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Morgan’s Mumbles: Taking Mental Breaks, by Teen Contributor Morgan Randall

Teen contributor Morgan Randall talks with us today about taking mental breaks

As this is the midpoint for a lot of colleges’ fall semester, I (like many other college students) am starting to struggle a lot with mental fatigue especially that which comes from the lack of social interactions with purely online classes. Staring at a computer, on average for eight hours a day, is taking a toll on me mentally as it makes me feel isolated. And the lack of sunlight is having an effect on my mental health. Right now would be the perfect time for a break, one where I could go outside and take time to mentally reboot. However, my college (like a lot of other ones) has opted to not have a fall break this year, and in exchange releasing us from the fall semester earlier. I understand why, with the fear of another large wave of COVID, however, going to a large college COVID cases are already high and a majority of students aren’t in person anyways. I do think it is important to try and limit contact, and if the university thinks this is the best way to do so then I pray it works. However, by doing this it doesn’t allow people time to re-cooperate after midterms or even just to have a few days to reset mentally.

I have one professor who canceled one of our classes this week as a “break” but he still assigned us work, and every other of my classes are still happening. I understand my professors have a lot to teach us in little time, however with the amount of information being crammed into my mind at this rate I will not retain any of it. Mentally I need time to breathe and process everything happening, along with having time to practice some healthy self-care. Since I am currently limited on how I can do that, due to both COVID and the lack of having a break, I am trying to come up with some ways I can still have a mental reset without missing classes and risking the safety of anyone.

Some of the ways I have come up with is to take a walk, it can be hard to get a long walk in when a majority of your classes are spread throughout the day but even taking a short walk normally helps my have some mental clarity. Journaling has also been really helpful, sometimes I journal about things that are on my mind, and other times I just find random journaling prompts and work off of those. I have been trying to explore more music recently and trying to find smaller artists to support. Music has always brought me some kind of happiness, so find something that sparks joy for you and find a way to incorporate that in your everyday life. One of my roommates paints, and I also really enjoy embroidery. Cleaning and organizing have also (oddly enough) become really soothing since I live in a very contained area, any messy area effects my mental clarity. I like to pick up throughout the day, and then whenever I am feeling real slumped I’ll push myself to deep clean something or organize another area so that in turn I will feel better mentally and my space will be cleaner.

These are things I would typically do over a break from school, during high school, so now I am just trying to find ways to incorporate these in my everyday life. That way a break isn’t the only time you get to mentally reset. If you are someone who normally gets to travel over breaks, and can’t do so now. I recommend trying to find a local campsite you can visit, so that you have no (or little) contact to other people but can still feel like you got to get away. Or if you live close to a lake, ocean, mountains, or large forested area take a day trip just to have a change of scenery and find something to do there. If you are able to, take a road trip with roommates or family, pick a location and make it a fun trip. By limiting your space to your car (and as few stops as possible) you can limit spread but also still make a day or a few interesting.            

I hope that this gave you some ideas of things to do if you aren’t going to get a break anytime soon, and I hope it will help you mentally reset.

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

Morgan recently graduated high school and is currently enrolled to attend college in the fall getting her BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Design and Technology. She loves theatre, writing, reading, and learning. But something that has always been important to her is being a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, and being a catalyst for change in any way possible.

Book Review: My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee

My Life in the Fish Tank

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

Amanda’s thoughts

The summary up there is pretty thorough and hits most of the main plot points of the story. What you need to know, what you can’t really learn from the summary, is how nuanced and emotional this story is. Many families choose to keep something like a mental illness private/secret/a family matter. I’m not here to judge people doing that (though, we all know I’m super open about our mental health issues here and think being open helps eliminate stigma and leads to more help for everyone) because mental illness is hard, family can be hard, choices are hard, and so on. But certainly for Zinny, being told to keep it private that her older brother is bipolar and in a treatment facility really destroys her.

Zinny’s parents become distant and shut down as the family tries to get through this hard time without really talking to one another about it or being open. Her mother shows signs of depression and takes a leave from her job as a teacher. Her father is always at work. No one makes dinner or takes care of things, leaving Zinny to feel like she should cook, get groceries, and so on. Her secrecy drives a wedge between her and her best friends, leaving her feeling even more isolated and alone. Her older sister is dealing with their brother’s diagnosis and absence differently than Zinny is, so she also feels a loss of kinship with her sister. She’s confused, ashamed, upset, and still not entirely clear what’s happening. Her feels even worse when she hears her mom straight up lie about her brother (he’s back at college and doing great!).

While all of that is really hard, surprising good things happen. Dee doesn’t leave Zinny alone and despairing. She gives her a great science teacher, Ms. Molina, who lets Zinny come help in her classroom during lunch, who supports her without overtly making it about what’s happening at home, and who encourages Zinny to be making connections and continuing to live her life. Dee also gives Zinny a group of new friends, a lunch bunch of other middle school kids dealing with rough issues. While Zinny isn’t thrilled to be in this group at first, she gets a lot out of those connections and finds not just kids who are also experiencing difficult times, but kids who want to be her friend, who include her, and who show her it’s okay to be dealing with family issues. Her family is struggling, but Zinny is surrounded by support and true caring. And while her parents definitely make missteps along the way (as a parent, I can safely say we all do, even if we’re certain we’re trying to do our best), they all work together to figure out how to get through this time.

Flashbacks to both happier times and moments with Gabriel that illuminate how long his mental illness went undiagnosed create a bigger and better picture of Zinny’s family. Given how many children are most certainly dealing with mental illness at home or with someone close to them, this is a much needed book that shows how hard and scary it can be, but also how much help there is and how much hope there is. Zinny’s story moves from feeling like they’re all just barely surviving this upheaval to seeing how everyone learns to function more honestly and healthily in this new reality. It’s hardly news to say that mental illness affects the entire family, but it’s so important that we see the ways this can happen and understand that it’s okay to be affected and to need to figure out a way forward. An important read and highly recommended.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

Pandemic School, by Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Today, teen contributor Riley Jensen is sharing her thoughts about starting school this upcoming year. Riley will be starting her senior year; it’s an important year with a lot of big decisions. She knows she wants to be a forensic scientist, which means college and tests and campus visits. She also has found her home, her people, in the theatre program. I did not think last year when I saw her perform that it would possibly be my last time seeing her perform on the high school stage. As her mom, this was very hard to read. We’ve cried a lot, talked a lot, and we’re trying to balance making the best decisions for her with the best decisions for our family with the best decisions for our community, all in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic in a state with really consistently high numbers of infection, hospitalizations and death. Here’s a look into the mind of a teen trying to navigate education in the pandemic.

This year while many other schools have made the decision to start school off virtually, my district decided that students would have a choice between online school and in person school. Only half of my schedule is actual academic courses while the other half is made up of extracurricular courses. So, I made the decision to do in person school since I can’t really be a teacher aide from home. Obviously students are required to wear masks and socially distance, but it can be hard to tell how many of the students will actually follow these instructions since they barely even listen to a dress code already.

Thinking about starting this school year has caused me a lot of anxiety. I have no way of knowing what my fellow students have done, who they have been in contact with or how well they’ve been following the recommended precautions. All I know is that if I get the virus at school I will be bringing it back home to my family.

It’s time to put on make up . . . But will the curtain go up again during senior year?

I also know that not everyone is taking this pandemic very seriously. I see people’s posts about them going out to restaurants or amusement parks or parties. I see them without their masks. I see them not being socially distant. I’m not completely innocent either. I’ve gone out and seen large groups of people. Nobody is really doing what they’re supposed to be doing anymore.

So, when I get back to school, I will be surrounded by people who have gone out and done things without a mask. I will be surrounded by people who don’t think this pandemic is that big of a deal. I will be surrounded by people who probably haven’t even looked at the number of cases in weeks. I will probably not be safe.

Senior photo by Rescue Teacher Photography

There are things I could do to make me more safe obviously. I could just show up to my extracurricular classes, but I don’t drive. I know that’s my own fault but that doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t drive. I could drop a few classes and sign up for early release, but then I won’t get all of the credits I need to graduate. At this point I don’t really know what to do, but I’m scared.

I am terrified of the thought that I might get sick and bring it home to my family. I’ve seen the statistics and I know that school is not a super awesome idea. It’s just so much to process. I barely even know what I want to do with my future, but now I have to figure out what to do without putting my whole family in danger of getting sick.

This whole thing is just stressful and scary and something that I never even thought I would have to think about. So, I’m just going to do my part in keeping everyone safe and hope that everyone else does the same. It seems that’s all anyone can really do at this point.

The Power of Being Vulnerable, a guest post by Kate O’Shaughnessy

I was twenty-one years old the first time I had a panic attack.

Kate, age 21

It was the tail-end of a long weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, right after my junior year of college had wrapped up. I was exhausted and ready to go home, the straps of an overstuffed backpack chafing against my sunburned shoulders as I wandered through the airport with a friend.

It came completely out of nowhere. We were browsing in a bookstore when my chest grew unbearably tight, like someone was sitting right on my sternum. My heart began to race and my breathing became shallow. The pressure in my chest was intense, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by an almost-prophetic sense of doom.

Is this how it feels when you’re about to die? I thought wildly. Had I drank too much that weekend? Had I gotten sun poisoning? Had all of that, plus the combination of not sleeping and being stressed about exams, done something terrible to my heart?

Panicked, I left the bookstore. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I went and sat on the floor outside, my back against the wall, desperately trying to get a deep breath. At that point, my vision was starting to go speckled and black around the edges.

“Are you okay?” My friend asked, now kneeling next to me. I must have looked terrible, because I can still remember the worry on her face.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I think something’s wrong with my heart.”

Within minutes there were other people around me, too. Someone must have called a doctor, or whatever medical staff was on-site, because soon they were kneeling next to me, too, asking all kinds of questions.

My chest still felt scarily tight, but the “I’m about to die” feeling was fading. I’m okay, I said, I just want to go home. But given my symptoms, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed on the flight and that an ambulance had been called. 

And the ambulance did arrive. With a stretcher. I was horrified. I begged them to please let me walk, that I was starting to feel a little better, but I was told it was a matter of liability and I had to hop on up and let them strap me in.

For years, what I remembered most about this whole experience was the shame. That hot sluice of humiliation as I tried to hide my face from classmates who were watching me roll through the terminal.

At the hospital, the doctor gently suggested that it could be a mild inflammation of my heart’s lining, but that in all likelihood what I’d experienced was a panic attack.

Instead of listening, or asking more about panic attacks or what I could do to avoid them in the future, I clung to the first option, to the purely physical diagnosis, like it was a life raft. I told my worried friends that there was something up with my heart, that it wasn’t too serious, that a short course of anti-inflammatory pills should clear it up. I remember feeling like not all of them believed me. This made me sink deeper into that feeling of shame. I’d caused this whole big embarrassing scene, I told myself, for nothing.

I had more panic attacks after that. I white-knuckled through them. I didn’t talk about it. The embarrassment of that first panic attack had burrowed so deep that I was still ashamed. This went on for a long time.

During the course of all this, life went on. I graduated, traveled a ton, had a bunch of strange and interesting jobs, got married, and started writing.

I played around with a few different manuscripts before I started writing what turned into my middle grade debut, THE LONELY HEART OF MAYBELLE LANE. I started writing it because I’d just moved across the country, away from my family, and I was lonely. But then, I wrote more of myself into Maybelle. I gave her panic attacks, too. 

It wasn’t something I remember actively deciding to do. They were just…one part of her. For her, they started after she and her mom could no longer afford their home and had to move, an event for which Maybelle blamed herself.

Writing the book—no, writing this specific part of her—was deeply cathartic for me. Because no one else in the story judges Maybelle for her panic attacks. There is care, there is love, there is support, but there is no judgement. Because what kind of person would judge an eleven-year-old kid for their mental health struggles? Nobody decent, I realized. So maybe that meant I could stop judging myself.

And so in the process of writing about Maybelle’s panic attacks, I became more open about talking about my own. When a friend mentioned a panic attack she’d experienced, I told her that I got them, too. I started opening up about it; I let myself be vulnerable first in my writing, and then in my real life.

Funnily enough, my memory of that first panic attack started to change. I now remember it with tenderness toward myself instead of self-reproach, because I was essentially just a scared kid who had no idea what was happening to her.

Because here’s the secret: vulnerability can sometimes feel like the end of the world, but what it’s actually the end of is shame.

If you’re in a place of shame about anything, my advice is to open up. Shame dies in the light. Good people will want to support and love you. So rip the curtains aside. Talk about it. Be vulnerable. Be vulnerable in your writing, in your relationships, in your life. It can be scary, but I promise: it’s so worth it.

Meet Kate O’Shaughnessy

Kate O’Shaughnessy writes middle grade fiction. She has been a chef, earned a fellowship with the Yale Sustainable Food Program, and backpacked around the world. She and her husband live in Berkeley, CA. You can read more about her at kloshaughnessy.com and follow her on Twitter at @kloshaughnessy. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane is her debut novel.


Links:

www.kloshaughnessy.com

www.twitter.com/kloshaughnessy

www.instagram.com/kloshaughnessy

About The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane

This sparkling middle-grade debut is a classic-in-the-making!

Maybelle Lane is looking for her father, but on the road to Nashville she finds so much more: courage, brains, heart—and true friends.

Eleven-year-old Maybelle Lane collects sounds. She records the Louisiana crickets chirping, Momma strumming her guitar, their broken trailer door squeaking. But the crown jewel of her collection is a sound she didn’t collect herself: an old recording of her daddy’s warm-sunshine laugh, saved on an old phone’s voicemail. It’s the only thing she has of his, and the only thing she knows about him.

Until the day she hears that laugh—his laugh—pouring out of the car radio. Going against Momma’s wishes, Maybelle starts listening to her radio DJ daddy’s new show, drinking in every word like a plant leaning toward the sun. When he announces he’ll be the judge of a singing contest in Nashville, she signs up. What better way to meet than to stand before him and sing with all her heart?

But the road to Nashville is bumpy. Her starch-stiff neighbor Mrs. Boggs offers to drive her in her RV. And a bully of a boy from the trailer park hitches a ride, too. These are not the people May would have chosen to help her, but it turns out they’re searching for things as well. And the journey will mold them into the best kind of family—the kind you choose for yourself.

ISBN-13: 9781984893833
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny queer YA contemporary novel about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Amanda’s thoughts

When I’m writing this review it’s March 20, 2020 and I’ve just been diagnosed as “COVID-19 concern,” which I guess is what they diagnose those of us who are sick with all the symptoms in this world of no available tests. I’m really into feeling sorry for myself today. But you know what helped? This book. I read it all today. And loved it. And thank goodness I’ve stumbled into a pile of books keeping my attention because wow have I been in a reading slump lately.

This book is my favorite kind of book: small plot, lots of talking. It also has delightfully convoluted communication mainly due to the fact that we first see our characters meet at a con and know each other as Peak and Bats. Peak (Jubilee) assumes Bats (Ridley) goes back home to Seattle, but really, he stays in Connecticut to live with his terrible father. Also, while they initially know nothing about one another, Ridley figures out who Peak is (Jubilee, daughter of a famous indie comic artist and his father’s main rival) while she knows nothing about him. Even for many, many chapters while they are hanging out in IRL. And Riley may be spying on her family’s store to get intel to help his dad (who, did I mention? is terrible). And when the reveal comes that not only is Ridley Jubilee’s con-crush Bats but is the son of her mom’s rival, things grow even MORE complicated, because how can Jubilee possibly still like him? But she does.

Whew. Get all that? You will when you read it.

There’s also a lot going on here regarding both mental health and sexuality. Ridley is bi. Jubilee calls herself “flexible” and isn’t comfortable with any one label yet, but knows she’s into certain people regardless of their gender. Ridley worries what Jubilee will think about him being bi, and Jubilee worries that repeatedly liking boys somehow makes her less queer. Then there’s Ridley’s mental health. At one point he tells Jubilee that he doesn’t have a diagnosis—he has a laundry list. His main issue is anxiety with panic attacks. Given the amount of lies and secrets he juggles for much of the book, it’s no surprise that his anxiety is always in high gear. Things start to become dangerous when he begins to feel like he’d just like to get lost in Jubilee and forget everything else. A common statement at our house is that people don’t fix people. So wanting to get lost in his girlfriend isn’t exactly a doctor-approved way to treat his worsening anxiety. Some bad choices and instability lead to everything coming to a head.

While this is certainly a romance, it’s also so much more. It really asks the question of how do you survive the dark times and doesn’t offer any easy answers. It’s also a great look at two people getting maybe too wrapped up in each other and not helping them be their best selves (does that sound like a mom lecture? I may or may not have given it recently). This is much heavier than it may appear based on the cover and the summary. That said, those looking for a contemporary that successfully mixes romance with some rather serious issues (and some concerning choices regarding lies, truth, and mental health) will enjoy this. A character-driven book with wide appeal.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516286
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio

Publisher’s description

Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race and, ultimately, self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).

What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved Gregorio’s first book, None of the Above, and have been waiting to see what she would do next. When this book showed up, along with a letter about the importance of happy books about mental illness, I rearranged my reading schedule (a literal printed out schedule right now, as I write this review, as schools are closed and I’m home with far more unstructured time than I’ve had in years) to read this right away. And I loved it.

Chinese American Jocelyn lives in Utica, New York and is finally used to life there versus her old life in the city. So when she learns that her family’s restaurant is struggling and that they may have to closed up and move, she takes it upon herself to help the business thrive. That is A LOT for a high school junior to take on. She puts out an ad for help wanted to grow the business and give them a social media presence, and Will answers it. Nigerian American Will goes to a local private school and brings lots of skills to the table. Before long, the two are not just working on the business together, but falling for each other. But it’s complicated. Jos’s dad doesn’t want them dating for a variety of reasons, both teens deal with insecurities and mental health issues that interfere with their communications and interactions, and the pressure to save an entire business looms large.

Will starts to notice Jos seems like she has depression. He has generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. He’s been in therapy for years, which is great, but he’s not medicated, which is not great because his symptoms seem to need something else other than CBT for him to thrive. He’s wary of medication for all of the classic reasons, but also because his ob-gyn mother seems wary of medication. Jos is slowly growing more miserable, drowning under the pressure of the restaurant and clearly depressed. She is into Will be also appears to resent him—-she feels he’s more successful than she is (better grades etc). She begins to feel like she has to watch her mood around him because of how aware he is of her changing moods. She wonders if she has to appear happy for him to be happy.

I loved this story for how very real it was. Not everyone is having open conversations at home about mental health. Not everyone who is being treated is getting the full spectrum of what they could to help them feel their best. One thing that everyone is doing, however, is still living complicated, multifaceted lives that have a lot more going on than just trying to address any one thing. While this is a romance, and the story of children of immigrants juggling multiple cultures, norms, and expectations, it’s also a very affecting and complex exploration of mental health. Jos and Will’s story is warm and supportive, even when things get all mixed up. A smart story that shows that while people don’t fix people, they can support them, and that may lead to getting help. Gregorio makes it clear that not only is getting help okay, asking for help is good, too. Highly recommended.

Review copy (finished book) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316423823
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

The Healing Power of Fiction, a guest post by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

I am passionate and outspoken about authentic, non-stereotyped mental health representation in young adult literature. To explain why, let me tell you story.

When I was diagnosed with trauma-induced, severe obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD, my husband and I confided in our immediate family. Here are some of their initial responses:

“Just think about happy things. You can do it!”

Blank stares and silence.

“You’re going to hurt the baby!” (I was carrying our first child at the time.)

“What you went through was for the best, in the long term. You’re lucky.” 

About a month later, a family member took me out to lunch. As I sat in the restaurant, barely holding myself together, she told me: “It’s time to stop this now. You have to snap of it.”

Let me translate that from the point of view of an individual suffering with mental health: You are behaving this way on purpose. You’re choosing to be miserable all the time. If you were stronger, you wouldn’t be like this.”

Although I still haven’t completely recovered from the emotional damage that statement caused, my relative is far from alone in that view. Her Appalachian culture (the culture I grew up in as well) instills a “yank yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality almost from birth. Mental strength is a prized (and expected) attribute. If you’re not in tip top mental shape all the time, you bury that fact where it will never see the light of day because it’s a source of shame not only for you, but for your entire family.

Again, such mentality is not unique to Appalachian culture. Similar ideas cross myriad backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic classes: that only “weak” or “insane” people suffer with mental health; that mental health struggles are imagined and not actually real; that medication to treat them is somehow shameful whereas medication for physical illnesses is a no-brainer.

After the disappointing reactions from my family, I tried one more lifeline: a close friend who was almost a second mom to me. And though she looked sad, she also looked bewildered, like I had spoken a different language. “Tell me what you need,” she said, trying to be helpful. And I know she was genuine, that she was asking because she truly didn’t know.

It turns out, people in crisis can rarely articulate what they need, but I didn’t know that at the time. Instead I felt stupid for not knowing and guilty for making her feel awkward. I left as soon as I could.   

Suffice it to say, I didn’t tell anyone else what was happening with me. If family members and a trusted confident couldn’t handle it, I reasoned my peers would probably ditch me immediately. Even with a diagnosis, it took a long time to get me on the correct treatment plan, so I spiraled into a very dark place. I couldn’t touch the dog I used to snuggle with every day because my brain told me he might carry germs that could hurt my unborn baby. I couldn’t use a public bathroom. I couldn’t handle raw meat anymore because what if I didn’t wash my hands well enough and I made someone sick? I checked and rechecked and checked again that the stove was off…and then I wasn’t sure if I’d checked. And once—one of my most vivid memories from that time—I literally couldn’t stop washing my hands and arms and had to call my husband downstairs to help me turn off the water.

I was terrified of getting out of bed each day because of all the triggers I’d endure while awake. I put all of my suffering focus into graduate school (it was low-residency, thank goodness, so mostly online) and I stopped hanging out with friends. 

One day, one of them asked me to grab tea with her, and because I hadn’t seen her in a while and was determined to overcome my horrible disease by sheer force of will, I agreed. As we sat sipping our drinks, she gently told me she knew something was wrong. That I could talk to her. I was mortified. I’d tried so hard to hide all my symptoms, to appear normal. But I couldn’t do it any longer. Everything spilled out—the trauma, the diagnosis, the way I couldn’t control the wild, spinning thoughts in my head that made me feel like I was slowly losing my mind.

As much as the “snap out of it” reaction is seared into my memory, so too is my friend’s response. She didn’t tell me I could fend off OCD with positive thoughts. She hugged me so that I felt in my bones she would never abandon me in this; she would never run away from this ugliness. She cried with me, right there in public. It was the first time someone (apart from my husband) didn’t imply that my OCD was in some shape or form my fault.

It is not an overstatement to say that proper treatment (for me, serotonin and cognitive behavioral therapy), both of which I never would have received or accepted without the support of important friends, saved my life.

I’m a writer, so as I began to heal, I knew that in order to process what I’d been through, I had to write about it—not the actual, real life details of my personal situation, but the feelings and emotions the experience brought out: the utter despair that I’d somehow brought this on myself and would never again be okay. That I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. That despite having loving people around me like my husband, I was totally, horrifyingly alone.

I also wanted to explore the kind of friendship that could pull a person through such a hellish experience, and how such a friendship is established.

The Edge of Anything is the book I’d longed for during my own darkest days. It tells the dual narrative of two teenagers—one a shy photographer unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis, the other a popular volleyball star with her own devastating secret—and the unexpected friendship that saves them both. 

The book stars teenagers because I’m a young adult author, but also because teenagers are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to mental health. Sadly, according to recent statistics, one out of every five teenagers suffer from at least one mental health disorder per year[i], and the rate of depression in adolescents aged 12-17 has increased 63 percent since 2013[ii]. What’s more, seven-in-ten teens see anxiety and depression as “major problems among their peers.”[iii] When I think about how difficult it was for me, as an adult with health care and a supportive spouse, to figure out what was happening and find a health care specialist who understood what I was going through, the thought of undergoing a similar experience as a teen is devastating.

Today, I can tell people I have OCD. More than once someone has confided in me about their own struggles (or those of someone they care about) and I’ve been able to help them a tiny bit on their journey. Because communication matters. It can change and save lives.

It’s my hope that The Edge of Anything will function in a similar way for readers, both those all-too-familiar with mental health struggles and those with no personal experience. No one needs to be told life isn’t fair. But I think we do all need to hear that sometimes we are not okay, and that itself is okay and not something that should shame or devalue a person. We are all loveable and beautiful—just as we are, even if we are undergoing a serious, behavior-altering health condition. And we all need to hear that there’s hope.


[i] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/mental-health/adolescent-mental-health-basics/index.html

[ii] https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/

[iii] https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/

Meet Nora Shalaway Carpenter

A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Nora Shalaway Carpenter is the author of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING, contributing editor of RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SMALL-TOWN AMERICA (Candlewick, Oct 13, 2020), and author of the picture book YOGA FROG (Running Press). Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and the world’s most patient dog and cat. Learn more at noracarpenterwrites.com, @noracarpenterwrites on Instagram, and @norawritesbooks on Twitter.

Nora’s local indie is Malaprop’s Books in Asheville, NC. Order her book there!

About The Edge of Anything

A vibrant #ownvoices debut YA novel about grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.

But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.

Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

ISBN-13: 9780762467587
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

RevolTeens: Teens Speaking Out and Raising Awareness for Mental Health, by Christine Lively

Trigger Warning: This post talks about mental health issues including teens and suicide

Adolescence is a time of life when we expect kids to become more moody, more unpredictable, and to experience physical, emotional, and mental turmoil. It’s also a time of life when parents, teachers, and communities begin an onslaught of advice with an ominous message that goes something like this: The decisions you make over these years will determine your success or failure for the rest of your life. This combination is a recipe for mental anguish and we all seem to accept this pressure cooker period as a necessary phase of life – we’ve all been through it, and it was awful, but it ends. We know what this does to teens. Many of us look back on that time of our lives as something we escaped from or endured rather than something we learned from, yet we haven’t changed or improved the experience for teens today.  They’re stressed out, and they need help, just like we did. I have lived with debilitating clinical depression for as long as I can remember, and I didn’t have anywhere to turn when I experienced mental health crises. My own children have experienced mental health issues, and I know how harrowing and all but impossible it is to find mental health services for children. The obstacles to finding help and support are inexcusably difficult.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of RevolTeens who aren’t waiting for adults to make the changes they need. These RevolTeens are creating programs and services to help themselves and each other. They’re just like we were and they keep proving David Bowie right, “They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through.” They’re not waiting for help, they’re helping each other.

8 inspiring, young mental health activists you need to know about published on Mashable profiles extraordinary teens who are not waiting for us adults to do something.  “These young advocates are developing apps, founding nonprofit organizations, coordinating fundraising drives, and building campus-wide support networks. They’re taking advantage of the work activists have previously done to decrease the stigma of talking about mental health, and they’re creating their own legacy by fundamentally changing the way young people discuss and seek help for mental illness.”

Ose Arhegham, Miana Bryant, Gabby Frost, Samuel Orley, Katie Regittko, Max Rothman, Satvik Sethi, and Amanda Southwort are RevolTeens who have taken on changing the way teens talk about and find help for mental illnesses. They’re changing stigmas and building support communities to help teens acknowledge and treat their own mental illnesses in heroic and selfless ways. Reading the stories of these young people makes me realize how important it is for these messages to come from young people themselves. Unfortunately, many of these advocates have risen to action because they were unable to get the help they needed themselves, or because they’ve lost friends and loved ones who’ve died by suicide. These tragedies were not prevented by the adults around them, and their revolt began. They’re not waiting for someone else to make change.

Cloe Sorensen is a RevolTeen who has taken on the critical challenge of suicide prevention. She, like nearly all teens in America has experienced the overwhelming loss of friends to suicide. She was moved to advocacy and started within her own community, “Initially, that meant leaning on existing relationships with family and friends to grieve, and coming up with ways to advocate for mental health at Gunn. Sorensen started the Student Wellness Committee to encourage students to be more aware of their mental health, including a referral system where her peers could refer friends anonymously for in-school counseling. Another successful initiative: Youth Empowerment Seminars, where students learn stress-relief techniques such as mindfulness and breathing exercises.” 

After those initial efforts, Chloe confronted the obstacle that so many young people face: They can’t seek out and receive mental health care without parental consent before the age of eighteen. This prevents so many teens from finding help or from even admitting that they need help and removes their agency. It stops them from even looking for the help they need and can lead to tragic results. “Now a student at Stanford, Sorensen spends much of her time working with the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing on the launch of Allcove, a network of youth mental health centers in Santa Clara County geared toward youth 12 to 25 years of age. In addition to onsite mental health services, basic primary care, wellness services and the educational/career support offered at each center, young people can access a variety of support services without parental consent, including treatment for early psychosis and substance abuse counseling. Sorensen also founded Youth United for Responsible Media Representation, a group of students working to reduce suicide contagion by training the media not to sensationalize coverage in the aftermath of tragedy.”

Chloe’s efforts have no doubt changed and likely saved lives. She has changed the way teens seek help and brought services to those who had no way to get help before. She’s revolutionized mental health care for teens all without waiting for us adults to take action.

Those of us who work with teens see this firsthand that teens have too much to do, feel too much pressure, and feel there is no one to help them. We know that so many things should change to give teens the time, space, and support that they need to be more in control of their lives and to even enjoy their time. Mental health services are life saving and should be easily accessible to teens, but we know that they are not.

Seeing these teen advocates is inspiring at first read, but reflection brought me the realization that these kids have to revolt at least in part because they couldn’t depend on the adults around them to help and in so many cases, the adults around them were another obstacle to overcome.  I think about the kids I work with every day in the high school library. I help them with their school projects, help them find books to read, and talk with them about what’s going on in their lives. Yet, I don’t know if any of them would consider coming to me to get help with a problem, or if they believe I could help them if they asked. Who do they turn to when they know they need help? How hard is it for them to find the services they need? I know that there are dire and life altering consequences when they don’t get the help they need. While I am in awe of these teen mental health advocates, their revolt should also be a call to action for all of us who work with and love teens. They need help. We need to give them that help, or get out of their way so they can find a way to get it for themselves.  

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255

Book Review: Brave Face: A Memoir by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

Critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants—described as having “hints of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (School Library Journal)—opens up about what led to an attempted suicide in his teens, and his path back from the experience.

“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”

Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.

A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.

Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a big fan of memoirs. While most of my reading is of children’s and YA books, when I do grab an adult book from the library, it is frequently a memoir. I like the deep dive into someone’s life. I like seeing them raw and unpacking their challenges and successes. So when a memoir comes out by one of my favorite YA authors, you can bet I will devour it.

For me, this had an added element of interest. I’m the same age as Hutchinson—we both graduated high school in 1996. We were both depressed and anxious teens, kept journals (and hung onto them all this time—I have a whole bin of my journals from elementary school through college), listened to a lot of the same music, wrote for the school paper, and so on. For me, as an adult reader, I really felt myself right there with Hutchinson because I really *saw* him. I would’ve been friends with him. My computer-programming, D&D-playing, fantasy-novel-reading husband would’ve been friends with him.

I spent the whole memoir really wanted two things for Hutchinson: for him to find his people and for him to get the mental health help he needed. And that’s really want this whole memoir is about. We follow Hutchinson through high school and a few years of college. We watch him go from an excited ninth grader positive about his future to a severely depressed and self-loathing older teen who can’t see anything good in his present or his future, feels like a failure, and grows increasingly reckless. We watch him participate in drama and debate, work various jobs, hang out with his close girl friend, play D&D, and half-heartedly date and make out with some girls. Meanwhile he’s feeling increasingly irritated, having meltdowns, lashing out while alone, and writing in his journal about his misery and his suicidal ideation.

We also see Hutchinson really struggle with being gay. He writes a lot about how his negative and limited idea of what it would mean to be gay came from the culture and stories around him at this time in the 90s. He wasn’t able to see beyond horrible stereotypes and miserable endings. He simply didn’t have any other examples. And he certainly didn’t have any kind of community to help him work through these thoughts. Even as he came to understand that he was gay, he still lacked examples of love or romance or happiness. His view of his life, already complicated by his untreated depression, grew darker.

Eventually, Hutchinson attempts suicide and ends up in a psychiatric treatment facility. There is a content warning for this part of the book to allow readers to skip over the details included here. He then summarizes life after this time—the ups and downs of both relationships and various treatments. He leaves readers with the important message that it can indeed get better, though it can take a while to get there. And, most importantly, it’s okay to ask for help—that struggling alone and putting on a brave face isn’t required.

This is a powerful and painfully honest look at surviving while finding your place, your people, and self-acceptance.

Review copy (e-ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781534431515
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 05/21/2019

Writing with a Trigger Warning, a guest post by Victoria Lee

“Write what you know.” We get that advice a lot, as authors. Writing from experience builds deeper, more authentic stories. Sometimes it’s as easy as writing a known setting—for example, my debut novel, The Fever King, is set in a speculative version of my own hometown. Who is gonna know how to write Durham better than me?

 

But other times, writing what you know means writing narratives that are important…but really personal and really, really difficult. In some ways, we want the people who have lived these experiences to write them. On the other hand, writing about trauma and discrimination and mental illness can be incredibly triggering for the author themselves.

The author as a teen.

The author as a teen.

In my books—both The Fever King and in books I’m writing now, or have written in the past—I’ve wrestled with the push and pull of wanting to tell the hard story and wanting simultaneously to hide from it. It’s a very personal choice, deciding whether or not you’re ready to tell certain stories. Not just because they’ll be hard to write, but because if they ever get published, you’ll be asked to explain how those experiences relate to your own (c.f. the ever-present interview question: What inspired you to write this book?).

 

I survived sexual abuse as a child, and subsequent to that I dealt with a lot of mental health and substance use issues. It’s not uncommon among survivors—you want to splint the parts of you that feel broken with whatever materials you can reach. I wrote about both of these issues in my most recent books, and while in a lot of ways writing so frankly about these experiences was cathartic, other times it got difficult. I found myself having to take breaks after certain scenes. Oddly enough, it was never the scenes themselves that triggered me—it was the little details: describing a certain expression on an abuser’s face, or the way it feels to tell someone the truth and wonder if they see you differently now.

image004

But I keep writing these stories. I feel like I have to—like I’m contributing one particular facet of this experience to the conversation about mental health and survivorship, and in a lot of ways, the story I’m telling is the story I wish I’d had when I was a teen.

 

A critique partner once asked me if I ever planned to write about characters who weren’t survivors of some kind of trauma. I told her no. I’m not done telling survivors’ stories. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever be done. Because if just one reader tells me my books made them feel seen, it’ll all have been worth it.

Meet Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee author photo (no credit)Victoria Lee is the author of The Fever King, which Skyscape will publish on March 1, 2019. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in PA with her partner. www.victorialeewrites.com

 

Follow her on Twitter: @sosaidvictoria, Instagram: @sosaidvictoria, and Facebook: @victorialeewrites

 

About THE FEVER KING

 

fever kingIn the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

ISBN-13: 9781542040402
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Series: Feverwake Series #1