Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Resources: #MHYALit – Teens and Addiction Brochure

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Earlier this month, I shared two brochures that I created for my library regarding sexual violence and suicide for teens. At that time I was researching and attending some local training about the current opioid epidemic. As promised, I created a brochure and am sharing it with you today. The contact information is local information and the titles are titles that I have in my collection, they are by no means comprehensive.

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real talk addiction brochure 2

Resources: #SVYALit and #MHYALit – Teens and Suicide, Teens and Sexual Violence Brochures

Due in part to the discussions I have been having surrounding the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, I made an informational brochure on the topics of suicide and sexual violence for the teens at my library. I am posting them here for you and you can use them if you would like. A few notes though.

One, these contain titles that I currently have in my library on the subjects. I have been working on my next book order and I am working to make sure to include highly recommended titles and titles that feature diverse MC or are Own Voices on these subjects in my next book order.

Two, I think you can easily make corrections or additions by downloading book covers you have in your collection and overlaying them in a graphics program if you wish.

Three, we checked multiple times because I’m me for typos, so I hope there aren’t any.

I am also working on one to address the current drug/opioid crisis that we are witnessing nationwide and in the county that I serve, but that one is taking a little more time. I could quickly pull information off of TLT to make these two given some of our past projects, but I am just mow starting to really dive into the facts and figures of the opioid crisis.

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real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

real talk sucide brochure page 1

real talk suicide brochure page 2

 

#MHYALit at Teen Lit Con

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This past weekend TLTer Amanda MacGregor presented a session at Teen Lit Con on Mental Health in YA Lit. She references and draws on the work that we have done here for the past year and a half discussing mental health in YA lit as part of the #MHYALit Project. You can read a recap of her presentation here at the link below. It contains slide recaps and a list of recommended books.

Twin Cities Teen Lit Con 2017: Mental Health in YA Literature Presentation

In Our Mailbox: More Thoughts on 13 Reason Why, Teens and Libraries

Trigger Warning: Discussion of Sexual Violence and Suicide

So I received a message in my email asking my thoughts on 13 Reasons Why and programming. At the same time, Heather Booth was thinking about doing a book discussion and she tweeted out asking people their thoughts, so we called and talked about it. Here’s what I’m currently thinking about 13 Reasons Why, libraries, teens and programming.

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1. The Contagion Effect

In my previous post I alluded to the fact that for reasons that we don’t quite understand, when a school had one suicide they will often have a few more. The term I was looking for at the time is the Contagion Effect. Alexandra Duncan wrote an amazing thread on the teenage brain, mental health and the contagion effect with links to good resources and I highly recommend that everyone read it. When we talk about teens and 13 Reasons Why I think it is important that we keep this information in mind.

2. We Are Not Concerned with Teenage Intelligence, but with Mental Health

Some of the conversation I have seen regarding 13 Reasons Why suggests that this is adults once again not respecting the intelligence or depth of teens, and I think that is not what is happening here. This is about recognizing, as Alexandra Duncan mentions above, that mental health is different then intelligence. People who struggle with mental health issues, depending on what those issues are and where they are at in their treatment, can respond differently to the same input as a person who does not struggle with mental health issues. There are definite times when that mental illness works really hard to trick us into thinking things about ourselves, our worth, that are a skewed distortion of the truth and it’s easy to see how people in vulnerable situations may react differently to the graphic conversations and depictions of suicide depicted in 13 Reasons Why. It’s not about not respecting teens, it’s about respecting teens who may be struggling with mental illness and understanding how triggering this can be to some of them. It’s also about respecting experts who have dedicated their lives to learning about their field of study, remember it’s not just random adults and parents who are concerned with the on screen depiction but mental health experts with knowledge and experience.

3. Speaking of Experts

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I have no problem with the idea of having book discussions or programs on controversial materials or subjects, I just recommend thinking about how we approach those. For example, I have worked at libraries where we have had programs on teen dating violence and domestic violence. The difference is that I had an expert come in and do those programs, and I would recommend the same when talking about 13 Reasons Why which involves mental health and suicide. This isn’t just a program, it’s a program about a topic that is literally life and death and it’s important that we acknowledge the weight of that and respect it. Having an expert on hand to facilitate your program/discussion and to answer any questions is important to make sure that teens are getting the most correct information available to them. If our goal is to serve teens and recognize this important discussion that they are having, then let’s serve them well and make sure they are getting the best information out there on such an important and sensitive topic.

4. Remember, Programming is Opt In

The truth about any book discussion or program in a public library is that it is opt in. This means that our patrons make the choice to come. As long as our marketing is truthful and fully informs our audience of the content of the program and the sensitive nature of the topics, I do think if done well that we can talk about sensitive and controversial things. We put the program together and invite the public, each individual decides whether or not they want to come. Our library system is in its second year of hosting the Great Discussions program, which can in fact contain some controversial topics and discussions. The key is making sure in our marketing to fully inform our prospective audience of what those topics are.

5. What’s the Very Least a Library Should Do Regarding 13 Reasons Why

The popularity of the Netflix series has brought the topics of sexual violence, bullying, mental health and suicide to the forefront of teen discussion. Not only are teens talking about it, but parents, teachers and community members are as well. So this is where we put on our information specialist hats and be pro-active rather than reactive. At the very least, take a moment to review your library policy and inform staff what they are legally and morally required to do if they have a conversation with a teen who they suspect is in some type of harm or danger or at risk for committing suicide. This is an important conversation for librarians to be having with their administration.

Second, think of having some type of resource ready should questions come up. Make sure you have access to a couple of articles regarding the book and show, have a list of some companion reads, and – MOST IMPORTANTLY – make sure you have a list of local and national resources available. There is a National Suicide Prevention Hotline (shown below) and you may want to put up signs in the library letting that information be known. Locally you may also have some resources that you want to know about to share with patrons.

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And finally, a word about streaming the Netflix show in the library. Netflix contracts do not legally allow for the public sharing or streaming of Netflix content, with the exception of The 13th which has been given special permissions for public streaming. In addition, this show is rated M for mature, and if you haven’t watched it yet you should know that is has graphic language, graphic rape scenes, and a graphic depiction of suicide.

And I want to reiterate my previous concern that while it may be great that this book and this show are out there getting teens to talk about very real and important topics that affect them, not all teens have someone to talk to about these topics. And I would caution librarians to think long and hard about what types of conversations they want to have about teens regarding these topics. Know the law, know what your administration will and won’t support, know when and who to refer to, and remind teens that although we may be valued and trusted adults who are experts on the topic of librarianship, we are not experts on the topic of mental health but we will help them find the answer to their questions.

What about sharing our personal stories? I think that is a personal decision that each librarian has to make. And again, each library culture and admin is different so you’ll want to keep in mind what type of boundaries your admin wants you to have with your teens.

Sunday Reflections: Thinking About Mental Health, a #MHYALit Post by Ally Watkins

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For today’s Sunday Reflections my friend and frequent #MHYALit (Mental Health in YA Lit) contributor Ally Watkins shares a thoughtful piece about her own personal experiences. You can read all of the #MHYALit posts here, or click on the tag #MHYALit.

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I had my first panic attack when I was in the fifth grade. I was sitting at my desk in my classroom doing a worksheet, and everything was fine. Until suddenly, everything wasn’t fine. The lights were too much, the work was too much, the people were too much, and then I was sobbing. It was terrifying and humiliating. None of the adults present had any idea what was happening to me, other than thinking I was maybe getting sick. I don’t remember if my parents were even told about the incident. I wouldn’t fully understand what had happened for nearly 15 years.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Here’s something to be aware of: if you work with children and teens, you are going to come into contact with kids that have mental illnesses.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 teens live with a mental health condition, with half of those developing it by age 14. The CDC reports that among children aged 3-17, 3% suffer from anxiety and 2.1% suffer from depression. (Both sites have more information and reading available.)

Serving Teens in Libraries Infographic

If you teach a class or do a class visit, multiple kids in those desks are dealing with these issues. If you have a large program, several of your attendees are living with mental illness. These kids may have had panic attacks like I did, or they may be despondent, or they may be overwhelmed and falling behind in school because of their health. They may not have any idea what’s happening to them.

Kids’ brains aren’t fully developed. They’re not making fully-informed rational decisions on the best of days, in the best of circumstances. And consider this: kids with mental health problems are constantly inundated by messages from their own brain that don’t line up with reality. A teenager with depression may believe that no one cares about them or that life isn’t worth living, even though that is patently untrue. A tween with anxiety may be in a constant state of panic, even if the stimuli in their environment don’t merit that visceral response. These things are hard enough to manage as an adult with a biologically more well-developed sense of reason and some years of experience under your belt. But take a minute to imagine how terrifying the world must seem to a child or a teenager whose perception is skewed by illness. Especially if that illness is undiagnosed.

Work In Progress – Adolescent Brains Are A Work In Progress

Inside The Teenage Brain | FRONTLINE

I wrote a post in the fall called How To Help which highlights a few practical ways that we can provide for kids dealing with mental illness. We’re not doctors. We can’t diagnose or treat, and we shouldn’t try to. But as librarians and/or as educators, we need to be aware of what’s happening in our kids’ lives and be sensitive to that. We can work to fight stigma and we can help spread the idea that mental illness, like any other illness, isn’t anything to be ashamed of. We need to work to create safe, inclusive environments for all of the children and teens that we serve.

I don’t know what I needed that day in the 5th grade. But what I do know is that it can never hurt to have more adults understanding what the kids in their schools and libraries are dealing with. Educate yourself.

 

#MHYALit: A Letter to My Teen Self, by author Sara Wolf

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As part of our ongoing discussion of teens and mental health, we are honored to host author Sara Wolf, who has written a beautiful letter to her teen self. You can find all the #MHYALit posts here.

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Dear Teen Me,

In the grand scheme of things, you’re a bit of a shit, aren’t you? You refuse to like anything everybody else does (the Beatles are intolerable), you ripped the boy who tried to kiss you for the first time a new butthole, and worst of all, you wear your hair down all the time like a hippie Rapunzel. Newsflash: living in Hawaii isn’t exactly conducive to not-ponytails. Stop asking why your neck is sweaty all the time.

Stop asking why the boys aren’t good enough for you. Stop mooning over the Senior who left last year. You weren’t in love with him, you just wanted to jump his bones. You don’t know what that means yet, but you will, someday; nothing is wrong with you. You’re not slow, or weird. Contrary to what society tells you, it’s okay not to want a wiener in your face all the time. Your friends aren’t more mature or experienced than you – they’re different. And that’s fine. The boy who tried to kiss you is different, too. Don’t be too hard on him. You’re far more than he can handle – he is only human. You’re an inferno and he only knows how to hold an ember.

You are afraid of sex, and growing up, and it’s alright. Here’s the thing: it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be weak, and I know you hate hearing that, but I’m here to make you hate me. You already hate me, old and comfortable and soft. But I’m smiling at you all the same. It’s okay to be afraid, to shake at the idea of someone touching you. You can barely touch yourself without shaking.

It’s okay.

Take your time.

The burning in your heart is the urge to die. You’re bored and tired and you want to try dying just to feel something, anything. Dying is a challenge and you haven’t had one in so long, not since that Senior went away but he never really talked to you, did he? He touched your hand once and that was enough for you to write a psalm about him. You wanted a challenge from him, but he never followed through. You want a challenge from someone, anyone. Whose brain can match yours? Who is witty and perilously sharp and striding the same knife-edge you are at all times? Whose brain and soul are on fire the same way yours is? Who would even have the courage to set themselves on fire like you? No one. You are special.

I won’t say you aren’t, because I’d be lying. You are the most special thing in the world, to me. I love you. But you’re a little shit and you know it. You wear it proudly, because being a little shit is better than being like everyone else – complacent and quiet and non-confrontational. You are a sword among daggers, a horse among sheep. You fit in, but you don’t belong. Not yet. There are no challenges, no open fields to run in or heads to chop off. Where are your magic powers? You want to be a witch, a magician, you want to be dead. Anything, something other than normal.

So you write.

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And you write, because at sixteen you figured out magic wasn’t real but it needed to be, you had to make it real or you’d lose your mind, your reason for living. This world can be so much more, and you know it. You know it as you sit through those yawn-inducing pep rallies and chemistry classes. You can make the world better, if they’d only give you the chance.

I’ll give you a hint, padawan; no one will give you the chance. You have to make it for yourself, take it, grasp it like Icarus gunning for the sun. You are the end and the beginning, the only existence we’ll have in this world. So keep writing. Keep doing fanfic. Keep crying at night to songs you don’t understand yet. Keep telling yourself there’s a challenge waiting for you out there, because there is. He has a name and a face and he’ll light you up from the inside out. Keep living; because as long as you’re alive, you can make magic.

Keep burning.  

Keep making magic.

Meet Author Sara Wolf

Sara Wolf is a twenty-something author who adores baking, screaming at her cats, and screaming at herself while she types hilarious things. When she was a kid, she was too busy eating dirt to write her first terrible book. Twenty years later, she picked up a keyboard and started mashing her fists on it and created the monster known as the Lovely Vicious series. She lives in San Diego with two cats, a crippling-yet-refreshing sense of self-doubt, and not enough fruit tarts ever.

About Love Me Never (Lovely Vicious #1)

Don’t love your enemy. Declare war on him.

Seventeen-year-old Isis Blake hasn’t fallen in love in three years, nine weeks, and five days, and after what happened last time, she intends to keep it that way. Since then she’s lost eighty-five pounds, gotten four streaks of purple in her hair, and moved to Buttcrack-of-Nowhere, Ohio, to help her mom escape a bad relationship.

All the girls in her new school want one thing—Jack Hunter, the Ice Prince of East Summit High. Hot as an Armani ad, smart enough to get into Yale, and colder than the Arctic, Jack Hunter’s never gone out with anyone. Sure, people have seen him downtown with beautiful women, but he’s never given high school girls the time of day. Until Isis punches him in the face.

Jack’s met his match. Suddenly everything is a game.

The goal: Make the other beg for mercy.
The game board: East Summit High.
The reward: Something neither of them expected. (Entangled Teen, 2015)

#MHYALit: Better Is Not a Place, a guest post by Sam J. Miller

MHYALitlogoofficfialI thought I was fundamentally and forever broken.

 

The sight of normal boys made me sick. I’d see them walking down the high school, easy and confident and cruel and strong, and I’d get physically ill. I’d skip lunch. I lived on coffee. My stomach hurt all the time.

 

Being gay and having an eating disorder weren’t separate issues. I watched the straight boys walk down the halls of my high school, saw their broad shoulders and flat stomachs and I thought—I will never be that. Never have a body like that. And I didn’t just want to be them. I wanted to make out with them, too. I hated them, and I wanted them. How messed up is that? Who wouldn’t be damaged by so many contradictory emotions?

 

Worse, all the boys knew I wasn’t one of them. It’s why they beat me up, why they said horrible things to me every single day. How could I not become just as disgusted at myself as they were? When I looked in the mirror, what I saw was grotesque. I was weak. And everything I ate threatened to make me more so. But when I didn’t eat, I felt halfway human. Hunger made me stronger.

 

art-ofThat’s the seed of my debut YA novel, THE ART OF STARVING, out in July from HarperTeen. Here’s an ugly truth that I wish wasn’t true: there is power in violence. There is power in self-harm. Hurting myself felt like the only power I had. I didn’t get the ability to read minds or control the fabric of time and space and launch a mission of bloody revenge like my MC did, but for once I felt like the world didn’t threaten to break me in half.

 

I managed to climb out of that miserable swamp. And fifteen years later, when I could finally see clearly what had happened to me, I wrote THE ART OF STARVING. To help other young people, boys and girls and straights and queers and folks who are none of the above, find their way out.

 

Maybe that’s a spoiler. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you what happens. But there’s lots of young people out there who are in the same hell I was, and it would be irresponsible of me to show that hell without trying to also show how I got out.… and besides, there’s lots of other stuff in the book that isn’t spoiled by that reveal. A Jewish/Muslim gay romance and bad words and sex and arson and plot twists and an army of vengeful hogs.

 

Young women are disproportionately likely to develop eating disorders, but boys can get them too. That story doesn’t get told as much. Librarians and teachers and others who work with young people might not think to look for the signs, or to try to support young men with debilitating body image issues. Which is why I had to write this book.

 

I wish I had an easy solution—a switch I flipped to make myself not broken. But there are no easy answers. Not in my book, and not in life. Learning to love myself didn’t come out of nowhere. The most crucial piece was meeting people and reading stories that could tell me how awesome it is to be gay, and that not having the perfect buff male model body is actually completely fine. I didn’t believe I could be beautiful, until another gay guy said I already was. And I didn’t know my story mattered until I read it in a book, saw it on a screen. That’s what I hope my book can do for people. That’s the power of #ownvoices.

 

At the end of the book my main character, Matt, muses:

 

“In the hospital, and at the rehab center, I used to imagine Better was a place you could get to. A moment when I would look around and see that Everything Was Fine. But that’s not how this works. Being better isn’t a battle you fight and win. Feeling okay is a war, one that lasts your whole life, and the only way to win is to keep on fighting.”

 

Better is not a place. It’s process. I’m not cured. I still struggle with body image issues. I hope my book helps someone. I tried to dive deep into the ugliness, and maybe that might make the book too intense for some folks. It probably needs a content warning. But a lot of young people out there are waist-deep in ugliness already, and I’m hoping that they’ll need it as badly as I did when I was there.

 

Meet Sam J. Miller

Sketch1220659-1Sam J. Miller lives in New York City now, but grew up in a middle-of-nowhere town in upstate New York. He is the last in a long line of butchers. In no particular order, he has also been a film critic, a grocery bagger, a secretary, a painter’s assistant and model, and the guitarist in a punk rock band. His debut novel The Art of Starving (YA/SF) will be published by HarperCollins in 2017, followed by The Breaks from Ecco Press in 2018. His stories have been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, and he’s a winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. His husband of fifteen years is a nurse practitioner, and way smarter and handsomer than Sam is.

 

About THE ART OF STARVING (available 7/11/17)

Matt hasn’t eaten in days. His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal, but Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger…and he isn’t in control of all of them.

A darkly funny, moving story of body image, addiction, friendship, and love, Sam J. Miller’s debut novel will resonate with any reader who’s ever craved the power that comes with self-acceptance.

#MHYALit: How books and being a librarian help me cope with anxiety, a guest post by Erin

MHYALitlogoofficfialHi, I’m Erin. I’m a teen librarian, a wife, a daughter, a best friend, a mom, and an anxiety warrior. Notice how I put that at the very end. There was a reason for that.  The anxiety is the “least of my worries” for lack of a better phrase (insert uncomfortable laughter here). What I’m trying to say is that the anxiety is so much smaller than my other life roles. Yes, sometimes it can become all-encompassing, but, on a good day, one where my other human interactions, my meds, and my to-do list all live in perfect harmony, I might forget that I have anxiety. Crazy, right, but true!

 

Having anxiety has helped me in many facets of my life. Because of the constant drive to succeed, I have become incredibly efficient, and can adjust to the various paces that a day can take working in a library. I know that at 3:25 pm Monday – Friday the teens will come streaming in from school – they drop their backpack, pull up a seat to play a board game, plop down on the couch for a nap, drop into a beanbag chair for some screen time, or roll a chair over to my desk to share the gossip of the day. I can’t guarantee how many teens will show up each day, how much energy will emanate from the room or how much noise will filter out of the doors. Sometimes they come in and we all sit in complete silence, everyone with their heads down and their earbuds in. It’s days filled with uncertainty. Not unlike my anxiety.

 

In researching books for the collection, I commonly come across ones concerning mental health – specifically fiction novels. In doing my job every day I also encounter teens who may or may not share their stories with me. I find books that match teens and excitedly share the book with them in hopes that they will find a piece of them in the story, in the characters.

 

everylastwordAnd then I found a book for me. A book that spoke to me like no other in its genre.

 

That book was Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone.

 

As I read it, I wondered how the author was able to get into my head. The words, the surroundings, the main character and her situations were so real, so vivid, so ALIVE in my own mind. I want to share this book with the world. I want to thank Tamara Ireland Stone for writing it. I am humbled that I am able to select such wonderful works for a thriving Teen Department. To put books like these into the hands of those who need them the most, and of those who don’t know they need them.

 

Being a librarian includes so much more than reading and researching. It includes getting to know your patrons, the good and the bad in their lives if they choose to share. It means giving them the right book, using the right words in conversations, and even exposing your own vulnerability, because in being able to relate to you and all of your facets, a whisper of trust is established. They are not alone; you are not alone; I am not alone.

 

In this journey, we all encounter things that we wish we didn’t have to deal with but we do. Find your librarian; get him or her to give you that one book. Read it, talk about it, embody it, and show the world your strength even on your weakest days.

 

As librarians, we are warriors, fighting for our patrons, fighting simultaneously for our voices and our patrons’ voices to be heard above the roar of the world.

 

So speak up, share, be proud of who you are, and find that one book that speaks to your mind.

 

Meet Erin

In addition to being a teen librarian, Erin is a mother of two and  enjoys researching, reading, writing and social media.

#MHYALit: What is Neurodiversity and How Did It Save My Life? a guest post by Olivia James

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen I was 18, I stopped eating. There are approximately a million different reasons that I made that choice, and there is no way to sum them all up, but at the heart of all the poor coping skills that came to a head at 18 was the simple reality that my brain is different from other brains.

 

It’s a fact that human brains contain variations: some people fall into anxiety more quickly, while others tend towards joy. Some people find solace in being around others, while for the introverts among us, socializing is exhausting. When I say that my brain is different from other brains, I don’t mean it as a judgment. It is simply true. Unfortunately, it’s a fact that for many, many years I believed was a problem. It makes sense that I believed that: mental illness and neurodiversity are generally seen as negatives in American society. They’re shameful, dangerous, and awful. We tell certain stories about mental illness that say it’s a nasty thing that happens to you, but if you’re lucky you can survive it and it won’t be part of you anymore.

 

The narrative goes like this: I was very unhappy. Something bad happened in my life, or I found myself struggling with school or bullies, or I hit puberty, and I just couldn’t deal anymore. I hurt myself/starved myself/wanted to die. Finally it got so bad that I knew something had to change, and I asked someone for help. I went to therapy/got medication/talked to a trusted adult, and learned that life was worth it/I could be happy/how to manage my emotions. Now I still struggle with my mental health during hard times, but I “beat” my mental illness, and I feel stronger than ever. I’m not depressed/anxious/starving anymore, and now I’m a better/different person.

 

That’s not my story. When I went to therapy, it was because my mother had threatened to withhold my college tuition money until I did. I lied and I evaded my therapist for years. I had no desire to “get better” or to change. As an aside, I do not recommend this method of therapy at all. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, it’s deeply unpleasant, and it does not actually provide positive results. Therapy works considerably better when you actually are willing to work with your therapist.

 

But I was unwilling, because the narrative that I had about mental illness was one in which my mental illness was an essential part of myself, and I had to give up that essential part of myself in order to get “better.” I had to behave or think or feel differently, and the therapist would make me do it. More than anything, I did not want to change. I did not want to give up my deeply held beliefs about meaning and purpose. My eating disorder made me feel safe. My depression seemed to be the most accurate response to a world that was really screwed up. My anxiety seemed like it was the only thing that kept me functional. If I wasn’t anxious, what motivation would I have to accomplish my goals? Who would I be if I wasn’t all these things that had been a part of my life for years?

 

Sometimes it is easier to die in the grip of something familiar than to live in the unknown. I felt safe. I was dying, but I felt safe. Maybe I wanted to die. I probably wanted to die. Maybe I should’ve gotten the hint when I chose “Wanting to Die” as the poem I performed in my senior year speech competitions.

 

It took years before I finally started to properly listen to some of the things that my endlessly patient therapist was saying to me. I don’t mean to be discouraging to those seeking treatment, but it’s also important to be realistic: therapy takes a lot of time and a lot of work before you see results. And here is where my story diverges most thoroughly from the normal stories that I hear: I did not learn that I needed to “fight back”, I did not “hit rock bottom”, I did not have a moment in which it all became clear. Rather, I slowly began to realize that there was nothing wrong with me except that nobody had given me any tools to deal with my life.

 

What was helpful to me (and be forewarned, that this is what worked for ME. Other people find completely different things helpful) was to embrace those parts of myself that were causing me all this anxiety and stress. This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually a pretty basic tenet of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is the idea that differences in brains aren’t just a fact, but that those differences are in fact an important part of how the human species thrives. Different brains bring different strengths and weaknesses. So embracing my brain meant recognizing that yes, there are some elements of my brain that are particularly challenging in unique ways, but there are also parts of my brain that (excuse my French) kick ass. What was causing me lots of problems was the fact that society is set up for brains that aren’t like mine. I had to readjust my life to work for MY brain. Some people think that this is sad, or that it means I “can’t” do a lot of things. I don’t see it that way. I prefer to see it as “not doing things that I hate doing.”

 

I don’t see anxiety as limiting me, I see a society that expects me to do things that are anxiety provoking as limiting. I’m really quite happy to socialize with games and in small groups, not go to parties, not go to large and crowded events, not talk to strangers, not talk on the phone. Sometimes I can’t do things that others consider “basic functioning”, like being able to cook and feed myself. That’s ok: I can always ask for help. Recognizing that I need these accommodations is what keeps me from overtaxing my abilities and falling apart.

 

Choosing to do things that work (and not to do things that don’t work for you) for you isn’t sad or wrong. It’s just different, and the realization that I could just stop doing things I hated and start doing things differently was pretty mind blowing to me. It also meant that I could tap into some of my talents: once I wrote a 50,000 word novel in two weeks. My focus is impeccable and my drive is pretty impressive as well. But instead of blowing all that focus getting through a two minute phone call that I hate, now I just text instead. By limiting the things that are uncomfortable and painful to me, I open up so many other possibilities.

 

I know that for many people (particularly artists, writers, and other creative types), talking positively about mental illness is dangerous territory. There’s a history of equating creativity with depression. Neurodiversity does not mean leaving people with mental illnesses to fend for themselves, nor does it mean ignoring the fact that some kinds of brains come with negatives that are serious and dangerous. I embrace my brain, which has depressive and anxious traits. I do not embrace the depression and the anxiety. I do my best to find the underlying traits (perfectionism, conscientiousness, thoughtfulness) that can be brought into balance and made useful. I think there’s a huge difference between saying that art, depth, or thoughtfulness come from mental illness and saying that mental illness is not ALL awful, or that my brain is unique and there are some elements of that uniqueness that I appreciate or that are positive.

 

You don’t have to keep hating yourself. There is nothing WRONG with you. You might have some work to do to understand your own tendencies, needs, and wants, and to create a life that relies on your strengths and compensates for your weaknesses. But it’s possible, and I really cannot articulate the relief that comes with realizing that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. You have all the pieces to build something glorious. You just have to figure out how they go together.

 

Meet Olivia James

11193332_10152762213502601_1744363452546004244_nOlivia is a marketer by day and a writer by basically every other time. If you met her you’d probably think “well there’s a big ol’ nerd” and you’d be right. You can often find her playing Dungeons and Dragons, cuddling with her cats, or ranting at anyone who will listen about social justice. Olivia has a weird obsession with octopuses and Latin, which is why it’s very important to her that it’s octopodes not octopi. In addition to blogging at “We Got So Far To Go” and doing actual work that she gets paid for, Olivia’s current projects are a young adult sci fi novel and her wedding to the coolest nerd partner anyone could ask for.

#MHYALit: Unbearable: A Reflection on Hunger, a guest post by Lindsay Eagar

MHYALitlogoofficfialMy main memory of high school and the immediate years following is of hunger.

As the straight-A student, oldest daughter, star of the school plays, and overall golden child, I often carried the weight of others’ expectations on my shoulders, and I did so gladly. I knew I was capable. I wanted to please the adults around me. I had ambitions and I was a hard worker.

 

But all of that collapsed when I turned fifteen.

 

Let me paint you a picture.

 

It’s sophomore year of high school. I have been dating this boy for over a year. I am on one of our “dates”—all-day stretches in his basement where he plays video games and I watch. My stomach growls, because like many normal human teenagers, I require food and water every three or four hours. But the boy I am dating doesn’t notice. Of course he doesn’t—I’m sitting on the arm of his chair while he plays his game silently, and is it my fault for letting him treat me this way, or is it his fault for being a jackass, or is it the world’s collective fault for raising boys like this who fail to nurture, fail to care? When he finally does pause his game, it’s not a food break, it’s a fooling-around break.

 

Hours later, we are in the middle of a tear-soaked fight over the phone, a weekly occurrence for us. He says, with a sigh so loud it practically swallows me, “You’re saying you want commitment?” As if fidelity is a ridiculous thing to put on the table. “We’re in high school. You’re asking for too much.”

 

Too much.

 

The two moments are forever linked together. This is when it becomes clear to me—to desire anything at all is too much. Appetite is the enemy, and one of its main artilleries is food.

 

This is when I decide to bask in the feeling of hunger, and kill the thing inside me that wanted things.

 

I started with food.

 

lindsay1I’m not going to describe any of my specific eating disorder behaviors here, because I don’t want to risk triggering vulnerable readers who may be struggling themselves. But I will tell you this: I carefully conned my way into surviving on very little food. I lied to everyone—including myself—about how hungry I really was. I never whittled down to bones, but I was unhealthily skinny and undernourished. Later, after high school, I began writing down my daily calories in and calories out—my world became one of numbers, measuring and tracking and feeling disgusted if I didn’t hit my targets.

 

There were a lot of things I did in high school and the years after that I’m not proud of, and I’d like to share them with you now, because there may be others who have done similar things.

 

I suppressed my urge to make comments in class and stopped raising my hand. I stopped caring about my homework. I stopped going after academic achievements like National Honors’ Society and Sterling Scholars.

 

I suppressed my hunger for commitment or affection or even eye contact when the boy snubbed me at school, and I pretended none of it mattered, even though I died inside every time he kissed another girl, sometimes mere hours after he had been with me and told me he loved me.

 

I suppressed my hunger for real food when he asked me to the senior prom, pocketed the money his mother gave him for our reservation at P.F. Chang’s, and instilled a three dollar limit when he drove me through Del Taco on the way to the dance.

 

I suppressed my desires to travel when he asked me not to apply to any out-of-state colleges, and I threw away the pamphlets for Trinity College in Dublin I had taped up on my walls.

 

I suppressed my gag reflex when I let him take credit for my own accomplishments—from my essays to my ideas to a one-act play I wrote that was selected for a state-wide award to the song I composed and sang in front of the school in an assembly. “We wrote this together,” he said as he picked up my guitar and sang my part, and I quietly hummed the countermelody, relinquishing myself to the part of background singer in my own life.

 

I was hungry, and cold, and lonely, and sad, and full of profound self-loathing for myself. That was who I was in high school. My own parents barely recognized me.

 

lindsay2Our girls have a problem with wanting things, with being hungry. We’re not supposed to be hungry for good grades, or academic awards, or ambitions, or career goals—consider how Hillary Clinton was painted as “power-hungry,” as if that’s a bad thing, to want to be an influence on the world.

 

We’re also not supposed to be hungry for love, or affection, or marriage, or children. We’re definitely not supposed to be hungry for a good piece of chocolate cake. I remember feeling embarrassed whenever I needed something, terrified of being called “high maintenance,” worried that if I requested more than the emotional scraps I was given to survive on, I would be seen as unlovable or unsexy or “attention-seeking.” I put away things I had been dreaming of since I was five—finishing a novel, getting published, traveling the world.

 

I wish that I had listened to the adults in my life who saw me withering away and offered help. I wish I could have told them what was happening in my head.

 

I wish YA had been a thing. I would have loved to read a character like Celaena Sardothien in Sarah Maas’s THRONE OF GLASS, who delighted in her food and dresses and piano-playing with no regrets.

 

I would have loved to read Anna-Marie McLemore’s gorgeous YAs, THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS and WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, both about girls who make healthy relationships for themselves and don’t pretend that romance is a sinful dessert to be politely declined.

 

Maybe I would have read TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaipotra and found a kinship with other teenage girls who had ambitions, who busted their butts to get places, who felt pressure.

 

Maybe I would have read NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED by Hannah Moskowitz, and finally exhaled, knowing someone else understood.

 

It’s embarrassing to be an adult now and look back at all the stupid ways I starved myself.

 

It’s not embarrassing to be hungry.

 

It’s not wrong to want things.

 

It’s not annoying to be needy.

 

It’s normal to need to eat food, get thirsty, need hugs, need cuddles, need kisses, need passion, romance, to need trust.

 

It is not too much to want to be heard.

 

The body can only go so long without food. Same with the heart.

 

When I finally allowed myself to want things again—that’s when I started to heal.

 

Having a baby at 22 healed much of my relationship with my body. But it didn’t get rid of the voice in my head that still tells me, too much, too much. Too big, too loud, too talkative, too bold, too needy, too hungry, too much, too much. I do hear those voices sometimes, and when I do, I try my best to drown them out. I email writer friends who assure me I deserve my ambitions. I work on my projects, gleeful as I inch towards completed goals. I go for a walk or dance around my kitchen or kiss my husband or play with my babies, anything to remind myself that what my body is capable of doing is far greater than what it looks like. I take a selfie to remind myself that my body actually does look pretty good.

 

I did finally see a counselor at age 20, for my depression, and she suggested I had an ED-NOS, based on the behaviors I’d described. And I began a healing journey—not just with my hunger for food, but my acceptance of hunger as part of living, and fulfillment of hunger as the other part—the important part.

 

The best part.

 

Meet Lindsay Eagar

lindsay3Lindsay Eagar is the author of HOUR OF THE BEES (Candlewick Press, 2016) and the forthcoming RACE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (Candlewick Press, 2017). She lives in the mountains of Utah Valley with her husband and two daughters and a mountain of books. Follow her on Twitter here: Lindsay Eagar (@lindsaymccall) | Twitter