Writing as an Outlet: An Interview with Tonya Ingram
Depression can sneak up behind you silently, encompass you, drown you, all the while you’re crying on your bedroom floor thinking, What the hell is wrong with me? It can be hard to cope when you don’t really know what’s happening, but writing is something you can do on the good days or the bad. Writing is your escape. It’s for you — your mind only.
There are many people who can attest to this, including the lovely and talented Tonya Ingram, who has kindly agreed to an interview about her journey with writing. She gives insightful advice for those struggling with physical or mental illness and for those aspiring writers (or casual ones) who need a push from time to time.
(See Tonya’s full bio at the end of the article.)
Q: I first found out about you through your poetry slam performances on YouTube. Did you start writing specifically for slam poetry, or have you always been a writer at heart?
A: I have always been a writer at heart, from journal entries to song lyrics. I was introduced to slam during my freshman year at New York University, but I have been a lover of language far before my first encounter with spoken word.
Q: What is the most difficult part of writing for you emotionally, and overall do you find it beneficial to your personal growth and acceptance?
A: The most difficult part of writing, from an emotional perspective, is allowing myself to be completely vulnerable with my story while challenging myself as a writer. I find myself revisiting themes of family and love lost, and while these topics are incredibly important to me, I am often aware of how I can approach each experience with a new lens.
Q: Any tips for all of the aspiring writers (of any sort) out there?
A: Don’t stop. This advice was given to me a few years ago, and I found it to be so productive. Write through the joy. Write through the depression. Write through the heartbreak. Write through the celebration. Whatever you are writing, do not stop. Also, READ. Great writing comes from reading.
Q: You’ve mentioned in your poetry that you were diagnosed with Lupus and that you have struggled with depression. What helped you (writing or otherwise) come to terms with these? What advice could you give to others about how to cope?
A: Firstly, having the support from family and friends. My good friend and L.A. mentor, Jaha Zainabu, who while visiting me during my hospital stay told me to write through it. I come to understand the world, more specifically my world, when I am able to illustrate it with my words. I was able to describe the impact of Lupus on my body and how depression is a consuming lecture.
My advice to others is to write through these difficult moments — these moments of questioning, these moments of agony, these moments of silence between you and your body — and to listen and to be okay with not being okay.
Q: I absolutely love the messages you share on your Facebook page; they are so uplifting. I know sometimes with my depression it can be hard to believe anything positive. How do we learn to break the cycle?
A: Find your joy. For me, it’s rewatching The Office on Netflix or listening to the Juno soundtrack on Spotify. The messages I share on Facebook derive from an honest place that believes in vulnerability. I know my story is not my own.
Q: I saw that you had recently gotten together with Sierra DeMulder and To Write Love on Her Arms for a special project. Can you share anything about it with us?
A: YES! Sierra DeMulder and I were commissioned by To Write Love On Her Arms for National Suicide Prevention Week to write and film a poem entitled, “We’ll See You Tomorrow,” which was the slogan for this year’s campaign. It is centered around the hope that, even in the darkest moments, knowing you are worth the fight, knowing that you are worth tomorrow.
Q: Depression and suicide, along with any mental illness, aren’t necessarily topics that are openly discussed. How do you think we can change the conversation when talking about such important and sensitive issues?
A: I think if we continue having the conversations we are having, we are doing what is needed. Mental health is a taboo topic for some people, but the reality is that there are millions of people who are dealing with depression. I believe that bringing awareness through the arts is a great tool for connecting with people across cultures because depression does not discriminate. Knowing this, we are able to spread the word of hope to everyone.
Q: Lastly, I was wondering if you have any personal words of wisdom or mantras you live by; maybe something that could provide hope and a little sunlight for any of us that are just having a plain bad day?
A: Today, I woke up questioning. I questioned my ability to forgive. I questioned my story. I gave someone the power to tell me how to process, how to navigate this life. However, I have come to realize this: I am, often, too aware of the space I occupy in a room. I am constantly minimizing who I am to make others comfortable and, as a result, have been left empty and apologetic. It is unfair to the development of my whole self to allow ignorance to keep me away from all that I am meant to be. This I am sure of; I have lived through the wreckage. I am proof of the flood. I am my mother’s daughter, constantly making efforts to uplift the narrative. I have shared stories of sadness and triumph with people across the world. My brilliance is in the process of full bloom, and I do not have time to let anyone interrupt all of this God-given excellence. I am too much of a miracle to be stopped by one’s disbelief. I am the doorkeeper to a life where I choose to learn how to heal. I am here for those who are willing to listen. I am here for those who find themselves questioning. Know you are worth your name embedded in the stars. I am here for hope. For my self-care. For my story. And I am just getting started. I am worth the fight. Everyday is mine.
More About Tonya:
Tonya Ingram is the 2011 New York Knicks Poetry Slam champion, a member and co-founder of NYU’s poetry slam team, a member of the 2011 Urban Word-NYC team, the 2013 Nuyorican Grand Slam team and the 2015 Da Poetry Lounge Slam team. She is a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of Growl & Snare. Her work has traveled throughout the United States, Ghana, The Literary Bohemian, Huffington Post, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, LupusChick.com, For Harriet, Buzzfeed, Afropunk, Rude Magazine, Cultural Weekly, The WILD, Upworthy, To Write Love On Her Arms, YouTube, and season four of Lexus Verses and Flow. She has shared the stage with Hill Harper, Soledad O’ Brien, President Clinton, Anthony Hamilton, Lynn Whitfield, and others. She is a New York University alumna, a Cincinnati native, and a Bronx-bred introvert who is currently residing in Los Angeles, where she is pursuing her MFA in Public Practice at Otis College of Art & Design.