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Book Review: Night Shift by Debi Gliori

Publisher’s description

ra6From beloved author and illustrator Debi Gliori (No Matter What) comes Night Shift, a groundbreaking lushly illustrated picture book based on Gliori’s own personal history with depression.Fighting dragons is one way of fighting depression. This book is another.

Through stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori provides a fascinating and absorbing portrait of depression and hope in Night Shift, a moving picture book about a young girl haunted by dragons. The young girl battles the dragons using ‘night skills': skills that give her both the ability to survive inside her own darkness and the knowledge that nothing—not even long, dark nights filled with monsters—will last forever.

Drawn from Gliori’s own experiences and struggles with depression, the book concludes with a moving author’s note explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope. Gliori hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.

A brave and powerful book, give Night Shift to dragon fighters young and old, and any reader who needs to know they’re not alone.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

night shiftIf, at one point, I knew this book was coming out, I must’ve totally forgotten. I opened up the package and pulled out this book, wondering why I was getting a picture book to review. Then I started reading. And I fell in love.

 

It’s no secret that I have depression. I also know a heck of a lot of people with depression. Here at TLT, we spend a lot of time and energy talking about mental health through our Mental Health in YA Literature project. And while there are, thankfully, many YA novels that now successfully and compassionately address mental health concerns, this little book stands out as being astoundingly poignant and sincere. It is a picture book, though its audience is certainly middle grade and up. Gliori draws on her own experiences with depression to tap into the nearly unutterable despair that comes from being sucked under by an illness that takes and takes and takes. She has her protagonist chased by a dragon, the embodiment of depression. She uses the dragon to describe the fog, dread, and exhaustion of depression. The protagonist hears all the cliches people say to those of us who fight mental illness—chin up, get a grip, etc. She knows she is ill. She goes for help, but words fail her. Nothing adequately describes how she feels. Throughout the story, the dragon grows and grows, breathing fire on her, holding her tight in its clutches. She struggles to hang on, to survive herself, and eventually finds something that offers hope.

 

This small (nearly pocket-sized) book is gorgeous—from the cover to the silver feathered endpapers to every dark-hued illustration and perfectly chosen word. Just gorgeous. This gentle, hopeful, deeply affecting book shows how all-encompassing, devastating, and difficult to articulate depression can be. For those of us who battle our own dragons, this book is a delicate and empathetic reminder that we’re not alone and that, somewhere in all this darkness and fear, there is a strand of hope and a way forward. Profound in its simplicity and its honesty. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780451481733
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/05/2017

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Publisher’s description

underNorah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.
Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.
Readers themselves will fall in love with Norah in this poignant, humorous, and deeply engaging portrait of a teen struggling to find the strength to face her demons.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was really a mixed bag for me.

 

We really get to see Norah’s various mental illnesses and how they affect her and her life. We get great, intense descriptions of panic attacks and the urge to harm herself and what it can feel like to have agoraphobia. We see how small her world has become—she has hardly left the house in four years. We see her have multiple therapy sessions in various places. We are right there with Norah in her panic and fear and distress. Gornall’s writing, for the most part, is great. The writing is also funny. Though Norah’s a wreck who is often really caught up in fighting against her own brain, she’s also really self-aware and clever. She’s funny and gives good banter.

 

Norah’s mental illnesses are BAD. They are in no way under control. Yes, she’s in therapy, but often it has to be at her house or in her mom’s car because she can’t get as far as the clinic. Just stepping one toe past her front door is terrifying. She’s unmedicated. She’s hoping to keep depression at bay and often gives in to the urge to harm herself. All of this, and her mother leaves her alone while she travels for work. Really? Yes, she’s 17, but she’s NOT OKAY. She should not be alone. And her mom’s two day trip turns into a week or more when she gets in some mysterious car accident that requires multiple days in the hospital and feels completely unrealistic/never satisfactorily explained. All of this is to say, as a person who both battles mental illness and parents another human with mental illness, I wanted her to be taken better care of. Yelling at her mom for leaving her alone took me out of the book. But, seeing her alone is what makes us really understand how bad her panic attacks and agoraphobia are.

 

Then there’s Luke, the new neighbor boy. At first all Norah can really do is spy on him from the windows. Then they start talking through the door (closed and open). It’s pretty much insta-like. Norah is consumed with thinking about him, considering her appearance (after lots of time not really worrying about it). She forgets therapy appointments because her head is so in the clouds. She feels something small and awake inside of her thanks to him. He adorably slips notes through her front door when she can’t handle talking. She describes him as “10 percent human, 90 percent charisma” and she’s right. He feels too good to be true. It’s not that I don’t think there isn’t a chance that a charming and super understanding boy could fall for a girl who can hardly interact with other humans, but Luke just doesn’t feel real. He’s too good. And, while he doesn’t magically or instantly cure her, it very much does feel like Luke, and love, do save her and speed up her progress in ways that other things can’t. The hopeful ending is necessary, but also feels rather unbelievable.

 

So. Like I said, mixed bag. Here’s the thing: minus the “love will fix you” story line and the worrisome fact that I think Norah needs way more care than she’s getting, this is a good book. It’s well-written. It’s amusing. The clever banter between Norah and Luke and Norah and her mother is good. But I am a hard one to please when it comes to mental health plots. I want to see good work being done in multiple ways. And it IS being done here, but I really felt the story needed more. Norah is VERY UNWELL. You can tell, even without reading Gornall’s author’s note about her own mental health experiences, that she knows what she’s writing about. I really wanted to feel like there was more to Norah than just her mental illness. And, most importantly, I want her to get better because of what she’s doing and for her own sake, not because of a boy. I don’t know that any of these issues were a flaw in the story or writing, necessarily, so much as my own desire for more out of Norah, for more concern over her mental health.

 

All of that said, I hope this book finds an audience because of its vivid and powerful descriptions of what living with mental illness can be like. And while I wanted more out of this book than I got, I really did enjoy the writing and look forward to future books from Gornall. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544736511

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/03/2017

#MHYALit: For My Suicidal Friends, On the Election of Donald Trump, a guest post by Olivia James

MHYALitlogoofficfialTrigger warning for suicide, real talk about racism, sexism, and mental illness.

This post originally was posted on November 11, 2016 on We Got So Far To Go

I’m scared about the election of Donald Trump for many, many reasons, but one of the most pressing is the fact that it has retraumatized a number of already vulnerable people. I have seen reports (although currently unsubstantiated) of up to 8 trans youth who committed suicide on election night alone. While I do not have hard evidence of these suicides, I find it easy to believe that number or a higher number based on the number of personal friends I have who have quietly told me or others that they are in a place where they don’t feel safe. My office had to open extra space for individuals who were afraid to be alone. People are feeling hopeless and helpless, and when you apply those feelings to populations with histories of trauma, mental illness, disability, harassment, and discrimination, you end up with people who don’t see the point in living. That is dangerous.

 

I’ve lived most of my life with some level of suicidal ideation. I like to think I have a degree in hopelessness, since I spent my entire time in undergrad wanting to die. I know this isn’t quite the same, but I’d like to talk a little bit about how I get through. Maybe it will help you. I hope it does. If any of the reasons in here feels like pressure or doesn’t work for you, skip it. Take care of yourself. Please.

 

  1. First and foremost, I want you all to know that your fears are valid. Anyone who tells you that you’re overreacting or that we can get through this and we’ll all be ok can suck an egg. We don’t know what will happen in the next four years. Whatever is happening politically, we have already seen acts of harassment, violence, and hatred around our country in the last couple of days. If you have feelings of fear, grief, and hopelessness, don’t for a minute think that you’re “crazy” or even that you’re alone. Pay attention to those feelings. Take care of those feelings. Step one is to notice that you are feeling things and let yourself feel the feelings.

 

  1. That being said, it’s easy to let feelings of hopelessness and depression overwhelm you. It’s easy to think that there is no reason to go on living, because there are so many things to be afraid of and so many things that can hurt you or the people you love. But despite the Bigness of what we face and your feelings, there may be some things that you have forgotten. I know, I know, you don’t want to be reminded that good things exist. Of course they do. But the bad things are outweighing the good right now, aren’t they? Well, maybe. But it doesn’t matter how many bad things there are, it doesn’t change the nature of the good things. No matter how awful things get, my cats will still be Very Fuzzy. That sensation will still be pleasurable to me. There is nothing in the world that can change that. Try to remember a few of the things that don’t change because of the bad things, whether that’s your significant other, a pet, your favorite game, a good book, your preferred form of exercise, or what. You may find it harder to enjoy things right now, but keep in mind that what has changed is YOU not the activity. Remember that there are good things in the world too. The bad things still exist and they’re still bad. But they’re not IT. They’re not the whole story. You are actively lying to yourself when you say that nothing is good. Hold yourself to a higher standard, and do not let Donald Trump win by taking away the joy of Pokemon Go or Dungeons and Dragons or Moscato.

 

  1. I’ve seen quite a few people say that the things they used to care about don’t matter anymore. They’re too trite. Why should we care? Here is why. I believe that just being alive is not a good. Some of you may. But I personally think that the reason life is a good is because of all the things that make a person smile or laugh or have any amount of joy or good feeling. So it really does not matter how trite or small a good thing is. It is literally the reason for life if it makes you smile. I have given up on feeling guilty over my pleasures or worrying about laughing in inappropriate situations or missing the big picture. We are all fighting on the big picture front. We need to focus more on the small front in this moment. It is ok for your joys to be trite. They are still joy. Sometimes I laugh at butts. I don’t care how immature and pointless it is. It brings me joy. So butts are important. Whatever you care about? It is important because you care about. Please do not stop caring.

 

  1. Ok, this is pretty much here because of Number 3. I find that when I’m being incredibly judgmental of the things that should bring me joy, it’s because my brain is focused on the Big Picture and whether this will Change the World. Does it Matter? Honestly, no, whatever is happening in this exact moment probably won’t make a difference in the larger scheme of things. But that probably doesn’t matter if you focus on this exact moment. Life is made up of this exact moments. Most of the time they’re Do you have footie pajamies or a comfy blanket? Do you have a soft cat? Can you eat something delicious? If you have anything like that available, do it and try to only pay attention to that good thing. Turn your focus completely to it. It may just be a moment, but those moments, again, are the reason for living. That’s ok. It’s ok for those small moments to be all of it. If this moment’s only purpose is to give you a brief reprieve from depression, that seems like a pretty amazing purpose to me.

 

  1. Let’s talk for a second about hope. I have spent the last few days talking to as many people as I can. Connections are what keep me alive. What is astounding me is the resilience of the people around me, and the kindness of the people around me. The first impulse of every person I know is to ask if I’m ok, to see how others are, to volunteer their time, money, and resources to help other people. Racism and sexism are alive and real. I cannot deny that. At the same time, even the people who have unintentionally supported the racist and sexist systems are looking around and trying to see what they can do differently. People are acting. People are fervent to ensure the safety and health of their families and friends. There is someone there who can be this hope for you. Start a conversation with someone, anyone, and I will bet you that even if you’re asking about them, they will ask within the first 30 seconds how you are. This is one of the Good things. Not even the KKK can take it away.

 

  1. Your existence is important. If you die, we are losing. I cannot stop using this Audre Lorde quote because it is so perfect, and when I copy pasted it, the formatting was absurdly large. I think I’m going to keep it that way because it’s just that important.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

bamfordListen to Maria Bamford. If you have issues with the current political elite, the best revenge you can exact is to stay alive and thrive. We cannot fight without you.

 

 

 

  1. And finally, remember that people need you. Maybe this is selfish of me, but I cannot handle anyone else dying right now. I need you here. I need to know that you’re ok. And I honestly mean this: anyone, any time, if you are afraid and not ok, email me. I will talk to you. I will listen. Your fears and your feelings are real and valid, and I still believe that you can survive.

 

You all have my deepest love and support. Please, contact someone if you feel unsafe. See your therapist, talk to a close friend, call a hotline. Stay with us. We are stronger with you.

 

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 Sunday Reflections: The hard work of getting help and getting better

MHYALitlogoofficfialIt’s election night, 7 pm, and I’m sitting in the doctor’s office being diagnosed with moderate major depression.

 

There’s an obvious joke there—one that’s not funny at all. And it’s maybe the first time anything about me has been described as moderate.

 

 

Bilbo Baggins and Edward Bear are like, yo, lady, could you please go get some help?

Bilbo Baggins and Edward Bear are like, yo, lady, could you please go get some help?

I spent the past few months crying my eyes out and feeling horrible all the time. I kept trying to sort it out and tell myself that it had a cause and would pass. I cried all of August because my grandma died and the horrific monsters-in-human-skin I am related to didn’t tell us. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say, it got super ugly, and was really hard to deal with. So August was a mess of being so angry that I couldn’t even access the part of me that was grieving. I rode most of those feelings through September, but things got a little better. Callum was back in school, I could go for an hour walk every day, I could get writing done and feel like I was on top of things. I got the time alone I need to function. Then October hit. And Callum’s mental health went plummeting—a seemingly endless spiral of anxiety and rage and despair. That meant back to the therapist, who we ended up really disliking, so onto being on the waiting list for someone new. Back to the psychiatrist to see about new medication. Back to meeting with the school to keep people in the loop. It meant hours of my day spent dealing with what he was going through and going to bed just spent every night, sobbing into my dogs’ fur.

 

img_1511

I spent a lot of these past few months lying on the floor in my office looking up at this goofy fan.

At a certain point in all that, I started to think, maybe this is more than stress and some difficult parenting. Sure, I was still getting six+ hours of writing done on a lot of days, but the ability to be high-functioning through this wasn’t exactly negating or masking how I was really doing. My anxiety was off the charts. And there was the little fact of logging multiple hours per day crying, or being on the verge of crying. Of not eating. Of being so, so tired but not sleeping. Of being distracted, unable to focus, and listless. Of kind of hating everything. And November came, and I started to feel even more terrible. November means starting to think about snow and winter. Snow and winter means it’s nearly December. December means marking 4 years since my dad was killed in a car accident on an icy Minnesota highway. All of that means endless crying, and living on Klonopin, and not being able to drive because it’s terrifying and not even wanting anyone I know to drive. Given my general despair levels already being so high in November, I decided to go get help.

 

Here’s the thing: it’s never easy. I’ve been medicated for 20 years for anxiety. I’m a huge believer in erasing shame and stigma. I believe in doctors and therapy and medication. Still, some part of me had existed through this for a few months thinking, But it’ll go away. You’re just being dramatic. You’re not depressed. You’re having a hard time. You live in this nice new house. You just got an agent. Your husband is the most understanding human on earth. You want for nothing. Get over yourself.

 

I know. I know.

 

Good times.

Good times.

I know better. Of course I do. Mental illness doesn’t care how nice your life is. Mental illness can’t be willed away. Wanting to feel better doesn’t override brain chemistry. And I know this. But the idea of having to go see multiple new doctors, of having to recap how I’ve felt, of having to find time for therapy, of trying new medications, of the entire process… it just seemed too much. Wouldn’t it be easier to just decide to feel better?

If only it were that easy.

 

The thing is, even if you’ve been getting help for years, even if you know, logically, that you need to go get help again—new help—it’s hard. It’s emotionally taxing. It’s time-consuming. It’s expensive. It’s frustrating. I prioritized all of these resources for my kid. Get him on track again, I thought, and then we can worry about me. Because anyone with kids knows that idea of putting on your own oxygen mask first is a nice idea, but isn’t always realistic.

 

Bilbo Baggins Dachshund-MacGregor does an accurate impression of me.

Bilbo Baggins Dachshund-MacGregor does an accurate impression of me.

So I went to get help. And am getting help. I’ve got a new medication and some therapy lined up. I hope to someday soon feel a little more like myself. I don’t want to just feel like all I want to do is hide in bed all day watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or listening to “Autoclave” by The Mountain Goats on repeat and crying. And though lately my days have been the kind where I have to absolutely force myself to do anything that even comes close to looking like basic functioning, I know I won’t always feel this way. It helps a little bit to remember that.

 

Through all of this, both with my son and myself, I keep reminding myself how lucky I am. No, really. We have the resources to get the help we need. We have the knowledge to know we need help, need different meds, need to find not just any therapist but one who is a good fit. We have insurance. My schedule is flexible. Matthew and I can go together to appointments and meetings for and with Callum. I can fall apart and feel utterly broken, but know, deep down inside, in the rational part of my brain that still sometimes sneaks through the noise (which sounds an awful lot like this song), that I will be okay. Because there is help. And I can access it. And I can do the work. And for so many, those avenues of help are nothing but roadblocks, paths that either truly are or just feel inaccessible. Taking care of your mental health, or that of your kid, is exhausting. And when it’s all you can do to drag your butt out of bed each day and pretend to care about anything, it’s extra exhausting. And just because I’ve gotten help in the past, that doesn’t make this easier. Or less daunting. Or less frustrating.

 

But you know what? My doctor told me good for me for coming in and taking good care of myself. And my husband said the same. And my friends said the same. And, driving back that night from the clinic, I thought the same thing: good for me. I know how hard all of this is, but it’s important. I’m taking care of myself. And taking care of my kid. I can do it. You’re maybe doing the same, or needing to do the same. You can do it. And it’s okay to say that it’s hard and it sucks. So let’s remove the shame and stigma of our illnesses, but let’s also acknowledge that, hey, this whole thing is really HARD. There is hope. It’s there. It’s maybe hidden and tiny, trapped under all this mess and pain and self-loathing, but it’s there. Because even though we’re miserable and exhausted, we’re still here. To quote musician Frank Turner, “We could get better, because we’re not dead yet.”

 

Some links to things that I’ve clung to this fall

John Green’s NerdCon Stories Talk About Mental Illness and Creativity

Manic And Depressed, ‘I Didn’t Like Who I Was,’ Says Comic Chris Gethard on Fresh Air

Frank Turner “Get Better”

#MHYALit Discussion Hub at TLT (more than 100 posts!) 

#MHYALit: This Book Will Save Your Life, a guest post by author Kathleen Glasgow

Today we are honored to host author Kathleen Glasgow as part of the #MHYALit Discussion. Her book, GIRL IN PIECES, releases in September from Delacorte Press. You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.

MHYALitlogoofficfial

I could not feel my fingers. And then I could not feel my arms. And then my shoulders, and then, and then, and then….how does the body do it, anyway? I’m still not sure, but it was something, a gift, really, that my body gave me at an early age, in order to escape what was happening in my home. Dissociation made it easier for me to do things that caused me great fear and stress. And I was about to do something that was going to cause me great fear and stress. I was going to be brave. I was going to ask for help.

I had been up all night, pacing my room, listening to music on my headphones in an attempt to calm down, to plan my strategy, my line of reasoning. The minutes stretched into hours, which stretched into black periods of sobbing, of scratching and pinching myself, of waiting, waiting, for bravery.

My mother’s favorite nighttime ritual was settling into her big bed with a glass of wine and a thick book.  When I walked into her room, the sun was rising outside the patio door, pink and creamy orange. The perfect Tucson sunrise. Her book was splayed on the nightstand. There was still some wine in her glass. I drank it. Then I reached out and shook her shoulder until her eyes blinked open.

girlinpieces

“Mommy,” I said, my voice sounding strange and far from me. “If you don’t take me to the hospital, right now, I am going to kill myself.”  I was sixteen. I meant it.

What followed was my mother slipping into robot-mode. She made calls, she smoked cigarettes, she argued with my father on the phone, and by the end of the day I was a new patient at small and somewhat seedy psychiatric hospital.  I was lumped in with adults. There was no separation by disorder, age, or “problem.” As one of my new colleagues put it during a dinner of slimy green beans and something resembling partially-heated Salisbury Steak, “We all fucking crazy in the same fucking crazy salad. You the tomato, she’s the lettuce, I’m the damn dressing.”

I had never felt so safe in my entire life.

When I was younger, growing up in a house filled with violence and fear, I found my solace in books. I read and re-read books obsessively, looking for anything that could lift me away from the darkness of my daily life. I should have been a prime candidate for fantasy or science fiction, but that wasn’t my thing. I latched onto anything that even vaguely resembled what was happening in my life and at that time, the queen of all things realistic was Judy Blume. Being bullied at school? Blubber became my tome. Having body and anxiety problems? Deenie. Curious about sex? The holy grail was, of course, Forever.  Fuck the whole tesseract business (though that was cool, too): I latched onto A Wrinkle in Time for Meg Murry, the lonely outcast.

When I found my mother’s 1954 copy of The Catcher in the Rye, though, Holden Caulfield spoke to me like no one else had. Here was someone who was clearly depressed, suicidal, afraid  of the world, afraid of himself. I still have that book. I still reread that book, every year, because it was the first book that taught me that I was not alone. I saw myself in Holden. It was a salve, a balm, for a long time.

catcherintheryeUntil it wasn’t.

I started cutting myself at fifteen. Little nicks no one could see. Then bigger. Then deeper. It became a relief, a solace against what was eating me up in my mind and heart. My mother sent me to therapy. There were medications. I was expelled from school. My depression and harm were spiraling somewhere dark, somewhere very frightening.

There were no books for me for this, not then. Had I had a book like Girl, Interrupted, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, All the Rage, Cut, It’s Kind of A Funny Story, or All the Bright Places, even Speak, whose main character’s silence mirrored my own selective mutism, where would I be today? Would things have been different for me if I’d been able to find myself in a book and see just a glimmer, just a tiny smidge of creamy pink and orange, over the horizon?

alltherage

Maybe.

Those books, and others like them, didn’t come out until I was in my twenties and well after. I’d already been hospitalized numerous times and damaged myself in dozens of ways. When I found them, though, I devoured them. I became 12 again. I became 13. I became 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.  They talked to the teen I was and told her she was not alone, ever, even in retrospect. They talked about what it was like to be depressed, to be hospitalized, to have horrible things done to you, to feel horrible things, to do horrible things, to feel lonely, but that above all, you could survive.

I still struggle every day with depression. It’s lifelong, and I accept it. I haven’t harmed myself in over 20 years. When I decided to write Charlie’s story in Girl in Pieces, I wrote the book I wished I’d had when I was teenager and living in my own hell. I wrote the book I wished I’d had when I was in my twenties and thirties and crawling back to the light. I put the whole crazy salad in there: the tomato, the lettuce, the damn dressing, because I want readers to see themselves in there, somewhere, and feel that creamy pink and orange smidge of hope.

That’s the thing about books. You never know which one will save your life. Or when.

Meet the Author

Kathleen Glasgow’s debut novel GIRL IN PIECES will be published August 30, 2016, by Delacorte. She lives in Tucson, Arizona and write for the radio show, The Writer’s Almanac. She likes stand-up comedy, books, Tyrion and Shireen, and her kids. She is not team Captain America or Iron Man. She is Team Furiosa, all the way. You can find her on Twitter: (@kathglasgow), Instagram: (misskathleenglasgow), or (kathleenglasgowbooks.com).

About GIRL IN PIECES

girlinpiecesCharlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep, and the pain washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge. (September 2016, Delacorte Press)

Book Review: How It Ends by Catherine Lo

Publisher’s description

how it endsThere are two sides to every story.
It’s friends-at-first-sight for Jessie and Annie, proving the old adage that opposites attract. Shy, anxious Jessie would give anything to have Annie’s beauty and confidence. And Annie thinks Jessie has the perfect life, with her close-knit family and killer grades. They’re BFFs . . . until suddenly they’re not. Told through alternating points of view, How It Ends is the story of a friendship from first meeting to breakup, set against a tumultuous sophomore year of bullying, boys, and backstabbing.

Catherine Lo makes her debut with an honest, nuanced tale about the intricacies of female friendship.

 

 

Amanda‘s thoughts

I always want more YA friendship stories. Friendship, especially in high school, can be so messy. You can grow close so fast, or get ditched, or have fights, or change friend groups, or be obsessed with each other. There’s a lot of ebb and flow to teen friendships. Lo captures all of those things in this look at Jessie and Annie’s sophomore year.

 

Smart, studious Jessie suffers from “terminal loneliness.” Made into an outcast by her former friend and now mean girl, Courtney, Jessie has put up with years of being called “Lezzie Longbottom” and being otherwise ignored by her classmates. Isolated Jessie has anxiety, depression, and frequent panic attacks. Her mother has done a lot to try to “fix” Jessie over the years–therapists, medication, etc–everything, that is, except really talk to her. Jessie feigns interest in video games and comics so she can linger on the periphery of a group at lunchtime, but hasn’t had a real friend in years.

 

Annie is new to town and hates her new life in suburbia. She doesn’t get along with her new stepmom and her stepsister basically ignores her. Annie spies Jessie that first day at school and thinks she’s “beautifully uncool.” That’s all it takes to draw her to Jessie. Jessie thinks Annie is the coolest person ever and can’t understand why she’d want to be friends with her. The girls instantly become best friends. But before long, Annie grows friendly with the girls who’ve bullied Jessie in the past and starts to pull away from Jessie. “We don’t have to do everything together,” she tells her.

 

During their time drifting apart, both girls experience big things. Annie begins to date Scott, who Jessie has a crush on (and a lot of STUFF goes on with that relationship). Jessie’s anxiety, depression, and panic attacks ramp up. She’s constantly sneaking pills to help calm her down. It’s her own prescription, but her mother keeps the pills locked up and doles them out sparingly, the idea being that Jessie should learn how to cope with her anxiety, not need pills to get her through the things that make her anxious (like sitting with the mean girls at lunch). Jessie’s mental health issues become a big part of the story. She desperately wants to keep her issues a secret (a feeling that no doubt stems from her mother’s less-than-helpful understanding of anxiety, being medicated, and feeling ashamed). Her mother encourages her to tell Annie what’s going on to help “explain” some of how she’s been behaving. Yes, her anxiety colors some of how she behaves and reacts, but her mother seems to think that Jessie’s mental health struggles are responsible for the fallout of this friendship. As you might guess, I don’t really love how mental health is addressed here. Her mother goes about things in the wrong way. She’s encouraging shame and stigma and the notion that needing medication is some kind of failing. Then, her mother makes a REALLY BAD CHOICE and suddenly Jessie’s secret is out. And before long, Annie’s big secret is out too (avoiding spoilers here, people). Both girls become victims of rumors and gossip (in high school? No way!) and make repeated attempts to reconcile their friendship, but it isn’t that simple anymore.

 

For the most part, I liked this book. I did want to see more of just how Annie and Jessie become so close. They’re kind of instantly and inexplicably drawn to each other (which definitely happens in real life) and we’re told they’re best friends, but I wanted to see more of how that happened. We know time passes because we’re told it does, but I felt like we missed huge chunks of the time they’re growing closer. I did appreciate how swiftly and thoroughly their friendship fell apart—that felt very real—and getting to see how each girl reacted and what each did while not friends with the other. I really felt for Annie and the things she has to go through basically alone and the way she ends up very ostracized and angry. I also empathized with Jessie, who is more or less all alone without Annie and uncertain how to get through her days without panic attacks taking over. The girls’ story isn’t simple—it’s not like they’re friends and then they’re just not. Lo presents a nuanced look at friendship and shows how their pasts and their home lives affect them. A thoughtful look at the ways friendships can start, end, and all the things in between.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544540064

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 06/07/2016

#MHYALit Book Review: 100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Publisher’s description

100 daysGet well soon isn’t going to cut it in this quirky and poignant debut novel about a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet life.

Every other senior at Cove High School might be mapping out every facet of their future, but Molly Bryne just wants to spend the rest of the summer (maybe the rest of her life) watching Golden Girls reruns and hanging out with her cute coworker at FishTopia. Some days, they are the only things that get her out of bed. You see, for the past year, Molly’s been struggling with depression, above and beyond industry-standard teen angst. Crushing on her therapist isn’t helping, and neither is her mom, who is convinced that baking the perfect cake will cure her—as if icing alone can magically make her rejoin the swim team or care about the SATs.

Ummm, no, not going to happen.

But when Molly finds out FishTopia is turning into a lame country diner, her already crummy life starts to fall even more out of her control, and soon she has to figure out what— if anything—is worth fighting for. 100 Days of Cake is a quirky and poignant story of a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet world.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Everyone else seems to know what’s happening in the next year. They’re preparing for college—taking tests, participating in extracurricular activities, volunteering. Molly can hardly bring herself to get out of bed, much less think about what might happen after senior year. She really just wants to hang out at FishTopia and ignore the rest of the world. Her coworker, Alex, clearly has a crush on her, but Molly really would rather he didn’t. She shoots him down whenever he tries to make plans with her. Her last boyfriend ditched her when he realized that she wasn’t how he thought she would be—that she was a complicated person who has depression. She can’t see any other relationship working as long as she feels how she feels. She’s getting help, though. She has a therapist and is medicated, though she often wonders if she should be on a different medication, one that might work better. Goldhagen really captures how heavy and isolating depression can  feel. Molly feels like everyone hates her and lashes out at her friends and family. She bails on plans all the time because following through with them seems to take an impossible amount of energy that there’s no way Molly can conjure up. She has okay days and terrible days. And she can’t understand why on Earth her mother seems to think eating some new terrible cake every day will maybe help fix her current state of mind when medication and therapy can’t. 

 

I really liked Molly’s best friend, Elle, who could be a little overbearing at times, but always was a good friend to Molly and did her best to understand what was going on with her. I liked Molly’s mom, who is seriously worried about her depressed kid (for the obvious reasons and ones we don’t come to understand until much later in the book) and seems to be doing her best to help her/leave her alone when she needs to be left alone. I thought I liked her therapist, a 90s music- Say Anything-obsessed guy but, without revealing some major spoilers, suffice it to say I did not end up having a very high opinion of him. However, I did like that Molly was getting a lot out of therapy and learned to open up in her sessions. Her relationship with her sister was also really interesting. Veronica has a few meltdowns (one particularly cruel) over the attention Molly gets because of her depression. Molly’s depression is a big character in this story. It permeates literally every relationship she has and is behind all of her decisions (or lack of decisions). 

 

Though I wanted to see some kind of consequences for Dr. B (she wrote cryptically, not spoiling anything), overall this story was a satisfying read. Molly’s depression is severely getting in the way of her actually living her life and she’s working to get help, even if she feels like maybe the help she’s getting won’t be enough to “fix” her. The ending feels hopeful, even though Molly is now armed with some new and shocking information and a seriously questionable therapy experience. I value this book for its open discussion of medication and therapy and its look at how depression can affect everyone around the depressed person. Definitely worth adding to the growing list of interesting books about mental health issues. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481448567

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 05/17/2016

Book Review: Jerkbait by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

jerkbaitEven though they’re identical, Tristan isn’t close to his twin Robbie at all—until Robbie tries to kill himself. Forced to share a room to prevent Robbie from hurting himself, the brothers begin to feel the weight of each other’s lives on the ice, and off. Tristan starts seeing his twin not as a hockey star whose shadow Tristan can’t escape, but a struggling gay teen terrified about coming out in the professional sports world.

Robbie’s future in the NHL is plagued by anxiety and the mounting pressure from their dad, coach, and scouts, while Tristan desperately fights to create his own future, not as a hockey player but a musical theatre performer. As their season progresses and friends turn out to be enemies, Robbie finds solace in an online stranger known only as “Jimmy2416.” Between keeping Robbie’s secret and saving him from taking his life, Tristan is given the final call: sacrifice his dream for a brother he barely knows, or pursue his own path.

How far is Robbie willing to go—and more importantly, how far is Tristan willing to go to help him?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I overuse the phrase “rage blackout.” I’m sure I’ve claimed that 2/3 of all things in existence have given me a rage blackout. I’m easily annoyed. BUT. BUT. This book gave me a rage blackout. The parents are AWFUL. The way Robbie’s teammates treat him is AWFUL. And did I mention that the parents are AWFUL? Because they are. But we’ll talk about them later.

 

Tristan has always felt like he’s lived in Robbie’s shadow. Though they both play hockey (and their former hockey player father is their manager), Robbie’s the star, the one who will be drafted and go on to a huge career. But not if it gets out that he’s depressed. That he’s tried to kill himself three times. That he’s gay. At least, according to their monster of a father. All of that is bad press for Robbie, so the obvious thing to do is cover it up, not address any of the very serious issues, and focus on that goal: getting drafted. Sure. Great parenting. Your kid will be fine. You’re doing a good job. 

 

(You can come join me in my rage blackout—it’s kind of satisfying to get so mad.)

 

I could yell for paragraphs about their cruddy parenting and extreme denial, but I won’t. You get the idea already, I’m sure, that they suck. They pull him from the hospital early after attempt number one so he doesn’t miss a hockey game. They cover up the truth with lies, don’t do anything to help Robbie, and basically blame Tristan for what’s going on with Robbie AND make him responsible for watching over him to prevent future issues. Tristan, who quits hockey after some epic homophobic bullying, just wants to focus on his burgeoning theater career. He loves theater, has a knack for singing, dancing, and acting, and wants to grab the opportunities in front of him. But that’s hard to do when you’re supposed to be keeping your depressed wreck of a brother from committing suicide. Things become even more complicated and convoluted when Tristan learns Robbie is gay. Robbie is terrified of what coming out will mean for his life and his career—but not so terrified that he doesn’t out himself in an effort to save Tristan from some bullying. His teammates react just as terribly as you can possibly imagine. And when his parents find out? It’s a nightmare.

 

There’s a lot to talk about with this book. Siegert is tackling big topics: teenage sports careers; being not just a closeted gay teen but a closeted gay teen athlete; sibling/twin relationships; depression and suicide attempts; crappy parents; crappy friendships; homophobia; stigma with mental illness, and so much more. Plus, the book takes a big twist near the end when Robbie gets the brilliant idea that the answer to all of their problems is running away to go stay with this older dude he met online. That never turns out well, does it? And in this case, it REALLY, REALLY goes badly. Though it ends on a hopeful note, this is not a light read at all. It’s pretty much the worst case scenario for all things with the exception of the way Robbie and Tristan grow closer and more supportive of each other. It’s a dark, upsetting, frustrating, painful look at the pressure on teen athletes, at what happens when mental illness is ignored and untreated, and at how horribly scary coming out can be, especially for teens whose parents are hateful and unsupportive. Bleak but powerful. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781631630668

Publisher: Jolly Fish Press

Publication date: 05/03/2016

#MHYALit: Nineteen Years of Living, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Today author Shaun David Hutchinson joins us to share his story about depression, his suicide attempt, and the 19 years that have passed since then. See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here

 

MHYALitlogoofficfialA few years ago, I went to the emergency room with pain in my stomach and back.  In less than a day, I was undergoing surgery to have my gallbladder removed.  After I’d recovered, when co-workers asked or I was trading war stories with people, and my surgery came up, no one ever said to me, “You probably could’ve gotten better if you’d just tried harder to not be in pain,” or “That’s not a real thing; you were just looking for sympathy, weren’t you?”

 

Yet people with mental illnesses hear these sorts of things all the time.  We’re judged and ridiculed and made to feel broken.  Which is why I’m so open about my own struggles with depression and my suicide attempt at 19.  I refuse to feel ashamed about it.  I was sick, I needed help, I got treatment.  I don’t feel ashamed about having my gallbladder removed, why should I feel shame about having depression?

 

But while I often discuss my depression as a teen and my attempted suicide, I don’t often talk about what came after.  Usually the story ends with, “I attempted to kill myself and I survived and I’m lucky and happy to be alive.”  But what does that mean?  We say, “It gets better,” but how?  I know my story is only one story, but I thought telling it, describing my life after my suicide attempt, might help others who are struggling to see what “it gets better” can look like.

 

The first thing about depression is that there’s no cure.  Depression (like many mental illnesses) is something you’ll have for the rest of your life.  But it is manageable.  You can live a full, happy, and healthy life with depression.  It won’t always be easy, but it is possible. 

 

After my suicide attempt, I was in the ICU for about a week, the regular hospital for a few days after that.  Then I was committed to a psychiatric hospital for a week.  At the time, I was content that I hadn’t died, but still severely depressed. I didn’t want to be in the psychiatric hospital, and I told the doctors what they wanted to hear so they’d release me.  Because I’d attempted to OD on Tylenol, I couldn’t be medicated at the time.  I was apparently convincing enough that my doctor let me go.  But I wasn’t “better.” 

 

Over the course of the next couple of years, I stumbled about.  I enrolled in and dropped out of college multiple times.  I spent a lot of time with my best friend, and tried to start dating.  I made a lot of terrible choices, including dating some extremely questionable guys.  But I made some amazing friends too.  I started going out to a club with a group of people, and we spent every Thursday night dancing to 80s goth music at a club in Downtown West Palm.

 

During that time, I began to feel happy again.  Some of my best memories from back then were working in the Sunglass Hut with my friends and dancing badly in the clubs.  But I wasn’t “cured.”  The depression was still hanging out just beyond my vision, waiting to rear its ugly head.

 

I ended up making the poor decision to move to Georgia for a short time because of a guy I’d met and spent one night with.  When I realized my mistake, I moved home and met another guy who turned out to be a cheater and a liar, and I started messing around with drugs.  Ecstasy, acid, pot.  I never did the hard drugs, but the drugs I did take, I took a lot of.  My life was a pretty big mess.  I’d dropped out of college for the fourth time, and was working as a waiter at a TGI Fridays.  Due to my bad choices, my parents and I weren’t talking, I didn’t speak to my brother for a few years, and I’d had a falling out with my best friend because I was an idiot.  Eventually, I moved with the guy I was dating to Rhode Island.

 

For a while I settled into a semi-stable kind of life.  I worked a series of shitty jobs.  I broke up with the guy, and dated a string of new guys.  Some were nice but I broke up with them because I didn’t feel like I deserved to be loved.  Others were terrible for me but I was too dumb to see it.  I’d go to clubs in Providence, full of hope at the start of the evening, and return home a dejected wreck, convinced I was worthless.

 

There were plenty of good times too.  Again, I made some amazing friends.  I fell in love with a guy I often joke is the one who got away (though if I’m being honest, he’s much better off with the man he eventually married).  I took a solo trip to Italy.  I spent Wednesday nights singing karaoke at this cool-but-no-longer-there gay club.  I drove to Boston on the weekends, and ran through the city like I owned it.

 

But I’d never really dealt with my depression.  I’d pushed it into the corner of my mind.  I’d willfully ignored it.  And doing so eventually bit me in the ass.

 

When I was 25, I moved back to Florida.  I had, for the most part, patched things up with my family.  I’d decided to return to college and try to make something of my life.  For over a year, I did well.  I was taking six and seven classes a semester, and getting As in all of them.  I took a job working at Starbucks (mostly because they offered health insurance to part-time workers).  I reconnected with my best friend.  Things were going well, and I felt happy.  Then I met a guy.  Matt #1. 

 

Over the course of the next two years, I became very, very lost.  I fought with my parents again, I hurt my best friend…again.  I dropped out of college with only one semester left.  #1 and I engaged in a self-destructive on-again off-again relationship that refused to allow me to ignore my depression anymore.  I was, for a very short time, homeless.  I would get drunk and pass out on my bedroom floor.  I started cutting myself again (something I hadn’t done since I was hospitalized) and put out lit cigarettes on my hands.  All of which culminated with me being fired from my job at Starbucks right as I was on track to be a store manager.

 

During that time, I began to realize I needed help with my depression.  I sought out psychiatrists who put me on various medications, but I was too self-destructive back then to understand what I needed to do.  When one doctor put me on Effexor, and I started to feel a little better, I kept upping my own dosage because I figured if a little made me feel better, a lot would make me feel great.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Medication provides immense benefits to people with mental illness, so I don’t ever want to discount the good it can do, but I couldn’t see that at the time.

 

Then came a turning point.  #1 and I had broken up for what felt like the hundredth time.  I was drunk, laying on the floor of my apartment, reading a battered copy of one of the Roswell High books to keep the room from spinning.  I woke up the next morning surrounded by broken glass.  I didn’t remember breaking the glass, and though I hadn’t cut myself, I knew I could have.

 

That was the lowest I’d been since I was 19.  I decided it was time for a change.  I isolated myself from my friends—not because they were bad people, but because I needed a fresh space to confront the choices I’d been making.  I moved back home, got a job in an office, and quit smoking.  I made the decision to stop dating.  I’d thought dating shitty, shady guys was the root of my problems, but the real cause was that since the day I got out of the psychiatric hospital when I was 19, I’d been running.  From myself, my problems, and my depression. 

 

I decided to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, and I needed to do it on my own.  During that time, I became a certified EMT (though I never got a job doing it), went to firefighter school (but decided that, while I loved it, it wasn’t for me), and I went to Europe with my mother and brother (one of the best trips of my life).  I got my own apartment and focused on my job.  I took up writing again and went on to publish my first book.  I spent a lot of time getting to know myself, and I finally understood how to separate my depression from the bad things that happened in my life.  Bad breakups hadn’t caused my depression anymore than they’d caused my hernias or my migraines.  And in learning that distinction, I began to understand how to live with depression. 

 

I started treating my depression like the disease it is.  When the pendulum swung and I felt myself slipping, I took the time I needed to get well again.  When I had a shitty day at work or when something didn’t go my way, I learned to stop treating it as a symptom of my illness.  I learned that I can feel sad or angry when not depressed and sometimes happy when I am.  Because depression isn’t a punishment, it’s a disease and nothing more. 

 

I spent five years alone.  That’s how long it took for me to really and truly understand and love myself.  When I was ready to start dating again, I did so confident in who I was and certain I was worthy.  I met Matt #2 (though always #1 in my heart).  We began dating, moved in together a year later, and this November we’ll celebrate six years as a couple.  I’ve now published five books, with more on the way.  I’ve traveled and made amazing friends and reconnected with old ones.  I just spent the last year working from home and writing full time, and now I’m back at an office job I love.  I have a lot of plans for my future.  I want to travel the world.  I want to keep writing books.  I want to grow old with this weird guy I love. I want to watch my nieces and nephews become adults. I want Marvel to call me and let me write a YA gay Iceman book, and to see Doctor Who cast a woman to play The Doctor. 

 

It’s been 19 years since I was 19 and tried to kill myself.  There were plenty of really crappy times, and equally as many wonderful ones.  Over the next 19 years, I expect more of the same.  Like I said at the beginning:  there’s no cure for depression.  That’s something I keep at the front of my mind.  I will always suffer from it.  There are days when I can feel it coming, and I call out sick from work and take care of myself.  Then there are days when it pounces so fast I don’t even realize it until I’m in the thick of it.  And while it’s been quite a while since I’ve suffered a major depressive episode, I know that it’s not only possible, but likely, I’ll go through one again. But I keep moving on. Because for every night spent crying, there’s a night spent dancing.  For every fallout with family, there’s an awkward holiday dinner to laugh about later.  For every dream that falls through, there’s a dream that becomes reality.  For every Matt #1, there’s a Matt #2. 

 

Probably my favorite line from We Are the Ants comes from Jesse’s mother when Henry asks her whether she’d press the button and save the world.  She tells him she’d press it because, “Jesse believed life wasn’t worth living, and I refuse to prove him right.”  And when depression makes me feel like life isn’t worth living, I keep going because I refuse to prove it right. 

 

So when I talk about suicide and about how I’m happy I didn’t die, this is why.  These last 19 years of failures and successes and crappy nights and beautiful days.  When we say it gets better, we don’t mean it’s better all the time, but that there are better moments worth living for.  Trust me on this one.  I’ve got 19 years of living to back me up.

 

One last thing I want to say:  Suicide isn’t something you can ever take back.  I was lucky.  Luckier than I had a right to be.  After reading The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, I had a teacher email me and ask if I felt it was irresponsible to show two different characters attempting to commit suicide and come through it unscathed.  While I disagreed that they were unscathed, her question made me think.  A lot.  And I want to make it clear that suicide isn’t a temporary solution. It’s final. And there’s nothing glamorous about it.  The lesson isn’t that I survived suicide and you can too.  It’s that suicide should never be the solution.  It’s that life is worth living, and suicide nearly robbed me of that.  So, please, if you’re even remotely considering taking your own life, seek help immediately.  Your life is worth living. 

 

Meet Shaun David Hutchinson

shaunShaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, which won the Florida Book Awards’ Gold Medal in the Young Adult category and was named to the ALA’s 2015 Rainbow Book List, the anthology Violent Ends, which received a starred review from VOYA, and We Are the Ants, which received 5 starred reviews and was named a best book of January 2016 by Amazon, Kobo, Publisher’s Weekly, and iBooks.  He lives in South Florida with his partner and adorably chubby dog, and enjoys Doctor Who, comic books, and yelling at the TV.  Visit him at shaundavidhutchinson.com.

#MHYALit: You Won’t Find Girl Interrupted’s Angelina Jolie But At Least You’ll Be Safe! Why Being Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues Isn’t a Bad Thing, a guest post by Ami Allen-Vath

Today author Ami Allen-Vath shares her experiences with suicidal ideation, depression, hospitalization, and more. We continue to be so honored and proud to share these honest, vulnerable posts. Visit the #MHYALit hub to see all of the posts in this series. 

 

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen I was in eleventh grade, I wrote a letter to my family and best friends. It was a goodbye letter, a letter to let them know why I couldn’t live anymore.

 

I basically told them I was having flashbacks from the sexual abuse I’d experienced as a middle-schooler. I told them I couldn’t handle life. I told them I had an eating disorder, that I was bulimic and couldn’t handle hating myself and my body anymore. But one thing I didn’t mention was my mom and stepdad’s alcoholism. I didn’t talk about the yelling and physical abuse I’d witnessed. The fights that seemed to happen every weekend. I didn’t say that I stopped inviting friends over and did my best to answer the phone first so friends calling wouldn’t hear their sloppy jokes and slurred words. The laughing and partying that went on a few hours before the fighting happened. I didn’t write about this because I was ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to know. I’d already been through a lot, so I felt like I should have my shit together already. Being a teen in a home with alcoholics felt messy and embarrassing. So, I omitted the alcoholic and domestic abuse stuff, even though the stress and secrecy was wearing me down.

 

So, I folded up the letter, took a bunch of pills and cried. And then I was sobbing. I realize now, I wanted to be heard. My crying woke my sister. What I remember from the rest of the night is my stepdad carrying me to an ambulance and soon after, the hazy snippets of the noise and chaos of an emergency room.

 

After being in the hospital a few days, I was admitted to the AIP. Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatry Fifth Floor Locked-Unit. Prior to my hospitalization, my association to a place like that was “crazy house.” I didn’t want to be there at first, but I really didn’t want to be at home. I met doctors, therapists, took different tests and went to groups and individual therapy. I met kids that had similar and different issues. I took a break from life. I really, really needed that. It was a time to focus on me and shut out the outside world. It was a safe haven and I couldn’t be hurt by the bad choices of my family and I couldn’t hurt myself. Most kids stayed for a week or two. I saw a lot of kids come and go but I stayed for a month.

 

When I went home, my problems were still there but I was equipped to handle things better. Life’s past and present issues didn’t want make me want to die anymore.

 

But about ten years later, it happened again. I had a two-year-old and had just left an awful relationship. I was living with my best friend and her new husband and they were wonderful and supportive. I also had an amazing therapist. The work I did with her had set me on a life-changing journey of healing from my past. I was working through a lot of issues I had because of the sexual abuse I’d been a victim of as a kid. I was trying to manage my eating disorder. It was very “one day at a time,” but I was trying.

 

But due to the issues I had with my ex, single motherhood, and trying to figure out how to get back on my own feet, I felt trapped. I felt like the “old Ami” who couldn’t get ahead. I became very delusional and found myself snapping into a different person. I’d write journal entries as the “old me” and slowly felt myself becoming “her.” I had a suicide plan. In a bad snowstorm, I drove my son to his father’s and said I couldn’t take care of him until I found a job and “got it together.”

 

But once again, even though I was telling my therapist a lot of the things I was dealing with, I wasn’t saying the important stuff. The stuff that had me teetering on the edge of the cliff. I didn’t tell her about my suicidal ideations. I didn’t say I’d sort of split into two people.

 

The “sane” side of me called the hospital. I made an appointment at a mental health facility and once there, the lady asked if I was going to hurt myself. I couldn’t talk. She asked if I needed help, if I needed to stay. At first, I didn’t know if I should tell her or not. But after a minute, I wanted to be heard. I cried. And shook my head yes.

 

Once again, I was in a new psych ward. I was with other adults who had problems that were just as heavy to them as mine were to me. The food wasn’t amazing. The rules could be annoying and patronizing, but being there was good. It was needed. I was safe.

 

I was there for a little over a week. I continued getting care and treatment after. I did my best to go to doctor’s appointments, therapist appointments and take the advice they were giving. Eventually, I stopped wanting to hurt myself.

 

And ten years later, which was last year, I got sick again. I’d recently moved with my husband and children to New Jersey from Georgia. Miles and miles away from close friends and family. My husband travels out of the state and country. He’s gone a few days every week. The town I live in is quiet and isolated, especially in the winter. I was now in a state where winters are cold and dark. I started writing more but once I was agented, I didn’t have enough time or space to do it. I didn’t have any family or friends to help out. I felt very alone. The stress was building at a rapid rate and once again, I felt trapped. I’m a pretty introverted person and love alone time but I missed adults. I missed having friends come by during the week. I missed going out to lunch with a coworker every once in a while. I missed going to my sister’s house on Friday or Saturdays, eating dinner together, and talking until late while the kids played.

 

I was seeing a therapist. It’d been great. We worked through a lot of the issues I had with my mom’s alcoholism. I told her about the anxiety and frustrations about not having enough time for myself and my work. I hinted at feeling overwhelmed, but I didn’t tell her the whole truth. That I was constantly thinking about suicide and wishing I could just do it and get it over with. I didn’t tell anyone that once again, I was becoming very comfortable with the idea of death.

 

But then, with much prodding from my best friend, I broke down. I cried. I admitted that it’d gotten so bad that I wasn’t safe. That I was going to hurt myself. I told her she could tell my husband because I didn’t want to. I was too afraid, too ashamed. I felt too much: I am a mom! A wife! I have a book deal and my dream is coming true! I’m supposed to have my crap together. For my family, for me.

 

The next day, my husband drove me to behavioral/mental health hospital. It was my birthday. But, I was safe. I couldn’t hurt myself. I took a break. From the stress and depression that made it hard for me to breathe. It gave me, doctors and therapists time to come up with solutions in a space where I didn’t have to deal with everything else. I learned some new coping skills. And after a week, I went home. But I wasn’t done. I started a wonderful day program. I was there for about two and a half months. Aside from new coping skills and a sort of “survival” plan, I learned a lot of ways to change the irrational thinking that had been a catalyst to my stress and catastrophizing.

 

And finally, I learned that I NEED TO TALK. I need to be honest about how I’m feeling. I shouldn’t wait until my toes are slightly over the cliff’s edge to finally ask for help. I also learned the true value of hospitalization.

 

Being admitted or admitting yourself to a psychiatric facility is not failure. When you’re overwhelmed and trapped, when it feels like there’s no way out of your depression, you’re in crisis mode. Your life is in danger. And when you’re in crisis or almost crisis mode, it’s okay and sometimes very, very necessary to take a break from “the outside world” until you are safe.

 

Hey, I love vacations. I prefer them to be somewhere warm and sunny. I like great food and tropical views and access to a nice pool. But when you lose yourself, when you’re incurably depressed, you’re going to need a little more than amazing guacamole and pina coladas to get you rejuvenated enough to want to go back home. So, the next time you hear about someone going to a mental hospital/psych ward/behavioral health facility, or if you or a friend is in crisis, don’t discount a “mental health vacation.”

 

I know my experiences aren’t going to be the same as everyone else’s and I won’t sugarcoat all the details about if you ask. But don’t dismiss hospitalization because of what you’ve seen on TV or movies. It’s not glamorous but it’s also not a giant cuckoo’s nest. A big reason my stays were successful was because I was able to drop the stigma attached to being hospitalized.

 

For me, this is true: All three times I stepped into a psychiatric ward, I went in ready to take my life. And all three times I left, I was safe. I was still alive.

 

I’m here today and I will be here tomorrow.

 

 

Note to reader: I’m very aware that hospitalization requires money and/or a good healthcare program. In my case, my first two hospitalizations were paid for using state’s healthcare program/healthcare assistance. In the third instance, my husband’s healthcare covered a lot of the bill. We were then able to pay the copays with a payment plan. It was a lot of money, but hello! The cost of a life…very worth it. Please don’t let finances or the stigma you may have attached to lack of finances prevent you from seeking help. Here are a few resources you can start with:

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24 hour toll-free crisis hotline, 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) can put you into contact with your local crisis center that can tell you where to seek immediate help in your area.

Child-Help USA 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453) crisis line assists both child and adult survivors of abuse, including sexual abuse. The hotline, staffed by mental health professionals, also provides treatment referrals.

In areas where 211 is available, this number connects you with mental health crisis services in your area.

 

Meet Ami Allen-Vath

Ami Allen-Vath author picAmi Allen-Vath is an ice cream enthusiast and a loather of cilantro. She’s the author of LIARS AND LOSERS LIKE US, about a teen dealing with anxiety, grief, and first love––all during prom season. Ami can be found on Twitter: @amilouiseallen, Facebook and amiallenvath.com.

 

 

 

 

About Liars and Losers Like Us

liarsKeep calm and make it to prom night—without a legit panic attack.

For seventeen-year-old Bree Hughes, it’s easier said than done when gossip, grief, and the opportunity to fail at love are practically high-fiving her in the hallways of Belmont High.

When Bree’s crush, Sean Mills, gives her his phone number, she can’t even leave a voicemail without sounding like a freak. Then she’s asked to be on Prom Court because Maisey Morgan, the school outcast nominated as a joke, declined. She apologizes to Maisey, but it’s too late. After years of torment and an ugly secret shared with their class’s cruel Pageant Queen, Maisey commits suicide. Bree is left with a lot of regret…and a revealing letter with a final request.

With Sean by her side, Bree navigates through her guilt, her parents’ divorce, and all the Prom Court drama. But when a cheating-love-triangle secret hits the fan after a night of sex, drinks, and video games, she’s left with new information about Sean and the class Pageant Queen. Bree must now speak up or stay silent. If she lets fear be her guide, she’ll lose her first love, and head to prom to avenge the death of the school outcast—as a party of one. (Sky Pony Press, March 22, 2016. SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)