There's a fine line between an inspired icon and an everyday hero, and today, we're pleased to share the latter. Esme Wang has struggled with schizoaffective disorder her entire life and now devotes her days to helping others navigate the muddy waters of mental health issues. From restorative journaling to radical sincerity, her story is nothing short of inspired...
Esme, you have schizoaffective disorder. What does that mean, for you? How has this diagnosis shaped your life and work thus far?
Schizoaffective disorder is a fairly rare, but complex disorder. For me, it's a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder -- for others, it might mean a combination of schizophrenia and depression -- and exhibits itself in symptoms such as psychosis, mania, and depression.
I've lived with mental illness since I was a preteen, and I'm in my early 30s now. Having a severe mental disorder has shaped the way that I see the world; as a young feminist, I was always aware of injustice, and later, I realized that the way people react to learning about someone having a mental illness is too often rife with stigma. Such stigma, or discrimination, ends up affecting me in multiple ways -- it can be something as seemingly small as not receiving cards or visits when I'm staying in the hospital, which is generally expected when someone's in the hospital for physical illness; the incredible level of difficulty involved in getting disability benefits when I was sick, unable to work, and still employed at a day job; the experience of being forced out of an Ivy League school when I was hospitalized for the second time. It can also be as simple as a misunderstanding of what psychosis actually is, which is why I devoted
about that on my site. All of these things, and others, influence my work now.
As of a few months ago, I became an entrepreneur. The microbusiness that I own centers around the tagline,
I realized that everything I wanted to do, including the
that I'm teaching this fall, stemmed from the same kinds of experiences that I'd been having with my blog, where I decided to, about three years ago, become quite honest about my life with mental illness. The response was incredible. Someone told me that she had begun the night intending to end her life, spent the night reading through my blog, and by the end, had decided that she was going to live. I just received an email from someone this past weekend who told me that she has a chronic illness, and that she reads my blog in the morning before leaving the house to summon her courage. When I receive messages like that, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.
So what is life like for someone with schizoaffective disorder?
Everyone's experience is different. Fortunately, my day-to-day isn't constantly affected by schizoaffective disorder, although I have other psychiatric disorders as well -- multiple diagnoses are, unfortunately, fairly common. I do have long periods of wellness, but when I'm sick, it's very hard to do anything. During a bad episode of psychosis, it can become impossible to move, or say more than two or three words at a time; I sometimes have delusions -- false beliefs -- and hallucinations that make reality difficult to separate from what's going on in my head. The bipolar symptoms are easier for people to understand -- I encounter far more people these days who have a bipolar diagnosis than I did when I was diagnosed with it over a decade ago, and people are generally educated about what depression is like.
So how do you advise and encourage mentally ill individuals? How can we, collectively, do the same?
This is what I emphasize: you, person with a mental illness, are still a person. You are still a person who loves YouTube cat videos and fresh tomatoes, who thinks books are the greatest, who does yoga semi-regularly and has a secret passion for chocolate-covered potato chips. You are not broken beyond repair, and you are worth fighting for. Finally: you are not alone.
So the human aspect of mental illness is what's truly helpful for everyone, not just the one with the diagnosis. We're all people; some of us simply experience life differently than others.
Beautifully put. Your job must require a great deal of positivity and mental energy. How do you stay optimistic, and what do you do to get out of a funk?
I have an inherent optimism, which I only realized after almost two decades of illness -- if it weren't for the fact that I deeply believe that I'm going to be okay, I wouldn't be where I am today: with an agented novel on the market, my own business, a loving partner, and so forth. If you'd asked me fifteen years ago where I thought I'd be at thirty, I couldn't have imagined any of that. I could barely get through the day.
Not all of my days are optimistic ones, but I combat hard days, weeks, months, and even years with simple things. I journal, which I've found immensely helpful. I've built a small, but mighty support system. I take photographs. I've been having issues with chronic pain via fibromyalgia, which is aggravated by stress, and so I had a marvelous massage yesterday. On the bus ride home, I texted my husband and told him that if I could have a massage like that every day, all of my ailments would be solved.
Speaking of your husband, how do you separate personal Esme from professional Esme? Are they one and the same?
They're not the same, but neither are they completely divided. I care deeply about being as open as possible in my professional life, but I also know when to keep certain things private. Like many other bloggers, I don't write about my marriage in detail. I also don't write about conflicts with others, especially other bloggers, no matter how strongly I might feel about the situation. The Internet is a small place, and so in general, my professional life is a drama-free zone.
Hooray for drama-free. We hear you! Clementine Daily is a space for women who believe in embracing simple pleasures, setting realistic expectations and bettering their lives to better the lives around them. In your eyes, how do you fit in with that mission?
I love that mission, and I embrace it wholly.
The first thing that comes to mind when I read about the Clementine Daily mission was something that a friend said to me in high school: "When you're not sick, the smallest things make you
happy. Like cheese. You are so incredibly happy when you have a piece of cheese in front of you." And cheese still makes me happy, although I don't partake in it as much as I used to; picking up a piece of stinky, washed-rind cheese and eating it at my desk with an apple is one of the most wonderful things in the world. In that way, my ambitious nature neatly dovetails with the idea of realistic expectations; I have enormous dreams, but I'm also comfortable with the idea of enjoying my life vis-a-vis a series of simple pleasures. And some of those enormous dreams happen to include changing the world's perspective about vulnerability, openness, and mental illness. It all hangs together.
So how do you accomplish those dreams on a smaller scale? How do you stay organized in your daily life?
Organization is my jam. I have a
which has several dividers for my various projects, as well as a day-a-page planner from
-- I can't recommend that planner enough, and the customer service is phenomenal. I also have a notebook specifically for business-related notes, which is actually the
, and is also incredibly girly. On the computer, I favor
for scheduling social media posts,
for organizing my photographs and photo editing, and
to keep myself from sitting too long at the computer. I'm also writing this in
Whew; you're so organized! You're speaking our love language. Tell us, what is your personal motto or mantra?
I have a few. Be kind. Show more love. Finally: I only have one life, and one pair of hands.
Amen! What are five everyday items you can't bear to live without?
black pens, with an extra-fine tip. I buy them in bulk. 2. The Quartered 1/4 Notebook from
which I use for almost everything except my business notebook. Their grid is the perfect size for me. 3. My pink (Bambi)
. It turns out that getting an adorable bottle was the key to getting me to drink more water. 4.
makes the best scented candles that I've ever tried, and I've tried a lot of them. I've got a Cucumber and Mint one burning right now. 5. I just got a simple black wallet from
. I'm such a sucker for Everlane -- I wear their t-shirts like crazy, too.
Oh man, Everlane. Yes! We're fans, as well. So, Esme, what's next for you?
In September, I'm going on vacation with my husband to the ocean, and then I'm going on a retreat in England. When I come back in October, I'll be gearing up to debut my copywriting and copy editing services, putting the finishing touches on a (free) ebook (The Radical Sincerity Manifesto: Bringing Light by Being You) that'll be coming out in late November, and preparing for 2014, which will hopefully include the beginning of my novel-writing intensive.
Godspeed, sweet Esme. We're rooting you on and can't wait to read that novel someday soon.
p.s. Do you have an everyday icon you'd love to see spotlighted? Tweet us @ClementineDaily!