Building an Emotional Support Community with Allison Raskin

March 08, 2021

By Milo Parker

Milo Parker proudly serves as Program Associate for Born This Way Foundation. In this capacity, they support Foundation programming and partnerships including #BeKind21 and Channel Kindness. Milo has been a part of Born This Way Foundation since 2017 when they were selected as the recipient of the Foundation’s Channel Kindness Award in Indianapolis and has since been a contributor to Channel Kindness, including being a featured author of CHANNEL KINDNESS: Stories of Kindness and Community. Before joining the Born This Way Foundation team in this capacity, Milo served as Adviser for IUPUI’s Alternative Breaks program, Youth Delegate for the Youth United Nations General Assembly, inaugural member of Indy Maven’s editorial board. Milo recently graduated with their M.A. in Philanthropic Studies from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis, where they now reside with their Fiancé, Joe, and cat, Delphi.

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Allison Raskin is a New York Times bestselling author, actress, director, and co-creator of the YouTube comedy channel and podcast, Just Between Us, which she shares with her comedy partner, Gaby Dunn. Allison also is a co-creator of GOSSIP, a 12-part narrative fiction podcast, which premiered in June 2018, immediately hitting the worldwide top charts and was later adapted as a television series at 20th Century Fox Television Studios. In addition to that work, Allison is also the founder of Emotional Support Lady, an Instagram and Patreon community focused on sharing mental health experiences. After following Emotional Support Lady for some time, I asked her to talk with me about her experiences of sharing her story and fighting for mental wellness.

Taylor M. Parker: Thank you so much for joining me today for this conversation, Allison! I’m so excited to get into it. I like to start every interview and story by inviting those I’m learning from to introduce themselves as they’d like to be understood and recognized in this moment. So tell me, who is Allison Raskin?

Allison Raskin: Sure! I’m Allison Raskin, my pronouns are she/her/hers. I think the current way I’m describing myself is as a writer, podcaster, and mental health advocate.

TMP: Lovely! That is such a great set of characteristics to bring to the forefront of this conversation! I’d love to get a bit of background on you and what led you to today and your current work.

AR: From a really young age, I knew I wanted to be a writer, or at least I knew I had a real interest in it. At age 15, I was at a summer program at Williams College when a teacher for my writing class told me, “You know, you could be a writer for a living.” I was like “What?!” And honestly, since then, that has sort of been the goal and path. I applied to one film school when applying for colleges, and it was also the only one on the West Coast. I managed to get into USC, much to the surprise of everyone I know, because it’s a really small program! 

So I’ve been out in Los Angeles since I was 18. I’m now 31, and I think I really thought at the start that I’d be going through the traditional TV-writer route, hopefully climbing the ranks through writing assistant positions. But then I took a class about web series. This was in 2010, so my teacher was telling us that everything would be on the internet soon. From that moment on, I was making content for online audiences. I then met my comedy partner, Gaby Dunn! We started a YouTube channel together, called Just Between Us, that I’d describe as an odd-couple comedy show with a blend of sketches and straight-to-camera content. Through that channel, I started to talk about mental health and myself more, and the major transition that has happened for me in the last few years has been veering away from the feeling that I want to be a writer writing fiction or narrative and entering a space where I’m more myself as a podcast host and mental health advocate. I’m putting a lot more time, energy, and thought into the advocacy work I do now, and that’s not what I had originally set out to do! 

 

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Having had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since I was 4 years old, mental health has always been a part of my life and something I’ve talked and wrote about. I’ve been able to see throughout the years that sharing my experiences in these ways has helped people. Sharing my experiences with OCD and anxiety and showing that I am still able to have a life and a career while having these struggles has been really impactful for some people. So I’ve leaned into what was working and what I thought was helping. Then, at the end of 2019, I decided I was going to go back to school, something I never thought I’d do, to get a Master’s in Clinical Psychology with an option of getting licensed as a marriage and family therapist. Or at least, getting licensed after the, you know, 3,000 hours of work.

TMP:Right! That’s intense, but I can see your passion for it!

AR: I’ve been really enjoying it. This has been one of those things that makes you realize that you actually knew nothing about something you talked about so much! I mean, I had my own experiences and some broader knowledge on it, but this past year has really opened my eyes. I’ve become a better person and a much better mental health advocate. It’s also elevated a lot of the work I already did, like the Just Between Us podcast.

 To go along with this, I started the mental health-focused Instagram account @EmotionalSupportLady in October 2020 with the intention of sharing what I was learning in school and what I was experiencing with my mental health in one space away from my more scattered personal social media profiles. A few weeks after starting this account, my fiance abruptly left me. And so, what had started out at this educational platform became where I went to sort of show and note my feelings. I felt that I had already started the account and people were enjoying and maybe even relying on the daily updates, and I didn’t want to stop making that content, but I also felt I had to be true to what was going on in my life.

 

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I’ve often seen mental health content that is avoidant of what the struggle is like while you’re in that struggle, it’s often very retrospective. So I made the decision to publicly show my grieving process and what I was learning about myself and what that was like. The feedback was unbelievable, and I found so many people who had had similar experiences of a partner just abruptly leaving with little to no explanation. Breakups in general are really hard and one of the worst things people go through, but to have the shock element of someone pulling the rug out from under you, and you no longer having control of the life you had been building with this person is devastating! It’s a lot to take on! 

The outpouring of support has really kept me motivated to keep talking about it. From there, because the account was doing well, I also decided to do a Patreon connected to it with a blog post once a week and an original video twice a month, all mental health focused! The guests on the videos range from my friends and their experiences with mental health to mental health professionals. That has really been my baby in this grieving, transitional time of my life, and it has definitely helped me as much as it’s helped anyone else.

 

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TMP: And what a wonderful baby it is! I’ve been following Emotional Support Lady since it started and I’ve been on the Patreon since that launched too. I absolutely adore the work that you’re doing through sharing in this way. It’s admirable – the vulnerability you’re choosing to share so publicly. Personally, I often find myself frustrated when people say things like, “You’re so strong for going through this,” because often strength isn’t a choice people experiencing trauma have. It’s so commonly just forced resilience. So I want to stay away from that particular narrative.

But choosing to share this totally unexpected loss and part of your life in all of the authenticity that you’ve prioritized is so admirable on your end and also just super helpful for so many others who see in this a situation they’ve gone through or a perspective that they hadn’t yet encountered. It’s also just such a gift to get a glimpse into the insights you’re gaining through this experience and your time in school. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for doing this work!

AR: Thank you! I see so much shame around being left and, a lot of times, people feel like they have to spin it to look like a mutual decision. There’s also the unspoken notion that your value is lessened if someone leaves you. For me, it’s really important to fight that and show that this is something that happens to people! It freaking sucks! But you can’t let it destroy your sense of self!

It’s also been really interesting to go through this now knowing that, in the past, I’ve become so unstable and even suicidal following break ups. This is by far the biggest break up I’ve been through – most traumatic, most impactful. I mean, he was my fiance! But I never reached that same low this time around because of all of the internal work I’ve been doing that led up to it and the “safety nets” I created. If anything, that has just really proven to me that this work – putting in the time to tend to your mental health, to go to therapy (if that’s an option for you), to develop coping skills, to learn to love yourself and treat yourself with compassion – works. It’s not just something that people say because it sounds good; it really impacts your life. Life is always going to throw things your way and you can, kind of, prepare yourself for it. I wasn’t lucky with what happened, but I was lucky that I had prioritized myself and done that work to prepare for this process.

 

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TMP: So much happens in the prep work. Tell me more about those “safety nets” you mentioned and how you developed them!

AR: It’s hard because it’s all so gradual. I’m a huge believer in the idea that people can change. There’s a big narrative that you are entirely shaped by your childhood experiences and, while some of that is true, I believe that you don’t have to stay that way. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are very powerful. So in working on the “safety nets,” I started to tell myself a different story and that started with working on positive self-talk and not tearing myself down in my own brain.

In time, I built up a better relationship with myself and started to love and even respect myself more as a part of this process. When you have that level of self-love and self-respect, it’s a lot harder for someone else to be able to knock you down and to take that away from you. In the past, romantic rejection felt very much like a sign that I was unworthy of love, that I wouldn’t have been rejected if I was better or someone else entirely. The work, now, is unwriting that story in my own mind and writing this new story where I am not the one responsible for the behavior of other people.

TMP: That’s a story so many of us could use, myself especially!

AR: Also, having a better belief in my ability to handle things has been a “safety net.” I talked about it in one of my blogs on Patreon, but I had a really devastating break up in 2017. At that time, I went right to thoughts of “I wish I was dead” and “I’m not okay and I’ll never be okay again.” With this break up, even the night that it happened and the following day, I knew I would be okay. I wasn’t okay at that moment, I was hysterical and devastated. But in the back of my mind, I knew that I was going to be okay and that was a new experience for me. I remember even saying to one of my friends, “so how long is this going to be terrible – three months?” It’s not the idea that I won’t have low points but it’s the ability to know that I will be able to climb out from the low points.

TMP: For me, it has recently just been crucial to realize that the head and heart, the logic and emotions, are both valid and valuable but maybe they’re not always in tune with each other or correct. No matter what the low moments in my life have been, getting through them was so often dependent on that understanding. I’m so glad that you’re able to separate those feelings and integrate that understanding into your work!

AR: Yeah, thank you! It really is work.

TMP: For sure! Now you’ve talked about your experiences with OCD and being a mental health advocate for many years. I’m curious about what it’s like being an advocate for mental health and wellness while understanding that your own mental wellness and life circumstances are constantly changing, whether you want them to or not. What has that experience been like for you recently?

AR: Honestly, I’d say my biggest struggle comes from doing so well and feeling like it’s not even valid for me to talk about “struggling” with these mental health issues anymore!

TMP: Turning Imposter Syndrome on its head!

AR: Right? My OCD is so under control at this point that sometimes I’ll even question if I still have it. The level that it interferes with my functioning is dramatically lower than it was at other points in my life. I have to remember, though, that I still have those experiences and I still know what it feels like for it to impact your functioning. But I also know that the work pays off! Being able to share that with people, to show that you can the journey to mental wellness is nonlinear, is so fulfilling. If anything, I’ve lately been feeling unsure if I’m the one to talk about this since I’m no longer in the thick of it, but knowing that my hindsight and perspective are still extremely valuable and worth sharing.

Yesterday, my therapist said something about how part of a conflict with Gaby was caused by my OCD looping around certain insecurities. I had never thought about that before! So it’s also helpful to keep gaining insight on how my past was, what my present is, and how to share those understandings. A lot of what I want to do with Emotional Support Lady is create a space where others feel comfortable sharing too! It’s not all about what happened to me. It’s just like how you feel more comfortable telling your story if a friend shared theirs with you first! I see my role as starting the conversation and passing the mic to others to continue it when they feel comfortable with where they are in their own mental health journey.

TMP: That is so sweet. I hadn’t thought of it as a back-and-forth conversation. I find myself all too often seeing the internet and social media as a one-way road for information that people use for their thoughts, ideas, and memories. But being able to use a platform like Patreon as an area to test out how that conversation could go is super cool, and not something I’ve seen commonly done on that platform. I’m so excited to be a part of it and to see how that conversation goes! So, while we’re on the topic, what are your hopes and dreams for Emotional Support Lady and your work through it?

AR: I view it as a community, so I primarily want to grow the Emotional Support Community. Part of that is increasing that follower count so, when new people go to the page, they’re more likely to follow it and engage with the content. On the other hand, I really want the followers to engage with each other! We can already see that happening in the comments sections on some of the posts, where someone opens up and shares something and someone else thanks them for sharing their experiences. The Patreon also allows people to comment on every post, so there has been a conversation on that platform as well. We even have a Discord server, which I think is a really great way for the young people to build community, at least! I don’t really understand Discord, but people are having these conversations there, too! So the goal is really just to create this safe space for everyone who is interested to discuss their fears and hopes. I’m a big fan of modeling behavior as a learning tool, so this is a great way for us to teach each other about our different mental health journeys! 

TMP: In that effort to make more content and create a narrative around different parts of your mental health journey, how are you navigating boundary setting between what you’re sharing and what you’re working on privately, with your therapist and your immediate community?

AR: I’m always comfortable talking about myself, so the biggest issue with what I refer to as my abandonment is figuring out how I handle talking about my ex. My goal is not at all to villainize that person, it’s to share my experience of what happened. That’s a very fine line to walk! There’s often a lot of mystery around a breakup and confusion from people about what happened. I want to be honest about all of this, including that part too, you know? One night, he just told me something was missing and he was done. We talked on the phone two more times briefly and I have not seen or spoken to him since. So the hardest boundary is finding a way to be true to my experience of what happened and keep it to my perspective rather than assuming his perspective or offering any judgment on what he did. It’s tricky!

TMP: I can imagine! I so admire how you’ve been able to identify that and be intentional about working on it rather than pushing aside that forethought and putting out every thought about why that happened. It shows so much maturity and strength. I also just really admire the intentionality behind your work and I’m trying to find the right words for it!

AR: Intention is something I really work on. I’m always asking myself about the purpose of what I’m saying and doing, why it needs to exist, how it could be misconstrued, and how it could be applicable to a wide audience while only speaking for myself. When I was younger, intentionality was more difficult to navigate so I’m always working on getting better at it as I get older.

TMP: It makes sense that doing this work for a long time would teach you those lessons.

AR: Totally!

TMP: How long would you say you have been doing work as a mental health advocate and putting that kind of information in the public eye?

AR: Probably since I started Just Between Us, so around April 2014, and I’ve been talking about my own journey since then. And with being back in school, I have now pivoted to focusing on a more collective journey of trying to manage mental health and being more informed about other experiences, diagnoses, and perspectives. And advocating for all of us working through it! It’s become a lot easier recently to talk about anxiety and depression, and there’s been a good decrease in stigma around those two disorders, but there are so many more things that people deal with! There’s still judgment of psychosis, misunderstanding of schizophrenia, stigma of bipolar disorder, and more. I would love for us to talk about eating disorders more openly, too! So part of this work is providing a platform for people who have those experiences to be able to talk about them and educate other people. Psycho-education is an incredible tool in improving our collective relationship with mental health. So many people just don’t know about these.

 

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TMP: Exactly, and we don’t know what we don’t know. So it’s not like we have any map for what to learn next or how to properly understand it.

AR: I was listening to a podcast the other day about a woman in her sixties who had binge eating disorder her whole life but didn’t even know that was a thing until recently. There’s so much power in knowing! Before that, she just thought that she did this weird thing that she felt terrible and judgmental about. But once she had the lens of a diagnosis, seeing that this is something so many people go through, she could treat herself with so much more compassion and get the help she needed. 

TMP: I mean, incredible. If you haven’t caught on already, I am just in love with your work! For the younger people who want to share their stories and become mental health advocates, what do you hope they get from this work?

AR: Just the freedom to do it! The ability to see that they can be open about their mental health and still have a life, people that love them, and a job! To see that this is not a part of our lives we need to hide from each other! I also hope that they see the potential that just sharing their experiences can help someone. These days, there’s so much thought around the best organizations to donate to, how to attend protests safely in a pandemic, and trying to figure out these tangible ways to help other people. One of the most tangible and accessible ways we can help others is by sharing our stories, no matter what they are. That was something I didn’t even realize until somewhat recently.

TMP: Well, I am so glad you did and you started sharing your story even more publicly! I am so grateful to have witnessed, supported, and engaged with this work and so glad that we can bring it to Channel Kindness! Thank you so much for talking about this and sharing this part of your story with me!

AR: Of course! I would love for people to check out this work. And, one last thing, life is really tough right now. Please check in on yourself and the people that you loved. Invest in your own little Emotional Support Community and join mine too!

To learn more about Allison Raskin, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @AllisonRaskin. To join the Emotional Support Lady Patreon community, click here or go to patreon.com/emotionalsupportlady.

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