The world might be opening up to discussing mental health, but this hasn’t been a natural process by any means. The reason the dialogue is happening is because of people such as poet, author and advocate Sabrina Benaim. Three years ago, a visibly terrified Sabrina took to the stage to read out her poem on depression Explaining My Depression to My Mother millions of views later, Sabrina is being called to all corners of the globe as a respected and important voice on the topic.
Last August, Sabrina released her debut book Depression And Other Magic Tricks – a devastatingly personal, yet immensely accessible look at mental illness, what it means, how it works, and how to fight it. So effective was the book that we’ve called Sabrina all the way to Australia from her Toronto home to discuss it further with is.
Ahead of her arrival, we spoke with Sabrina about her journey so far…
The Neversphere: We’re starting to get more and more artists such as yourself invited to talk in our Country, where previously it happened very rarely…Is this unique to Australia? Or are you finding all corners of the world are calling you over to spread your message?
Sabrina Benaim: It’s definitely something the world is starting to pick up on. It’s not just Australia or Canada or the US. I was in the UK last month and it was really incredible to see the amount of support for someone who almost exclusively talks about mental illness.
The Neversphere: What’s your take away from this increase in demand, what do you think it’s saying about modern day society?
Sabrina: I think it’s amazing. It’s something we need to talk about on a global scale. I think the stigma around ‘being crazy‘ has always been bigger than the benefit of talking about the crazy, so I think if we can bring a little bit more light to what it actually means; and pay less attention to the ridicule but more attention to what it means to understand. I think that can only benefit going forward. In an educational sense, a medical sense and a resource sense, I think that’s really important.
The Neversphere: You must have a really unique perspective on the global discussion considering you’re on the frontlines. When you go to these countries and do these tours, do you get to see the change in people before your eyes?
Sabrina: I don’t know that I’m really seeing the change so much as I’m experiencing the response to it. I get a lot of young people – and even old people – telling me they experienced the same thing, in the past, or for years, the same thing [as me] and they finally feel like there’s someone else who can understand them, or at least relate to them. What I think is incredible is that there’s been a lot of connections at my shows where people become friends afterwards or they find even online there’s a resource of people who understand what they’re going through, so they can talk about it more openly. I think that’s where it all began – communication around such an important subject.
The Neversphere: I can’t help but notice that it’s such a simple solution to these complex problems once they’re addressed, as you explained, sometimes it’s as simple as just meeting other people at a show and people will begin to heal…
Sabrina: I would say exactly that. All it takes is giving people a space to share and next thing you know, everyone is sharing. I think that’s really important for a level of understanding, too. It’s like anything – anything foreign seems scary and brings us fear until we have an understanding of it. Next thing you know, there’s conversation, there’s dialogue, there’s support groups, there’s all these outlets for people. That’s the first step, really for mental illness is not ‘othering‘ it, not making it this scary monster thing we don’t understand, because the reality is everyone knows someone who’s struggling whether it’s secretly or openly.
The Neversphere: These days there’s an abundance of people talking about this topic online. When you came onto the scene several years ago, what was it like then to be talking about such a loaded topic?
Sabrina: I don’t know that I ever picked it, as much as it was the most urgent thing inside of me to write about. It really was terrifying, I hadn’t spoken about anything in my life leading up to that moment. Sometimes I look back and think ‘Whoa did I really wrote that poem, and get on a stage and share it?‘ I mean, if you see in the video I was obviously very visually shaken by sharing it.
I didn’t really know anxiety was a clinical problem until I was in my 20s because nobody talked about it. I think it’s interesting, I really did feel like an alien going through what I was going through; I really did feel like I was the only person who felt that way until I shared that poem and then having the response being what it was. I realised ‘Oh, whoa…I’m far from the only person who feels this way…Why did it take me so long to realise that?’ Society does a really good job at keeping us quiet about the things that make us feel uncomfortable.
The Neversphere: With that first poem, and all your work since you’ve helped and given healing to millions of people, literally. But for you personally, what has the healing process been like with your own battle with mental illness?
Sabrina: I tell people a lot that it’s interesting because a lot of people see me now and will say ‘Oh you seem so much better! Is it because you’re so successful or this or that?‘ but really it’s just because I’m not pretending I’m fine anymore. It’s really exhausting to pretend your fine when you’re not. Now that I can at least be open about how I’m feeling. My journey through healing has been very much a public dialogue where I haven’t really gone to a doctor. Now I am, I do take medication, I go to therapy but a lot of it has been being able to be open about who I am.
The Neversphere: Having studied the subject of mental illness as thoroughly as you have with your book Depression And Other Magic Tricks, what’s something you’ve stumbled upon – a tool or an idea – that you personally use to get through your day?
Sabrina: I think I always used writing as a way of navigating the world around me both inwardly and outwardly. But I’ve found now that if I focus on writing as a means of healing; a means of getting through my day, I’ve found that about it is only half of the journey. Doing this is the other half of that journey. you can write and keep it in but at some point, you have to go through the physical motions of taking care of yourself like eating properly; or eating in general [Laughs], exercise and socialising. It’s a full spectrum of healing. You have to engage in all parts of it, you can’t just do some of it. It really is work, and you have to do all of it.
You have to walk the walk if you’re going to talk about it. Once you’re aware, that’s the first step – realising what the problems are. Then you actually have to do the work on yourself to navigate the problem. Also, realising not everything is a symptom. Sometimes we do put ourselves in our place where we feel bad for ourselves, that’s not really helpful. To say everything is depressions fault wouldn’t be true. I am an agency of myself and I can take steps to help myself I’m not a victim to my mental illness.
The Neversphere: You have depression, depression doesn’t have you sort of thing…
Sabrina: Exactly. There are days where it’s harder to believe that but I think on the whole if you can acknowledge Ok, today is a bad day, so what are the things I can do that work for me on bad days…let me do those things’…
…You constantly have to be aware of yourself.
Sabrina Benaim Australian Tour Dates
Tickets available now
Friday, May 11
The Brightside, Brisbane
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Saturday, May 12
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Tickets: Destroy All Lines
Sunday, May 13
Tickets: Destroy All Lines