From Depression to Creativity; Our Exclusive Interview With Arab-American Writer Jean-Sim Ashman

Every day millions of children get bullied around the world which usually leads to a lack of self-esteem, and sometimes mental illness. It could leave scars on one’s personality for good, but the Arab-American poet and scriptwriter Jean-Sim Ashman refused to let her experience with bullying affect her future.

She used writing as a way of venting and expressing herself, and when it was the right time for her, she shared her work with the world. She published her first book “Cathartic Pillow Talk” in August 2019, and prior to that she worked on Hollywood blockbusters like “The Star” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.

We had an interesting talk with her, and here is everything she told us about her journey.

You grew up in the Middle East, tell us your ‘origins’ story – where did you grow up, and how did it affect you?

I grew up in Dubai, and it was a great experience because I was surrounded by a diverse group of people. I think it shaped me into the accepting, open-minded person I am today. I think I took it for granted because. Since leaving Dubai, I’ve lived in a few other cities, and no city compares, in terms of cultural awareness/acceptance, at least not the ones I’ve lived in.

Talk to us about your journey from being an uncertain kid struggling with their mental health to being a successful writer?

My youth was difficult. I was bullied relentlessly and it negatively impacted my self-esteem, and ultimately led to my struggles with mental health. However, the older I got, the stronger I became because I found ways to cope with the bullying. Writing was the outlet I used to purge my emotions. It feels great seeing how far I’ve come. Never in a million years did I think I’d be where I am today.

What motivated you to become a writer?

It was “accidental” and unplanned. From the time I was in middle school up until high school, I wrote poems as a way to destress. Then I stopped writing poems for more than five years. I was busy working, doing other things. However, in my adulthood years, I faced some stressful times in my life, yet again, and I decided to turn back to writing. I had a bit of an early mid-life crisis, you could say. I wanted to push myself outside of what made me feel comfortable, so I wrote some more poems, and then I published everything I had written – from middle school up until my adult life

Describe your Hollywood experience, what was your biggest challenge, and what was your biggest win?

I think my biggest challenge and biggest win are the same. Making it. I had to prove myself to everyone in this industry that I was capable. It took years just to get my foot in the door, and once I did, it was quite a win. But Hollywood wears you out. It’s superficial, tiring, competitive, and at times, nasty and humiliating, especially when people play unfair and screw you over. There were some good times. They say “never say never;” I might get back into the Hollywood scene at some point in the future. But not now. 

Talk to us about your recently published book, what inspired you while writing it?

 My inspiration came from everywhere – current affairs, love, heartbreak, nature. Some of the poems are about other people’s experiences. I would observe what my friends were going through and then I would write poems as though I was in their shoes. There’s a lot of personification in my work; metaphors too. I don’t want people to interpret my writing at face value. You need to dig deeper to understand the true meaning of my work.

Do you have a message to people with mental illness, what is it? what is the message you want to deliver through your work?

Communicate, speak up, and don’t be afraid to get the help you need. The reason why my mental health got to a rather critical point was because I wasn’t getting the help I needed. I knew I needed help but was too scared to get it because of fear of ridicule, especially living in a Middle Eastern society. I would like to believe that the message I share with my readers is to never be afraid to say what’s on your mind. 

I hardly found any pictures of you on the internet, is this intentional? if it is, what’s your purpose behind it?

You have quite a keen eye! Yes, that is intentional. I think there is only one photo of me online, and I look completely different in that photo than I did when I was growing up. Growing up, I had long, light-colored hair, and now I have short, dark hair. I dyed my hair and kept it short ever since I was bullied. I thought changing my appearance would help. It didn’t. However, I’m used to having my hair like this, and I rather like it.
Now that I’m a writer, I don’t want people to focus on my appearance. If people are going to criticize and judge me, I want it to be for the content of my work, not my looks.

What are you working on nowadays, and how are you feeling about it?

I’m taking life one step at a time. I’m torn between getting back into film festivals or writing another book. Film festivals are more time-consuming and I get more emotionally invested when making films for festivals because you pour so much energy, resources, time into making them. I enjoy writing because I get to do it at my own pace. Although writer’s block can definitely demotivate me.

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