Books and publishing · Mental health

Do What You Want: a mental wellbeing zine (review)

Slowly but surely, mental health is coming on to the agenda. The beautiful, diverse, unflinching zineĀ Do What You Want from Ruby Tandoh and Leah Pritchard looks at how mental illness affects people from all walks of life.

Left: Rose Blake. Right: Petra Eriksson.
So much mental health literature is either frightening and intense or dry and prescriptivist. People often give me mental health pieces to read, but they just scare, upset, or bore me.
Art: Ellyn Slatter.
But reading this zine made me feel accepted and valued because of my illness, rather than despite it.
I learnt about things I didn’t know anything about.
Martha Rose Saunders on being female and autistic.

“Even when completely alone I am always monitoring myself: a warm, sickening feeling of self-disgust and humliation washing over me when I do something visibly ‘autistic’, like stimming. Stimming is short for self-stimulatory behaviours … I have avoided the stigma attached to these behaviours by adapting my stims to be as subtle as possible: replacing flapping my hands or rocking with picking and peeling back the skin on my cuticles until they bleed. Self-mutilation is preferable to the shame I associate with more stereotypical stimming.

George Almond on masculinity in his family.

“I wanted to write about [masculinity] because I believe we owe it to ourselves to open up about familial difficulties. We owe it to ourselves to share what we’ve learnt. And what do I believe I have learned? Well, if I am the first of countless generations of men to overwcome the trappings of toxic masculinity, it is by little deisgn of my own. Through far from perfect now, the world was a different place one generation ago, let alone three. Great Grandad John probably had post-traumatic stress disorder from his time with the RAF, and the horrors he experienced there. Imagine if he’d had access to a counsellor who could have identified and helped him with it.”

Art: Julie Scheele
Christine Pungong on her Borderline Personality Disorder

“A lot of BPD stigma stems from the fact that its symptoms aren’t as palatable or acceptable as people would like them to be. They exceed the limits of a lot of people’s so-called sympathy and compassion for mental illness. While in recent years mental health awareness has boomed, all that’s really happened is that stigma has shifted from what are now slightly better understood conditions like anxiety and depression to the less pleasant ones. — meaninng personality disorders, psychotic and dissociative disorders, bipolar disorder and so on. Statistics show that seven in every 1000 people in the UK have BPD. Why are we still treated like we are undeserving of care?”

Esme Waijun Wang on her PTSD

“The significant traumas in my life has passed, and yet my physiological and psychological responses to them have only begun to truly interfere with my life this year. I’m used to becoming isolated by my mental health, and by people’s reactions to it: the depression and psychosis that I like with carry a great deal of stigma. But when it comes to trauma … the isolation is unlike any I’ve ever felt.”

And things I do recognise
Art: Ruby Taylor.
Ruby Tandoh on Abigale Feasey, who suffers from an eating disorder

“With a personal history so fraught with anxiety and mental ill health, it’s tempting to characterise Abi(gale Feasey)’s life as a tragic one. We’re taught that some people are just ‘troubled’ — that this is a part of who they are, not what they feel. In this view of mental illness, the person and the illness are one and the same thing. Even if you recover, you are still ill at heart. Even if you slip in and out of mental health problems, it’s the periods of sickness that define who you are.”

Art: Lizzie Stewart
Eleanor Morgan on anxiety

“On a day-to-day level, we can be so quick to label and pathologise completely normal human responses that we forget we’re human: a species defined by our thinking and emotional abilities. Periods of sadness, anxiety, bad moods, crying, etc., are part of what makes us us. … For years, I was afraid of crying. I thought that if I started, I would never stop. Now I see it like farting: holding it in is polite, possibly, but not health in the long run.”

It features people from every walk of life: men, women, non-binary people, queer people; people in prison, people who are refugees. It has interviews with actress Mara Wilson and with Sara from Tegen and Sara.

And it has the most beautiful, delicate ending.

Art: Rosemary Valero O’Connell

How did I come across this? We at work are publishing Eat Up, a book about healthy eating by Ruby Tandoh next spring. We bought the zine to support Ruby and Leah.

The first print-run of the zine was sold out on the first day, but they’re doing another in August. You can pre-order it here. All profits go to mental health charities.