The singular quality that stands out most about Allison Raskin — a Jewish comedian, writer, scholar and fervent mental health advocate — is her versatility. While some of her audience (including myself) found her through YouTube comedy, we stayed for her candid discussions of her mental health and her passion for supporting others going through similar experiences.
When Raskin discusses the triumphs and challenges of her mental health journey — including her battle with OCD, abandonment, and anxiety — she does so with pride.
“With each difficult experience that you go through, it’s further proof that you can survive that,” Raskin tells me over Zoom at the end of 2021. “Whereas I feel like I can take the approach that every bad thing means I’m bad or I’m worthless or I should give up, instead, I try to see every bad thing or difficult time as something I can be proud of myself for continuing past, and that I can take lessons from. I don’t welcome trauma; I don’t think that you need trauma to be a fully-formed, wonderful person, but I do think you can be really proud of yourself for how you handle trauma. I try to take that approach.”
Raskin’s perspective on coping with trauma feels very Jewish, yet aside from the occasional joke, her work is not really rooted in her Judaism. However, her success as a Jewish woman in content creation, education and advocacy is impossible to ignore.
She has an Instagram, Emotional Support Lady, featuring hand-drawn cartoons about mental health and self-care, and a podcast, “Just Between Us,” with Jewish co-host Gabby Dunn; she blogs for her Patreon and has a second book coming out in April, “Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression.” She also spent last year teaching at USC Film School.
When I ask how she navigates all of her projects and responsibilities, Raskin tells me, “I think one of the things that enables me to do all of that is just organizing my time and being able to leave one project — and even one field — behind. I go from student, to writer, to teacher, to podcaster, to very amateur cartoonist.”
In a wide-ranging conversation, Raskin shared reflections on mental health and dating, the Jewish values of education, her excitement about 2022 and, of course, stories from her bat mitzvah.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What does being a Jewish woman mean to you?
In a lot of ways, I have a complicated relationship with Judaism because I don’t necessarily agree with organized religion, but I also really identify as Jewish culturally. It’s been an interesting journey for me to have both things be true at once — and to really enjoy the cultural aspects of Judaism. I enjoy the traditions and having these different days of the year that mark certain things and getting to see family. I identify as spiritual, versus religious, but I do think that there is room for that in Judaism. I really appreciate having grown up with Judaism in my life, and then, now, as an adult, getting to sort of redefine my relationship to it.
What are some Jewish milestones in your life that have stood out to you?
I have a funny story about my bat mitzvah — I wasn’t really putting in the work, and I had a meeting with the cantor, who gave me a tough talking-to about how I wasn’t prepared. Then, I freaked out, doubled down, over-prepared, and gave an incredible [d’var torah]. My relationship to that experience has even changed over time; at first, I was like, “All I need is someone to yell at me, and then I do a really great job,” but now I’m like, “I don’t like people yelling at me!” I’m self-motivated.
I threw a Hanukkah party at my house a couple of years ago, and no one was Jewish. I was the only Jew, and I was teaching everybody how to play dreidel, and I was singing the prayers. I’ve obviously grown up understanding what Christmas is, and kind of getting the gist of these classic Christian traditions, but even my close friends didn’t know what dreidel was! Being able to share that was really fun.
Are there any other Jewish values that you appreciate or try to practice?
Judaism really loves education and really values learning, and that was definitely something that was prioritized in my family. A lot of times, higher education is not accessible because of the price of it, but the idea that you can continually learn — that you can sort of self-teach [and] you can seek out more information on subjects that interest you — feels Jewish. It’s definitely something that I value. When I wanted to go back to school to get a Master’s that I wasn’t even sure if I was going to use professionally, there was just this idea that the knowledge, in and of itself, is a value.
Can you share the journey about writing “Overthinking About You”?
I came up with the idea for the book in early 2019. I was in a different headspace, I was starting a new relationship, and I [thought], “It’s so interesting to look back on my dating history and how it intersects with my mental health journey.” I feel like I’ve had this real change somewhat recently, and how did I get there? There’s so much shame around the ways that our mental illness can affect how we behave in romantic relationships and how we date, and so I envisioned a very memoir based-book with some expert interviews, but mostly my story.
Through the process of working on it, though, I realized that my story is cool, but I also wanted to give tangible tips and tricks from mental health professionals and from dating experts, and I want to blow this out beyond my own individual experience. I worked with my book agent at the time to develop a proposal that went through many iterations, and, finally, I sold it to Workman and had a wonderful time working with them and developing it. I then had to cold contact all these various people to be like, “Hey, you don’t know me, but can I interview you for this book?” I had a lot of success being able to do that; I had a couple of therapists who I already knew who put me in touch with other people, and they were all just such amazing resources.
I finished the first draft of the book and then my fiancé left me. At the same time as I was like, “Oh my God, my love is gone,” I was also like, “Oh my God, my book!” The book was sort of written from this point of view of having done this work, having made these changes, and now I’m about to get married and you can too. Instead, I was back where I started.
I can’t even imagine what that must’ve been like. How did you turn the situation around?
I realized that I wasn’t back where I started, because if this had happened to me at an earlier time in my life, I would have fallen apart in a much bigger way. I would have beaten myself up; I would have most likely become suicidal; it would have not been good. If anything, going through that experience while I was writing the book was further proof of the lessons in the book. Now, I could use this book as a resource. I ultimately had to completely rewrite the final chapter of the book, which initially was about how you make a relationship last, and included this whole interview with my ex-fiancé. It became the chapter of, “How do you not give up?” It was me just talking about how my worst fear happened and I’m still okay, and that is more important than me writing this from the point of view of being married.
Besides your split from your fiancé, were there any other challenges that you encountered while writing the book?
I’m writing this book from a really privileged point of view, as a cis, white woman who always had access to mental health resources. A fear of mine was making it seem like you need therapy — but people can’t afford therapy — and so wanting to be mindful of that, and that people from different backgrounds have different relationships to therapy. My experience is also incredibly heteronormative, but I still wanted the book to feel inclusive. I did my best to do that, but I recognize that there are probably other resources out there that can better speak to non-heteronormative relationships.
What’s up next for you?
Recently, I was shooting the pilot presentation for my upcoming docu-series about dating with mental illness. I’m really excited. We got six great cast members, we shot three days. It’s basically the TV show of my book, where it’s a dating show about the intersection between dating and mental health. The idea is that I am both a dating coach and a kind of mental health facilitator, where we’re also addressing what mental health needs these people have. It’s also me providing dating tips and tricks, like how you date productively. It was like such a wonderful experience shooting the pilot presentation, and so my fingers are triple-crossed that, when we take it out to networks, somebody will take it. More than anything, these people were so wonderful and so vulnerable, and I know that so many other people will see themselves in their stories.
Do you have any more writing projects on the horizon?
In 2022, I’ll be writing a companion piece book about exploring marriage. At least for me, I think it’s this thing that I’ve always really wanted, but I obviously haven’t been able to make it happen. There is this element of, “How do people make this work? Why does it work for some people and not work for other people?” It’s this huge commitment with a pretty high fail rate, and so if you have anxiety approaching it, it’s like, “Well, am I ridiculous for even trying?” Instead of finding an expert point of view, I’m going to be investigating marriage and what makes it work myself.
Do you have any advice for Alma readers?
As we enter this New Year, it’s important to treat yourself with kindness. As a society, we’ve been through a rough patch, and the end isn’t necessarily clear. In the meantime, if we can be nice to ourselves along the way, it’ll make things a little bit easier.