“Don’t make friends,” is the only piece of advice I remember my older sister giving me before I went to residential treatment for an eating disorder. So, obviously, I found myself terrified when I got to the treatment facility and found myself surrounded by amazing girls ages 18-30. One of these girls, who ended up being my roommate for a few weeks, was author Emma Anne.
I’ll be honest, when I first got to treatment, Emma is one of the people I was most drawn to befriending. She was up early in the morning before the other humans came downstairs for breakfast, she had awesome music taste, and she was pretty quiet and reserved. Her personality wasn’t loud or ostentatious, but she has this silent willpower that is empowering to say the least.
Whether we were sitting by each other at the dining table, wishing to be anywhere else, or playing cards in the foyer, Emma was always a pleasure to be around. One of my first days there, while working on a project I hope one day to turn into a memoir, Emma told me that she had her own book, Speak Your Truth, which she self-published at the end of 2020. We immediately got to talking about the writing process, publishing, cover design, and the like.
Emma and I, while in different states now, continue to keep in contact via technology and snail-mail. She has graciously agreed to be interviewed for her recovery memoir and I hope you all learn to love her work and her spirit in the same way I do.
Noelle: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. You wouldn’t let me read your book while at res because you felt it may be triggering, but I have since purchased your book from Amazon. I read it cover to cover in just a few hours (I skimmed a few portions because I’m learning to put my Healthy Self first), and I have a few questions I hope you’ll be willing to answer. Firstly, what inspired you to write this memoir?
Emma: I think what really inspired me to write this book was that I wanted to help others. I figured that if I could let people into my mind and my thought process, they would get a good glimpse of what it is like living with mental illness. I wanted people in the psychology field to read it and have a better understanding of mental health with first-hand accounts as well as for people struggling with their mental health to feel less alone in what they are going through.
Noelle: I think first-hand accounts are so important. There are dozens of fiction books on the market that feature characters struggling with mental health issues, but getting first-hand accounts through journal entries is so raw and powerful. Finding the courage to write down everything you were feeling is one thing, what made you think about compiling all of your entries and publishing them?
Emma: Similarly to my first answer I just wanted to get my story out there. I am very open about discussing my mental health struggles. Publishing it was definitely scary because these journals are personal but I did not want to hide my struggles anymore.
Noelle: I’m so proud of you for being willing to share your story. I hope to share my story in memoir form one day as well. Little Noelle is terrified of that thought, but knowing people like you who have gone through with it and made it through to the other side is so inspiring. If you could tell Little Emma anything about the writing process and the self-publishing process, what would it be?
Emma: I would like to let my younger self know that it might feel scary having people read and review your life story and it’s going to be so worth it. It will be worth having these important discussions about difficult topics. It will be worth reading old journal entries just to see how much you have grown and will continue to grow.
Noelle: Not to make this about my future memoir, but I just want you to know that learning about your book has inspired me to make drastic revisions to my memoir-in-progress. At first, I was telling a story through narratives, but now I’ve decided to add journal entries, letter excerpts, and poems as well in hopes that it can capture the essence of what it feels like to be mentally ill. That being said, Speak Your Truth can be very raw and vulnerable. That begs the question, how did you decide what would stay in the book, and what did you edit out of this book?
Emma: Speak your Truth is very raw. I did not filter a single journal entry nor try to make anything more palatable about mental illness, which is what makes it vulnerable. My editor shared with me that most of my journal entries in the book tend to have a subtle positive twist to them, which helped me decide which entries would make the cut. I edited out journal entries that I felt would not be helpful to others. However, I would say almost every single journal entry that I have written during that time is in the book. I only edited out a few entries.
Noelle: Wow, that’s impressive that you managed to keep so much in the book. Writing can be emotionally draining, let alone when you’re writing about mental health. Do you have advice for aspiring writers on how to balance the stress of writing with keeping a healthy lifestyle?
Emma: Take breaks! When I first started this process I tried to type up every single journal entry in one sitting because I was so excited. I quickly found myself getting tired and stressed out. I found it helpful to step away from the computer, close my journals, and take time to rest. I would say take as many breaks as you need, especially when you find yourself getting fatigued or anxious.
Noelle: I feel like taking breaks and giving yourself space to breathe is excellent advice. Just like writing can be emotionally draining, treatment for mental health conditions like eating disorders is also very draining (we both know that first hand). What would you tell the Emma who was starting treatment for the first time?
Emma: I would tell Emma it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to feel all the feelings that come along with something as terrifying as treatment. Treatment is going to be hard. You will have good times and not-so-good times and everything in-between. I would tell Emma that along with all the chaos, you’re going to be so supported and cared for. You will have people to stand by you during your most challenging moments and your most triumphant moments. You will meet people that will change your life and you can handle everything that will be thrown your way. I would also tell her that most importantly, you will survive.
Noelle: That is a beautiful response but I expect nothing less from somebody who managed to make journal entries read wonderfully. Let’s go outside the craft box for a moment, what do you like to do when you’re not reading/writing?
Emma: Anyone who knows me knows my passion for music. I absolutely love listening to music, playing music, and performing music. I play the violin and piano and they are one of my biggest passions. I listen to any and all kinds of music from Indie to Classical to Classic Rock. I especially love listening to music while hanging out with my cat, Luna. She watches me practice piano all the time.
Noelle: Oh my goodness, my cat, Everest really doesn’t like loud noises, but sometimes she’ll sit and listen to me play ukulele and it’s one of my favorite things! I’m so glad you and Luna can spend some quality time together with music. So, I have to ask, are you writing anything right now?
Emma: At this very moment I am writing plenty more journal entries. I am writing about my depression, body image, music, gratitudes. Anything that pops into my mind I try to get down on paper.
Noelle: It was so bold of you to publish Speak Your Truth and if you ever decide to show more of these entries, let me know how to pre-order. Speaking of the future, what is your dream job?
Emma: My dream job is to become a therapist that specializes in eating disorders. I want to give back to others and help others in the same way that I received help. I hope to use my personal experience to give back to the eating disorder community.
Noelle: That sounds wonderful. I know right now, while back in treatment, it may seem like that goal is far away, but remember: YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS. I am so proud of you and cannot wait to see you succeed even more in all you do for the community.
I just want to say a big thank you to Emma for allowing me to interview her. It’s wild that we’ve only known each other for a few months, but those months have been so precious. I eagerly await the day we can hang out in person again. Until then, we shall keep in touch virtually.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Speak Your Truth, you can click here.
Noelle Thomas is a creative nonfiction writer from the greater Philadelphia area. She enjoys space (both outer and personal) & drinking tea. When not in school, she can most likely be found at her gymnastics gym or at the zoo.
by Noelle Thomas