Mindfizz meets: C.J.
On a Friday evening, you won’t find Mindfizz down the pub. (ok, you might.) You’ll find us instead in pursuit of new, awesome people to talk to, and our newest Mindfizz Meets is the wonderful Christina Jane, also known as ‘C. J. Authoress’, and we hope to see a lot more of her on these pages! C. J. was a true joy to chat to. She is an aspiring poet working on her first collection for publication, an aspiring playwright writing her first play and an aspiring screenwriter writing her first of many movie scripts. A multipotentialite, C. J. enjoys many creative pursuits including being an ‘Authoress’ with different writing projects in diverse genres and formats, a public speaker, a model and an actress. We chatted to her to find out more…
Hello! So, what does mental health mean to you?
C. J.: It can mean a lot of things…you don’t really appreciate it until it’s gone. It’s a foundation for life, and when it’s eroded, it can be very hard. I’d never had a problem until I left the structure of university when I graduated in 2004 and started working. Hitting the real world, I started and continued to struggle with jobs for the most part, but also with friendships and my relationship. Slowly my days got blacker, and drip by drip I realised I had anxiety and depression. Once your emotional baseline begins to drop, things can get really difficult and dark before you realise something is wrong.
When did you start writing? What kind of impact does it have on your mental health?
I had an idea of what I wanted to write but you can never know what is clamouring to be released from you. I’ve written on and off since childhood, but more in the last few years to get over the fear of writing itself which had held me back, as well as to be creative and imaginative. It has also been helpful to write to process my thoughts and feelings about my son’s – and my – diagnosis (of autism) as a kind of writing therapy. I also want to destigmatise and help other autistic people or parents of autistic children. Writing helps me keep going, it’s become a light in the darkness. When life is dark, the pinpricks of light shine brighter, like stars.
So your son was diagnosed with autism first? Did you realise you were masking? What impact did this have on your understanding of your identity and mental health?
Yes, my son was diagnosed first in May 2016 and I was diagnosed in February 2017. Being undiagnosed with autism all that time meant I didn’t know why things were so difficult for me and led to me secretly blaming myself. I didn’t know I was masking at all, I just thought I was doing what everyone else was by trying very hard to fit in. Trying to be like everyone else was an impossible task. The diagnosis changed everything. I felt like I understood why things seemed to be twice as hard for me than other people and why people had misunderstood me in the past. It felt awful going through it, but things make more sense now. I’m focusing on the positives, paying it forward by public speaking on autism awareness and acceptance for free and writing poetry about it that has moved people to tears of relief.
How did you get into poetry?
My first real poem, “We are the Lost Girls”, I wrote when brainstorming for a speech I was going to perform as a public speaker in front of parents of autistic children on the Good Beginnings course I had already attended. I wanted to give hope to the other parents and help them feel better as I’ve been where they sat. My first performance as a spoken word artist was for Autism Anglia’s ‘Neurofantastic’ in 2017. I wanted to pay it forward (in thanks for the support Autism Anglia has given me).
What’s your advice for new writers or poets?
Hmm… read a lot, that’ll help you. Give yourself license to fail. I spent a year just writing for competitions. I didn’t win anything, not one thing. Just write even if you are doomed to fail. Nothing is wasted, every bit of writing helps you find your voice. An athlete doesn’t expect to be perfect first time, and like exercise you would do a warm up, well, this is your warm up! I kept trying different things and now some of my poems have been published in The Unfamiliars Zines.
What would you tell someone who wants to try performing but is scared?
Your fear is physical so take deep breaths. Before the event, imagine you are performing in front of a microphone and it’s going well. Remind yourself that even outwardly calm performers are frightened. Allow the fear as this will give your performance more frenetic energy. Label your fear ‘excitement’! I was nervous before Neurofantastic and now I’ve performed repeatedly with ‘Mary-Ann and Mates’ at a poetry event called ‘Emotional Madness’. I’ve also read poetry under the name ‘Satine’ for the event ‘Poetry Brothel Colchester’. You can build up your confidence one performance at a time.
What is your definition of ‘self-care’?
For me, self-care is anything that recharges my batteries. It can be active things like writing, or passive like reading, watching series/movies…whatever channels your energy to where you want it to go. Like this morning; it was stressful, so I expended some energy at the gym lifting weights and swimming. It’s a personal thing, one person may prefer solitude to recharge but another person might need to be sociable.
Do you think attitudes to mental health are changing?
I hope so, because there is a death toll, which is more ‘seen’ now due to social media. Statistics for men are alarming. As a mother with a son, it concerns me that suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in England and Wales. I would like to think everyone can have the chance to speak to someone, be it with a friend, on a forum or having therapy. I’m a stronger, better and nicer person through therapy as I’ve dealt with the bullying I endured, my issues and through interpersonal therapy (C.B.T.) I can understand people more. I would like everyone to have the opportunity to go through therapy, without stigma.
Tell us something we wouldn’t guess by looking at you.
For most people, they would assume I didn’t have autism due to basic things like I can give eye contact and I’m sociable. Also I’m female, and the stereotype of autism is male. Also people might not guess that I have endured anxiety and depression in my past as I’m friendly and joyful now. I’m grateful to the charity Mind that enabled me to have talking therapy including C.B.T. (cognitive behavioural therapy) which helped me work through things. Although, like everyone else, I have good days and bad days, things will not ever get as bad as they were. I’m thankful to my friends, family and my partner John for helping me through tough times that arise now.
You’re also a model. What’s that like? We live in a world where appearance is scrutinised. How does modelling affect this for you?
For me, it’s about self-expression and enjoying working with a photographer to create their, or my, vision. I’m a very verbal person, so working visually through modelling and acting has been a real insight into a different way of processing the world. Even though there is probably a lot of scrutiny out there, it’s actually made me more confident! Other people may always be able to find something to criticise about my body, I’m too thin/not thin enough or too muscular/athletic as I lift weights at the gym. Personally I would welcome a chance for more diversity in modelling and greater aesthetic equal opportunities across all brands. This is why I admire agencies like Zebedee (an agency for models with disabilities) and would love to be part of something like that.
You’re also an actress. What’s that like? Is it hard to have autism and be an actress? What kind of impact does it have on your mental health?
I’m only doing a part in a British Science Fiction Webisode at the moment. I find it fun, working in a team and playing a role. I might find it harder on set to follow instructions as it’s a dynamic environment but I just ask questions to clarify so I know what I have to do. Apart from that I feel like autism actually helps me, I’m used to being a chameleon and changing according to who is around me and presenting them with whoever they want me to be. Although I didn’t realise it until recently, I’m used to masking. Most actresses work 9am-5pm, I’ve been an actress for my whole life just to fit in! Playing a persona, like when I’m acting, when I’m Satine performing poetry or modelling when I’m aware of my body and facial reactions constantly, is a welcome break from the norm. My dream would be to act for a program about autism, like ‘The A Word’ or ‘Atypical’, as they normally focus on the stereotypical male autistic journey.
What would you want your younger self to know to support her through a time she thought she couldn’t handle?
Like a lot of people, I’d say “it does get better” but I’d qualify that with “nothing gets better without you making it better”. Life has felt like an uphill struggle as I’ve had to make my life better without the tailored support that some autistic children now get. I don’t know if I’d want to tell myself I have autism, as I’m not sure what knowing that in the past would do to my life now. Having to struggle meant when I finally got the rewards they were sweeter. Life has to be lived, living gives you a sense of resilience and confidence – you have to get through the other side to understand.
What makes you happy?
Anything from solitude to making someone else happy, to making a difference, writing, public speaking, performing poetry or just being able to work with a photographer or director and have them happy at the end. My friends and family, son and partner are the best. Having a meaning and purpose that I choose for myself.
What’s your favourite media that touches on mental health and why do you love it?
When you read a novel or watch a series, you get to go on a longer journey with the characters. There are many examples you can find throughout your life that appeal to your situation. I like things that delve into the human condition. I was going through a tough time and watching the characters in Toby Whithouse’s ‘Being Human’ attempt to create a semblance of normality despite difficulty and despair was deeply moving. It really struck a chord with me. (For anyone who hasn’t watched this series, do. It’s an awesome show about a werewolf, a ghost and a vampire living in Modern Britain and as C. J. says, trying to live as normal people. It’s fab!)
Where can we find you, find your next performance or book you as a model or actress?
I’ve done lots of performing in the past, your best bet is to like and follow me on Facebook and keep an eye on my page. (C. J. Authoress https://www.facebook.com/C.J.CleverBeautifulNerdLady/ )
Thank you C. J. for a wonderful interview!