to get involved with the site. I decided quickly to not use Direct Message to do business. I know it may sound weird but keeping all business dealings in emails allows me to stay organized. I started my website out of my dorm room while taking 5 classes and also interning 3 days a week in NYC where my commute was in total 3 hours a day. If I didn't listen to my brain and body, the Light Leaks wouldn't be able to be where it is. I have other boundaries too- like, not answering business emails on weekends if it's not time sensitive, and I work to not overcommit myself for IRL engagements. At the end of the day, I look at my social media as an extension of myself. I used to get really wrapped into what others were doing- their successes, their bodies, their lives. But I realized that jealous-y stalking or worse, following people who I knew didn't actually like me, was taking a toll on me. So now, I make sure to follow people that inspire me and that push me to want to be a better, healthier, more creative individual. Instagram is my most inspiring feed for sure.
Are there any self-care rituals you’ve established that help you turn off and get into your creative flow?
Emilia Ortiz: Turning my phone off, & taking a bath or shower with music playing, candles lit. I’ll smoke while I do it & just plot in the bathtub.
Sebastian Rosemarie: I enjoy taking really long baths and think of new ideas. I also read comics. Reminding myself to moisturize, shower, and brush my teeth on days I don’t go out are big self-care things for me.
Lauren Tepfer: I love meditating, listening to music and taking long showers. They always make me feel so recharged.
Sammy Nickalls: I tend to think about the next moment, rather than the current moment, so I find myself getting home, dumping all my bags on the ground, and immediately starting on dinner or a project before I even take off my shoes. So lately, I've been trying to tend to my senses. Getting into comfortable clothes, lighting candles, doing some light cleaning to feel comfortable in my space, getting a cold drink—all of these may sound so trivial, but they really help me connect with the moment rather than focusing on every single little thing I have to do.
Kim Hoyos: Some of my go to self-care rituals are exercise, list making, spending time outdoors, and being with my family. I mostly try to change up what I'm doing in small ways to push me out of my funk. Sometimes even pushing myself to get out of bed to go to a coffee shop and people watch is enough to inspire new writing.
There's still a lot of stigma around mental illness. What can we do to combat this and create more openness around it?
Emilia Ortiz: We can start normalizing the conversation, so that it becomes something we don’t feel uncomfortable discussing. We can get those who aren’t empathetic towards those who have mental health battles, to see the human- not the symptom. Because mental health affects all of us, the symptoms just vary.
Sebastian Rosemarie: I think talking about the scarier aspects of mental illness helps it feel way less scary for other people. When I was hospitalized I didn’t have my platform and I think if I had seen someone like me at the time struggling with the same identity issues I wouldn’t have been as hard on myself.
Lauren Tepfer: I think the way we can overcome the stigma is just by constantly reminding ourselves to be honest and open. The more people share their struggles the easier the conversation will become.
Sammy Nickalls: I know I sound like a broken record, but we have to keep talking about it (or #TalkingAboutIt, if you will!). The more we speak openly—about literally anything, really—the more we grow comfortable (and help others grow comfortable) with that thing. Why should mental health be any different?
Kim Hoyos: I think stigma forms because of lack of understanding and lack of normalization. I feel that with talking about mental health, we allow others more exposure to the realities of it. Mental health is feared because of how it's portrayed in the media. But if we break it down to our friends, family, and followers with what we are dealing with and what we do to cope - we are able to make a small change in the perception of mental health in society. When I'm under extreme stress and my anxiety levels are high, I have physical pain in my back and knees. The pain can be so bad that it's difficult for me to walk. I've been open about this online - By not hiding it, others can see a piece of my reality and be a little less afraid of it and a little more kind.