Jobim Novak is a Toronto-based writer, mental health advocate and one of our Friends of Bell Let’s Talk. As a Friend of Bell Let’s Talk, he has been sharing his experience with mental illness and his journey of recovery with Canadians since 2018. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression and anxiety at age 17, Jobim’s passion for creative writing and music helped him through his recovery and has become an integral part of both his personal and professional life. As a facilitator and Ambassador for Toronto Writers Collective, Jobim is helping others to discover their voice and support their own mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic through the process of creative writing.
We caught up with Jobim this summer to talk about how his mental health journey has influenced the work he’s doing now, the transformative power of creative writing, and what keeps him feeling inspired and connected during the pandemic.
Q. You have been advocating for mental health for many years and have been sharing your story as a Friend of Bell Let’s Talk since 2018. What are you up to these days and how have your experiences with mental health shaped what you are doing now?
As of January 2020, I have been working with the Toronto Writers Collective (TWC) as their Ambassador. The TWC provides creative writing workshops for vulnerable communities all over Toronto and the GTA. As Ambassador, my role has been to work on grant applications, partnerships, and to make connections with other agencies and organizations. I have also been trained as a workshop facilitator. There is no doubt in my mind that my experiences with mental health have had a huge impact on what I am doing now. For one, the beginning of my creative journey was initiated by a TWC Workshop, which years ago was held through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. It was in the depths of my struggle with mental illness that I found my voice through creative writing and the TWC prompted that change. Over many years, the TWC staff has seen me grow as a person and a writer. Although I sometimes regret ever having schizophrenia or feel burdened by the need for psychiatric medications, I would not be where I am today without my experiences. I am very proud to work for the TWC because I share the belief that everyone is a writer with a story to tell. To add to that, I am a living example of the transformative power of creative writing and that someone who was at one time broken can become whole again. I feel now that I am living a full life that I must give back and being the Ambassador for the TWC is a great step towards doing so.
Q. What has kept you feeling inspired and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic? How do you take care of your own mental health during difficult times?
When it comes to staying inspired during COVID-19, I find inspiration in the music and writing of others. These things speak to me and move me deeply, thus inspiring me to write and create as well. I also find journaling quite helpful; I set up time to make entries 1-2 times per day. Without these outlets, and the lack of normal social connection, sometimes I feel lonelier. Another thing that helps is talking to my friends on the phone and I have a small circle of people who I see physically distanced on occasion. This alone keeps me connected to the world around me and to the experiences of others. The last thing that helps me feel my best is staying busy. Busy with work, writing, and reading. Without finding something to fill the time, it’s easy to start getting anxious and depressed. None of these things are easy to do, but they make the impact of COVID-19 much more bearable. Staying busy may look different for other people with different interests but for me this is my method of keeping my personal mental health in check.
Q. In your work with Toronto Writers Collective, you facilitate creative writing workshops for people from all walks of life who might be struggling with their mental health. Why is creative writing such a powerful tool for exploring mental health?
There are many reasons why creative writing is such a powerful tool for exploring mental health. The main reason that comes to mind is that creative writing has a transformative effect on mental health, especially mental illness. People who are suffering from bereavement, PTSD (and more) can find peace in creative writing, which can also provide needed clarity and understanding to their lives. No matter what level of mental struggle a person has, creative writing can be a way to express what may be otherwise hard to verbalize to others. Writing also gives order to our thoughts, which can be hard to makes sense of at times. Even if you don’t identify with mental illness or struggle, writing can still provide comfort and act as a positive outlet. Through our TWC writing workshops, people from all walks of life, and with very diverse experiences are brought together to form a community. That too has a huge affect on mental health. These are things that we have come to understand about writing and its nature but it is important to recognize there is still a lot that has yet to be understood.
Q. What advice would you give to someone looking for ways to support their own mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think the best advice I can give is to utilize the things you love to do, to find something that keeps you going. As mentioned earlier, for me that is writing and reading. For you it could be painting, photography, playing an instrument, etc. I think it’s also important to let people know when you are having a rough time. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those that support you. Even if it’s just a phone call, a small connection can add positivity to your day. The reality is that there will be times of solitude, so finding things that make the time go by is crucial. I have had many years of experience being in and out of hospitals and rehab and I have learned that it’s the little things that make a huge difference. It could be going on a walk, a nice phone call or text…the little joys that you don’t notice until you need them.
Toronto Writers Collective is offering free virtual creative writing workshops each week throughout this time of physical distancing. The volunteer-led workshops are open to anyone looking for community and creativity, no writing experience is necessary (attendance is limited, registration is on a first come first serve basis). To learn more about their work, or to register for an upcoming workshop, please visit torontowriterscollective.ca.
To meet the other Friends of Bell Let’s Talk visit Bell.ca/LetsTalk