#MHYALit continues as librarian Liz Anderson discusses her personal experience with anxiety and the book It’s All Your Fault by Paul Rudnick.
2015 was a year which I spent reading more books where mental health played a big role in the story. Some of the titles I read were A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, and It’s All Your Fault by Paul Rudnick, which I reviewed for SLJ. 2015 was also the year I got into a serious relationship, started taking Lexapro, and saw a therapist for a while.
I remember being five years old and my father calling me a worrywart. I’ve always been a worrier. In my teen years, it would hit me at 10:30 at night, when I was supposed to be asleep, and I’d wander to my mother’s bedside, much to her chagrin. Often the worries were about school, but sometimes they were about other things. I’ve always thought of myself as an incredibly sensitive person—I cry really easily and can be hot tempered at times. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in my life where I’ve dissected every single word that’s been used. I tell people that I care about semantics, and it’s true. Sometimes I’ll say, “I wonder why you didn’t use this word instead of that, because it would have totally changed how your sentence sounded.”
A phrase that gets used a lot when talking about mental health is diagnosis. My senior year of high school, when I was having a rough time, my mom took me to a psychologist where I was tested for ADHD and given a diagnosis. Part of me suspected that maybe it worked the same way for mental health. Maybe a doctor says, “Oh, you seem unwell, let us discuss.” It does not work that way.
One summer after work, about three months into our relationship, my boyfriend and I got into an argument. I had plans to meet up with friends, and a misunderstanding had come up as we discussed a separate issue over text earlier in the day. Having serious conversations over text is not something I recommend, but the anxious part of me was saying that we needed to talk right that second. I’ve had to make a big effort not to listen to that voice. Every couple argues, even the ones that seem perfect, and the issue was something we needed to discuss. After I went running with friends who are very dear and let me vent to them, my boyfriend and I talked it out. Those conversations are always hard because you have to vocalize feelings you don’t want to admit you have in the first place, whether they be jealousies, irrational angers, or unfounded concerns.
I went to work the next morning, getting Starbucks on my way in. It was a Wednesday and I had Baby Time, which for me means two crowds of 70 people back to back. I always carefully select which books, puppets, flannel, and music I want to use. What always takes me a lot of time is setting up the chairs. Because of its size, Baby Time is in a big room, and I set the chairs up in something of a square, letting caregivers and children know that they should sit somewhere within the square, whether on a chair or the carpet. As I set up the chairs that morning, I didn’t mean to, but I found myself thinking about our argument last night. Even though we had resolved things, I was still upset and worried. I found myself struggling to breathe, on the verge of tears, hyperventilating, chest hurting. I’d later realize that this was something of a panic attack. After about ten minutes, I felt like I suddenly snapped out of it, and was ready to go ahead and do my storytime.
Afterwards, I talked to a few people who I consider close to me about this incident. I knew that I had no desire to feel this way again, and I also learned that I needed to take agency. I finally made a phone call to my doctor’s office for a 10:45 appointment on a Friday when I had the day off. I spent the entire morning anxious before I went in. What if I sounded crazy? What if my doctor thought I was wasting her time? I went in and talked to her, near tears most of the time. I’m lucky to have an excellent doctor, who explained that the levels of anxiety that are normal for every individual are different, but I felt that mine were right then it was a good thing I had come in. She didn’t give me an official diagnosis. We talked about the options in terms of medication and therapy. By the way, I didn’t find a therapist I liked until the third one I tried. The first one I didn’t jive with, and the second one’s schedule wouldn’t work with mine. I also didn’t make the decision to start taking Lexapro until a few weeks later, and gradually worked my way to what amount made me feel good. I knew SSRIs could have negative effects, and I have a lot of friends who have taken them who very graciously talked to me about them.
I should probably explain a few things about myself. I like to be productive. I had a snow day recently and I did four loads of laundry. I am also a feminist who is passionate about social justice. I’m very opinionated. I care a lot about being the best person can be. I want to do my best at work. When I chose my career, I couldn’t stomach the idea of working for a corporation just to make money for a corporation. I wanted to do something that would make this world a better place. When it came down to being in a committed relationship, I wanted to be the best type of girlfriend I could possibly be, and I wanted to be my best self. Being my best self doesn’t just benefit my boyfriend, but everyone that I consider close to me. Of course, wanting to be the best girlfriend I can be, the best friend I can be, and the best librarian I can be doesn’t mean that I automatically know how to do these things. Months later, I realized that trying to figure out my role in all of these relationships and who I wanted to be was perhaps exacerbating my anxiety. Going to therapy taught me how to better juggle with these questions with the emotions I feel, particularly the ones that I don’t want to admit to feeling.
It’s All Your Fault is the story of Caitlin Singleberry, a Christian girl who struggles with anxiety and is a Singing Singleberry, a member of a singing group that members of her large immediate family have formed. The events of the book take place because Caitlin is tasked with acting as a chaperone towards her wild child and several years estranged cousin Heller. By chapter two, which is page three of the book, readers learn that Caitlin was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder at the age of eight, which she has tried to manage using therapy, medication, deep breathing, and behavioral modifications. Much later in the novel, Caitlin has a panic attack upon learning that she’s been accepted into a School of Arts, and the prospect of singing alone triggers her anxiety. Her cousin tries helping her through deep breathing and then giving her a pill saying “all they do is calm you down, so you can function” (p.219). Caitlin takes the pill because she hates how she’s feeling, and she hates that other people are seeing it. She later learns that the pill was a baby aspirin. Her attitude in this case surprised me. She did give the question of whether or not to take the pill some thought, but she seemed to ultimately take it out of a desire to end a panic attack, which is understandable. Perhaps for this fictional character, taking medication seemed every day. If I was told to take a drug for panic attacks, I’d have similar questions to the ones I had when I started taking Lexapro: what are the side effects going to be? How will this affect the chemistry in my brain? Perhaps the reactions that Caitlin and I have, though different, are both perfectly reasonable. Caitlin does eventually decide to go to the School of Arts, and assumes that she will begin working through her fear of performing solo there.
I will say that I was consistently impressed by how much agency Caitlin took over her mental health. Wanting this kind of agency can be a big step to recovery, but it can also be scary to admit that you need to pick up the phone and call a doctor. As of right now, I am still taking Lexapro, because it still works for me. I’m not sure if it will always work for me. Will I take it for the rest of my life, will it someday become something that I no longer want to take or feel is necessary? I believe it is effective, but does that mean I will always need it? Since stopping my sessions with my therapist, I’ve asked myself once or twice whether resuming them would be beneficial, and how my routine has changed without it in my life. I anticipate asking these questions for the rest of my life, and I’m okay with that. They are not easy questions, but at the end of the day, asking them makes me feel better and is what’s best for my mental health.
Of course, I also have friends like Caitlin, who’ve taken medication for most of their lives, and may take them for a long time. It’s important for teens to see these circumstances in YA books too. But perhaps we also need the teens who ask questions and think long and hard about what’s right for them. The prospect of taking care of one’s mental health and taking medication can be scary. There’s a lot of stigma surrounding the topic. I have a feeling that a lot of teens are like me and had to think long and hard about what medication, if any, to take. I hope to see this further addressed in young adult literature.
About IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT by Paul Rudnick
My name is Caitlin and up until forty-eight hours ago I had never:
Tasted alcohol, kissed a boy, sang in public at the top of my lungs, kidnapped anyone or—WHAT? STOLEN A CONVERTIBLE?
Now I’m in jail and I have no idea what I’m going to tell:
The police, my parents, the mayor, all of those camera crews and everyone on Twitter.
I have just noticed that:
My nose is pierced and I have—WAIT? IS THAT A TATTOO?
I blame one person for this entire insane weekend:
My famous cousin.
Who is also my former best friend.
Who I have HATED for the past four years.
Who I miss like crazy. NO I DON’T!!!!
IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT, HELLER HARRIGAN!!!! (January 2016 from Scholastic Press)
Meet Our Guest Blogger
Liz Anderson at Consumed By Books is a twenty something librarian who reads a wide variety of books, particularly fiction, YA fiction, classics and fantasy.