The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Josh Thomas, the hilarious creator, writer and star of Freeform dramedy Everything's Gonna Be Okay, has some stress. The show that he runs is the first in which an autistic main character is played by an actress with autism (co-star Kayla Cromer), and Thomas has been diagnosed with autism himself. He's also gay, and his show's been hailed for its depiction of a gay relationship. No pressure!
And yet Thomas, a 34-year-old Australian whose breakout project was the quirky show Please Like Me, admits that taking care of his mind often falls low on his list of priorities.
"When I see people go home and do things because they're looking after their brain, I'm like, 'Yeah, but I haven't done any of my tasks yet.' So, usually, it's doing my tasks," he explains to Yahoo Life when asked about what keeps him in a good headspace, during an interview from his home in Melbourne. "I'm autistic but, like, I'm so disorganized. I've got ADHD, and I just am always chasing my tail, so I feel leaving a really untidy house and going outside sometimes is really helpful. And then, I mean, I wish I'd had a coffee. It's always so shocking to me when people have time to work on their well-being. [Laughs] I'm just trying to get through the day."
Ahead of the season finale of Everything's Gonna Be Okay on Thursday, June 3 at 10 p.m, here's more about what Thomas has to say on the subject of his mental health, including how he coped during the pandemic.
Even though you said you're just trying to get through the day, you manage to do a lot. How?
GWhen I'm making the TV show, I have an assistant, and her name is Rosemary. And, honestly, that would be my biggest piece of advice for mental health/well-being: et a personal assistant. [Laughs] She, like, keeps all the things nice and makes sure that I have the things that I need, and then I can relax and focus on my job. Otherwise I would just be, like, um… the word I've been looking for is f****d. I'd just be screwed. So, I don't know, what do people usually say on this part… about their mental health? I imagine they, like, take it quite seriously… and they, like, go and do things. Americans as well. They really like to think about it, and they like to go and actively do things that help them. But I've never done anything like that. Honestly, if I manage to pull together breakfast, that's such a big win. And from there, it's like, "OK, wow. You really got yourself breakfast, baby. You're really looking after yourself!" And now, do the Yahoo Life ongoing series [about mental health] via Zoom...
I think what I'm hearing is that part of your way of getting through the day is accepting that it’s going to be out of control.
I think if I got upset when I was late all the time or I missed things, that that would be a very hard life. One of the things about being diagnosed autistic or ADHD is they kind of sit you down, and they give you a list of stuff that you're gonna be bad at. And then I remember that the [doctor I was] talking to about ADHD, she says to me, "You know, [it's incurable.]" Most people, they don't get that, to be sat down, given a list of their flaws and be told, like, "This is never gonna change," right? But I found that really empowering. I was like, "Oh, OK, well, that's nice to know. I'll stop, like, beating myself over those failures." And then it was kind of freeing... I just have to accept that sometimes those things aren't gonna happen and just move on and try to send a nice apology note and not beat myself up over it. So there's a lot of… self-acceptance.
Did you do any dating during the pandemic?
I didn't date during the pandemic. I was single during the pandemic. I really didn't want to get COVID… I was really, like, "Naw, man, I don't wanna get COVID," so I didn’t touch no, like, strangers… And we were filming the show at the end, so it didn't really seem worth it. [I didn't want to] kiss some drunk boy and risk getting COVID, but then now… There's a boy in the back who's listening. [Laughs] I guess I'm not single.
A lot of pressure comes with your job, because your show is held up as an example for the way it depicts autistic and gay characters. Does that stress you out?
The gay stuff I never worry about, because I am gay, right? And I never think about that much... But, yeah, I mean there's never been a show with an autistic female lead ever, especially one that's played by an autistic person, so you kind of have this pressure... When there's a really underrepresented group, you know that they're gonna want to see themselves in that character, but that's not possible. There's a really broad [cross section] of people that have autism, and it involves a lot of different kinds of people. So the way we approach our autistic characters is by just being really specific about the person and just trying to talk about [the character] Matilda and not talk about her autism, which is a thing that I love.
And that was a big creative lesson [from Please Like Me]… just be really specific about the parts; that is better representation than trying to send a message or trying to, like, do good or whatever.
Is there anything that you experienced during the pandemic that you plan to write about?
I got really obsessed with gardening, right? The first step was to put all these worms in the soil, so I got these earthworms. I got really obsessed with, like, burying food for them and stuff, and then I had a worm farm and I put all my food scraps in there. But I never got any plants. [Laughs] I just got obsessed with keeping the worms alive. And that was pretty eccentric, I think… just going out in the backyard and burying leftover pizza that I didn't eat. And then there was this owl that I got really obsessed with. She left me at one point and that was pretty hard.
Did she just fly in your yard?
As I’d fall asleep, she would hoot... We have owls, like, they exist, but you don't just have them in your backyard, right? They don't just live in your backyard. That, to me, is like a fairy tale. So I just couldn't believe it... And then I found out from Americans that sometimes you guys get… the owls spit up the mouse skeletons. I'll have Americans be like, "Oh yeah, they spit up the mouse skeletons and you can piece together the mouse skeleton." And some people do it in, like, biology class or something. So then I spent some time trying to find one of her mouse skeletons to piece together, but I never found one.
I'm just picturing you in this house by yourself, going and looking for mouse skeletons...
Looking for mouse skeletons, burying some food for my worms… When I said, like, "Oh, I feel like I sort of learned how to be independent," I didn't. I just got so crazy, and I just sat with my two dogs and one of them is a psychopath. Literally, she's not a good guy, and I would just kinda make her growl at me, just so that I could feel alive. And so, yeah, I don't know if I learned anything.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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