Working: Roxane Gay

Can you talk a little about the ways in which your illness works as a barrier to writing? What are some of the specific challenges you deal with?

Motivation is a big problem. I can spend hours just staring into space, not reading, not writing, just staring and it's hard to go from that to productivity. I'm really lucky I can write fast. I also deal with a lot of self-doubt and this sense that I'm not good enough, which in turn makes me sit and stare a bit more. Once I get past that, though, writing is definitely a place of comfort for me, a place of salvation, and it always has been.

What are some specific things you do to manage your illness that you find effective?

I take medication. When I am motivated, I exercise. As much as I hate it, exercise truly makes me feel better but the challenge is that it takes a lot for me to feel motivated enough to get into an exercise mindset. I watch a lot of movies and Law & Order SVU.

What is your relationship to more traditional models of managing illness, like therapy and/or medication? Do you find them effective? Is accessing them an issue for you?

I am all for medication when I need it. I've been lucky in that I've taken only one medication, off and on, for the past 20 years or so. It works for me, without terrible side effects. I need to get back in therapy. I've seen therapists, off and on, for about 26 years now, which is crazy. I am not an easy therapy patient. I have a lot of walls. Right now, I live in a rural town so I haven't really liked the therapists I've met. One lady gave me worksheets and I was like, "Lady, no." I have no problem accessing these services. I am lucky enough to finally have health insurance and I am comfortable using it to get the healthcare I need. I was not always this way but I no longer feel shame admitting, I'm a good person and I also suffer from depression.

When do you struggle most with self-care? When do you find it easier?

I am terrible about self-care. This is one of my greatest weaknesses but it gets much worse when I am very busy so lately, hot mess there. I find self-care easier when I am not in the town I currently live in, which I hate. When I'm here, I think, "What's the point?" This place is grim. I no longer even try to sugarcoat it.

What's most useful for you in terms of support from other people? Is outside support important for you?

I am also not great about asking for support. I recently went through a pretty bad spell and few people in my life knew. I always find a way to maintain and get things done so people assume all is well when sometimes, it isn't. Really, just companionship, acknowledging that I exist, spending time with me really helps. The isolation of where I live makes me really eager for companionship and a friendly smile.

You're also a freelancer, and you teach, and you run a press, and you do about forty other things on top of that--how do you negotiate the balance between self-care and writing for love and writing for work and working?

Right now, I don't balance self-care and writing for love and writing for work. All I do is work, work, work and fortunately I love what I do so it doesn't much feel like work. I'm also really isolated where I live, not much of a social circle or any kind of support system so keeping myself very, very busy is kind of all I have to keep from really sinking into the void. I suspect work is the most effective way of self-care I have right now.

Roxane Gay lives and writes in the Midwest.

Previously in the Working series: Mairead Case, s.e. smith, Red Mills, Christine Hou, Litsa Dremousis, Jacqui Morton, Gina Abelkop, Elia Osuna, and Wendy Ortiz..