We were so excited when Canadian mental health blogger Samantha MacDougall said "yes" to our request for an interview! Samantha created Anxiously Awesome as a platform to talk about her experiences with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. In turn, Anxiously Awesome gives others a safe, supportive space to share their own thoughts, feelings, and stories. Even though Samantha's followers number in the thousands, her blog reads like a personal journal as she shares snippets from her life and looks compassionately through the lens of mental illness. She reminds herself to breathe, to be kind, to look forward and not behind -- and in doing so, she reminds others to do the same.
Mental Health Mugs: When, why, and how did you join the mental health community as an advocate?
Samantha MacDougall: I think I first joined the mental health community when I started my Instagram account. Before that, I didn’t really belong anywhere where I felt comfortable talking about my mental illnesses. There wasn’t a place to talk openly where I wasn’t scared I would be treated differently. When I started my account, I started opening up more and two years later, I am happily embedded in this amazing community of amazing people.
When I first started Anxiously Awesome, a part of me was worried that my voice wasn’t going to be heard. I was terrified that people I knew (friends, coworkers, family) would find my account and judge me or think of me in a different way. Over the years, I’ve learned how to own my mental illness rather than letting it own me. I began to share more about my life and I opened up more. The response? I could relate better to my followers and they could relate more to me.
When I was featured on The Mighty a few months ago, it was the most incredible feeling. I was so scared to put myself out there but I pushed past my intense anxiety and I’m really glad I did. I have a second story that is going to be published shortly which is even more exciting news! I also just released my new logo; Lauren from The Positive Page designed it and I am in love with it! I have lots of plans for the future of Anxiously Awesome, and I constantly look towards the future and look for ways to collaborate and get in touch with other mental health advocates and warriors.
MHM: Tell me more about how you devised the name for Anxiously Awesome and what being "anxiously awesome" is all about.
SM: Well … It takes me forever to make decisions and I’m super indecisive. It’s safe to say it took me a long time to come up with the name and to plan what I wanted to do. I wanted to come up with a name that represented who I was with a mental health focus. I came up with Anxiously Awesome because I thought it represented how we can flourish while struggling with a mental illness. There is such a negative stigma against mental health, and I want people to know that they are more than their illness. We don’t deserve to be placed into a category or judged differently because of a label that is put on us.
MHM: From your writings about mental health, I can tell that honesty is important to you, as well as positivity. Both seem critical to your mission to let people know they’re not alone, and to inspire them to keep going through dark times. Does the honesty-positivity balance ever pose a challenge, and if so, how do you handle it?
SM: Absolutely. It’s difficult to be positive yet honest at the same time because those two values are constantly clashing together. I have this heartfelt need to be authentic and honest with what I post because sugar-coating how we feel isn’t good to anyone. I’ve come from a place where feelings were hidden and things were never talked about. Looking back, I wish people would have been open and honest and took the opportunity to speak out. When I talk about my struggles and dark periods and also the good things, I hope people can connect with me and connect with how I feel because of my honesty. At the same time, I want to provide a hopeful, encouraging and welcoming environment.
MHM: How are you using your "Recovery Is Worth It" Mental Health Mug lately?
SM: I keep my mug at work and use it every morning when I make my cup of coffee. Working full-time means I spend most of my days at work. Having that positive message on my desk means I’m constantly reminded that I am worth something.
MHM: Where do mental health warriors and advocates like yourself need to focus their powers right now?
SM: This is such a powerful question. I can’t speak for the entire mental health community, but I can say that speech and education are some of our most powerful tools. We need to educate the people around us about mental health and mental illnesses. A lot of the stigma comes from a lack of knowledge (whether that is intentional or not). People either don’t understand or just don’t know enough to understand. I think as mental health advocates, we need to give a voice to those who don’t have one. We need to create conversations in which people can feel accepted and where bias and stigma don't exist. I think it’s our job to use our platform as a space where people can openly talk about their struggles.
MHM: What's something that has empowered your mental health journey that you'd like to share with others on a similar path?
I am extremely thankful to have an amazing girlfriend who fully supports me no matter what. She has stood by me through my many dark times and there is one word I have for her: gratitude. I can only hope that everyone has a person in their life who they can turn to in difficult times. Having support from people around you is an empowering feeling that helps you get through the most difficult times.
I’ve written about self-care a lot because it’s something I wish I'd known about sooner. It seems silly, but I honestly never learned how to put myself first and how to take care of myself (both mentally and physically). Self-care has been an empowering part of my mental health journey; I’ve learned how to say no to people and how to put my well-being first. Doing things for myself and by myself without feeling guilt has made a huge change in my life.
“It’s okay not to be okay” has been my most empowering mantra. I think there is so much pressure on us in today’s society to be okay and to act okay even when we're not. A lot of my focus on my account is recognizing when I’m not doing well and allowing myself to be in a place where I’m not okay. Being in this space, although it might be uncomfortable, gives me the opportunity to feel things and to give myself the time to heal and to accept myself for who I am.
MHM: What would you like to say to someone who’s struggling with their mental health? Can you share useful resources, advice, or constructive habits for people who share your experience?
I’m 23 years old and I feel like I’ve grown into a completely different person over the past couple of years. There are a lot of things I know and understand now, that I wish I’d known when I was younger. Sometimes things feel overwhelming and you feel like there is no way out, but I promise you that your life is worth living. I believe that we are always growing and changing as people. We are on a path that seems unclear the majority of the time, but in the end, we find our way through life.
If I had ended my life when I wanted to, I wouldn’t have experienced love, I wouldn’t have graduated from university, I wouldn’t have seen myself grow into a woman, I wouldn’t have seen my god-daughter’s birth ... so many wonderful things have happened in my life that I would have never gotten to experience, had I chosen to end my life when I wanted to.
You are not alone.
MHM: How can people best support someone who's experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or bipolar disorder?
SM: Listen. Sometimes we don’t want your opinion or unnecessary words. We just need someone to listen to us. We need someone to sit with us and listen and just be there for us, even if that means not saying anything. We need empathy and not sympathy; there is a big difference.
MHM Is there any last thing you want to communicate to the person reading your words right now?
SM: I know this seems cliche, but you are never alone, no matter how much it feels like you are. So many people struggle with with so many different things. You may look at someone and think they are fine, but you never know what someone is going through. Treat everyone with kindness.
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