Sometimes it can be difficult to stay grounded through life’s challenges, and sometimes it can even be difficult to enjoy its high points, but Matilda Heindow, a 23-year-old artist and mental health advocate based in Stockholm, shows us that it doesn’t matter what is happening in our life, we are someone worth taking care of.
I’m not the biggest fan of social media,” she says. The irony of this is not lost on Matilda, who — having been diagnosed in 2015 at only 15 with bipolar disorder followed by ADHD, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety — created her now much-loved Instagram page @crazyheadcomics, where she shares cartoons that cleverly skewer truths about mental health with wit and empathy to over half a million followers.
“I hate the influencer self-care trends and how tied to consumerism it is. Like you need this particular bubble bath, face mask or nail polish to create the perfect self-care ritual.
“When, in reality, self-care is often as simple as cleaning your flat or finishing that one job that you’ve been meaning to do for ages. It can’t be boiled down to consumerism and what you can buy. It’s exploitative , but markets know that there are millions to be made from mental health.”
When I first met Heindow, I was taken aback about how open she is about talking about her struggles with mental health.
She’s been there and gotten the therapy and is breaking the stigma surrounding mental health by sharing her own experiences while encouraging others to do the same.
She uses her platform to promote understanding and support for those going through similar experiences and has spoken at various events and worked with organizations to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Heindow’s advocacy work has not gone unnoticed, and she has received numerous accolades for her work. In 2018, she was named as one of the top 10 digital leaders in the UK by Digital Leaders, and in 2020 she was listed as one of the top 100 most influential women in tech by Computer Weekly.
One of the key messages that Heindow emphasized was the importance of seeking help when struggling with mental health. She encourages people to talk to friends, family, or professionals, and is determined to change the narrative that is a sign of weakness.
“Your whole life trajectory changes when you are diagnosed with an incurable mental illness which you are going to have to live with for the rest of your life. You see a team of doctors, nurses and psychiatrists and are put on all this medication, that you feel part of a science project.
“To me, mental illness is a hierarchy of needs which I believe social support is the very foundation of. The most important thing we can have as people is community and feeling like you belong with the people who have your back.
“But there’s a shame. We shush the conversation about mental illness because it’s not something we can define or cure. And people don’t like that.
“As a species we like to be able to put things in boxes tied with neat bows. But we have to get better at talking about it. If we just scratched the surface and said, ‘I’m anxious’ or ‘I’m feeling depressed’, then we start the conversation, which may be uncomfortable at first, but like anything, the more frequently we do it the easier it becomes.”
This is the inspiration behind Heindow’s debut book The Art Of Feeling Better. A beautiful collection of original illustrations, accompanied by short pieces that tackle the stigma surrounding mental health head-on.
Written from the heart, stories are easy to dip into when you need comfort or advice. Heindow holds the reader’s hand through those tough moments when feelings are too much.
The attention to detail demands the attention of the reader, as Heindow wears her heart on her sleeve, shares her own journey with mental illness and provides practical advice and tools for those who may be struggling with their mental health.
The book is divided into several sections, each addressing a different aspect of mental health. Heindow starts by discussing the importance of self-care and self-compassion, emphasizing that taking care of oneself is not a selfish act but rather a necessary one.
She then delves into the topic of therapy, providing guidance on how to find the right therapist and make the most out of therapy sessions. The book also touches on the impact of social media on mental health and provides advice on how to set healthy boundaries online.
“You don’t need to wait until you suffer from a mental health condition to start looking after your mental health. Like a lot of things in life, if we start introducing preventive measures, we can put barriers or routines in place which will support us in our hours of need.
“Our mental health is no different. Everybody can also relate to mental health in some way. Mental illnesses are a bunch of symptoms combined, which can often be overwhelming. I like to think my work puts these really difficult thoughts and often complex language into simple terms.”
Heindow is open about the fact that she has lived the majority of her life with an inescapable feeling that she, and many other people who suffer from mental illness, are failures.
This is because their mental health has hindered them from doing well in school and integrating into the workplace. Heindow herself started working after high school for a few years, before really giving freelance illustrating a proper shot.
In response to her fear of failure, Heindow stood up valiantly and turned this on his head: “I was worried for years about my inability to cope in society.
“I felt like a failure because I couldn’t live up to the productivity standards set by this modern world. I’d burn out quickly, and therefore got fired from jobs.
“But now I ask myself, am I a failure or have I been failed by a society that is not accessible to those of us with chronic disabilities and mental illnesses?”
Heindow spoke about this in her Ted Talk, ‘The Art of Mental Health Advocacy’, where she highlights that when we talk about mental health we often speak of it in the context of brain chemistry and genetics, symptoms and diagnosis, but rarely through the lens of class and material conditions.
“Mental health is a burden in communities who struggle with poverty and oppression. We need community engagement to function, such as community care and health care, not self-care and wellness breaks — especially for those people who don’t have the finances for therapy or treatment.
“We place the responsibility on the individual, when the responsibility should be on the shoulders of the leaders of our country. It needs to start with the teaching of mental health in schools. Only then will we completely remove the stigma attached, while also teaching children ways to cope and embrace their vulnerabilities.”
Heindow dares you to be vulnerable alongside wise words on finding your optimism, what to do with the feeling of not being good enough and tips for building a mental health toolkit that works for you.
She finds beauty in mundane, because she knows that when she is struggling, her happiness won’t be found in retail therapy — as we’re told online — but in the simplicity of the everyday and with the people she loves the most. “That’s where we feel safe, comforted and alive, and can make even the most difficult days that little more bearable,” she says.
Heindow’s message of hope and her emphasis on the importance of seeking help is crucial in a world where mental health struggles are often stigmatized and ignored.
Her book is a must-read for anyone who has struggled with their mental health or knows someone who has. The Art Of Feeling Better does exactly what it says on the tin and in a world of Love Island and Keeping up with the Kardashians, being a Heindow is pretty damn special and something that should be celebrated. And as a father of two boys, The Art of Feeling Better will be waiting on their bookshelf whenever they may need it.
The Art Of Feeling Better, How I Heal My Mental Health (And You Can Too), published by Vermilion is out now in hardback. Check out more of Matilda’s illustrations on Instagram @crazyheadcomics