interview by JANA LETONJA

Podcast host and lifestyle content creator Mary Skinner has found a way to redefine what living with a mental illness looks like. In her podcast ‘Prologues’ she lends herself to being more of the internet’s ‘big sister’ as she openly speaks on topics ranging from her mental health journey to her current favorite beauty products. 

Mary, people know you from your podcast ‘Prologues’, where you openly speak on topics such as mental health and your favorite beauty products. What made you decide to create your own podcast?
I felt like I had so much to share that couldn’t be fully discussed within the time and space constraints of an Instagram story or TikTok video. I don’t like how social media tends to encourage black and white, surface level thinking. The issues that all of us face day to day require nuance, reflection and discussion in order to really process. After a few years on social media, I just felt like I was craving a deeper experience. I thought about creating ‘Prologues’ for about eight months before taking the plunge, and I really committed to it in the spring of this year when I pulled back from TikTok. 

‘Prologues’ has become a space where I can connect with my audience through more complicated topics. I’ve made episodes about coming out of a depressive period, my journey with psychiatric medications, my relationship with alcohol, sex advice and the nitty gritty details of getting cosmetic injectables. I also love the fun episodes where I give life updates or answer listener questions. I’ve been really excited and gratified to see the response to each episode. Every week, people message me to say that the episode’s topic came at the exact right time for them. That kind of synchronicity has affirmed to me that starting my podcast was the right choice.

In a world where we are surrounded by many different podcasts, what makes ‘Prologues’ stand out and the one podcast people should not miss?
I think ‘Prologues’ is a bit unique because there aren’t that many creators who discuss living with mental health conditions in an informal, lifestyle kind of way. I’m not here to provide dense educational content, I’m just sharing my life. I want my platform to be a place that gives a splash of hope to anyone who may be struggling, because I openly honor my mental health, and battle it, while still being determined to live a happy, fulfilling life anyway. I also try to provide balanced discussions about the issues that twenty-somethings are actually dealing with. 

In my episode about drinking, I shared how absolutely terrible alcohol makes me feel and yet, it can be so fun. Finding the right balance is a challenge in an alcohol obsessed society. I think that episode made a lot of women feel really seen and it’s been one of my most popular episodes to date. I also strongly believe in a pro-science and pro-holistic living approach to health and wellness, which can be a bit hard to find online. In ‘Prologues’, we talk about non-toxic products, manifestation, supplements and pharmaceutical medicine. I try to be as candid as possible because we’re all just trying to do our best at the end of the day.

You’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and OCD. How hard is it living with these diagnoses? What do you find the most challenging about it?
That’s a tough question. I’ve had mental health struggles since I was 12, so sometimes this just feels normal to me. At the same time, those conditions impact every single day of my life. I constantly feel like I’m balancing on a tightrope. On one side, there’s depression and on the other side, mania, intrusive thoughts and compulsions are just hanging in the air everywhere. I have to be so incredibly diligent about my meds, therapy, self-care, wellness and trauma work in order to not fall off the rope, and it still happens sometimes anyway. I think the hardest part is not getting discouraged and not feeling fatalistic about it. I have to remind myself that it’s completely possible to live a good life, even with mental health conditions.

How do you deal with this and take care of your mental wellness?
By working at it every single day. I know what makes me feel good and what makes me feel awful. Spending time in nature, reading, going offline, journaling, prioritizing my relationships, going to the gym and eating well all make me feel good. Spending a ton of time on my phone does not. And yet, it’s way easier to waste a few hours on my phone than it is to get up, grab a book and get some fresh air. True self care is often taking that harder route. 

How important is it for everyone to take care of their mental wellness, especially in a world of social media and its impacts?
I honestly think it’s hard to even comprehend the negative effects of too much social media until you detox from it. There are so many incredible elements of social media. I follow loads of people that provide value to my life in some way, whether that be through entertainment, inspiration or education. At the same time, I think we all need to be mindful of how much we consume, what we consume and how invested we feel into it. If you can’t fathom 24 hours of not checking social media, I think that’s a good sign that a 24 hour detox would be a great idea for you. Too much time on social media can lead to decreased attention span, increased irritability, depressed feelings, exposure to misinformation or harmful content, etc. 

I’ve been a content creator for about three years now and it took me at least two of those years to realize that social media is lovely in moderation and dangerous in excess. I always tell my audience that I know it sounds counterintuitive for me, an influencer, to tell people to get off their phones, but it’s precisely because of my job that I advocate for time offline.

You quit TikTok as it was creating unnecessary stress for you. What is your opinion on the effect of social media on young generations and especially young women?
I’m a little worried to see what the long-term effects of unlimited social media exposure are on our youth. I’m a ‘98 baby and I’m so grateful that my childhood years were spent mostly offline. Eight months ago I pulled back from TikTok, where I have 1.4 million followers, because I came to the realization that spending a lot of time on the app was hurting me more than it was helping me. A lot of people thought it was an insane decision. TikTok is by far the hottest social media platform right now. It is indisputably the best place to garner views, exposure, lucrative brand partnerships and clout. It was my first platform and is by far my largest. I was prepared for my decision to potentially mean the end of my creator career. Thankfully, it wasn’t. But I made that choice because I was noticing so many negative changes in my own thought patterns. I’m not just speaking as a creator here, I’m also speaking as a consumer. My attention span was pathetically short, I was feeling reactive and short-tempered and I felt like my empathy for other people was dwindling. 

In my opinion, too much time on TikTok can make people start to view the world in a depressing way. Misinformation runs rampant on TikTok because the algorithm rewards sensationalist, clickbaity videos. The time limits on video length can make it difficult to have nuanced discussions. The platform does virtually nothing to monitor anonymous hate or bullying towards anyone. Again, not just creators, but every single person who has ever posted a video. The algorithm is designed to be highly addictive, trapping viewers in hours-long scrolling binges. I was just feeling sad, so I decided to take a break and that break turned into a long-term decision. After a few months of not opening the app whatsoever, not to scroll and not to post, I started posting a little bit again. I probably go on TikTok two or three times a week. I post here and there or I go on to look up something and then I make myself close the app.

I made that decision as someone in their mid-20s. I would not have been able to do that when I was a kid, especially if I was a kid who had never known a world without social media. I’m worried that we’re not adequately teaching our youth about digital literacy. I’m worried that we’re not having enough conversations about how to engage mindfully, how to protect your mental wellness online and how to consume information critically. I’m worried we’re not doing enough to curb incel communities or the misogyny running wild online. My hope is that we can all start being more mindful of our consumption because in today’s world, it’s unrealistic for 99 % of people to not use social media. Our best bet is just being mindful.

Formerly, you’ve been a writer and editor on a military contract. How do you look back onto this chapter of your life? What impact has it had on your life?
What a different time. I started working as a writer and editor when I was 21. It was my first ‘real’ job out of college. I majored in English and had some writing experience, so it felt like a natural fit. I’m also from Virginia and went to school an hour south of Washington, D.C., so at least half of my graduating class ended up working in the industry. Sometimes it feels like a lifetime away, especially when I compare my work in that field to my job now. I went from getting up at 4 am, driving to a military base and working in a secure facility with a security clearance to working for myself and making content. I’m so grateful for the experience, though. I’m grateful for every job I had prior to social media because they have all helped contextualize just how special my current career is. I think that job really solidified my love of writing and editing and I know that I want to incorporate those skills and experiences into my future career path. 

You are also a philantrophist, with huge interests in the National Network of Abortion Funds and the Human Rights Campaign. What makes these two causes especially dear to you? And what is your opinion on both of these two topics?
Those two issues especially are just no-brainers for me. I was appalled when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade last year and that’s when I learned about NNAF. I learned about the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, from a volunteer who was fundraising on the streets of D.C. 

I grew up in a heavily religious environment, so you can imagine the views on abortion and LGBTQ rights. That’s one of the reasons it is particularly important to me to use my time and money to support these causes. I want to get involved in more organizations. I just learned about one near me that teaches incarcerated youth to process their trauma through writing poetry and short stories. I signed up to start volunteering there and I also really want to organize a volunteer day in my area so I can meet up with my local audience and we can all work together. I think I’ve been given a unique platform and opportunity to give back, so I want to prioritize that as I continue on in my career.

You love spending your time with your husband and your golden retriever, but traveling is also something you are very fond of. Which destination is the one absolutely on the top of your list and why?
Somehow I am both a complete homebody and a complete travel lover. My husband is from Scotland and we’re moving there next year, so that will make it even easier to keep traveling. I think my current dream destination is Iceland. My husband and I recently completed the NC500 road trip in Scotland and I know camping road trips are really popular in Iceland as well. I want to see the northern lights, lagoons and black sand beaches there. I also really want to visit Denmark, Switzerland, New Zealand and Japan. Honestly, I want to go everywhere.

What can you share with us about your upcoming projects and ventures?
I’m launching my first podcast merchandise drop this fall and I’m so excited for people to see what we’ve come up with. I’m also in the beginning stages of developing a personal lifestyle brand that will speak to loads of my interests and passions. ‘Prologues’, my podcast, is a top priority for me now and I have so many plans for how to expand and grow. I’m also coming out with an exciting collaboration over the holidays, but you’ll have to follow along to find out what it is.

photography SOPHIA PRICE