An Interview With Sammy Nickalls
I first came across Sammy's writing on Hello Giggles, and followed her in Twitter. Recently, I was struck by the change in tone of some of her tweets. She started opening up about her anxiety, just at the same time I was beginning to talk about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. Whenever other people let me into this part of their lives, it's always such a gift; not because I want other people to be struggling, but because it's so easy to assume that we are alone. It's so easy to assume that we are the only people who deal with these feelings, and that everyone else has it all together. I reached out to Sammy to see if I could ask her a few questions about the hashtag she started to raise awareness for mental health, #TalkingAboutIt, and her answers are absolutely lovely. Here is our interview! XO, Rosemary
"No one with mental illness or who struggles with their mental health is alone. When no one talks about it, all you see on social media are curated, hand-picked happy moments, and it’s so easy to feel like you’re the only one in the world who is struggling." —Sammy
Rosemary: Where did you get the idea for #TalkingAboutIt? What was your hope about opening up the conversation about mental health?
Sammy: I’ve always had anxiety, but when I moved into my own place in a new city back in October, I wasn’t doing too great. I work from home, and I thought that moving into my own place would be great for my mental health, but having all that alone time in a new environment turned out to have the opposite effect on me. By the time December rolled around, my anxiety started to get so bad that everything felt terrifying; even the smallest of tasks — like getting out of bed or getting a shower, for example — seemed pointless because there were just so many things I had to do, so why bother doing any of them? It felt like I was paralyzed.
I was spending a ton of time in bed, feeling absolutely awful…yet I was keeping it a secret from my followers and most of my friends. I acted totally fine whenever I met up with people around the city, though I often was canceling on them. I wasn’t talking about it because I was afraid of being judged for my anxiety.
On December 13th, I saw a friend tweeting about being in bed with a cold. It was a tweet that we’ve all sent — a part joking, part complaining tweet about laying in bed all day sick with a runny nose. I’ve always tried to be active in mental health awareness, but it suddenly occurred to me that keeping quiet was just contributing to the stigma. I resolved to talk about my mental health the same way as my friend was about her cold. If we could all talk about our mental health to the same degree as we do our physical health — sharing, joking, being totally open without fear of being judged — man, what a beautiful world that would be.
Rosemary: Is it something you began to practice first offline or did you start first in online communities?
Sammy: It really started on December 13th, online. I’ve tried to talk to people about my anxiety before, but not to the same degree I have for the past several weeks.
Rosemary: What has the response been like?
Sammy: It was slow to start; mostly my Internet friends used it initially, but it’s been steadily growing at a rate I didn’t expect. It seems to have really resonated with some; there have even been a couple people who created Twitter accounts specifically so they could share about their mental health without having their name attached, which is a major step toward getting people comfortable with expressing their feelings and struggles.
Of course, in my wildest dreams, I’d hope it would encourage people to feel more comfortable talking about their mental health and perhaps help dispel the stigma surrounding mental illness. I’d hope it would create a supportive community that could help those who are struggling with their mental health. There are certainly communities like this online, but many of them are only visible to those who are actively looking for them. I wanted to help make this mainstream, open, welcoming to those who may not have sought out an outlet but desperately needed one. But honestly, I’m incredibly happy with what’s happened in the weeks since it was started — that it’s helped even a few people find an outlet to express how they’re feeling.
Rosemary: How has #TalkingAboutIt affected your own mental health?
Sammy: I’ve been more accepting of my own mental health struggles. Actively talking about my mental health like I would my physical health serves as a gentle reminder that my anxiety isn’t a personality flaw, and it’s not my fault — and that has helped me accept the fact that sometimes, you just need a bit of self care and self love to get yourself up and going again. Silence perpetuates self blame, which perpetuates mental health struggles…it’s a catch-22, and talking about it breaks that cycle.
Rosemary: Do you have a favorite quote, song, or mantra that helps you feel powerful when things get rough?
Sammy: I don’t think I look for something to make me powerful when things get rough, exactly. When my anxiety is particularly bad, I tend to feel numb, listless, like I have no purpose. What gets me out of it isn’t an anthem, or a power-up song, or even an inspirational quote, because I’d need energy for those things to work. I tend to gravitate towards something that helps me unleash my emotions, get in touch with them. So what I do is listen to songs that help me connect with those emotions, that let me cry for a while so that I can let it all out and start anew. My favorite song for that is “Be Here Now” by Ray LaMontagne. But I also like the short quote “It’s OK to not be OK.”
Rosemary: What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned or experience since taking your struggles public?
Sammy: That I’m not alone. That no one with mental illness or who struggles with their mental health is alone. When no one talks about it, all you see on social media are curated, hand-picked happy moments, and it’s so easy to feel like you’re the only one in the world who is struggling. Ever since I started talking about my mental health — that really started in 2014, when I wrote an article about my anxiety that went viral — I’ve had various people contact me telling me that they feel the same way, that they feel a little less alone knowing that others go through it too.
Rosemary: Everyone deals with things differently, and not all mental health issues are the same. Do you have any general advice for anyone who is just starting to recognize that they need to reach out for help?
Sammy: My biggest piece of advice is to talk to a loved one you trust. I’d like to say seek therapy, because that’s been life-changing for me, but that’s a very big step, and sometimes just sharing your feelings with someone you care about can give you the strength to start on the path of self-care. However, to find local resources, you can use TWLOHA’s amazing database here. Above all, remember that you deserve happiness, and that you should never, ever feel ashamed for pursuing it — in fact, quite the opposite.