honor eastly on the power and complexities of being honest online

i-D caught up with the musician and advocate to talk about making art out of your feelings and the realities of life as a mental health golden girl.

by Wendy Syfret
18 April 2016, 6:45am

Images via @honor_eastly

When the internet first became part of our lives, chances are nobody thought it would become home to a culture of public confessions. But today it feels like being honest online is a strange digital sport, where we push ourselves to be as "real" or "candid" as possible.

But as anyone who has ever looked at another person's feed and felt envious knows, there is still a huge gulf between what we post and what we feel. While the minutia of our bodies and lives is shared, our mind is another matter. 

Honor Eastly is an artist, musician and mental health advocate who has played on our obsession with confession to start difficult conversations with incredible ease. Through her videosarticles and podcasts she pushes the limits of what we feel comfortable to share.

Her super honest self documentation is educational, enlightening, touching and comforting. But while her work does an immeasurable amount of good, there are consequences to being a mental health golden girl. 

Let's start with a bit of background, and how you started stalking so publicly about your own mental health.
I started getting involved with the mental health system when I was 13 or 14. It's been about 12 or 13 years, so mental health has been part of my character for as long as I can remember. But the thing that's terrifying about mental illness is it can be really isolating. So for me, pretty much everything I do online or publicly is an experiment in seeing whether I'm not alone.

How did that experiment start?
A big moment was when I went to hospital in 2014. I'd never been to hospital before and it was a really strange experience. While there I made a video of some music that I'd written. I was pretty unwell but I had a burning desire that making this video—I feel embarrassed saying this—but making this video would kind of save me. At the time, it was the only things that made sense to do. That was a really big point and it kind of went from there.

It's easy to say this is so inspiring, but I feel we sometimes overlook how terrifying it is to make art out of confronting personal experiences.
I've been thinking about it a lot in the past month actually, there's a lot of talk in the mental illness space about how using your story is a way to kind of make up for lost years. Whilst I agree with that, some days I actually don't want to do it. I don't want to make meaning out of it, I want it to go away (laughs). But then I end up using it and it becomes this powerful therapeutic tool.

You are really incredibly candid in your work and on social media. Did you set out to be that open, or was it a process of feeling comfortable enough to reveal yourself to strangers?
I'm curious about what you think of as being open?

I think at the moment being open and confessional get confused, people are really navigating the notion of what private information is. There are different levels of making yourself visible; it's one thing to say this is what I think, but another to say this is how I feel.
I still think in a lot of ways I'm not open. For me being more being honest online is a continual process; I kind of treat every little thing as an experiment to see if I'll get in trouble or if that's an okay thing to do?

What do you mean by trouble?
I mean, am I going to get negative feedback and is it something that is going to be healthy for me? I've realised it's really easy to brush off people who say ridiculous things. I put up a video and somebody told me to kill myself—I was like, that's such a ludicrous thing to say to another human being why would I ever take that seriously?

It's the semi-intelligible arguments people make that you think about before bed and wake up feeling anxious about.

On her Instagram Honor explores issues such as the financial barrier people face when seeking mental healthcare. Image via @honor_eastly 

Where does this desire to be that candid come from?
That's something I've been trying to decipher for a long time. I think it makes me feel human, and in some ways it's a reaction against how internet culture works, which I sometimes find really frustrating.

So it's a way to push against the curated-ness of the the idea of an "Internet self"?
It's partially that, it's partially about anti-shame and anti-isolation—which are best friends to mental illness. I've experienced a lot of shame and isolation since I was a teenager, so I want to open that up and be like, here's all of the dirty laundry. It's a loophole out of that shame for me in some ways.

Do you ever worry about people feeling sorry for you?
Yeah, I think pity creates fear and inaction. I know sometimes when I'm on social media and I see someone being really confessional it makes me feel awkward and that's the opposite of what I want to do.

The flip-side of being so open is inviting people to confide in you. Does that bring a sense of responsibility for your audience?
Yeah I had someone email me recently explaining their situation, and asking how they make themselves whole. I've written a draft of a response, but I don't totally know what to say.

Mental health badges made by Honor last year. Image via @honor_eastly

That's an interesting development in being a public figure. In the past you said your bit and moved on. Now you have this back and forth where you have to navigate the way people utilise the information you give them.
It can be hard when people contact me and I try to assist them and they stop replying or don't want to talk to anyone else about it or see anyone. That's a lot of pressure. I worry, what if something happens to them—am I going to feel responsible?

When people email you asking, how do I fix myself, isn't there a huge pressure to stay happy?
When people ask me how I fixed myself and I'm like, dude I'm not fixed. What is fixed? That's why I make a point of trying to write when I'm having a shit time. I've been having a shit time recently and have been wondering, what do I do with this bit? This is why I want to see more people independently writing. 



Text Wendy Syfret
Images via Instagram

mental health
Honor Eastly