I’m just kidding. We didn’t have coffee; this was through email.
I had mentioned in early June that I would be interviewing my favorite mental health author, Marya Hornbacher, and I’ve finally had the chance to publish it on this blog. Marya is one of my favorite authors for many reasons, but most of all, it’s the passion and honesty with which she writes. If you haven’t read her books yet, I highly recommend them. (More Books By Marya Hornbacher)
So without further ado, I present to you a modest Q&A with the lovely and talented Marya Hornbacher.
1) You mentioned in your book “Madness: A Bipolar Life” that a friend had suggested years ago that you write your memoir “Wasted: A Memoir Of Anorexia And Bulimia.” Who or what else convinced you to write it?
My mentor Paul Trachtman, who was an editor at Smithsonian Magazine at the time, and today is a brilliant poet and painter. The summer I decided to drive off in my car with only books & my typewriter & my cat & a poster of “Blue Woman,” Paul invited me to come stay at his house to write. He lived in Los Ojos, New Mexico. It remains the strangest, most wonderful, magically realistic place ever. He mentioned the notion of a book in passing, and kept mentioning it in passing until I wrote it.
2) How long did you struggle with your eating disorder before you were able to manage it? Do you still struggle with it?
Lord no. One of the things I find most frustrating–maddening, really–in eating disorders treatment is the constantly reiterated idea that “it will always be with you to some extent.” This is garbage. It will take time to recover. It will take effort to recover, and support, and a sense of humor, and a thick skin, and insight, and help all along the way. But full recovery is possible. I don’t see eating disorders as something you “manage” (it implies that the disorder continues actively). I see them as addictions with a lot of layers; you enter recovery, and you move on.
3) Aside from anorexia, bulimia and bipolar disorder, what else have you been diagnosed with? (What advice can you give someone struggling with any of these? Any advice for those supporting those suffering mental illness?)
These days my chart diagnoses me (sort of absurdly) as having Insomnia NOS (??), Nicotine Dependence obviously, and [I love this] a “mood problem.” Which I mention to point up the fact that mental illness, too, is something that can be addressed and healed from over time. I don’t mean there’s a “cure”–I mean healing is an active, ongoing process that takes place with individual work and the support of others. I think we who deal with mental health diagnoses–increasingly known as people who are not necessarily “neurotypical”–are misled and poorly served by a complex and dated medical and scientific understanding of mental disorders, in that we are often given the notion that we are somehow broken, and cannot be “fixed.” We can heal, and we can repair our lives, and move forward with them, without being defined by mental health diagnoses, disorders, symptoms, etc etc. It’s a matter of putting together a recovery strategy, and following through with your own healthcare. For those supporting people with these diagnoses, two things are paramount: 1) take care of yourself, and do not try to “fix” a person who is struggling; and 2) see this person as capable, competent, and entirely able to restore the balance in his or her life. Mental disorders do not have to incapacitate us. We do not have to give in to that message. We need to prove it wrong.
4) What advice can you give for those looking to become a mental health advocate? Any groups or organizations that you would recommend?
Primarily I see the need to advocate on an individual level: volunteer at hospitals, mental health community centers, youth organizations, homeless shelters, food shelves, and women’s centers–places where people may be struggling to attain and restore the balance and health of their lives, and by the same token, their mental health. This is particularly important for people who themselves deal with mental health concerns. People can also get involved in advocacy activity through NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which is the largest peer-run mental health organization in the world). Also seek out the Clubhouse International organizations near you, and get involved there.
5) How do you find the right balance between work and relaxation in your daily life?
I don’t. This is an ongoing navigation for me. Because work helps me in so many ways, I am still learning how to relax; it’s hard to get it through my head that relaxation is helpful as well. (Duh.)
6) Anything you are currently working on (book, poetry collection, article, etc.)?
I have a new book coming out in Dec 2016, profiling people who live with mental health conditions who are thriving, and looking at the scientific and medical underpinnings of recovery. I’m also in an MFA program, and that has me busy writing new essays and poems. There will be a book of essays soon.
7) BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite old-timey saying? (Mine’s “Oh my stars and garters!” because my 8th grade Lit teacher said it all the time)
“Well, bless his pointy little head.”
(source: Marya Hornbacher)