Who gets to decide what conversations have value?
A conversation about mental health, blogging, and survival with Sam Dylan Finch.
Sam Dylan Finch wants to queer things up. An editor and writer at Upworthy, Sam also runs his own blog and Facebook community, where he’s written about everything from his experiences transitioning to his struggles with mental illness. He also pens an advice column, Crazy Talk, where he describes himself as a “card-carrying member of Club Crazy, kicking the stigma where it hurts, one question at a time.”
We love how raw, effusive, and personal Sam’s work is, so Anxy’s Katie MacBride caught up with him to talk about mental health and why he does the work.
What was the inspiration for starting Let’s Queer Things Up!?
I was always the kind of person that treated Facebook like a diary, you know? I grew up in the age of LiveJournal, MySpace, and Blogger, so being vulnerable was just…what I did. I would write these long, heartfelt posts about my struggles, political issues, questions I was coming up against in my life. My friends were always so supportive of it — I can’t tell you how many people messaged, letting me know that my vulnerability, curiosity, and grit made them feel emboldened in their own lives.
It finally occurred to me that I had the makings of a really great blog. I kind of just trusted my gut — I felt like I had a story worth telling, and as it turns out, other people seemed to think so, too.
What conversations are you trying to have?
The conversations I’m trying to have are ones that embrace context and identity. I talk a lot about how my identity as queer and trans has impacted my experience of mental illness. I’ve spoken a lot about how trauma is an inseparable part of my experience, too.
I think traditionally, those are conversations that have been deemed too “niche” and therefore aren’t “marketable” from a media standpoint, but I use all those words loosely — “niche,” “marketable,” “relatable,” whatever — because I think they miss the point. Who gets to decide what conversations have value, especially when we’re talking about mental health? We can’t talk about mental health without talking about how different communities experience and navigate mental illness in distinct ways.
While they don’t appeal to the greatest possible audience, these conversations have real meaning and importance for the audiences they do speak to. Ten million people probably won’t read my article on how mental illness has decreased my access to gender-affirming healthcare. But for the ten thousand people that do, it could mean everything.
How has running LQTU affected your mental health?
It’s not an understatement to say that LQTU is part of the reason I’m still alive. It’s given me the space to figure out who I am, to reflect on everything I’ve learned throughout recovery, to connect with people who understand how I feel, to make sense of the pain I’ve endured, and to celebrate the progress I’ve made. Writing about all of this has given me self-insight, community, and perspective that has improved my mental health drastically.
Most people I know tell me, “Sam, I don’t know how you do it. You’re under constant scrutiny. You have nowhere to hide. Your trolls are relentless at times. How does that not drive you crazy?” It’s easy to look at the difficult parts of this work and decide that it’s not worth it, the same way it’s easy to look at something like depression or anxiety and decide that you’ve had it, that you’re done fighting.
But, you know, beautiful and worthwhile stuff can come out of those struggles.
I do have moments where the work fucks with me. But those pale in comparison to all of the ways this work has changed me for the better. And beyond that, it just doesn’t compare to the feeling I get when I know that I’m helping someone else. I’ve often said that the things most worth doing are often the most difficult, too, and that’s true of LQTU and my work generally.
You’re very willing to be open about both your mental health struggles and your successes, especially on social media. Why did you make this choice?
When I was a teenager, self-silencing nearly killed me. I had a very hard time reaching out for help when I was struggling with suicidal thoughts and depression. For a long time, it was a battle I fought almost entirely alone.
But I do remember Googling things like, “Help, I want to die” and “I think I’m depressed.” Finding those voices,which were pretty sparse at that time, was a real lifeline for me. And for a while, it was my only lifeline.
Mentally ill folks are much more likely to reach out digitally, with search terms and online resources, before they ever ask for help in real life. So I see writers, content creators, etc as being on the front lines. We’re making sure folks find what they need and that this translates into some kind of action or, at the very least, self-preservation and affirmation.
I once had someone livetweet to me their being admitted to a psychiatric facility, down to the ambulance ride. They told me they’d read an article I wrote about how being hospitalized kept me alive, and rather than ending their life that night, they picked up the phone for the first time and got help.
You can’t imagine how powerful that feels until it actually happens to you. All I did was be open and honest about how I felt, what I’d been through. That vulnerability made sure that someone didn’t end their life. For me, it’s never been about choice. If I’m in a position where I can help people survive in this world — maybe even thrive in this world — it’s not really a choice. It’s an obligation.
How do you motivate yourself on difficult days?
Lately, I rely a lot on meditation, which sounds so woo. But I’ve found a great app, Simple Habit, that works really well for me (please, give yourself the gift of downloading and trying it, I promise it’s worth it). It’s so rare that we set aside time to just breathe. To pause. To take care of ourselves. Using guided meditation to deal with different stressors in my life has been critical for my wellbeing. I meditate 2–3 times a day now, and I feel more like myself, more energized, and more balanced.
What support do you find helpful when you are struggling? How can people support friends/loved ones who are struggling with mental health issues?
Ask them what they need. And if they don’t know, make concrete suggestions on how you can offer support. Everyone is different, which is why it’s so important to ask and get feedback on how best to support your loved one’s unique needs.
If I’m being honest? Money helps me personally, but especially when it’s offered with a specific purpose. Here’s twenty bucks, go subscribe to that meditation app you love so much. Here’s a fifteen dollar gift card for LUSH, go buy yourself a bath bomb so you can relax. Here’s a gift card for that place with the amazing french toast, let’s brunch this weekend. Here, let me cover your therapy appointment, let me send a pizza over to your place, here’s some money to rent that season of Steven Universe on Amazon Prime.
Why? Because when we’re struggling, rarely do we buy these things for ourselves; they feel self-indulgent. Self-care almost always costs money, which, besides time, is one of the biggest obstacles in trying to incorporate self-care into our routine. Especially when mental illness interferes with our ability to work, having someone chip in to give us the things we rarely give ourselves is a big deal. I wish more people were willing (and able) to offer support in this way.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Courage does not always roar. Courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” — Mary Anne Radmacher
It’s a quote, but it’s also the best advice. Honor every incredible feat of strength, including and especially the things that seem “ordinary.” Because when you’re struggling with mental illness, every single moment that you choose to keep going is undeniably courageous and badass. And you deserve all the credit in the world for that.
Anxy is a new magazine about the internal struggles we often refuse to share—even though they drive so many of us. Explore Anxy №1, The Anger Issue, featuring Margaret E. Atwood, Ijeoma Oluo, Matt Eich and more.