SELF-CARE WHEN YOU’RE ANXY

INTERVIEW BY FRASER HAMMERSLY
As the content manager for ENDPAIN, Fraser Hammersly uses her background in philosophy, writing, media production, and comedy to produce and collaborate on stories with contributors. Originally from San Francisco and a decade-long resident of LA, she identifies with the sunny and revolutionary spirit of her home state. In her free time, she enjoys doing stand-up comedy, tending to her freshwater aquarium, and going on long walks around the city.
Featuring Bobbie Johnson
Bobbie Johnson is Anxy’s editor-in-chief and editorial director and principal at Anagraph. He was previously head of editorial and curation at Medium, and the founding editor of Matter, the ASME-winning, Pulitzer-shortlisted, online magazine. Before that he was a reporter and editor at the Guardian.
Featuring Indhira Rojas
Indhira Rojas is the founder of Anxy, and creative director and principal at Anagraph. For over a decade she has worked in the intersection of branding, editorial, and interaction design for The Bold Italic, Modern Farmer, Atlas Obscura and Medium
Self-Care When You're Anxy

It's not a coincidence that as media companies attempt to cut content into consumable clips of 30 seconds or less to placate our shortening attention spans that click and crawl through vortexes of web browsers and handheld supercomputers, our levels of anxiety, depression, and mental illness soar to all-time highs. In this wake, founder Indhira Rojas created Anxy, a return-to-print quarterly magazine that covers mental health issues from diverging angles while inherently forcing its readers to slow down, process, and pay attention.

Touted as a mental health publication not meant to “fix” or prescribe, founder Indhira was inspired to start the rag after experiencing the extreme burnout that comes when attempting to find a sense of self-worth and validation through overworking––an all too common story in America yet a psychological impulse that’s infrequently discussed, as Anxy investigates in their second issue dealing with “workaholism” featuring contributors such as comedian Neal Brennen and photographer Talia Herman as they share their own experiences with mental states that drive them to overwork. Bobbie joined her after a similar experience, when running away from his emotions outweighed the good of avoiding them, and teamed up with Indhira to create what they hope will become a platform to expose, extricate and explore these experiences we all face but walk around with in our private mental worlds.

We spoke with Indhira and Bobbie to find out how creating Anxy was an act of self-care for them and to learn more about self-care’s relationship to mental health.

Fraser Hammersly: What was the intention behind creating a print magazine in an industry that has mostly moved to digital?

Bobbie Johnson: Digital media’s great, we’ve worked in it for years. But it is a constant, noisy bombardment of stuff that tends to operate in a vacuum—each story, each thought, each headline, lives and dies on its own. Anxy’s meant to take things a little slower, be more considerate, distraction-free. That means it can offer you something that digital really struggles with; juxtaposing two articles against each other, having careful art direction that can change for each story. It’s a quiet conversation about important things, not trying to shout above the noise in a crowded place.

FH: In Indhira’s founding story, she talks about “failing at self-care” and going through two years of burnout and anxiety before realizing the emotional/cultural need for a magazine like Anxy. What constitutes “failing” at self-care?

Indira Rojas: Failing at self-care is neglecting yourself and your needs over others peoples' or other priorities, like work and external demands. It's self-abandonment. Many of us engage in it because it's what we know. Whether it is because we learned to pay attention to others at the expense of ourselves, to survive, or because we feel stuck and disconnected.

FH: For Bobbie, what have been the barriers to self-care as a male, and how do you think it differs from the female experience?

BJ: I don’t know if the outcomes are really all that different between genders, but society certainly does have a lot of different expectations—and talking about mental health and emotion is definitely tough for men. Plus I’m British, and the stiff upper lip is a big part of how we’re expected to behave. I don’t think I’m particularly open or self-aware—I’m certainly no guru—and I don’t often talk about self-care in those terms. I just try and concentrate on stability, consistency, and understanding where my emotions come from and giving myself space to see what’s going on. Is that because I’m a man? If I was a woman, would this question feel less complicated? Maybe!

FH: How have your experiences as an editors for Anxy aided your own journeys towards healing and self-growth?

BJ: At its root, all of this comes from our own experience—and producing a publication that asks us to look at ourselves, or to find experiences we can identify with, is huge. Working to understand a subject in each issue teaches us so much about ourselves, I think we’ve all grown tremendously since starting the magazine. I’m a better person, although I’ve still got a lot of work to do every single day.

FH: What does self-care look like as someone who runs a publication on mental health?

BJ: The irony that our current issue is about workaholism isn’t lost on us. We have to be careful about what fires we ignite when we’re talking to writers or artists or experts as we produce each issue. But we each have our own approaches for looking after ourselves.

FH: What is the relationship between self-care and mental health?

BJ: The way I look at it, self-care is a form of protection. If you recognize your own limits and boundaries, and work to protect them with rituals and habits, then you can spot problems before they flare up—you can avoid putting yourself in danger. But self-care isn’t a remedy for illness; on its own it won’t stop you from having problems. Some mental health issues are too big, or too deep, or just too far out of your control. But caring for yourself, and for others, is a basic level we can all strive for that can help make the other stuff a little less difficult.

FH: Do you perceive any stigmas around self-care?

BJ: When the idea was first captured—by Audre Lorde, I think—it meant something very specific. Now I think the term has become pretty commercialized and something more like “treat yourself.” Because of that, self-care has become more about consumption—which in turn generates a stigma that it’s about selfishness. But it doesn’t have to be that. There’s actually a great conversation in our current issue about this, where we asked a group of activists to talk about their feelings on burnout, self-care, and mental health. Some people feel like “self-care” become totally meaningless and all about buying your way out of your feelings, but Erica Baker of Project Include, who’s a tireless advocate for inclusion in the tech industry, points out that who are we to judge what somebody else’s self-care looks like? I think that’s a healthy way to think about it, even if judgment is part of where the stigma comes from.

FH: In what ways do you think our culture is failing at self-care and mental health? And what ways do you see it succeeding/shifting in a positive way?

BJ: Questions about mental health look very different to different people. We mean “mental health” in a really broad way, not just anything on a clinical spectrum between mild depression, wild mania, and schizophrenia? We also mean stress, anger, panic, addiction. We also mean happiness, unhappiness, joy, excitement. But so often it comes down to the question of whether society is over-diagnosing mental health issues, or under-representing them. The reality is that it’s not as simple as all that, and recognizing the complexity is part of how we get better together.

Just look around at all the things we’re building around us that reward short-term attention and productivity at the cost of long term health. Look at our work cultures, our commuting habits, our financial systems. Look at our media consumption, our eating habits, our interactions with technology, with government, with other people. Look at Twitter, especially Twitter in the Age of Trump, it’s become something very different, very imbalanced. There’s no way to really deal with all this apart from on a fundamental level—but we can at least tackle the corners we’re responsible for.

FH: What is something you consider to be “self-care” that might be surprising to someone?

BJ: For me, anything that allows me to simply be in the moment to switch off my brain and focus on just being right there—really helps me decompress and reach some sensible accord with my own feelings. Spending time with my kid, cooking, playing games… these are all hugely valuable to me. The most surprising one to other people, though, might be going to watch live sports. The absolute feeling of focus and the idea that we’re only going to witness this event one time…it’s liberating, and it clears my head so that I can deal with everything else.

FH: What are you most looking forward to for Anxy as a brand?

BJ: We’re trying to build Anxy carefully and sustainably where we can. So we have thoughts about live events, meetups, and other sorts of publishing beyond the magazine. But honestly the most amazing thing we ever get is feedback from people who say what we’re doing helped them—that they never realized that people felt the same way they did, or they suddenly understood something about themselves. I don’t think there’s anything better than doing that, again and again, however we manage it.


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