Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Muslim Voices

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

If you know me at all, you know I am quite fond of my library minions. And when I say “my library minions,” I mean the teens and young adults I have gotten to know over the past many years working in high school and public libraries in central Minnesota. I’ve since moved and am not currently in a library, but I formed lifelong bonds with those minions. We talk and text. They come visit me. I’ve written college recommendations for them, and scholarship letters, and been a job reference. We’ve had endless lunches and dinners and coffee dates. They turn to me for advice. I am honored that many of them consider me a mentor. I love these kids. Fiercely. 

 

 

The flag of Somalia.

The flag of Somalia.

A large portion of my beloved minions are Muslims from Somalia. Minnesota’s Somali population is the largest in the United States. The area I lived in for the past decade, St. Cloud, has a HUGE Somali population. My young friends are amazing. They’re college students, tutors, grad students, volunteers, activists, med school students, writers, artists, and history-makers. They want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, authors, teachers, and therapists. As you might guess, when the travel ban was issued, I started furiously texting with some of my friends. A few of them sent me their thoughts, which I share with you here today.

 

 

From Sahra:

I feel like Trump has yet to comprehend that immigrants are an asset to society. In fact, they have always been. From early settlement in the thirteen colonies, to the era of industrialization, we have learned that it was foreigners who built the U.S.A from the ground up.

This country was established by people who escaped religious persecution in Europe and here we are denying immigrants access to a new life simply due to their religion.

We keep hearing “It’s not a Muslim ban, it’s not a Muslim ban,” but what do you call it when the only thing the 7 countries have in common is that (an astonishing majority) believe that “There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed (Peace and blessings be upon him) is his messenger”?

Fun fact: The immigrants I have had the pleasure to meet are so eager to start working as soon as they step foot in this country. I mean surely if they are working they are also paying taxes, and if they are paying taxes surely the government is benefiting.

But hey, what do I know?

Aside from that, I’m flabbergasted that a man with so little values, so little support, and so little common sense has become the president of the United States of America. At this point, we are lucky if we make it out alive by the time he gets impeached.

 

From Saido:

Do you know what it is like living in fear? Looking at everything from a different perspective. Analyzing every movement a person makes and thinking, what do they mean? Are they bullying me? I live like that every single day. I live in fear that someone might jump out of nowhere and attack me for no reason. It’s sad we live in a society where people are afraid to be themselves, and if they decided to become themselves, they become the target of a hate crime.

When I first heard about the ban, I thought it was a joke. Then I saw it on the news—people who were actually being held in the airport because they come from a country that the president thinks is a threat to this nation. I am a person who is from one of the countries the president now bans from entering the United States. I feel sad because I am an individual who has lived in this country for twelve years and I have not seen or heard about the threat my people are causing to this nation. It took me awhile to process this because,I have never heard of crimes that these countries that were put a ban have committed. On the other hand, I am glad to see people who are standing up for the rights of the refugees and also for the rights of those who are mistreated. I am a proud American citizen and I am thankful for the opportunity this country has given me.

 

From Khadija:

As citizens of the United States of America we enjoy a rare privilege. One that is not available to many people around the world. This is a privilege that I am acutely aware of at all times as a citizen with the freedom to express her thoughts and fight for what I think is right in the form of peaceful protests without fear of repercussions or violence. I want people who are oppressed to have the opportunity for a better life regardless of what religion they follow. It is my responsibility not just as a US citizen, but as a citizen of Earth to fight for peace and a world without violence and ignorance. Our best shot at unity is to advocate for peace.

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

img_1511

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

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

 

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

 

I know. I know.

 

Good times.

Good times.

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

If only it were that easy.

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Frank Turner “Get Better”

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

Sunday Reflections: Pet peeves and more

I run a YA book club through my local public library. It’s an incredibly diverse group. About half of our members are Muslim. We have homeschooled and unschooled kids. The age range runs from 14 to members in their first few years of college (members who’ve stuck around). I have an absolute blast with them. Our meetings don’t have a set format. Sometimes we all read one book (or choose a book to read out of a small pool). Sometimes we read thematically (like when we had the excellent discussion about sexual violence in YA lit). We often just come in ready to talk about whatever we’ve been reading and give lightning round book talks. There’s always a lot of great discussion and our TBR piles grow like crazy every meeting.

 

As you might expect, we all have different likes and dislikes. Often someone will read a book one of us loved and say, uh, really? I didn’t love it. Or someone will hate on a particular genre or stylistic choice, and someone else will be shocked anyone could hate that. The only real rule at book club is to let people talk and be respectful about everyone’s right to like and dislike a book for any given reason. Sometimes I find it so much more interesting to hear why someone disliked a book instead of why they liked it.

 

After our particularly ranty part of a meeting, I said, “Hey, next meeting let’s just talk about our reading pet peeves. Let’s get all our ranting out about what we dislike, what we’re so over, and what we flat-out hate.” They were game. Because of our diverse tastes, I knew that we’d all still add books to our TBR lists even if the titles came up in a rant-based way. One person’s pet peeve is another person’s interest, right? So we started to make a list–a list that briefly expanded to include all of the things we dislike in general (it was January, we hadn’t seen the sun in ages, we were all cranky). I opened the discussion up again on Facebook as I compiled the notes from our meeting and got even more input.

 

It’s not to say that all of us dislike all of these things, or that whoever dislikes the particular thing dislikes it across the board all the time. We agreed on many of the items. We argued others. I offered an adult-perspective smackdown on one. Some items on the list were things we hadn’t noticed before, but now we’re all on the lookout for them (and finding them).

 

Here’s our list:

When characters sit on public bathroom floors (This one is mine–it grosses me out to no end)

 

Characters letting out a breath they didn’t know they were holding

Characters who don’t grow/learn/change at all

 

Girls who like boys who seem to have NO appeal

 

Alternate narration

 

When characters have something they do over and over like bite their lip or whatever

 

Dystopia-fatigue

 

Quickly resolved endings

 

Plots that could be resolved by better communication/one simple thing

 

Is it a secret rule that every YA book has to have a redhead in it?


That “loser girl hates the world but ends up with popular boy” trope is getting real old.

 

“Bad boy/good girl” combination–so overplayed

 

instalove

 

car accidents (This one is also mine. I never paid attention to them, really, until I had a reason to, and now I can’t stop seeing them in YA books)

 

Pop culture references that will seem dated

 

When two people are making out and “their tongues battle for dominance.”

 

weird 90s references that seem unlikely for the character/setting

 

perfect or completely terrible adults who don’t sound like real adults

 

overuse of exclamation points

 

when books reference Harry Potter or Twilight

 

do all characters who are “weird” or “alternative” have to wear Converse?

 

books made up of lists

 

references to social media sites (and, conversely, acting like they don’t exist)

 

When a character has an ED, some other mental illness, or gay and that’s all they are…

 

When the character depicted on the cover looks nothing like how he or she is described in the book

 

manic pixie dream girls

Love triangles (THIS ONE had the most agreement: “Once in awhile they turn out pretty good. Most of the time they just get annoying.” “Love triangles are just annoying. They seem to be in every single book lately. If you loved someone but have feelings for someone else, break up and make a decision! You do it and  you then can have a relationship.”)

 

“The “he’s a bad boy but I can change him/he’s mean but he’s just misunderstood” idea. Playing with fire when you romanticize this and then give it to young girls.” (This was brought up by one of the teens. Another teen girl sort of swooned and said, “Yes, but he’s damaged and you can fix him!” Usually I try not to play the “let me give you some adult advice” card, but here I had to say, “Look, let me spare you a ton of heartache and wasted energy: NO. Do not find this idea appealing.”)

 

Cliffhangers

 

“I don’t like it when a book has a love interest that is some basic person. I like it better when they have a passion and love for making differences and being a leader of movements or their local book club.”

 

That’s our list. We’d love to hear about your personal reading pet peeves or things you’re just so over  in YA books. Leave us a comment or tag us in your tweets (@TLT16 and @CiteSomething). 

Sunday Reflections: Mental health medications are not your enemy

On Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my review of The Last Time We Say Goodbye, by Cynthia Hand. For the most part, it was a book I really liked. But I had one MAJOR issue with it: the main character’s attitude toward taking medicine to help with the panic attacks and depression she’s feeling in the wake of her brother’s suicide.

 

After Alexis, the main character, tells her therapist about her panic attacks, he says, “There’s a medication we can get you for that.” He goes on to tell her about SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), and she refers to as him “waxing poetically about drugs.” Alexis goes on to explain Brave New World to him, telling him about soma, the drug that’s supposed to make everyone happy in the book. She says, “That futuristic society where everybody is drugged to be happy, all the time, no matter what happens–it’s horrible–monstrous, even–it’s like the end of humanity. Because we are supposed to feel things, Dave. My brother died, and I’m supposed to feel it.” She also reveals that her brother, Ty, had taken antidepressants for two years and “a fat lot of good it did him.” Alexis calls Dave a “drug pusher.” So, giving up on this train of thought, Dave instead prescribes her to write in a diary. This attitude of being anti-medicine, of medicine not letting you “feel” whatever it is you are supposed to feel remains consistent through the whole book. 

 

Here’s my issue: I like medicine. I believe in medicine. It’s what’s kept me a mostly functioning human being for 19 years. I have generalized anxiety disorder. If I didn’t take the host of pills in my cabinet every day, I would probably do nothing but obsessively ruminate my way through worrying about every single issue that has ever and may ever occur in the history and future of humanity. I would not be able to get anything done because I’d be too busy listening to my brain obliterate every good thought or idea I have. I would be busy listening to the lies that my unmedicated brain loves to make up–everything is actually awful, nothing good will ever happen, everything good is actually bad, etc. I would not be able to drive my car, because of my terror of being trapped in a moving metal box and my distrust of everyone navigating their little metal boxes (a fear that existed long before my dad was killed in a car accident two years ago). I would not be able to parent my kid because I’d be too busy crying and panicking and falling apart. I would not be able to sleep because nighttime is anxiety’s favorite time to eat my brain. The list goes on forever. The bottom line is that I would not be able to. Just to. To anything.

 

At the library, I spent a fair amount of my day hearing from my teen friends about their own mental health struggles. Being readily approachable and being a mandated reporter, I’d listen to them, give them a book either reflecting their experience or distracting them from it, and then turning around, filing a report, and worrying about them. The common theme in all of their stories: they didn’t want to be put on a medication. What I always, always, ALWAYS did was tell them that I have taken medication forever for my anxiety. That some days are terrible and I take three different medications just to be able to function. That going on medicine was hands down the best choice I made for myself in my entire life. I don’t walk around feeling terrible. I sleep. I breathe. I don’t usually have panic attacks. The kraken that is mental illness can’t reach its nasty tentacles quite as far into my brain because of medication. 

 

I know my teenage attitude was also, “Oh, I would never want to be on medication. It just makes you a zombie.” Apparently my teenage self thought being a complete basket case was preferable. It’s not. Medicine isn’t your enemy. Untreated mental illness is your enemy. Therapy is fantastic, but therapy combined with the right medicine–that’s your ticket. Getting help, in all forms, is good. Being open to help, in all forms, is good. It is good, it is necessary, and it is OKAY. If your medicine makes you feel funky, keep trying other medicines. Something will help.

 

I so deeply dislike and worry about the message in this book: Ty took meds and he still killed himself, so they don’t work. Alexis claims to generally not feel anything at all. “I don’t need drugs to numb the pain.” She has panic attacks and suffers terrible dreams for weeks after her brother dies. When her mother offers her a Valium, Alexis barks at her, “What is it with people trying to force-feed me drugs?” The only time she even in passing considers medication is when she’s having a panic attack at school and thinks “maybe this drug thing Dave suggested isn’t a bad idea after all.”  Alexis is an extremely smart girl. She excels in math and science and will be attending MIT, but she has a fundamental misunderstanding about mental health medicines.

 

An author’s note at the end explains that Hand’s brother committed suicide when they were teens. What I really wanted at the end was also some kind of list of helpful resources (helplines etc) or acknowledgement that while Alexis chose not to take any medications, they can greatly help people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. Do I think all books need to be instructional? Of course not. But I don’t like seeing a very common notion about medication perpetuated in a book like this. The best thing we can do to help not just teenagers but everyone suffering from mental illnesses is to be open and honest, to remove the stigma (of the illnesses and the various treatments), and offer hope. For many teens, the only places they might find these conversations may be in books. Let’s not let them walk away thinking, See? I told you. Nothing can help.

There is help. 

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project hotline 1-866-488-7386

Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860

 

As always, we welcome your thoughts. Talk to us in the comments or you can find me on Twitter–I’m @CiteSomething.