Maggy, Mental Health and a grumpy cat called Polly.
Digital team's blog
Maggy Van Eijk has been the Social Media Editor at BuzzFeed UK for over two years now, and lives in Hackney with a grumpy cat called Polly. We spoke to Maggy about her journey with mental health and how she takes her of her wellbeing during the Christmas period!
So Maggy, what does a normal day at BuzzFeed look like for you?
It changes a lot day to day depending on what’s going on in the world! I spend quite a bit of time scheduling our posts on social, experimenting with different formats on different platforms and then I’ll spend the afternoon working on an article, often something mental health related.
We follow you on Twitter and know you love to tweet and write articles too. What article would you say you’re most proud of?
Thanks! I’m quite proud of a piece I worked on with our photographer Laura Gallant.
We went to a treatment center for war veterans with PTSD and spoke to them about art therapy. I learnt so much and was really blown away by how open and brave everyone was.
I published my very first mental health piece on BuzzFeed quite soon after I started there. I wrote about my own personal journey with depression, and included my own photography as well so I was very nervous about putting it out there. -
The reaction in the office was great and I received loads of emails from people saying they wanted to write something similar and open up about their conditions too so that was really awesome!
Would you mind telling us about your mental health journey?
I wasn’t aware that a lot of my issues were mental health related until I was about 21. I went to the GP almost once a week listing off various diseases I thought I had because I didn’t understand why I was fainting, hyperventilating and dry heaving all the time.
It took awhile and they eventually told me I had generalized anxiety disorder and depression. I went to a university counselor and started taking medication and things improved.
Just having awareness about mental health and how it affects your body is a massive step towards being able to deal with it. I’ve had lots of blips since, I’ve struggled with self-harm, intrusive thoughts, I’ve been diagnosed with a few other disorders and seen the insides of too many hospital waiting rooms but I have learnt to take things slow – one day at a time if needs be. It’s so easy to write off an entire month or even a year but if you just had one decent day where you looked after yourself, to me that’s worth celebrating.
What do you love and find difficult when writing about mental health?
Once you start writing about mental health you essentially join a community of really supportive people. This is the best part: having people say they connected with something you’ve written or it helped their friend or a relative. There is a balance you need to get right though when a lot of your work is autobiographical. You have to be careful you’re not exploiting your own mental health to write a good piece. You need distance and time to be able to digest what you’ve been through. If you write about something that’s too raw you might regret it later.
So, what ways do you think we can all do our part in getting rid of mental health stigma?
Talk more, talk loads, talk until people’s ears drop off! I used to be a bit cagey about my mental health problems because I didn’t fully understand it and I was scared people would think I was “crazy”. I’m not crazy, I just have a bit of an odd brain sometimes and it’s important for me to be able to articulate this. I’m even working on a book about my mental health journey, which is something I’d never thought I would have been able to do a few years ago.
Not everyone will “get” it, some people may even be rude and although it’s hard, you just have to accept it’s down to their ignorance (it’s never, ever your fault).
What about opening up with employers? Do you have advice for someone wanting to disclose their mental illness at work?
This is a hard balance again because your employers want to be supportive of you, but at the same time they’re a company and they want to run a functional business. I’ve been able to request certain reasonable adjustments: for me this means flexible working hours in case I can’t get public transport or I need to go see my therapist or pick up my meds. Learning to not be ashamed of my condition has been a tough process but once I got there it meant I was able to be more open with my managers and say: look this is what I need. It’s definitely been worth it.
Do you have a general wellbeing routine, and if so would you mind talking us through it?
I try to have my week planned out on a Sunday night so I can see what’s coming up and I don’t feel too overwhelmed. I’m also not that good at taking care of myself sometimes so I make sure to plan a night I make myself a healthy meal or an evening I go for a swim or a long walk. Also when I do wake up in the middle of the night I make a rule to not ready anything too distressing (god knows there’s a lot of that online). Instead, pick up a book, do some doodling or I’ll try and tell the cat a joke (she never laughs so it’s quite a challenge).
Christmas is almost here! Is it a time you get excited by or not so much?
I’m my own worst nightmare at Christmas because of the amount of pressure I put on myself, It’s almost like I’ve appointed myself the patron saint of FUN. Like most people, I’ve experienced a few Christmasses that weren’t that great and this time of year can trigger all sorts of emotions. This year, I’m planning to chill out a bit and just enjoy it – I’ll let you know how it goes!
Do you have a wellbeing routine for Christmas?
Again I make a plan. I really love cooking for people so this structures a big chunk of my days. I just have to not freak out if something goes wrong in the kitchen! I also take little breaks to retreat to the sofa and read a book. Big social gatherings can be fun but there’s always a point where my brain goes foggy and it needs to recharge.
We love this article you wrote for BuzzFeed where people have submitted their Christmas wellbeing tips.
Lastly, who is your favourite mental health blogger?
I’m absolutely obsessed with Rubyetc.
We love Rubyetc too!
Also I LOVE Sarah Fader, she does amazing work on breaking down stigma Amber Tozer who wrote and illustrated a book about recovering from alcohol addiction.
You can follow Maggy on her Twitter for regular updates, or take a look at all the articles she has written for BuzzFeed.