Chatting with Mari Stracke, her experience with Mental Health and the “I’m fine, mentality”


So that’s why I have forced myself publicly, like on my Instagram, to talk about it and say, hey! It’s nothing that I should be ashamed of, because I didn’t cause it, It’s an illness and it should be treated, like if you break your leg, you go to the hospital and it’s nothing different.

RC: Today I’m here with Mari Stracke, and we’re going to be talking about her experience with mental health, creativity and a few different things about the stresses of her industry. You can find her; she is a mental health activist on Instagram under, @MariStracke and I will link that below. Okay so I will get her to introduce herself and here we go.

M: All right, thank you for having me, it’s very nice to be asked to talk about mental health. I am a creative freelancer, I do lots of jobs in the creative industry, I write for a magazine, I also work on sets of commercials and films and such. So I would probably say I do anything creative that pays the rent, or not pays the rent, because that’s how we do it in this industry. So yeah that’s me.

RC: Cool, yeah, so you mentioned you were involved in the creative industry, that’s your occupation, but how did you get interested in advocating for mental health awareness?

M: I was confronted with mental health, when my close cousin was diagnosed with depression, when I had just gone to the UK. I am originally from Germany, so my entire family is back home and it was quite tough to hear the news that my cousin was in hospital and that she wasn’t doing very well. Especially because when I had left, every thing was still fine on the surface. She had always been such a happy happy girl. And I think that was the first time I realised okay, depression is something real and it can affect anyone, you don’t really see it, the people who are affected by it are usually hiding it and my family didn’t talk about it either, It was one of those things that was just swept under the carpet. After that, what really changed it, was that my cousin tried to commit suicide, and she jumped off a building from the fourth floor. That was three years ago and that was something you cannot hide, she was flown to hospital by helicopter and operated on for 16 hours. She was in a coma for two weeks.. We didn’t know whether she was going to survive, didn’t know whether she would have some brain damage or managed to her spine. The doctors were not helpful at all and that was really the moment when my entire family had to sit down and come together and admit that this is a real thing, because it wasn’t possible to hide it, at all.

So, watching my family struggle with that and coming to terms with mental illness, really made me think that, the most important thing is to talk about it. Later on I suffered from Depression and anxiety disorder and I’m still on that journey to recovery and learning how to handle it better. And I felt suddenly when it was about me, I didn’t really want to tell people. I thought, God I’m preaching all the time and that shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of and now here I am, wanting to hide it. So that’s why I have forced myself publicly, like on my Instagram, to talk about it and say, hey! It’s nothing that I should be ashamed of, because I didn’t cause it, It’s an illness and it should be treated, like if you break your leg, you go to the hospital and it’s nothing different.

RC: Yeah, so you mentioned the journey that you went through there with friends and family, and also yourself. What would you say is our obstacle?What is the thing standing in the way of, you know people talking openly about mental health, in your experience. What do you think stops us from being more comfortable with that?

M: I think what’s stopping us, or other people really talking about it openly, is that it’s not really understood what depression, or anxiety, or any of those mental illnesses really are. We are still in the early stages of figuring out what it is, and why some antidepressants seem to only work on some people. And I think for people, who are lucky enough, to not suffer from it, It’s really hard to imagine what people go through, what dark places they go to and I don’t blame them because it is really really bad when you’re in it, it’s almost also when you’re not feeling depressed, You don’t remember how much how bad it is, but when you are feeling that bad it’s like you see no tomorrow, there is no nothing, That’s what I think is a huge obstacle in the understanding of it. I also think what’s really hard is, that there is obviously still this huge stigma attached to it, however hard people try, charities try, to remove the stigma it’s absolutely overbearingly huge and especially when it comes to the workplace.

You are not necessarily labelled as crazy, but you are sort of unreliable in that sense that a depressive episode could hit at any moment, anxiety could come at any moment, a panic attack. So you are seen as someone who is a bit of a wild card when it comes to work. Which is so incredibly unfair, as you wouldn’t say that about someone who’s got the flu every now and then. But, it is categorised really differently, and that’s why people hide it, which makes it so much worse, because depressed people isolate themselves anyway.

RC: yeah I mean I totally agree, it’s very difficult to really empathise with something that you’ve not been through. You also mentioned how it relates to situations in the workplace. So you said that you worked in a creative profession. Is there a unique stresses associated with that, because often is the case that you find that there are people that experience lows, and experience highs, associated with the creative field. That kind of tends to be the situation that people with mental illness tend to aggregate towards. So, would you say there are unique stresses associated with creativity?

M: There are definitely unique stresses when it comes to the creative field, because you are constantly faced with your own self-doubt, because it is such a hard career to pursue. You never know whether you going to make it, you are struggling financially, always, that’s a given. You have various jobs to keep you going, to pay your rent and you have no certainty that this is going to lead anywhere. So, for many people that itself, is a reason to encounter depression. I think that being creative, you do you think about the world and you question, our human species and what we doing on this planet. So, you’re prone to ask some pretty hard questions more than other people I think. I think it’s also really important to notice. Usually when you work in the creative field; you have to promote yourself a lot, and that’s whether you’re an actor, weather a you’re writer, or weather you work as crew on set, because you’re constantly looking for work, there is never a time when you’re not looking for work. And networking is such fundamental part of it, if you’re not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is go out to a party to network but you have to, because otherwise you won’t get a job. I think that’s really really difficult.

The whole thing about creating something out of nothing, when your mind is clouded with fear and doubt, It’s very hard to do anything creative, well it’s very hard to do anything at all. But, I think that’s an extra stress that you immediately have to do stop working and that’s terrible.

RC: We talked earlier about, you know, the problems of understanding mental health issues and you said that one of the biggest problems is kind of, the knowledge base just isn’t there. People don’t know what depression looks like; people don’t know what anxiety necessarily looks like and how do you think we could change that, does it lie somewhere in education? What are your thoughts?

M: Yeah, I think there is a massive gap when it comes to educating children, teenagers about mental health, because, I’m looking back at the time when I was at school which is a long time ago, I’m 31. Had I been taught back then about, what to look out for and that if I continuously feel low, that that’s maybe something, to speak to a doctor about, Or to be open about, you know. That would’ve been great. Because I waited, Personally, I waited way too long before I asked for help. Especially because I have always been seen as a very strong personality, as somebody who always helps others and is always there for others and also enjoys that. But that’s not the person you would necessarily think, needs help herself. And that’s something I would have liked to be taught earlier on and that’s Okay to ask for help.

RC: Yeah I think we really need to encourage People to speak more openly about it, but there’s almost, you know, this thing, within the UK and I have spoken about this before, the notion that you ask somebody how they are doing and there is just an immediate reply, they’re like, ‘yep, yep, great’. And that might not really convey what’s actually going on and I don’t think we should actually be afraid of doing that. I think that’s part of the problem.

M: Yeah, I think that’s also something I remember when I came to this country, 10 years ago and I went to Wales and I remember that people in the corridor, would just Say, ‘hey are you alright’ and they wouldn’t stay to wait for the answer. Yeah, it was just like saying hello, but saying, ‘are you alright?’ And you are supposed to say, ‘yeah, I’m alright, how are you?’ But, it’s almost like just passing by, not really stopping for a conversation. And in general, in Germany, when you ask, ‘hey how is it going?’ You do stop and you complain a little bit about life, and you say, ‘yeah, well you know, it’s not going so well,’ or, ‘the weather is shit,’ or something like that. But, you wouldn’t just say, ‘how are you?’ Without waiting for a proper answer. So people were quite freaked out I think! Because I would stop them, and give them a summary of my day, and they would just want to walk past me, really quickly.

RC: yeah, I think we’ve really talked through some interesting stuff there, you know. Your personal experience, how that relates to the creative industry, it is interesting and very apparent and how the different stresses can get in the way. And more importantly the societal issue in the UK. Which is really interesting, coming from somebody who is not from here, that sees that and notices that and how we maybe need to address that.

So, we usually do this thing, whereby every guest gets to ask the community a question. So Mari, what’s your question?

M: Well first of all, thank you for having me, it was a pleasure talking to you. And if you guys do you follow me on Instagram, I am also really happy to get, personal messages, and speak to you guys about anything really about mental health. Happy to help anyone if I can, so don’t be shy, really approach me to connect with me. But, my question, would be, how do you describe the place you go, when you’re feeling low or when you’re struggling with any sort of you know, mental issue.

RC: Cool, so that’s a really deep question. You can reply to that @reliefcafe on Twitter, or you can find us in fact on instagram at @thereliefcafe and if you want to get in touch with Mari, you will find her at @maristracke.

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW ON SOUNDCLOUD