Personal stories, Positive mental health

22 March, 2021

“Be intentional: the future is unpredictable”: WIMS Q&A with Stefanie Preissner

Through our Walk in My Shoes (WIMS) conversations, we look to explore how different people are minding their mental health and help us all move through the COVID-19 pandemic together.

We’re delighted to chat with the award-winning writer, showrunner and actor, Stefanie Preissner. Known for creating and writing the comedy-drama Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, publishing two books, hosting her own podcast - among just some of her activities - Stefanie has been reflecting on young people’s experiences and contemporary life in Ireland over the last number of years.

"My life’s work for myself is to try to accept that change is always coming."

Here, Stefanie tells our WIMS Project Manager, Amanda, about how she has been managing her mental health, adapting her routines and preparing for change during this time.

"My life’s work for myself is to try to accept that change is always coming."

The last year has been a challenging and strange time with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. How have you been looking after your headspace?

At the beginning, I seemed to be able to manage my mental health with new routines and deliberately contacting friends to have positive and affirming conversations. It can sound corny, but we would share two or three things every day we were grateful for. That, plus the perspective of no-one in my circle being sick with COVID-19, was enough to keep me hopeful.

As time went on, the restrictions and the change were like an abrasive force on my mind. I was no longer able to manage by being intentional and deliberate with positivity. Some days, gratitude evaded me; I couldn’t see the positive or the hope in what I was doing. At that point I contacted a mental health professional because I know that I alone or my friends are untrained and it’s not wise or fair to turn to someone unqualified when you need that level of support. I wouldn’t turn to my friends for a dental filling or a root canal, so why would I turn to them with an acute mental health issue? So, now I am able to maintain my friendships because I have ongoing professional support.

You’ve spoken openly in the past about your mental health and coping mechanisms that work for you. Can you share some of those coping mechanisms with us? Have you had to adapt your coping skills during the pandemic in any way?

My coping skills, like most people’s, have largely been taken away from me. I cope with stress and anxiety by getting nervous tension out of my body through movement. That used to be at the gym or jiu jitsu club but all of that is gone now. I have adapted by meeting my trainer over Zoom twice a week.

Another coping mechanism I have is meeting friends. Again, not allowed. I don’t like to text too much and I absolutely hate phone calls, so I have adapted to sending some voicenotes when I feel I have the headspace to engage. That way, it gives the other person a chance to respond when they too have the energy. We’re all going through this pandemic, and our levels of ability to cope with extra stress changes on our own axis. I think it’s important not to assume that if you’re having a good day that everyone is.

Have you taken up any new hobbies or skills since the pandemic began? Do you think you’ll continue them as times goes on?

I’m doing a lot of jigsaws, and getting out walking. Those were things I enjoyed before but now I have more time for them. It’s definitely something I’ll keep up.

You’re an award-winning writer for screen and stage, a columnist, author and director, and you also have a podcast. How do you juggle it all?

I don’t do all of it every day. That’s the joy of it. Some days, I sit down to write and nothing comes. So, I have other things that I can pivot to: I might plan a podcast or do some research for an article. I’m so grateful to have that level of diversity in my life. I also don’t work too hard. I am in bed every night by 8pm and I don’t prioritise my work over my life.

Your work captures the realities and experiences of younger generations in Ireland in a very natural and relatable way. How does it feel writing for audiences who are looking to feel seen and heard and even to be inspired?

It feels very real, because I also look elsewhere to feel seen and heard. I have a deep longing to be known fully, and to be absolutely accepted in all my flaws. I try to give that to people through my work. The idea that someone is out there, feeling alone because some aspect of their internal life hasn’t been expressed in media, or hasn’t been externalized to the degree that they have identified it outside of themselves, is scary. I just want people to know that nothing they ever feel, do, think or want is something that could isolate them.

You say fitness plays a significant role in your life with regards to your mental health. How do you stay so motivated when it comes to exercise?  

I don’t rely on motivation, because motivation comes and goes: I make it a habit. It goes in my diary like anything else; that way, I don’t have to depend on my motivation. What I do and what I feel are separate. If I don’t feel like having a workout session, it doesn’t matter, because it’s booked. Now, If I’m feeling unwell, I don’t push it. But if I’m just not motivated, that’s not an issue. I’ll still go.

Is there a piece of wellbeing advice you wish you had heard when you were younger?

No, I never listened to advice. Young people shouldn’t have to listen to advice from people who have learned from their mistakes. We need to give them the security and courage to make mistakes themselves.

What message would you send to young people to help keep them motivated as we continue to live with some form of uncertainty over the months ahead?

Uncertainty is exhausting and frustrating. Focus on what is certain: the next meal, the next book you read, the next email you send. Be intentional about those things; the future is unpredictable. My life’s work for myself is to try to accept that change is always coming.