Having been a long-time follower of Bethany Rose Lamont and her fabulous blog, Milk Teeth, it seemed that now would be a great time to finally interview her, what with the third issue of the collaborative Doll Hospital Journal now underway (which, by the way, is an amazing and very relatable read). Doll Hospital has, so far, had some pretty great contributors (think Tavi Gevinson, Laura Callaghan and Ambivalently Yours), and the book-length issues featuring poetry, playlists, interviews and essays interspersed with thoughtful artwork is what has made me so inspired that I felt I had to write about it. The journal discusses various mental health conditions, from anxiety to depression to eating disorders and pretty much everything in between, emphasizing that, although we may all think it at times, nobody is alone.
What inspired you to start a mental health journal?
I started Doll Hospital in May 2014 when I was a Master’s student at Oxford University; I was suicidal and severely unstable. I was basically told to stop tweeting about wanting to kill myself on twitter as it was freaking everyone out so I was like, fine, I’ll find another medium to embarrass myself in! So I sent out a vague call for submissions on twitter about some kind of mental health print project which um, well it blew up I guess!?
What was the biggest hurdle you faced when creating Doll Hospital?
I actually think I’m really lucky with how Doll Hospital has gone so far as I had no resources or experience or capital, I literally just had a yahoo email address and started contacting people who I thought were cool?!
But I think the biggest hurdle Doll Hospital face is time and money, the publication has no income and we do all this unpaid in our free time on a voluntary basis when it’s basically a full time job? And as a severely mentally ill person myself, like I do get burnt out! Not gonna lie it’d be nice to not have to worry where the money for the next print run is coming as the copies sell out fast and we don’t have the resources to restock.
What do you think needs to change in order for people with mental health issues to be able to cope better?
I don’t think this burden should be on mentally ill people, because like we’re trying really fucking hard not to die every second of the day?! We need to reduce stigma, particularly in terms of more marginalised mental health experiences. Like I’m meant to be some mental health editor person and I still feel real stigma within mental health communities when I talk about dealing with psychosis and my experiences on the schizophrenia spectrum and that’s bullshit. There’s a hypocrisy and a politics of respectability that needs to be assessed, which in turn has its foundation in the history of medical racism (as highlighted by Jonathan Metzl’s book ‘The Protest Psychosis’.)
But more than that we need to understand how mental health impacts the most marginalised in our societies, as whilst trying to reduce stigma is great we still need to look at this on a structural level. To create a world when mental health people can cope better we need to be addressing wider social issues of homelessness, incarceration, police brutality, systematic racism and ableism in all forms. In short we need to try and nurture a culture that stops violently traumatising people.
How do you explain mental illness to someone who doesn't understand?
I don’t really have much of an interest in explaining mental illness to those not dealing with it in all honesty. This desperation for a PR rebrand is what has lead mainstream mental health narratives to that repulsive ‘you wouldn’t treat someone with cancer like that!’ rhetoric. I’m not interested in trying to make mental illness respectable or palatable, or throwing other marginalised people under the metaphorical bus in an attempt to do so.
We have gotten some feedback from neurotypical readers that the honesty and intensity of Doll Hospital makes them uncomfortable which was intended as a criticism but I take as a compliment. There’s that corny quote of ‘art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed’ and that’s how I feel about my own mental health writing and the work I publish and encourage. If a neurotypical reader ‘learns’ something reading Doll Hospital that’s great, that’s brilliant, but at the end of the day my focus is always going to be the people actually dealing with this stuff.
What would you say to someone suffering mental illness?
It doesn’t get better, you don’t get stronger, but you survive, you survive and oh my god that’s amazing.
Who are your role models? What influence have they had on shaping you as a person?
In terms of publishing Tavi Gevinson is probably my biggest role model, she has given so many young women in their teens and early twenties the confidence to raise their voices and be their own boss. Through Rookie she sent out the message that you don’t have to wait for institutional approval to create something beautiful and meaningful, you seriously can just go out and do it. If it wasn’t for her work I don’t think Doll Hospital would exist in all honesty.
In terms of advocacy everyone involved in the ADAPT movement and the 504 sit in, Black Panther and disability right activist Brad Lomax, founder of the Independent Living movement Ed Roberts, the members of the ‘Mental Patients Liberation Front’ in the 1970s, 19th century psychiatry campaigner Elizabeth Packard, psychiatry activist Judi Chamberlain, and founders of the Mad Pride movement such as Pete Shaughnessy and Robert Dellar. They provided the foundation to talk about, and against, institutional control and ableism in all its incarnations and we need to give them the thanks they deserve.
What artists do you admire, and why?
Aaah an endless amount! Like all of our Doll Hospital contributors basically, the work of artists from our second issue such as Carolina H, Yumi Sakugawa, Gemma Correll, Hannah Moitt, Becca Hyman, Katie Parrish, Laura Callaghan, Vikki Chu, Herikita Conk, Margaret Anne, Rebecca Katz, Daphne Gerhard and Mikael Hattingh. They are all amazing and I love them.
In terms of outside Doll Hospital and towards like more canonical stuff I love Louis Wain, Daniel Johnston, Yayoi Kusama, Charlotte Salomon, Grandma Moses, Emily Barletta, Mike Kelley, William Blake, Will Barnet, Suehiro Maruo, Cicely Mary Barker, Mat Collishaw, Tove Jansson, Chantal Joffe, Peter Doig, Maria Pryimachenko, Maud Lewis, Shintaro Kago, Max Raffler, Junji Ito, Walt Disney, Simon Hanselmann and Judith Scott. Each of these artists represents a different model of survival to me.
Can you sum up the last 5 years of your life in 5 songs?
Oh god, the past 5 years have been me trying not to die so I’m not sure how uplifting this is going to be but I’ll have a go!
Laura Marling-My Manic and I
Ok this was a year of sustained psychotic episodes, colourful hallucinations, disordered eating, bad choices and no sleep and I used to pace around in circles high to this song as like I never said I was stable okay?
Karla-DeVito-We are Not Alone
I got on better meds this year! And started to feel hopeful! And only listened to John Hughes movie soundtracks!
Nina Simone-Don’t let me be misunderstood
I’m aware that this beautiful song probably wasn’t written with the intention of being a navel gazing soundtrack for an egotistical Syrian girl YET HERE WE ARE
Shonen Knife-Cookie Day
As I think I had that song stuck in my head that entire year
22 going on 23-Butthole Surfers
This is a horrible potentially triggering song of distorted survivor feels but this has been a messy year and an album that has the infinitely tasteful title of ‘locust abortion technician’ felt like the only option?!