The State of Our Mental Health: Anna Borges, SELF

Anna Borges

During Mental Health Awareness Month we’re diving into “The State of Our Mental Health” by profiling mental health leaders and discussing how they’re coping with the coronavirus outbreak. In this video, Talkspace contributor Ashley Laderer speaks with Anna Borges, author of The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care and a senior health editor at SELF. Check back each week in May as we continue the conversation and share your own videos @talkspace using #TheStateofMyMentalHealth.

Talkspace:

I’m here with Anna Borges who is a Senior Health Editor at Self and she is author of The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care. And we are here talking about mental health. Obviously it’s still May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month. And at Talkspace you are talking about the State of Our Mental Health. So welcome Anna.

Anna Borges:

Thank you for having me. The state of our mental health. That’s the big question, huh?

Talkspace:

Absolutely. So before we dive into that, which is obviously a loaded question, do you want to give a little bit of background about yourself for people who might not be familiar with you?

Anna Borges:

Yeah, absolutely. I am the Senior Health Editor at SELF. I specialize in mental and emotional wellness. I had a pretty standard career trajectory, my story about getting here is pretty boring. I’m like the college brochure story. I went to J-school, and then I graduated, and then I networked, and then I got a job, and then I networked. It’s not terribly interesting. But before this I was at Buzzfeed, where I helped build up their mental health content.

And then while I was there The Experiment (my publisher) approached me about writing a book based on an article that I had written about self-care. That was a place that I wanted to link back to with my personal definition of self-care. So I didn’t have to keep repeating myself. It turned into this manifesto, A-Z guide of “here is a bunch of self-care ideas for anyone who needs them.” That turned into the More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care, which is a mouthful to say every time…the self-care book. And now, here I am writing about mental health though a literal pandemic, which was not anything I ever expected for my career. But here we are.

Talkspace:

It is so weird because I remember at the beginning of this, my editors were telling me, all right, scratch these old assignments, we’re writing about coronavirus now. So it’s really weird.

Anna Borges:

That happened over here too. And at first I was like, “really?” It was like slightly before it had really hit the U.S. in a big way. And I was like, “are we jumping the gun?” We were not jumping the gun.

Talkspace:

I think something that’s really cool about you, and in general, I feel like back in the day — and not even super far back in the day — editors were so unapproachable and so secretive. I feel like editors for magazines didn’t use to be open about their own life. So it’s really cool that you are so open, and so candid about your own mental health struggles because — it’s one thing to be a mental health writer — but it’s another thing to talk about your own struggles. So I’m wondering, how did you decide that that’s something that you wanted to do. Or was that something that just happened and without thought?

Anna Borges:

It just happened. Your observation is really interesting because I hadn’t thought about it that way and it’s so true. We definitely used to be, even when I was still in J-school, we were taught that your social media had to be super professional. That is your brand! You can’t talk about X, Y, Z. No one ever explicitly told me not to talk about my mental health. It was just like “keep it professional, don’t talk about personal things.” I worked at Women’s Health straight after graduation. But my first main job was at Buzzfeed. And there, we were really encouraged to be personalities on social media. And so, for better or for worse, I was given a lot of space to do that. I had come into writing about myself accidentally. In college I was more of a sex and sexual health writer.

And then the team that I joined happened to need someone to write about mental health and I was like, “I’m a depressed, anxious person. That sounds like something I can do.” It’s probably not the most professional way to go into it. But I do think a lot of mental health writers come into this space writing about their own stuff because it’s what they know. They want to help other people like them. They want to make sense of their own…stuff. I don’t know if you watch BoJack Horseman, but I always think of that character who is a memoirist and she talks about writing as turning her damage into “good damage.” Making use of it. I don’t know if that’s the healthiest coping mechanism, but that’s how we got into it. And from there I noticed that my most personal stuff really resonated with people.

I was getting comments and messages from people who were very thankful to see people talking about this. And now it’s a lot more normalized, which is great. Now I am among a gigantic, wonderful community of people who talk about their mental health very openly. So it happened by accident, but also very naturally. When I sought out my job at SELF, which is wonderful and very different from Buzzfeed, I was like, “am I going to have to dial it back? Is this more corporate?” But that hasn’t been the case. I think it’s still very much a valued thing in the community to be open about this.

Talkspace:

Oh, absolutely. And especially right now, I think it’s an interesting time because people who didn’t necessarily deal with mental health issues before are now experiencing what we experienced all the time. So it’s really weird because it’s like, “okay, these people get it now.” But there’s also more of a need for this service, and content, and help because people are feeling super anxious. They’re feeling depressed, they don’t know how to deal with it. So it’s great that you and SELF and everybody else who’s putting out content that people that people need.

So that being said, how do you feel like the quarantine and this whole pandemic has affected your own mental health?

Anna Borges:

I mean, in so many ways. Who isn’t it affecting? To what you were saying, it’s actually been interesting to realize through this that I have a lot more coping skills and things up my sleeves to help me than I originally thought. As you said, people who are dealing with this for the first time are really struggling because they haven’t had reason to go to therapy, or work on these skills, or sit with discomfort, or they don’t have experience with extended isolation, or depression, or anxiety. Whereas I’m like, “this sucks.” But I’m used to it in a lot of ways. I mean, it’s completely unprecedented as people are loving to say. I think the word makes sense, but it’s been run into the ground. So that’s why I scare-quote it.

There’s a lot of new challenges, but I’m also like, “okay, I’ve got this.” But that being said, my main challenge really has been balancing the really pervasive stressors with continuing to have to live life as normal. I am very lucky to still have my job. My job is very easy to do from home. I love that I can continue writing about mental health for people who need it right now. And at the same time I’m also like, “I’m foggy and depressed and it’s really hard to not be able to do my best work.” I’m a huge perfectionist and so, more than ever, the thing that’s changing is having to be very — I consider myself a very open person — but I’ve never had to be like, “this draft is late because I was so depressed.”

That’s happened before. But I have never told my boss that. I do the work behind the scenes, but I don’t say that’s why that happened. But now it’s — I hate the term “the great equalizer” — but everyone’s in the same space and they get it. It’s very acceptable to be like, “I don’t feel like I’m doing my best work. I’m trying, I’m stressed about that because I love doing my best work. That’s not happening right now.” So it’s about a lot of self-compassion and taking it day by day.

Talkspace:

I saw a really good tweet that was like: “you’re not just working remotely, you’re working remotely during a pandemic. It’s totally different.” And I’ve been remote working for, I think, two years and I’m a pro, but as you’re saying, it’s like we’re dealing with all these other extra stressors, on top of our own mental health things. Working from home — we can’t go out and go to a fitness class after work or go out to dinner. So it’s, it’s really, really weird.

Anna Borges:

The work-life balance is completely…not even off. The boundaries are blurred. When I’m done with work, I shut my laptop and I’m still here. I can’t be like, “and now the workday is done and I’m going to go out for drinks.” It’s like, no, I’m going to stay in my house. I was talking to a psychologist, Ryan Howes, PhD, ABPP, about how surprisingly burnout is — I mean, we’re all burnt out anyway — but people are like, “how can we be burnt out now? Nothing is happening.”

But it’s like we’re all leaning toward burnout because we are completely out of the things normally rejuvenate us. Burnout is this careful balance of what drains your energy and what nourishes your spirit and your energy. And normally you’ve balanced that by being like, “okay, I’m working a lot, but here’s what I’m doing.” But now it’s like, meh! And there’s no way to undo it, you know what I mean? We’re all in the negative now, for the foreseeable future, and that’s tough. We’re running on an empty tank.

Talkspace:

That’s a great metaphor. And you said earlier that you feel like you have more coping skills in your repertoire to deal with this since you have experience with some of the things the pandemic makes harder. So what has been your favorite or most helpful coping skill, or even like a “self-talk thing.” What has been really getting you through.

Anna Borges:

I go between being like, “it’s so cool that I have all these skills.” And also, “remember just because I have these skills doesn’t mean I’m great at using them.” There are definitely good days and bad days. I think that the skill that’s most come in handy is being used to sitting with discomfort. And adjusting my expectations. So, tolerating this instead of thriving. That has offered a huge amount of help. I’m trying to think of a more “action-y” one besides like self-compassion, but that’s really what it is. Not beating myself up day to day about productivity, about keeping high expectations. Before this all hit, I was working on a book proposal that was nearly done and that’s shelved for now.

I’m like, “this book is not going to happen for a hot sec. That has to be fine.” But mostly I’m finding a lot of comfort in journaling as well right now. Especially when it comes to what I talk about in therapy every week. I live by myself. I’m only talking to people when I’m on the phone or talking to my cats. And so having journaling as a space to make sure that I’m like going through my thoughts and my feelings in some way every day — if it’s not with other people — has been very helpful. So if you have not picked up a journaling practice, or you don’t think that you’re a journaling person, I think it’s really worth the time right now.

Talkspace:

I agree. I always recommend journaling, especially to guys who don’t think that journaling is like for guys. It can help. It doesn’t matter your gender. It doesn’t matter your age. Journal is not just for teenage girls writing about their crushes!

Anna Borges:

Right? Call it whatever you want. I mean diary is a loaded word. Even journaling is a loaded word. Just think of it as writing down your feelings. It doesn’t have to be a narrative. If you had an anxious thought and want to get it out of your head somewhere, put it on a piece of paper. It doesn’t even have to be in a notebook. It’s the act of writing and identifying these things and putting words to it that’s very helpful. The gendered nature of self-care and mental health care in general is very frustrating. I want to be like, “it’s gender neutral guys!” That’s a whole thing.

Talkspace:

But you mentioned something that I wanted to bring up, actually, you said that, “just because you have all these coping skills doesn’t mean that you use them.” Something that I personally struggle with is, I almost feel imposter syndrome-y. Because I write all these service-y, mental health articles, giving everybody “the best advice on how to deal with your depression and anxiety,” but I don’t use all these tips that I give everybody else. It makes me feel like an imposter. But it’s hard to get yourself to do those coping skills.

Anna Borges:

I’m nodding along vigorously because I’m like, “yes, yes, yes.” What makes me feel better about this though is that therapists deal with this too. I’ve been in conversation with therapists pretty much every other day since this started, because I’m writing so many like service-y articles, and they’re all like, “it’s really hard to follow our own advice right now, too.” They’re in this with us as well. It’s true all the time, but especially right now, they’re still learning what the best way to deal is. And so they’re like, “I have a hard time helping my clients because I don’t even know how to help myself right now.” So that’s very helpful.

But it’s so true. I was talking to a psychologist the other day about the importance of feeling your feelings, and not numbing out with distraction. And he mentioned that our distractions all look different. And for a lot of therapists, and a lot of people — potentially like us, who work in service writing or in helping professions — avoiding our feelings is helping other people. So it makes sense that we’re perhaps not taking our own advice, but we’re making ourselves feel better by giving other people advice. We’re the worst! No, I’m just kidding.

Talkspace:

I’ve gotten like three texts probably from three different people throughout this being like, “I feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m choking. Is this a panic attack?” I’m like, “Oh honey, welcome.” Like welcome to our world.

Anna Borges:

Can we just talk about the unfairness of the universe that one of the symptoms of coronavirus is shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

Talkspace:

That’s what I wrote about. I wrote about that for SELF. That was my first piece for Condé Nast.

Anna Borges:

Oh, was that yours?! I am the worst SELF employee ever. I was going to say, “Hey, we had a freelancer do that.” I had no idea that was you. Hello! I did not edit that. That was not on my table.

Talkspace:

It was so funny because I pitched it to so many places and I was like, “this is so relatable. Why is nobody picking up this pitch?” And then I sent it on Twitter. I think Sarah had put out a call for pitches. I sent it to her and she was like, “I’m not really covering this right now, but let me forward it. And if they like it, they’ll get in touch.” And then I got an email that was like “hello from SELF” from Zahra. And I was like, “Oh my God, yay! I get to write about this. Awesome.”

Anna Borges:

Yeah, that is stuff that’s so our bread and butter — the weird things people are actually wondering? What health concerns are they having? The thing with that was there wasn’t a super clear answer. It’s tough. And we love covering things like that. To give the most information that we can, while also being like, “there is no straight answer, there are not five signs that this is a panic attack and not coronavirus.” It’s about engaging with your body, and identifying symptoms, and knowing when to talk to a doctor.Because we are not the experts. That article was great!

Talkspace:

Thank you. At first I was like, “is this just me?” And then I searched on Twitter: can’t breathe anxiety, coronavirus. And there were so many tweets that were like, “I can’t breathe. Is it anxiety or is it coronavirus?” And I was like, “okay, this is definitely not just me. And I’m definitely onto something here and need to write about this.”

Anna Borges:

Yes, absolutely. I read that and was like, “okay, not just me, not just me.”

Talkspace:

That’s something that I love when I read somebody else’s piece and I get that feeling from them. Even if it’s just like one sentence that I relate to. I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m seen.” I was reading one of yours. It was like “a few coping mechanisms I’ve been using during coronavirus.” But you had mentioned how meditation is something that doesn’t work for you because you can’t sit still and sit with your own thoughts. I was like, “yeah, same.” People tend to always recommend meditation and breathing exercises as something that’s a magical thing that can help you. But not everybody can do that.

Anna Borges:

No, I go back and forth on whether or not I aspire to unlock meditation. You know what I mean? I know exactly that the point of it is supposed to be to make you able to sit with those thoughts. So maybe I’m giving up too easily. I have a love hate relationship with meditation. The smallest hill that I die on in all of my content is, even though I will always recommend it when experts do, I will always be like, “and I will never be a meditation person.” That was in my book, that was in every article. Because meditation and mindfulness comes up a lot. But what is important, and what I’ve learned from a lot of experts, is that it can look a lot of different ways.

We have a picture of meditation being a person sitting on a pillow and letting everything go. I find certain activities really meditative because they take me outside of my head due to having to concentrate. It’s a work in progress. Maybe one day I will be eating my words. I’ll be like, “guys, I finally hit it.” It’s like how I don’t believe in runner’s high. I’m never going to run hard enough to get runner’s high, but I know that it exists. So maybe I just need to run hard enough or meditate hard enough and I will understand.

Talkspace:

There’s been probably a total of two times where I’ve meditated — and they were both outside, so I think I need to like only meditate outside — but I remember I was like, “Oh wow. I can actually, definitely, almost get somewhere. More so than when I’m sitting in my bed and trying. When I’m already in a heightened state of anxiety and trying to —

Anna Borges:

— Nope.

Talkspace:

Ha! Next question. Big tangent there but great topics.

Anna Borges:

It’s all relevant, right?

Talkspace:

How did you manage your anxiety and manage your job at SELF while you were writing your book? That blows my mind.

Anna Borges:

I didn’t, I straight up didn’t. It goes back to what we were talking about it, about not being able to take our own advice. The irony levels of how much I was not taking care of myself, while writing a book about how to take care of yourself, where off the chart. You know what I mean? I definitely won’t do it this way again, but the stars line in a very weird way, which was that I had to write the book very, very quickly. We really wanted to get it out in time for this past fall when it came out for gift guide season. Beause it’s such a wonderful book to gift people. Hopefully.

I hope it’s a good book that you’d want to give to someone to help them take care of themselves. So we were trying to get it out. Luckily about two months before my deadline I got laid off from Buzzfeed. So then I had all the time in the world to write the book. Yes. So for the first half of the writing process I was working full time and I was working on the book. And that was ugly. I was existing on diet Coke, and Red Bull, and coffee, and like Red Vines, and just writing through the night and then showing up.

Talkspace:

Sounds like college.

Anna Borges:

Exactly. But for better or for worse, that kind of thing is really motivating to me. I’m a huge procrastinator. I like the satisfaction that comes with it. I also like the safety net of, if I don’t like how it turns out I could say, “well that’s because I was writing it at 2:00 AM.” I love making excuses for myself. But the next book I’ll definitely try and write it in a more measured self-care-y way, but we’ll see if that actually happens. I’m not sure.

Talkspace:

Is it a secret? Or are you planning on doing another service-y self-help book or is it going to be something totally different?

Anna Borges:

I have a couple of pots on the stove. So I actually don’t know exactly what the next one is going to be. Pretty much all of my ideas went out the window when coronavirus hit. Not because I don’t think there’ll be relevant, but because I don’t know exactly how relevant they’ll be. A lot of what I’m thinking about now is: we don’t know what the world is going to look like in a year. So it’s hard for me to wrap my head around what the most helpful, most me mental health book would be in terms of service-y things. So I’m focusing more on my fiction projects right now because at least that’s in a different world. It’s not contingent on what’s happening.

Talkspace:

That’s really cool. I hate saying this. I’ve never been able to write fiction. I don’t have it in me. So how do you feel you are able to do all these nonfiction, super based-in-reality projects. And then how do you switch that to being able to write fiction?

Anna Borges:

I think that they really play into each other because after a long day of reporting and talking to experts and having everything to have to be correct, I love making shit up. I’m like, “and that’s done and now I’m going to do whatever I want.” I also groomed myself for it because, growing up, I was definitely more of a creative writer. And then capitalism, and the economy, and my parents told me that in order to be able to make a living off of that, I had to figure out a real career. And so then I was like, “I guess I’ll look into journalism.” So that’s where I pivoted. So I’ve always had both of these things in my pocket. But yeah, I mean writing is hard.

I say, “I’m working on my fiction projects,” as though I’m studiously working on it every day. I’m scribbling whenever I have a burst of inspiration. I think it goes back to the self-compassion thing. I’m someone who really values productivity and goal making. And so many of those things are out the window right now. So much of where I find meaning is out the window. And so being able to be like, “it’s okay if I don’t finish a book in quarantine.” If anyone does that, bravo. But I also hate them.

Talkspace:

I keep talking about tweets, but obviously I live on Twitter. It’s like “now’s the time, learn a new language, write your novel.” Okay, yes, we have some extra time, but do you have the extra brain power?

Anna Borges:

No, I see that, too. It’ll be like, if your excuse was always that you didn’t have enough time to write a book, what’s your excuse now? It’s like, a literal pandemic! Yeah, it’s very weird. I think it’s very indicative, a) of the society that we live in and the pressure that we place on ourselves that our first instinct is “how can I turn this pandemic into a place of productivity and creation?” And b) I’m just like, “Oh God.” I’ll see, “it’s the perfect time to start your side hustle.” And I’m like, “no!”

Talkspace:

It’s like if you want to do it for creativity and as a creative outlet then that’s amazing. But if you feel forced to do it because you feel like you need to have a side hustle. Then it’s too much.

Anna Borges:

Also where is all this time really. Do we really have that much more time? Even if you were laid off and lost your job, you have time, but you have to be job searching and finding money. A lot of us are working from home. A lot of people have less time. A lot of parents are now working full time and teaching full time, which equals two days in one. It’s like, come on! I’m still working. I don’t have more hours in the day just because my hours are spent at home.

Talkspace:

I think that a good takeaway, tidbit of advice, is that going back to your self-compassion. We can all go a little bit easier on ourselves during this time and know that maybe we’re not going to be doing our absolute best work. But we’re doing the best that we can given the circumstances.

Anna Borges:

Absolutely. I wrote an article that was based on the one lesson that I carry from therapy to therapy, because it’s such a good go-to tip and that’s about the weight that we put on “should,” as a word. You know, when we “should” ourselves, what we “should” be doing, what we “should” be feeling, and how counterproductive that is. And how shame-y and awful. And I saw it pop up everywhere. Everything we were just talking about. Everything we “should” be doing during a pandemic. The only thing we should be doing is getting through it the best we can. You know what I mean? So, if you haven’t cut it out of your vocabulary before, which you “should,” it’s a great evergreen tip. Whether we’re in a pandemic or not. Now is the time!

Talkspace:

Therapist love to tell you not to say “should.”

Anna Borges:

I know. I’ll be in the middle of therapy and “should” will come out. Because it’s hard to cut things from your vocabulary. It’s very automatic. And then I always have to be like, “not should.” “Would like” or “feel pressured to.” The specificity of language is good because when you unpack it, you realize what you’re really saying. And those are very different. If I’m like, “Oh, I should go for a walk more,” that’s me saying, “Oh, I know that I will feel better if I go for a walk. So I would like to do that,” versus, “Oh, I should work out more in quarantine.” That’s me saying, “I feel pressured to make use of this time even though I have no desire to work out more in quarantine.” So it helps you figure out what’s going on.

Talkspace:

That’s so true. I’ve never thought about it that way. Unpacking — that’s a great tip. I think that a lot of people will benefit from that tip.

Anna Borges:

Hopefully. I mean there’s so much about our language in general. A core tenant of CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy is all about reframing your thoughts. Our thoughts come to us however they’re going to come to us. But that doesn’t mean that they’re true, or accurate, or worth listening to. And so pausing and being like, “okay, what does this thought or what does this feeling really mean?” It’s a good habit to get into. Doesn’t mean it’s easy to listen to yourself when that happens, but at least you’re just taking a step, you know?

Talkspace:

Definitely. All that being said, obviously this May Mental Health Awareness Month has been totally different than usual ones where there’ll be in-person talks, or events, and fundraisers. So, while it’s been such a weird time, what do you think is a positive thing that we have all gotten from this Mental Health Awareness Month?

Anna Borges:

I thought a lot about this question because it is such a weird time, and not just because we don’t have the resources available to do events. I’ve seen a lot of really cool virtual content and a lot of mental health apps being like “here is a free month of therapy” for this month. Here is a group session that you could try for free. And so that, practically speaking, there are a lot of very cool resources. But larger than that, it was very weird because leading up to May this year, I saw more mental health content than I’ve seen in a long time. Outside of people like us who do this regularly. A lot of people were ramping it up because it was on everyone’s mind.

And so when it came time to brainstorm what we were going to do for Mental Health Awareness Month, we were like, “we’ve been writing a ton of mental health content.” Every day is mental health! And I believe that, in general. I love spreading it out through the year. It was taking a moment to be like, “how can we separate this from what we’re normally doing and like elevate it.” And so we went with how to cope. It’s like a landing page because we all have to figure out how to get through this somehow. So we are going to do the best we can to give people practical tools of coping through this. Like I said earlier, a lot of people haven’t had reason to learn those skills.

It’s not like we have emotional education the way we have PE in school. It’s not like we have mental health checkups the way that we have physical checkups. We actually took it back to the basics, which I think is really important right now. More than ever, I think what’s great about these awareness months is it draws in an audience that normally doesn’t think about their mental health. They’re not seeking out this content from writers like us year round. We’re talking about it year round. It’s important year around, but it’s a flag to bring in people who hopefully need it, and were not giving themselves the chance to seek it out. Because it makes it hard to ignore when everyone is like, “hello, it is Mental Health Awareness Month. Let’s talk about mental health!”

Hopefully it reaches people that it wouldn’t otherwise. So that, that is what I love about these awareness months. It was definitely weird. We’re all like, “how? This is all we’re talking about lately. How are we going to differentiate?” But I don’t think it was about differentiating, it was more about elevating and making it more visible.

Talkspace:

I think that’s something that we did with Talkspace that’s been really cool. We haven’t really done video interviews like this before. So I was really excited when they asked me. I was like, “this is so cool. It’s gonna be so different than other mental health content that is on Talkspace.” You can read a really great profile of somebody and it paints an awesome picture, but I think it’s really cool to also see a person in video and they can read the transcript if they’re too lazy to watch it. But you get to know the person a little bit more.

Anna Borges:

And then we wind up going off on wonderful tangents that perhaps we wouldn’t be able to do in a nice compact article.

Talkspace:

So you’re the last of the series. I really hope that this whole series of four videos helps people. We’ve talked about so many good topics and actionable things that people can do. Even if somebody just watches this and feels less alone because they feel the same way that we do about work. I always feel that if somebody can take away even just one little helpful nugget that they relate to, then our job is done.

Anna Borges:

Absolutely. I think it’s really important to put faces to people who are dealing with the same things that you’re dealing with. I take for granted that a lot of my friends have their own mental health struggles. And I found people who I can relate to. But growing up, I felt very alone in it. I knew, technically, I was not the only one going through this, but I had never seen anyone talk about it or had a friend who was also super depressed, or who had a history of self harm, or any of these things. And now it’s like, it can be terrible, but it can also be wonderful and it can connect us and be like, here are your people.

You’re not stuck, you’re not alone. You’re not. For better or for worse. Do I wish so many people could relate to me? Nope. I wish I couldn’t relate to myself, but we have what we have, we’re going to do what we do. So at least it’s better to have company.

Talkspace:

Absolutely. And if anybody’s watching this and you don’t have any friends who are dealing with this, go search on Twitter for whatever you were feeling and I promise you will find someone with the same exact thing and you can make friends with them.

Anna Borges:

We’re your friends now!

Talkspace:

We are your friends. It’s funny, one of the girls who I interviewed for that SELF article about the breathing I found on Twitter and now we talk like every day on Twitter.

Anna Borges:

Yes, I love the internet. And I love that it is now normalized to make friends on the internet. Because I’ve been making friends on the internet since I was like 10. And it was like stranger danger and I had to hide it from my parents on the family desktop. And you were kind of weird doing that at the time. But now it’s cool.

Talkspace:

Now this is the way you meet. This is the way you make friends.

Anna Borges:

Right. Well, it’s because that’s how you find people who you connect with. Whether that’s due to shared diagnoses, or because you like the same TV show, or because you have an identity that is not represented in your town. I made all my queer friends online. I didn’t know any queer people growing up. Cool! Internet.

Talkspace:

Yeah. You find your people and I think that’s awesome. To end on another positive note, my last question is what do you think is like a big positive that we can all, or a lot of us, can take out of this whole pandemic-quarantine time? What do you think is something that we’re going to come out on the other side with that’s positive?

Anna Borges:

Yeah. For myself personally, I always reframe that into finding meaning, not necessarily finding a bright side or something positive because you know, for a lot of people, finding the positive side of things is not helpful. It can feel like, depending on how your brain works, that might feel like shutting down the very real experience that you’re having. Which doesn’t have to be the case. You can feel both grateful, and happy, and positive for things that are happening. While not being grateful that this happened, and while hurting, and while going through things. But sometimes that’s a hard message to internalize. So for anyone who’s having a hard time finding a bright side, I really think the important thing is realizing that you will get meaning out of this.

Whether that’s realizing what your priorities are, maybe you’ll learn more about yourself. Maybe you’ll come out of this with more compassion, or empathy for other people, because you were like, “Oh, this is the first time I felt like this. But I realized now, more than ever, how a lot of people feel all the time.” Or maybe you’ll have a newfound appreciation for your friends because you miss them so much and you’re like, “all I want to do is hug people and I will never take hugging for granted again.” You know? There a little bit of meaning going on. Maybe you’re even like, “gosh, I will never skip my summer beach trip again.” Going to the beach down the street that you, that you were too lazy to go to. It’s definitely the little things.

And then in a larger picture, we talk a lot about resilience and resiliency right now. And for better or worse, the way that we build resilience, or the ability to protect our mental health and continue on, and stay hopeful, is by going through stuff. You don’t build that mental fortitude without going through things. And it sucks that we have to, but it will be useful to you in some way in the future. Is what I’m telling myself. So if that helps anyone, I hope it does because otherwise it’s easy to fall into a pit of like, “why is this happening? My life is never gonna look the same.” There’s going to be something. It’ll be hard. I don’t even know if it will mean that this was worth it. Because a lot of people are losing a lot of things. I don’t want to be like “worth it” or “brightside,” but we will grow or learn in some way. I hate that we have to, but at least there’s that.

Talkspace:

I love that. I love that framing. Finding meaning rather than necessarily trying to like force positivity. So I love that that was how you answered.

Anna Borges:

Oh, thank you. I was like, “Oh, I’m being so positive in this interview.” I’m a very cynical person. And so I’m not like a “posi-psych” person. It’s worked for some people, but if people try and give me a bright side or if people try and tell me to be optimistic, I’m like, “no.” It makes me cranky. It works the opposite way.

Talkspace:

Right? I’m the same. I’m very much a realist and anybody with that toxic positivity, I’m like, “grrrrr. No thank you.”

Anna Borges:

Yeah. Positivity becomes toxic when it invalidates how you’re feeling. So if you’re not in a brain space to hear a bright side, it’s just gonna be insulting. Depending on what you’re going through right now — if you’re sick, or you’ve lost your job, or if you’ve lost loved ones — the last thing you want to freaking talk about is the bright side of things. Meaning is important. Even when we’re talking about like the five stages of grief, a big tenant — that’s underscoring those stages — is meaning finding. It’s like we get through hard things cause we’re able to find meaning and we’re able to grow more resilient from them. It’s how humans work, which is comforting.

Talkspace:

And as everybody is saying, we are all in this together. We’re not at the same level in it together. We’re definitely not all in the same level of “together.” But in the broader sense, there’s nobody who’s living their life completely normal right now. Everybody’s taking some kind of hit.

Anna Borges:

Unless you’re like an amoral, multi-billionaire who’s profiting off of this? But that’s another topic! But for the average average person. Non-billionaire. That’s where the anger comes in. When you think about the differences, but all your feelings right now are valid.

Talkspace:

You know what, we’re keeping it real! And you know what, it’s more important to keep it real.

Anna Borges:

I agree.

Talkspace:

And finding meaning, even though that’s not necessarily a “bright side” thing. Finding a meaning is a positive.

Anna Borges:

And meaning can be negative, but it’s still something that you will carry with you and it will inform who you are as a person. This is not random and for nothing. Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far. Now, I’m just like — take what you need! I should have stopped while I was ahead. But yeah, I’m taking it day by day. It’s not always helpful for me to think about meaning, but as background noise of knowing the meaning — that is helpful. But sometimes you don’t need to think about meaning. Sometimes you’re just like, “I needed to get through the day.” And be okay. And that is a victory.

Talkspace:

Yeah, absolutely. I agree.

Anna Borges:

That’ll be my positive now.

Talkspace:

Now that we have a great positive note to end on, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me. This was so fun. I really admire you as a human being, so it was awesome to talk to you. I think that people are going to love this video and get a lot of, as I said, helpful tidbits out of it.

Anna Borges:

Yay! I’m so glad! This was so much fun. This was a nice break to my day from just writing and talking to therapists.

Talkspace:

It’s so different being a writer and doing this instead of typing away. It’s been a cool little change.

Anna Borges:

Yeah, no, it was. It was definitely nice. This is so fun. I hope anyone watching enjoyed, feel free to to say hi! I don’t know how to like end conversations now. Because I’m always like, “have a good day!” That’s out the window.

Talkspace:

Have an okay day.

Anna Borges:

Ha! Okay, you gotta get me outta here.

Talkspace:

All right, well thank you again. This was great!

Anna Borges:

Thank you so much. Alright. Have a good day.


Anna Borges is the author of The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care and a senior health editor at SELF. An Oregon native, she lives in Brooklyn with her two cats, Francis and Regulus. (She’s also a Virgo sun, Aquarius moon, Libra rising, INFJ, and Enneagram Personality Type 4. Just in case you were wondering.)

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