Tangela Williams-Spann is a mental health and wellness blogger as well as the mother of an autistic person. She has worked in special education for over fifteen years and is currently completing coursework towards a Master’s degree in Special Education at Grand Canyon University. She began writing poems and short stories in elementary school and continued to let words move her into action throughout her life. Her creative writing has appeared in Tangled Locks Journal, Sledgehammer Literary Journal, as well as Limeoncello Magazine. Her first book, Sad, Black, and Fat: Musings from the Intersection, will be released in August 2021. When not writing, Tangela enjoys reading, crochet, and playing video games.
Tangela agreed to answer a few questions about her debut, a collection of deeply personal poems and essays addressing living life through the lens of mental illness and the work of wellness. I found this book to be accessible and heartfelt. It would make great reading for anyone struggling to cope and needing to see themselves as capable and less alone.
PersephoneKnits: Who were you thinking of when you decided to put these poems and essays into a collection? Did you have a reader in mind?
Tangela Williams-Spann: When I originally wrote most of the essays, I was just venting. I didn’t have anyone specific in mind at the time. My book started off as blog posts believe it or not! I was primarily looking for a way to work through some tough feelings and writing is cheaper than therapy. After I decided to create the book, my goal was to share my story as a way to show that depression isn’t the end. I needed to let people like me know that they aren’t broken and alone. I wanted to help people to feel more comfortable in talking about their own pain and suffering. That’s the only way we can finally overcome the huge stigma surrounding mental health. It’s something we all face from time to time and we don’t talk about it enough for my liking.
PK: Who inspires you to keep going when you are feeling overwhelmed? Are there books you return to over and over for inspiration and grounding?
TWS: When I feel like I don’t want to write anymore, it’s my mother’s voice in my head that tells me to keep going. I know that might sound like a bad thing to some folks but she’s always been my biggest cheerleader and example. She has always pushed me to pursue my writing dreams and I can’t let her down. On the flip side, I have a lot of mental illness present in my family. Some of it is diagnosed but a lot of it isn’t. I feel like this gives me the authority to push for people to talk about their struggles candidly and to seek treatment. I’ve lost loved ones who were really suffering underneath the weight of mental illness, trauma, and social stigma. I don’t want to lose anyone else needlessly.
As for books, I’ve really enjoyed Jenny Lawson’s books about her own mental illness battles. Her writing is easy to connect and identify with and she’s hilarious! I also like Mindy Kaling’s and Laurie Notato’s books for similar reasons. Their messages don’t get lost in fancy words and the reality is very relatable. Ijeoma Oluo’s Mediocre was a huge motivator for me to get this book finished and strive for success as a writer. That book showed me how much can get accomplished if one moved with the confidence of a “mediocre white man” in society. What a concept! Plus, Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes was very inspiring. I stopped counting myself out without making the effort to be great. I stopped asking, “Why me?” and started asking, “Why not me?”
PK: Talk to me about the fear in writing. I know you mention in the book that writing is what helps you cope, but sharing that writing with readers is a big step. How did you approach that vulnerability?
TWS: Luuvie Ajayi has a TED talk called “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” In it, she talks about shaking off discomfort to speak our truths. The world needs our messages and lessons, and they can’t help anyone if we remain silent. I have taken this to heart with all of my writing. If I wasn’t meant to speak out, God wouldn’t have given me words.
Also, I feel like I got to the point in my healing journey that I wasn’t ashamed of myself anymore. I can take responsibility for my actions and can hold myself accountable for them in the face of anyone asking questions. When I dropped that shame, I got free of a lot of things holding me back. I want that freedom for everyone, so I act as an example.
I loved these answers, and the book reflects Tangela’s healthy attitude and outlook. This is a compassionate work, and I hope you’ll take the time to check it out. You can pre-order your copy here. Tangela’s blog is also full of helpful posts about living with mental illness and coping with stress, you can read more here. Follow Tangela on Twitter where she’s active in the writing community.
Thanks for reading!