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Anger, inspiration, and the stories we tell, a guest post by Marieke Nijkamp

before iBefore I Let Go tells the story of two girls in the arctic heart of Alaska. Two girls who were best friends, who were discovering who they could be, who were each other’s center of gravity. It tells of  grief and ice, of mystery and mental illness.

And it was, at least in part, born out of anger.

Anger is good writing fuel for me. Anger and questions. It’s where most of my story ideas start. Of course, for an idea to grow into a book, it needs far more than just a spark. It needs characters to carry it, a plot to move it forward, and beautiful Alaskan settings. Oh, how I love playing with winter.

But it started with a spark of anger.

The source of that anger? Inspiration porn. A specific instance… or ten or twenty.

If you don’t know what inspiration porn is, the late, great Stella Young defined it as such in her absolute spectacular Ted talk I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much: the act of objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people.

It’s posters of disabled athletes with the slogan “The only disability is a bad attitude.” It’s describing disabled people as courageous simply for living. It’s quite literally describing us as inspirational.

I don’t know anyone with a disability—especially those of us who use assistive devices or are visibly disabled—who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to tell them how brave they are. I don’t know anyone with a disability who hasn’t at some point in their life had strangers come up to them to say, “I can’t imagine living like that, but you’re really inspiring to me.” Or, “I wasn’t feeling well today, but then I thought of you and how much worse you have it, and I pushed through.”

It happens countless times.

At the core of it is this strange idea that living with disability is either so remarkable or so terrible that the sheer act of existing is to be applauded. (And that we only exist for the benefit of nondisabled people.)

Now, on the surface, inspiration porn may seem relatively benign. Sure, it’s objectifying, but inspiration is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s set aside that objectifying and othering means not valuing us, means denying us accessibility, means hindering our quest toward equality.

Sometimes, it goes beyond even that. When there’s a very specific variation to the theme: when a disabled person’s death exists to inspire nondisabled people in life.

This particular version is often used specifically in the context of (romanticizing) mental illness and suicidal ideation, though there are also ample examples of it being used in broader disability representation.

And honestly, I’ve seen one too many portrayals of dead disabled characters whose death is turned into a teachable moment instead of a tragedy. Or, a flawed reminder to “make the most” out of life. And it always keeps the focus on nondisabled people.

That’s what sparked Before I Let Go. I wanted to write a book that examined and would be conversation with inspiration porn. Sure, it’s a murder mystery too. And a story of friendship and responsibility and how even the best intentions can be harmful. But Kyra’s death at the start of the book is unequivocally a tragedy.

She deserved so much more. And that’s where we start.

 

Meet Marieke Nijkamp

Credit: Karin Nijkamp

Credit: Karin Nijkamp

Marieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she spends as much time in fictional worlds as she does the real world. She loves to travel, roll dice, and daydream.

Marieke’s debut young adult novel, This Is Where It Ends, follows four teens during the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting. Her sophomore novel, Before I Let Goa haunting young adult murder mystery set during a cruel Alaskan winter, is out now.

For more information about Marieke, visit Twitter, TumblrInstagram, and her website.

Book Review: Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

Publisher’s description

It’s Kind of a Funny Story meets Daria in the darkly hilarious tale of a teen’s attempt to remake her public image and restore inner peace through reality TV. The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

nice try jane“Sometimes I’m afraid that if I don’t feel amused, I won’t feel anything at all.”–Jane Sinner

This was completely enjoyable. It was my first read for winter break and I easily read it in one day because I couldn’t put it down. The narrative voice is EXCELLENT. As a totally character-driven reader, I was instantly hooked.

Jane, who recently attempted suicide while dealing with her depression and a loss of faith, is looking for a new start. Newly expelled from high school, she agrees to finishing up her credits at the local community college—if she can move out. She needs a break from her religious parents (who think returning to youth group and church will solve all her problems) and is hopeful that community college, where no one knows her or her past, will be different. But, it’s kind of hard to fly under the radar when you immediately begin appearing on a small-time reality show, which is exactly what Jane does with House of Orange. The student-run reality show airs on YouTube and will provide Jane with a cheap place to live. Jane, who thinks of herself as a “washed-up nihilist,” is snarky, savvy, and brimming with personality. She’s perfect for this show. She looks to establish authority early, determined to win through alliances, manipulation, surveillance, and a little psychology. She begins to grow close to Robbie Patel, her fellow contestant, hoping they can be the last two left standing, but things don’t always go as planned, especially for Jane. She came to college looking for a second chance, but can get a third? Maybe finishing high school online would’ve just been easier than all this.

 

In the midst of all this reality show filming and going to classes, Jane is still dealing with her mental illness. Or, really, she’s not dealing with it. She hasn’t been taking her meds and the only psychiatrist she’s been talking to is the one she invented in her head. She is sort of passionately indifferent to everything. She’s not necessarily suicidal anymore, but wouldn’t mind ceasing to exist. These thoughts—of indifference and of not minding to not exist—are so well captured throughout her story and feel SO familiar to those of us who have depression. There is a particular hypothetical exchange with her supervisor at work that was just fantastic. Jane imagines calling out not necessarily sick, but telling her supervisor she can’t come in because she can’t get out of bed, because there’s no reason to, because she can’t feel anything, because she’s dead inside, and she imagines this supervisor telling her to make a list of things she’s grateful for, drink some tea, listen to a favorite song, or look at cats on the internet—that should help her feel better. Sounds familiar, right?

 

This funny and smart book is not to be missed. Jane’s deadpan voice will draw readers in, and once all the reality show shenanigans start, they will be desperate to know what happens, especially once all the duplicity going on begins to be revealed. An excellent look at second (and third and fourth) chances. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544867857
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 01/09/2018

Book Review: Girls Like Me by Nina Packebush

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the December 2017  School Library Journal Xpress Reviews.

 

girls likePACKEBUSH, Nina. Girls Like Me. 204p. Bedazzled Ink. Nov. 2017. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781945805356.

Gr 9 Up –A pregnant queer teen finds true friendship and maybe a little hope during the worst time in her life. Sixteen-year-old Banjo is briefly hospitalized in a juvenile mental ward in the wake of her genderqueer boy-/girlfriend’s suicide. There, she meets Pru (Ethiopian and adopted by white parents), a cutter who also identifies as queer. The two befriend Dylan, a gay boy from a conservative family. Together, the three share their experiences and feelings, finding relief in understanding after years of isolation and frustration, though their friendship is not without complications. Banjo struggles with what to do with the baby once it is born (keep it or give it up for adoption) while also being mired in memories of Gray and the way they died. Though it ends on a slightly encouraging note, the story of Banjo and her friends is unrelentingly miserable. Horrible things happen to these characters, especially to Gray, Banjo’s boy-/girlfriend. Adults and treatment are generally unhelpful, with Banjo’s mother thinking medication is poison. The psychiatrist at the hospital is ignorant, dismissive, and uncaring, quickly diagnosing all three teens as bipolar and threatening to forcibly medicate Banjo. This bleak view of what life as a queer teen looks like feels dated. Though Banjo eventually ends up with effective and caring doctors in her life, they don’t erase the overall message that hospitalization, therapy, doctors, and medication are ineffective, punishing, and harmful. VERDICT An additional purchase.–Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN

Book Review: The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster

Let me begin by saying this: It has been a long time since I have been so very conflicted about a book. If you have read this book, I really would like to discuss it with you.

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BOOK DEALS WITH SOME VERY TRIGGERING ISSUES INCLUDING SUICIDE AND EATING DISORDERS. ALSO, I CAN’T DISCUSS THIS BOOK FULLY WITHOUT INCLUDING HUGE SPOILERS.

But first, let me share with you the Publisher’s Book Description:

thegatekeepersAnyone passing through North Shore, IL, would think this was the most picture-perfect place ever, with all the lakefront mansions and manicured hedges and iron gates. No one talks about the fact that the brilliant, talented kids in this town have a terrible history of throwing themselves in front of commuter trains, and that there’s rampant opioid abuse that often leads to heroin usage.

Meet Simone, the bohemian transfer student from London, who is thrust into the strange new reality of the American high school; Mallory, the hyper-competitive queen bee; and Stephen, the first generation genius who struggles with crippling self-doubt. Each one is shocked when lovable football player Braden takes his own life and the tragedy becomes a suicide cluster. With so many students facing their own demons, can they find a way to save each other—as well as themselves?

Inspired by the true events that happened in the author’s home town.

Karen’s Thoughts

In a lot of the discussion surrounding this book, the author and publisher acknowledge the recent controversy surrounding Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and suggest that this is a safer alternative, but I am not sure that I agree with that assessment. I think that within the course of this book the author makes a lot of important points, but as someone who has depression/anxiety and sometimes suicidal ideation, I don’t know that this read was any safer or less triggering. In fact, my teenage daughter has recently struggled with a friend that has suicidal ideation and I would not want her to read this book.

For one, I find the concept of The Gatekeepers as a whole very concerning. The premise is based on the true story of a police officer who would stroll the Golden Gate bridge and look for people whom he believed might be considering jumping. By just walking up and engaging them in conversation, it is believed that he helped prevent a lot of suicides, which is of course an amazing and encouraging story. So at the end of this book, the teens who have just lost several friends to suicide decide that they are going to be gatekeepers, that they will work to be more engaged and notice the signs and try and stop more of their classmates from committing suicide. Although I found the goal laudable, I felt that it put a lot of responsibility for others on these teens, teens who are already struggling with loss and guilt. I just spent the last few weeks telling my teen that she could be present for her friend who was struggling with depression but that it wasn’t her fault and she couldn’t fix him, nor was it reasonable for anyone to expect her to do so. My teen did everything right, she contacted an adult (me), we called the police because we didn’t know how to get a hold of his parents, but this was only after he had made outright statements that were clearly suicidal in intent. Many of the teens in this book didn’t have that luxury as presented in the text of the story and I feel strongly that the overall message of this book could lead to a lot of guilt for teens. And let’s keep in mind we are talking about teens, not an adult police officer who is trained to deal with a wide variety of intense situations.

Although I want to make sure that I point out that when a suicide happened and the survivors expressed guilt, most of their parents (there was one truly awful parent here) did the work of re-assuring their teen that they couldn’t have known and they aren’t responsible. But then there are lots of little points in the text, including the overall creation of the Gatekeepers, which can be seen as contradicting this message. And it’s important to point out that this is based on a true story. I liked the idea of the creation of a community center, of training to learn the signs of suicide, of being more present and a better friend, just not the implicit message that somehow these teens could prevent suicide, because that’s not always how mental health works. Although this book doesn’t do a great job of talking about mental health, but more on that in a moment.

And as I mentioned before, some of the adults in the book say and do really important things surrounding the discussion of suicide. For example, when a new student rushes to take pictures of the first suicide while she is there and write a story for the school newspaper, that story is squashed. Eventually an administrator tells her that the reason the story was not published is because of the contagion effect of teenage suicide and how when one teen commits suicide, several others will often follow and they want to not glamorize or draw attention to the suicides. This was a good and important conversation.

Another concern I had was the framing of suicide in this novel. It is emphasized again and again that these suicides are occurring because of the high academic standards and stress put on these students, which can be a cause for suicide. However, The Gatekeepers does a really poor job, I feel, of addressing mental health issues overall. One teen says to a friend at one point that he is concerned that he may be bipolar, but that topic isn’t really fully addressed. Another teen has a full blown eating disorder, and that topic isn’t really dealt with in a way that I am comfortable with either (more on that in a minute). And finally, there is some very real drug use and addiction in this book, it even talks about the current Opioid crisis, but then there seems to be almost no legal consequences to a teen who is known to be a distributor. In fact, he is just gives up selling after one of the suicides and later becomes a hero figure as he is harmed in a car crash by one of the very teens he was previously selling to. Stress is talked about a lot, but mental health issues less so, and I think it is irresponsible to talk about suicide without talking about mental health.

One character in particular really stood out as problematic, Mallory. Mallory obviously suffers from body dysphoria and an eating disorder. Every student seems to be aware of this and alludes to it. At one point Mallory even says to an adult in authority something about why would they trust her, she’s afraid of a banana. The eating disorder always hangs there, alluded to, but it’s never really fully addressed. In fact, at one point Mallory, who does peer to peer counseling, is counseling another student who is not happy with her body and that scene is really difficult to read. As someone who spent most of my teen years and early 20s dealing with anorexia and has heard teens talk about their body issues, I would in no way feel comfortable giving them this book because of how horribly the issues of Mallory are addressed.

I will also say that this book suffers from some really standard stereotypes. There is the bohemian transfer student from England, the geeks, the super chill non-conformist dude who makes movies and smokes pot, the various athletes, and the Asian American student with a Tiger mom who puts so much pressure on him that he ends up being one of the teens to die by suicide. The characters are given a bit more depth then a standard stereotype, but it seemed like a lazy starting point for character development.

So while I really liked and valued some of what this book had to say about suicide and thought that it had profound moments, overall I can’t in good faith recommend this book. Not as someone who has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. Not as someone who has wrestled with an eating disorder her entire life. And not as someone who has worked with teens who have done the same. I feel like I understood what the author was trying to achieve with this book, but that she did not successfully achieve it. Mental health issues are really hard to do well in YA fiction, in part because I think they can have such an important impact, and I don’t feel that this book achieves what it set out to achieve.

Sunday Reflections: When You’re a Teen and a Friend Threatens Suicide

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation

tltbutton5

We spent all of 2016 talking about teens and mental health and it occurs to me, we never talked about what happens when you are a teenager and your friend threatens to commit suicide. This point became painfully clear to me this past Friday night when this very event happened to The Teen.

MHYALitlogoofficfial

The #MHYALit Discussion Hub – Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

At about 3 a.m. I received a text from The Teen – I’m in another state at the moment – where she said, “Mommy, I need you. I don’t know what to do.” A friend of her was texting her that they were going to commit suicide because the world would be better off without them. I jumped up immediately and called my daughter because I understood that this was an emergency, for both her and her friend. So I called and my daughter could barely talk through the crying. She really didn’t know much about this person except for their name and phone number, they just met this year at school and they are friends in the way that many teens are in 2017. They hang out at school and text, but they don’t they’ve never been to each other’s homes and they don’t really know much about each other.

So, not knowing how to get a hold of the parents, I did the only thing I could think to do and I called the local police and reported that a teenager was considering suicide and asked them to make sure this person was okay. This bit was tricky because we couldn’t answer any of their questions. A name and number is all we could provide.

I will be honest and tell you that I was motivated not only for concern for this teen and his well being, but for my own. I knew and understood that if we did nothing and it turned out that this teen did end up harmed in some way, my daughter would never be okay. I have mentioned here before that almost two years ago my high school best friend died by suicide and it will never not haunt me. Unlike my daughter I had no idea, but I still wrestle with guilt and wondering what signs I missed. I want more than anything to spare her this burden. So I did the only thing I could think to do.

My daughter has grown up in a home where we talk about mental health issues and she knows that they are real and serious, but not shameful. I myself struggle with depression and anxiety issues. I myself have had some periods of suicidal ideation. She is aware of all of this. So when this friend reached out to her, she understood what was happening, she just didn’t know what to do. And to be honest, I didn’t either. When I am in my darkest places, I tend to shut down and turn inward. But I recognized that this teen was issuing a cry for help, we just didn’t know how, exactly, to help them. And I reminded her again and again that she, a mere teenager herself, was not equipped to help him.

Afterwards, we talked a lot about what it means to be a friend to someone struggling with a mental health issues. We talked about responsibility and saving, and how in the end, we are not and can not be responsible for another person’s mental health and happiness. It’s a harsh truth that I have come to understand for myself, I and I alone am responsible for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t cherish the support of others (because I genuinely do) and that we shouldn’t give it to others when we can (because we can and should), but at the end of the day no one else can save or heal me. I needed her to understand that although she can and should be a good friend to this person, that if something ever does happen to them it is not her fault.

suicideprevention

So here’s the take away of what I told her and think we should tell all teens regarding a friend who expresses suicidal ideation. Please keep in mind, I am not a legal or medical professional and this is what I did and some research (links at the bottoms) indicate that I did a pretty decent job of handling the situation.

1. Tell an adult immediately. Even if you promised not to tell, tell someone.

2. Always, if it is an emergency, call 911 immediately. If you have reason to suspect someone has just done something that is life threatening, call 911.

3. The adult should contact the parent of the individual if they know how. Otherwise, they should contact the police in the area where the teen expressing suicidal ideation resides. Let them know that you have a child who has been in contact with someone who has expressed that they may commit suicide and ask that they do a safety check.

4. Have as much information as you know ready about the individual when you contact the police. Name, number, address, parents, etc.

5. Afterwards, remind the teen that telling an adult was the right thing to do. Help them understand that telling an adult was the right thing even if it has negative consequences (for example, their friend may get in trouble with their parents). It is possible that this person will be upset and angry, it may even end the friendship. Do not feel guilty. You are doing what you can to help someone who has just expressed that their life is in jeopardy, that is never wrong.

6. Let your teen know that if the friendship does continue moving forward, it’s okay to set boundaries for yourself. For example, while being an engaged and supportive friend is encouraged, they are not allowed to put you in this position again or use guilt against you. Being in a friendship with a person who struggles with depression and anxiety is hard, and I can look at a lot of my past relationships and see ways in which I have harmed my past friends – it’s part of the illness that can take a while to figure out and learn to better navigate – but the person on the other side of the friendship 100% gets to have their own personal boundaries to maintain their own emotional health and well being. Always, always talk with teens about healthy relationships and personal boundaries.

More Resources:

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone who is Suicidal

My Friend Is Talking About Suicide. What Should I Do? – KidsHealth

Helping a Friend Who is Talking About Suicide | Psychology Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

svyalitbrochurepage1

real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

real talk sucide brochure page 1

real talk suicide brochure page 2

 

Sunday Reflections: How the 2016 Election is Affecting Teens, Week 3 (A tweet story by Mary Hinson)

On Sundays, I have the privilege of hosting a weekly event that we call Spaghetti Sunday (inspired by author Christa Desir). We open our home to a wide group of people, eat food (not always spaghetti), do puzzles, play games, and just hang out. My beloved Mary Hinson (@knoxdiver on Twitter, YA assistant at Irving Public Library) is one of my treasured guests. And we usually have anywhere from 2 to 10 teens come.

The Bestie reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Teen at Spaghetti Sunday

The Bestie reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Teen at Spaghetti Sunday

It then became a more involved storytie

It then became a more involved storytime

Sometimes it gets wild

Sometimes it gets wild

No matter how loud it gets or how much chaos there is, these 2 teens always read through it

No matter how loud it gets or how much chaos there is, these 2 teens always read through it

Did I mention we eat a lot?

Did I mention we eat a lot?

Last night, Mary had a conversation with one of the teens which she tweeted about. She gave me permission to Storify those tweets and share them with you here. So in my ongoing quest to show you how the results are affecting teens, here's week three presented by Mary Hinson.

 



  1. Tonight I got to hang out 1 on1 with one of my fave teens. She told me about what's going on at school & then she broke down because she is


  2. Scared about what the election of the "screaming yam" (as she calls him) will mean for her marginalized friends. She told me how upsetting


  3. It is when kids at school make jokes about suicide. How offensive it is when boys make rape "jokes" or ask Hispanic classmates when they're


  4. Going to be kicked out of the country. I asked her if she felt safe. She said she feels okay for herself but she is terrified for others.


  5. Tonight I held this beautiful, kind, smart, sweet, pure-hearted child in my arms & together we cried about our future, our country's future.


  6. And I was so scred because I have become that non-parent adult I was told as a kid I could go to for help but I couldn't DO anything.


  7. I held this girl & rubbed her back & gave her napkins to blow her nose & told her how proud I am of her, how much I love her. I told her


  8. I'm here for her. But I'm heartbroken for this child who is witnessing the world's ugliness in ways no child ever should. And I'm angry that


  9. We, collectively, as a society, have failed these kids. It can't continue. Something has to change. WE have to change. LISTEN to those who


  10. Are speaking out--esp marginalized voices. SEEK the truth. EDUCATE yourself. STAND UP for those who need a shield & SPEAK OUT against hate.


  11. We're so lucky in this YA book community to have some really amazing people to turn to for advice & action items. LISTEN. TO. THEM.


  12. If you're not okay with everything happening right now, DO SOMETHING. Call your reps & talk. Leave messages. Send letters.


  13. Elected officials are supposed to represent us. Let them hear your voice. Attend community meetings. Get involved. Don't know what to say?


  14. You don't have to be a poli-sci major or a govt intern or whatever to talk with your reps. Call & let them know what matters to you.


  15. Tonight made me feel so emotionally raw. I didn't have the answers for this teen. But I know I want to fight for her. I want to fight for


  16. The teens & kids at my library. In my state. In our country. In the world. we need to bleed & fight for these kids. Adults, we've kind of


  17. Fucked everything up for them. We need to make it right for them & someday, they're gonna blow us all away.

Thank you Mary for being there for this teen last night. I adore you, even if you do dip your potato chips in ketchup.

spaghettisunday8

More on the Aftermath of the 2016 Election and Teens

Spending the Day After the 2016 Election with Teenagers

Now What? On Being a Librarian and a Book Lover After the 2016 Election

Things I Never Learned in Library School: On Being a Teen Librarian 2 Weeks After the 2016 Election

Sunday Reflections: My Teens Will be Voting in the Next Presidential Election

#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: Why I Think I Wrote A Book About Suicide, a guest post by Karen Fortunati

Trigger warning: details of suicide

MHYALitlogoofficfial“Hey…I’ve got some bad news,” my brother said. His voice sounded stiff and hesitant over the phone. “It’s about Lee.* She’s dead…She killed herself.”

 

My mind reeled. Wait. What? She was only thirty something. My cousin’s wife had been through some tough times but this? Suicide?  “What happened?” I asked as if her method would somehow provide an explanation I could understand.

 

Again Rick hesitated. “She…uh…carbon monoxide. In her car. In her garage. At her house.”

 

It wasn’t sinking in. This slim, attractive woman with long dark hair and huge, brown eyes. Always with the quick, sweet, shy smile. Always so pleasant when I’d talk with her once or twice a year at family gatherings. Lee. Dead. By her own poison. I couldn’t see it. Couldn’t see this lovely woman alone in her garage, prepping for death. Couldn’t imagine the pain she was in, comprehend the brutal loneliness and finality of her act.

 

The funeral was a surreal horror.  Inside the church, I studied my cousin and his parents  – their walking, grief-stunned zombie-selves. That they were still standing – actually going through the motions of greeting people, hugging, wiping tears was incomprehensible. Especially as I sat on the hard wooden pew, holding my squirming toddler son, his body warm, heart beating inside the solid weight of him.  Especially as my three-year-old daughter gripped her Disney princess books, oblivious, the church lights glinting off her silky dark hair. I kept her close to me. God, I prayed, don’t ever let me be in Lee’s mother’s shoes.

 

This wasn’t my first exposure to suicide. Years earlier, my former boss had killed himself. He was a flamboyant, pompous yet strangely lovable man who I ate lunch with maybe three times a week for almost two years. At the same pizza place eating the exact same meal every time – two slices of plain. He had gorgeous teeth, these white, perfectly shaped Chiclets that I can still see biting into the mozzarella.

 

My boss was a very public person, the head prosecutor, who while I was working for him, had been convicted of some white-collar crimes – tax evasion, fraud – I can’t even remember. What I do remember is that pending sentencing, he was placed on house arrest, forced to wear an ankle bracelet that monitored his location. He had fallen mightily in our small community and couldn’t handle the shame of going to prison. He cut off the bracelet, fled New Jersey and was ultimately located in Nevada. But before the deputies could break down the door to his $20 a night hotel room, he shot himself in the head.

 

I was staggered by his suicide and that gave rise to one of the few regrets I have in my life – that I never reached out to him after his fall from grace. There were rumors flying around then – that the investigation was ongoing and that he was under surveillance. But one day, while I was out of the office with some colleagues, we decided to drive past his house. And my boss was there, standing on his front lawn in the brilliant sunshine, doing something ridiculously innocuous like watering his plants or something. Our car slowed and he started to turn around. I slid lower in the back seat and we kept driving.

 

I’m ashamed of that. So ashamed. I desperately wish I could do it over. Get out of the car and say hello to him. Let him know…I don’t know. Let him know that it was okay. That this would pass and he’d move on, get over this. Would it have made a difference? Probably not. I was nothing to him in the scheme of things. But…maybe it would have. Maybe it would have.

 

Last weekend, I volunteered at my first Out of Darkness walk, an event organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The event had a raw, stark beauty to it – a resilient community founded on despair. It was a day of transparency, an utter bullshit-free zone. One woman told me of the last conversation she had with her aunt about the existence of God. A volunteer spoke of her teen daughter’s continuing suicide ideation. Another told me that her daughter who had committed suicide was named Karen.

 

I worked at the registration table, checking off the list of participants, while across from me, volunteers handed out “honor beads” – beaded necklaces in a rainbow of bright colors that spoke of the exact nature of loss – red for a spouse or partner, purple for relative or friend, white for a child and so on. I looked up at some point and directly in front of me was a couple wearing the white beads. They appeared freshly stunned and haggard and looked around as if they had been dumped on a strange planet. That couple has stayed with me as well as the group of high school girls who crowded the registration table with their face paint and blue hair ribbons and matching tee shirts with a photograph of Abby. It was the photograph that I had a hard time pulling my eyes from – this beautiful blond hair, blue eyed young woman smiling at me. Abby. A bright and funny cheerleader who killed herself her sophomore year of high school.

 

I’ve been asked about the inspiration for The Weight of Zero. I think it comes down to this, two very specific memories  – Lee’s funeral and my failure to get out of the car that day  – combined with my own anxiety as a parent. Over the years as my children have grown, I’ve become very conscious of a divide, of a blockade I will never be able to cross. My kids have independent lives now, just like I do, and parts of them will remain to me like the bottom of the ocean – unseen and unknown. While that’s exactly as it should be, it still scares me. Because it allows for the possibility of my ignorance of their pain. For the possibility of being in the shoes of Lee’s mother or the white-beaded couple. It has to be the reason why I felt most closely bound to my main character’s mother, why her voice felt like my own. This is what created the engine that drove this story: sorrow, regret, fear and most importantly, hope in that if they/my readers enter a dark place, they’ll be able to find their voice to seek help and hold on through it.                    

 

* Names and relationships have been changed.

 

About THE WEIGHT OF ZERO by Karen Fortunati

weight-of-zeroContemporary Young Adult, Delacorte/Penguin Random House

Release Date: October 2016

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its own living death on her again.

But Zero’s return is delayed due to unexpected and meaningful relationships that lessen Catherine’s sense of isolation. These relationships along with the care of a gifted psychiatrist alter Catherine’s perception of her diagnosis as a death sentence. This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how some of the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness.

Recognition:

A Summer/Fall 2016 Indies Introduce Selection

Featured in SEVENTEEN MAGAZINE, September 2016

An Apple Best Books of October Selection

 

About Karen Fortunati

re3669Karen Fortunati is a former attorney who attends graduate school at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and works part-time as a museum educator. She lives in Connecticut with her family and rescue dogs.

ADD ON GOODREADS

Website: www.karenfortunati.com

Twitter: @karenfortunati

Facebook: @AuthorKarenFortunati

 

#MHYALit Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

girlinpiecesPublisher’s description

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass 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.
A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Do you like nearly unremittingly bleak stories? Then do I have a book for you! Now don’t jump ahead and assume that I mean that in any kind of damning way. I like bleak. I like real bleak. I like books where I think, good lord, more bad stuff? So keep reading, okay?

 

We meet Charlie as she is just getting settled in a treatment facility. She’s a cutter who has done too thorough of a job and just spent a week in the hospital. At the facility, she’s silent—selective mutism. She’s been through a lot. Prior to landing in the facility, she was homeless for nearly a year. Now in treatment, she’s getting the help she so desperately needs, grateful to be indoors, warm, and fed. But money and/or insurance doesn’t last forever, and way too soon she’s being cut loose, released to her abusive mother. Instead of going home with her mother, she’s handed some money, her birth certificate, and a bus ticket to Arizona. Great parenting. Charlie heads out there alone. Her friend Mikey is there, but Mikey’s tied to a lot of her past. He’s also not around much, so when he leaves on tour with a band, Charlie is truly alone. She gets a job washing dishes at a cafe, where she meets Riley, a sometimes charming junkie ten years her senior who quickly gets into her head, heart, and pants. Riley is horrible for Charlie. She’s trying so hard to move on from her past, but that’s not easy. Every day is a struggle for her to not cut herself. She makes a lot of crappy choices around and because of Riley. There are small good things mixed in among all this bleakness. Charlie finds solace in drawing and is going to have some of her art in a show. She’s making… I wouldn’t say “friends” at work, but she’s interacting with her coworkers and coming out of her shell a little. And when things fall apart in a pretty epic way, Charlie learns she has more support, resources, and hope than she had imagined.

 

Glasgow’s writing is stunning, moving from lush and poetic to choppy and spare. We’re in Charlie’s head a lot and slowly learn about her background—her father’s suicide, her best friend’s near-suicide, her abusive mother, her life on the streets. She isn’t much for talking, even with Riley, who’s far too self-absorbed to really think to ever ask her anything  about herself. Glasgow’s story is gritty and grim and at times almost too much to bear. I admit to taking lots of breaks while reading this one. People bend, break, leave, disappoint, hurt, die, suffer, and harm. In most cases, they also heal, change, recover, and hope in this astoundingly sad, astonishingly poignant debut.

 

For more on Girl in Pieces, see Glasgow’s previous piece for our blog, “This Book Will Save Your Life.”

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781101934715

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication date: 08/30/2016