Hallie Bateman’s instagram was what hooked me first. Her work is relatable and thought-inspiring, and she has a knack for underlining fleeting everyday commonalities that we all share as humans with light and funny ease. Hallie is a writer and illustrator who lives in Los Angeles with her partner and her dog, Spinelli, who you will also regularly see on Instagram. “My dog Spinelli is my constant source of joy. She’s often snoozing on the couch in my office as I work, “ Hallie says.
Hallie is also the co-author of the book What To Do When I'm Gone, which she wrote with her mother and writer Suzy Hopkins. The idea for the book was born on a sleepless night when Hallie was 23 and she had a crippling realisation that someday her mom would not only die, but would continue to be absent as her life chugged onward. So the next morning, she asked her to write a book of instructions for me to follow, starting the day she dies. Her mom laughed, and said she knew what I should do first: make fajitas and pour myself a stiff glass of whiskey. That idea wound up in the book, along with much more funny and pragmatic advice, illustrated by Hallie.
Here Hallie talks about writing poems for her cat, why work comes second and her journey with Trichotillomania, the hair-pulling disorder.
What’s your earliest memory of drawing and writing?
I used to make lots of comic books with my brother Nick. I remember us making a very violent Pokémon comic together in which Pikachu gets torn up by rats and then stitched back together like Frankenstein’s monster.
How important is it for you to consciously look after your mental health?
It’s incredibly important. When I started out, I sacrificed my physical and mental health for my work all the time. But around age 25 it started to sink in that this wasn’t going to be a temporary gig. I realized that if I wanted to do this job for my whole life (which I do) I’d better start taking better care of myself. Now health is my priority. Work comes second.
Where do you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum?
Socially, I’m an introvert who can be extroverted for brief periods. But when it comes to sharing my work, I’m definitely not shy. I love an audience.
Would you say that you’ve been someone who has been aware of your inner world from an early age or is it something you learned about and explored later?
I’ve always explored my inner world through writing, drawing and making movies. I remember writing poetry in a notebook as a little girl after my cat died. I was completely heartbroken but writing the poem helped me feel better. That’s still what art does for me.
As someone in the creative industry and as someone who works for yourself, what are the challenges you face with regards to mental health?
Suffering is romanticized for artists. So many artists have destructive relationships with their work, it can feel like the default. It’s a struggle to push against that stereotype. I’ve noticed I’m often asked “are you stressed?” like it’s automatically expected of me. So I’ve started answering, “Nope! I’m great actually!”
Can you tell us a little bit about Trichotillomania and your journey with it?
Trichotillomania is a compulsive hair-pulling disorder. It’s often triggered by anxiety and is associated with OCD. My trichotillomania began when I was in fourth grade and had just started at a new school. I had severe social anxiety and didn’t have any friends at my new school, so I started to pull out my hair. I didn’t know what I was doing, I just did it — and tried to hide it as much as possible.
In college, I met someone who mentioned they’d had trichotillomania. This was the first time I realized there was a name for what I had, and that anyone else had it. But even after that, I still pulled off and on up until last year, when I made the most recent of many concerted efforts to quit. Today I am nearly 9 months pull-free.
What helped you become pull-free?
I keep track of my days pull-free using a sobriety app, which is really neat. But I truly think talking about it openly and without shame has been the most helpful thing. Besides writing about it on my Patreon, I post “trichotillomania updates” in my instagram stories where I talk about how it’s going. Most people with Trich are deeply embarrassed and don’t like to talk about it. In my experience, this secrecy compounds the shame around the compulsion, and worsens it greatly.
Each time I talk about my Trich on Instagram, I hear from others who struggle with Trich. Each time I talked about it with a friend, they’d know someone who had Trich, or relate to me by talking about their own compulsions. Many people have Trich or know someone who does, and the more we can talk about it without shame, the more people will feel less alone.
What are some of the ways you look after your mind?
I don’t always succeed at any of these, but I aim to: get enough sleep, read a lot, go on hikes with my dog, eat well, take frequent breaks, and socialize enough.
What are some of the things do you stay away from to ensure mental health hygiene? How does that help?
I quit drinking a few years ago and that’s been a huge help as far as keeping my mind clear. I also drink mostly tea instead of coffee because I noticed coffee exacerbates my anxiety.
As a creative person, and as someone with the emotional sensitivity that comes along with that territory, what are some recommendations you would make to other folks like yourself
I’d recommend getting to know yourself better. For a lot of my life, I went along with what other people did, in order to be easy, well-liked and “fun”. But most of the time I just felt confused and tired. I didn’t like bars, but I’d hang out in them often. I didn’t want to eat meat, but I would, just so the person cooking wouldn’t be offended. And many other little things that meant I was living a bit dissociated from myself.
Then one day I made a literal questionnaire for myself. I asked myself what my beliefs were about drinking, food, religion, politics, etc. It blew my mind how much I didn’t know about myself at age 25. So I read books and self-examined until I came up with some solid answers about what I believed and how I wanted to live. That’s when I stopped drinking and eating meat, among other things. Putting up these boundaries for myself was a huge shift. I no longer felt swept up into everyone else’s energy and actions. I felt grounded and empowered to live my own life. To hang out in parks instead of bars, and to eat veggies instead of meat, and to live in accordance with my beliefs.
What’s the weirdest thing about you according to your friends?
I asked and my friend Ariana said: “Probably that you were raised in a unique way on a mountain and didn’t have access to certain pop culture things as a kid.”