11 Mrz Interview with Indhira Rojas – Anxy Magazine
We have been spoilt for choice when it came to choose our next interview partner among all these brave, quirky, loud, shy, straight women out there. ‘Big time whining’ indeed! We are all the more pleased that we’ve got founder and creative director of Anxy Magazine, Indhira Rojas, for our second Q&A. In fact, for us it’s like a catch 22 – only in a far more positive manner. With a little help from Indhira we managed to find a way to address both sides of the story: what it means to be a woman and a man these days and far more important, how these notions of gender categories affect and conflict our inner worlds.
To be honest it’s quite challenging to not jump straight into the topic since you appear as a very open-minded, fearless and genuinely respectful woman. Not to mention that you probably have more guts than most of us could wish for by being not ashamed to directly address uncomfortable themes most people would prefer to be silent about. Tell us, Indhira, which thoughts come to your mind hearing: Power? Freedom? ‚What does not kill me, makes me stronger?’
I think of the wise words of Michelle Obama: “Think about your own story, and trust that it will help you become whoever you aspire to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”
The initial idea for making the magazine Anxy is closely related to your own story. For instance, Anxy’s issue workaholism can be drawn back to times in your life when you worked very hard in order to forget about your personal struggles and childhood trauma. How did you recognize that you were actually not alright? (it is perhaps worth pointing out that workholism is hitherto not officially accredited as mental disease according to the ICD-10 and to be professionally successful – whatever the price to be paid – is widely appreciated in our society.)
The inkling that something wasn’t right came from feeling extremely tired – mentally, spiritually, creatively – and yet pushing myself to continue to do more and staying in a constant state of busyness. It started to feel a little bit like self-torture. I started to wonder: What was I getting out of pushing myself so hard? Was I even fulfilling my own personal needs or even knowing them? And the hardest question, which I find myself coming back to: who was I doing this for?
When you start to answer those types of questions deeply, and start to break apart the assumptions you are making, you realize it might be because that’s what society tells us we should do, because having pause feels really scary. It was an important moment in my life that taught me how I survived and found a sense of self-worth: through doing. Once you see that, you can start to re-frame, and consider other choices.
Anxy claims to be not a self-help manual nor a therapist’s scientific journal but “to make space where vulnerable personal stories can be shared.” In other words, it’s not about theory, it’s about reality – as diverse as it can get. In your Magazine, launched in 2017, people like you and me speaking about their trajectories through life, how they experience their inner worlds and how they find different ways to cope with their individual struggles. Why do you think it’s such a great deal to share one’s individual stories – besides the need to find a more natural way to talk about mental health problems?
The decision to share one’s individual story is very personal, and I don’t want to claim it is the right thing for everyone to do. It was something that felt right for me. One of the core aspects of experiencing sexual abuse, specifically as a young child, is that you learn implicitly that what is happening is supposed to be and stay a secret. It is not supposed to be known by others, and that breaking the silence can be harmful. If you carry that message with you, for such a long time, as I have, it becomes liberating to be able to say that truth and have it be held and witnessed. It allows you to reclaim yourself, your body, and take up space.
There’s absolutely no doubt that sharing our stories reduces our feelings of isolation and feeling alone in what we are going through. It allows us to learn about ourselves and our inner working by discovering aspects about ourselves through the lens of others. It can even give us the inspiration or courage to try something different, by witnessing how others have done it and succeeded. That is why group therapy can be so effective for people. Moreover, if you look deeper into how we connect with art and culture, we are all constantly sharing who we are, how we see the world, our aspirations, our dreams. Why not also share this important part of ourselves that speaks to our humanity?
Stigmatization goes hand in hand with a feeling of shame. Thinking about shame throws us all way back to the beginning, back to Adam and Eva: When Eva disobeyed God’s demand and ate a fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, out of a sudden she recognized that she was naked and, – felt ashamed. Obviously shame is an emotional reaction of consciously violating a law, a kind of higher, abstract order. In terms of a certain look-away mentality when it comes to mental illness what would you say is shame exactly? Are there any benefits from being ashamed?
There are different dimensions to shame. There’s the shame you are talking about, which has to do with a behavior and the response of the environment: I have done something that falls outside of an established social norm that is considered inappropriate or unusual. I feel guilty for having done something I was not supposed to, or is not being accepted by others. The feeling of guilt fills me with a sense of shame—a desire to hide, or be invisible, to not feel judged.
But there is also another aspect of shame, that is more complex, a shame that is internalized. Through receiving messages of invalidation, of not being worthy of care, or attention, through the experience of feeling abused, or neglected, shame can become a part of us. We become afraid of being our full selves, of expressing our true identity, we feel guilty to just be who we are and express ourselves with authenticity. Shame becomes the fear that runs our lives.
In this context, it’s hard for me to think about positive aspects of shame, but I would say shame is information we can use to clue us into our values—either because we feel ashamed, and feel we shouldn’t, or because we feel ashamed and feel it’s appropriate. It can guide us.
Talking about the latest issue of Anxy is there a specific reason why you chose to explore the various meanings of masculinity before femininity?
As a team, we chose the topic of masculinity well aware it was a subject in people’s mind. In the United States, we have been navigating national conversations about experiences of sexual assault, and their impact in women’s lives, we’ve discussing issues of sexual identity, gender, and expression, of male/female, non-binary presentation. It seemed imperative to talk about masculinity, not at the expense of femininity, but rather as a building block. Our hope is that by reframing one, can reframe the other. What we learned from the Issue is that what we consider feminine or masculine is a complete social construct, in fact, what we do is perform those constructs and expectations to each other. All people, regardless of how they identify, experience an inner world of complex thoughts and emotions. I felt sad to read how our construct of masculinity limits that expression and makes men feel ashamed of how they feel to the point of severe repression.
You asked teenagers what masculinity means to them. One answer was: „I don’t really have anybody in my family that is masculine because my family is mostly nice.” I have to admit reading this made me smile but, at the same time, the subtle association resonating within this answer is extremely terrifying: How can it be that this imaginary ideal archetype of a strong, (violent), tearless man buzzes even around in the minds of the youngest and still serves the societal unconscious of our times. Are we really that far behind?
Yes, and no. The reality is those models of masculinity exist, and sadly, we are at a political place in the US where they dominate our discourse. That being said, the stories in our issue are a testament to the many ways of being that to me are a sign of hope.
The philosopher Judith Butler differentiates between a person’s biological sex and gender as secondary sex. Latter is conceived as a social construct changing over time. And yet, both are in our societal reality closely intertwined and have a massive effect on defining who we think we are and how we should behave from a very young age. Why is both sex and gender still received so significantly important for our place within society? Isn’t it a bit out-dated that we still define ourselves about these categories instead of what we do and how we act within the world?
That is a really big question, that I’m not even sure I’m in the best capacity to answer. What I can say is that yes, the body we carry—which we didn’t have any choice in, by the way—definitely affects how we experience the world, how we are experienced by others and how we develop our identity. As humans, we have the tendency to want to label, classify and create language and meaning around everything. We are opening a new chapter where we are starting to see the limitations of wanting to box everything in and the benefits of a more fluid perspective. Is about expression, and respecting how each person wants to represent their best self. That’s what I love about the David Bowie piece in our issue by Thor Benson, the photo essay ‘No one way’ by Justin J Wee, it shows us how there’s such a wide spectrum, and it has not just to do with sex, or gender, or sexual identity, but with being.
With the arise of social media the concept of privacy has irreversible changed – in fact, it is basically not existing anymore. To entirely exposure yourself evolves to be the new norm as the possibilities to share our experience, our current state of feelings are endless and widely used. This can be a blessing and leading to a domino effect creating empathy as the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike has shown but at the same time there are these perfect, paradise like lives we compare ourselves with as well as the unpredictable public response which can be harming and devastating.
There’s no universal answer on whether it’s a curse or a blessing, to me, it just depends on the person. Some people thrive on that level of sharing. It allows them to feel connected and have a community to feel supported by. There are people I certainly follow on Instagram, whether @jengotch, or @designlovefest @elainewelteroth @hannahbronfman, all who represent what you are talking about: a hyper-transparency about their emotional life (which I appreciate it) within the context of a lifestyle I could only wish I had. It all looks so wonderful watching from afar. I feel we are certainly in new territory. I myself sometimes wish I had the stamina to share more about myself, post about more moments in my life, and then I realize…Who am I doing this for? (again, back to that question) I haven’t gotten enough out of it to trade it off for some IRL time with coffee with friends, or time with my partner. The only thing I truly envy is the power behind the scale of those personal platforms. When you can reach so many people with your story, and your work, that’s significant.
Luckily, the public debate and awareness for mental diseases is constantly growing. At the same time never in history so many people are diagnosed with mental health problems, so many drugs are prescribed. It’s not a secret that the pharmaceutic industry benefits from the mental health economy. Is there a golden middle, a healthy balance or are we facing a future with a society dependent and controlled by drugs and the pharmaceutical industry?
This is a difficult question because there is no doubt that for some people medication is the right treatment for their mental health condition, and it significantly increases their quality of life. At the same time, I share your fear of a society dependent and controlled by drugs and the pharmaceutical industry. The opioid crisis in the US is a scary signal of that future. The risk sometimes with medication is that it can address the symptoms, but not the underlying psychological dynamics and behavioral conditions that might be contributing to the distress. Keeping in mind that I say this with my case in mind, where it was a condition in the environment that impacted my psyche and caused the trauma, as opposed to more a complex neurological or genetic disorder.
What’s also frustrating about the medical industry, is that there are alternative methods for healing and addressing trauma that doesn’t fall under the expectations of western medicine. This causes people to have a very limited set of choices, especially if it isn’t covered as part of their health plan, and people are forced to pay out of pocket.
My wish for the future is that we are able to see mental disorders, especially the ones spanning from environmental conditions, not as an illness or disease, but as part of a larger context of psychological development. The ‘illness’ was a normal response to an abnormal situation. It makes sense that I developed symptoms of anxiety given the traumatic history. If we can reframe mental health in this way, we might be able to open a more diverse set of choices for intervention and repair.
Since Anxy came alive as kickstarter project it is widely appreciated. Why did you want to make a magazine instead of using social media, the internet? What was so appealing to go back to an analogue, tactile medium as paper?
We wanted to create an object people could have in their homes and hold in their hands. Something they could accidentally bump into and be inspired by. Also, the format of a physical magazine enables a different reading experience, which to me has a higher quality. Reading the stories one after the other, you start to develop a larger narrative arc that leaves you with a meta-message. It would be hard to replicate that experience online, especially with all the distractions.