Food writer Ruby Tandoh‘s latest project isn’t a recipe book or a new cookery column, it’s a zine. Specifically, a zine — Do What You Want — about mental health and self-care, stigma and support, co-created with her partner Leah Pritchard.
The project addresses mental health issues via the direction from which many of us arrive at them: as deeply personal and isolating experiences, and (hopefully) slow and difficult journeys towards management or recovery. Do What You Want doesn’t offer professional or medical advice, but in sharing stories and strategies, its creators aim to increase understanding of mental health and provide a range of accessible self-care tools to anyone who needs them. As Ruby puts it, “although we have grown up in a generation that is more aware of mental health (and illness) than ever, we still felt that social pressure to ‘just cheer up’ acutely. There is a real lack of understanding about the many different ways that mental illness can manifest, the things that trigger it, and what can be done to help.”
The zine is a labour of love for the two women, who share their own experiences with eating disorders, anxiety and depression, as well as collating stories from a wide range of contributors, including Sara Quin, Tajal Rao, Mara Wilson, Bridget Minamore and Ruby Snapes. Every writer and illustrator featured in Do What You Want has had first-hand experience of the mental health issues they’re discussing.
We didn’t want to just send money, we wanted to talk to people who had experiences like ours, and give a platform to those stories that perhaps we don’t hear as much as we should. That’s why a magazine made perfect sense.
Articles cover a wide variety of perspectives and topics, from ‘Why Should I Go to Therapy?’ by Heather Havrilesky (the writer behind The Cut’s ‘Ask Polly’), to ‘On The Realities of Being a Black Woman With Borderline Personality Disorder’ by Christine Pungong (available to read on Fader). Also included are a personal essay about mental wellbeing as a Somali refugee woman; an article about seeking treatment as a non-binary person; a look at being mentally ill and on benefits; a portrait of social anxiety; a comic about mental health and compulsive spending and a collection of favourite recipes for taking care of yourself. The zine is an intersectional collection of diverse stories showing how mental health (and stigma) affects people across society.
Tegan and Sara’s Sara Quin has also contributed to the zine, writing about how mental health challenges for both sisters plays out in their music, and the importance of community support within the LGBTQ community:
So much of what we wrote for The Con, Tegan was going through intense relationship stuff and I was thinking “I’m in a great place!” and then my grandmother died and someone who was working with the band who we were really close to died and all of a sudden my relationship died, and I thought, “Fuck”. All of the music that I had been writing during what I thought was a really good time, I think seemed appropriately in line with the next couple of years, that were so bad and so hard.
We live in a world where we are expected to advocate for ourselves and get the things that we need. What if you can’t? What if you don’t have those skills? What if you didn’t have a mom who kicked down your door and demanded to know what was going on with you? What if you are isolated socially and emotionally and physically from getting the help that you need? I think that by servicing our own LGBTQ community we can help with that.
It’s also worth mentioning that this is not your average copy-shop zine. Sleek, colourful and beautifully designed, it looks and feels like an arty magazine, not only making reading these stories something of a pleasure, but challenging mental health stigma with its very format. It mainstreams these stories, declares them worth telling, brings them into the open in an attractive and accessible format, which feels radical. I can imagine feeling confident about leaving this zine on the coffee table, and that others might casually pick it up, read a story or two, and either find themselves reflected there, or learn something new about mental health.
Do What You Want is available for pre-order now, with all proceeds donated to mental health -focused charities including Mind, Beat, and Sisters Uncut.