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Medication, Depression, and I Was Here

Generally speaking, I save my rants for Twitter and not blogging. I try to be more measured and professional in blogging (or writing reviews in other places). That said, yesterday while reading Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, I had some thoughts of the ranting variety that I shared. You can see them in the Storify I made. The link for that is here—I’m having to improvise and paste the tweets in below because of formatting issues.  I am just sharing my thoughts, but you can go to my timeline to see more of the conversations happening if you’re interested.

 

 

  • 102 pages into I Was Here, considering skimming the rest. I’m bored. Assuming she starts hooking up w Ben soon & changing his bad boy ways.
  • Oh good–page 109: taking medicine for mental health issues = feeling nothing.
  • I’m going to keep reading bc some of the pals in my YA book group have messaged me about this book and I’m already wanting that discussion.
  • Oh good–referencing Brave New World and Soma. Is this the new thing to do? Neat.
  • It IS a fucking “act of bravery to feel yr feelings.” Thanks, medicine, for 19 yrs of letting me feel my feelings instead of constant panic
  • I’m medicated. Many of my closest friends are medicated. None of us got help until late teens or adulthood.
  • This medication as numbing agent/crutch/failure attitude is not new. But good god, someone help teens learn that this isn’t true.
  • You know why my own kid is medicated for anxiety? Because I won’t sit back and let him suffer when there are medicines that do SO MUCH GOOD
  • Cody should shove Ben out of the van. He’s a douche who thinks she should be flattered by “but yr not a girl… Not that kind.” Get bent.
  • Mostly I am just yelling at everyone in the last few pages of I Was Here.
  • Stigma. Saddled. Kept quiet. BOOK, I AM YELLING AT YOU.
  • I’m picturing Meg “resting” hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.
  • “I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.”–Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

Obviously the part that bothered me was the attitude toward taking medication for depression. I’ve talked about this issue before with Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Say Goodbye in my Sunday Reflections post, “Mental Health Medications Are Not Your Enemy.” Unlike in Hand’s book, Forman addresses this anti-medication attitude in an author’s note. She writes, “Thankfully, there are treatments, usually a mix of mood-stabilizing medications and therapy. Refusing treatment for depression or a mood disorder is akin to getting a pneumonia diagnosis and refusing to take antibiotics and go on bed rest.” I GREATLY appreciate that Forman includes this, and that she includes links for learning about warning signs and risk factors for suicide, as well as resources for helplines and websites. I do not think Forman is in any way saying that medication is indeed bad, but her character is, and her character is who we see. Will most readers go on to read the author’s note I quoted from? I always read them, but I’m not so sure everyone else does. Will that author’s note erase the damaging message that medications make you  “feel nothing”? Maybe I would not have gotten so bent out of shape if I hadn’t just weeks ago read the Hand book, which put forth these same ideas about “feeling nothing” and also likened medications to Soma from Brave New World. Can this please not be a new trend in YA lit? Because I don’t like it.

 

I want readers to really pay attention at the end of the book (SPOILERS COMING) where Meg’s parents confess to Cody (her best friend) that Meg suffered from depression and had since 10th grade. They put her on antidepressants. Meg improved on them and then wanted to go off of them. Her parents advised her otherwise, telling her depression is not “something that visits once and disappears.” She took medicine. It worked. While she was on it, it worked. But medicine doesn’t keep working if you stop taking it, which is what Meg did. So if she KNEW medications worked for her in the past, why didn’t she pursue them while at college? Why did she assume she would “feel nothing”?

 

To further compound my issues, this nearly final scene of the book, where Cody is talking to Meg’s parents, we learn that, yes, Meg suffered from depression. How did her best friend in the world not know? Well, Meg’s parents decided to keep it quiet. They worried about “saddling” her with the “stigma” of it in a small town. Her parents admit they thought what they were doing was the best thing–implying, I think, that they no longer think that hiding their daughter away and turning her depression into a shameful secret that she needs to keep even from her best friend was the best way to deal with it.

 

I want the takeaway from this book to be that Meg’s parents in fact did not deal with their daughter’s depression well. They got her help, which is wonderful, but they added to the stigma by insisting on keeping it quiet. I want the takeaway to be that when Meg was on medication, it worked, she was getting better, and it was worth being medicated. Instead of pretending to have mono and be holed away in her room, she was able to function again. Will those things be the takeaways? I don’t know.

 

I’m not the first or only person to take issue with how depression and medication is presented in this book (or in recent books in general). I urge you to go read Liz Anderson’s review of I Was Here, which spawned some fantastic conversations on Twitter this morning about mental health, therapy, and medications. There were many, MANY voices adding their thoughts. I suggest checking out this morning’s tweets from  @catagator, @CarrieMesrobian, @CoreyAnnHaydu@aswatki1, @bibliogato, @lizpatanders, and @amydieg. This post is definitely more rant-based than an actual review, but the book helped bring on some fantastic conversations about these issues and I’m grateful for everyone on Twitter who is talking so honestly about mental health treatment. We need to keep having these conversations, whether in reaction to things we didn’t like in books or not, not just on Twitter, but everywhere.

 

For further thoughts on depression, anxiety, medication, and lit, check out the links below. Know of more posts on these topics? PLEASE share them with us in the comments–I’ll update the link list as we find more. 

Alex Townsend’s review of All The Bright Places on Disability in Kidlit 

Liz Anderson at Consumed By Books review of I Was Here

Reading, Depression, and Me by Kelly Jensen at Book Riot

Maggie Tiede’s “Popping Pills: Mental Illness Medications in YA and Why They Matter” at Disability in Kidlit. 

Cindy L. Rodriguez’s “Depression in YA and the Latin@ Community” on Latin@s in Kid Lit. 

 

Have thoughts on this book or this topic? Please leave us a comment. We value your opinions and input. 

Comments

  1. Cindy Rodriguez says:

    I wrote about depression & YA Lit for Latin@s in Kid Lit: http://latinosinkidlit.com/2015/02/02/depression-in-ya-and-the-latin-community/

  2. Stella Jervis says:

    I just read I Was Here and I love it so much. I am very disappointed in this review, especially because I almost missed reading this beautiful book. The book was so well-written, and Cody is such a wonderful and very human character. What a terrible reader you are, and shame on you! This book was not “anti-medication” like you said. A lot happens in it–a lot! And the character that used Brave New World to encourage someone to stay off meds was the creepy bad guy. This book was about grieving for someone who took her own life, about not only the sadness that comes with grief, but also the rage. Sometimes in grief, you’re just angry, not angry at anyone in particular, just angry at the world in general, angry that it happened. It was also about Suicide Support Groups, which are a very real thing, just like Pro-Ana websites, which preys upon vulnerable teens. I could go on and on about how great this book is. What really makes me sad is if Gayle Foreman ever reads your inconsiderate thoughts and feels anything less than proud for the brilliant work she has produced. If you want to read a book that encourages kids to take medication for depression, go write one yourself.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      I have known Amanda for a while now and I know that she reads all books dealing with mental health issues closely and with great care because it is a topic she is very personally invested in. I actually asked Amanda to read this book because no less than 5 of my closest, respected librarian friends had talked with me about this book and their concerns but they didn’t want to go on record discussing their concerns about this book. I also know that in conversation with the teens in her book club that Amanda’s teens have mentioned that they were concerned about the way mental health issues were being portrayed in YA fiction. I think the topic of mental health issues in YA and in our current culture is a very important conversation and I very much would like us all to have it. It is interesting to me that you read it differently and I think that can be an interesting discussion. I want to go on record, however, as saying that Amanda is a very thoughtful reader and I value her opinions deeply, which is part of the reason that I invited her to review here and be a part of TLT. I have had many, many conversations with Amanda about the topic of mental health issues in YA and I really value her opinion because of her dedication to an authentic portrayal.

      As an aside, I always find the if you want a book on x then go write it yourself argument to be kind of an unhelpful comment. We all have opinions about the media we consume, but we aren’t all capable of producing it, either in talent or resources. For example, I would love to see a big release comic book movie starring a female superhero but I don’t have the money or the talent to make it myself, that doesn’t mean my criticism and desire isn’t valid.

  3. Stella Jervis says:

    Thank you so much for your reply. I apologize that my comment was aggressive; I just truly love this book and again, I almost missed reading it because it received such poor reviews.

    I realize that numerous people have concerns about I Was Here, but I respectfully disagree. I also think that this book addresses so many interesting things that are worthy of discussion–class for one, and the other is about grappling with what happens when a friend commits suicide. I think that a lot of focus on the reviews did not even talk about the main character, Cody, and what she went through. When I was in college, a friend of mine committed suicide. We were not very close, but I liked her so much. The feelings that arise when that happens are so hard to describe, because you feel so much, all at once, all at the same time. Perks of a Wallflower addresses these feelings in the very beginning of the book, and I feel like this is what I Was Here addresses as well: the idea of being so close to someone, yet so far away. The concept of living when other people are gone is a difficult one to grasp, especially at such a young age. I think that is what is at the heart of this book, and I also think that it reflects real life.

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