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#MHYALit: How My Debut Year Got Me to Therapy and Why That’s a Good Thing by Annie Cardi

Today as part of our #MHYALit Discussion we are honored to host author Annie Cardi. This is her first of three posts that will appear here throughout the year as part of our discussion. We will have a new post every week day in January on the topic of Mental Health in YA Literature and the life of teens.


2014 should have been a fantastic year. My debut novel, The Chance You Won’t Return, about a girl whose dealing with driver’s ed, a crush on the school legend, and a mother who’s calling herself Amelia Earhart, was being released in April. I started what I thought would be my dream day job. I was in a loving relationship and had a supportive family and was a generally healthy person.

Author Annie Cardi

Author Annie Cardi

Except I wasn’t.

I was crying almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day. A few times, I stopped in a grocery store parking lot just so I could cry by myself and not have to go home and admit I’d been crying again. I would get the sudden feeling of vertigo, even when sitting, and started getting intense muscle pain. I would wake up in the middle of the night, sick with worry over meaningless things, like emails I had yet to send or blog posts I had yet to write. On Sundays, I started putting off bedtime just because it meant another week was starting and I didn’t want to face Monday. Every morning when I went into work, I felt a giant weight on my chest, and when I got home, I felt both exhausted and aimless. I’d wander around the apartment, telling myself to do some task and immediately I’d be overwhelmed by the idea of doing anything. Once, I walked into the kitchen with the idea that I should bake something. You love baking, I told myself, looking at the canisters of flour and sugar. I turned around to my cookbooks. Pick something, just do it, come on. I turned back around to the cabinet, then back around the cookbooks, stepping back and forth like a squirrel darting into and out of the road. Suddenly I felt like I couldn’t stand—I crouched on the kitchen floor and wrapped my arms around my knees, feeling like I had to physically hold myself together.

At work I seemed dedicated and enthusiastic. When I talked to friends or family, I pretended everything was fine, and that I was happily preparing for my debut and finishing up book two. But inside I felt trapped and couldn’t see a way out.

I’ve always been a worrier. As a child, I didn’t like The Cat in the Hat because he came into their home and made a mess. (It wasn’t his home!) I felt panic whenever I had to order food at restaurants, which my parents were baffled by—I’d never had a bad experience interacting with people, so why did I sit quietly and turn red and cry when the waitress got to me? As I got older, I played out arguments in my head that never ended up happening and declined parties because I was afraid I wouldn’t have anything to say and avoided making phone calls because the stress over the moment between dialing to someone and them answering the phone to them was too much for one human to bear.

But I never thought I could do anything about the daily stresses I felt. They were how everyone felt, right? Other people were dealing with depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia. They had the right to see a therapist and find medication that made them feel better. I just had to buck up and deal, right? I had to be a grown-up already.



Things got worse as my debut year started. I told myself I was just busy and needed to power through it. I told myself I should be grateful—I was a debut novelist with a day job I should have loved. So why was I crying all the time and feeling more and more out of control?

After a particularly bad night, my husband encouraged me to see a therapist. A friend mentioned going to one, and I could ask her for a recommendation. But even after his nudging, it took me weeks to reach out to a therapist—real people with real problems sought mental health resources. I was just some pathetic person who couldn’t get her life together and be a happy, normal adult already.

When I finally met with the therapist, I struggled not to cry the moment I walked into her office, even after she told me it was okay. Even with a therapist, I felt like I didn’t deserve to feel how I was feeling. Over the following weeks, as we talked I came to realize that my feelings were valid and that I didn’t have to feel trapped. I could find ways to make changes in my life that would help me both in the short and long term. I didn’t have to let my anxiety rule how I felt.

My book, The Chance You Won’t Return, deals with mental health issues and how it helps to be open about your pain and find resources that will help you deal with your challenges in healthy ways. But until my debut year, I never applied these principles to myself. I thought that was for other people, dealing with bigger issues. But if you are constantly and consistently feeling bad, you deserve finding ways to help yourself feel better. If a friend told me about crying everyday and feeling a weight on their chest, I’d immediately encourage them to talk to a trusted doctor or therapist. But when it came down to myself, I didn’t think my feelings were worthy of getting help. Instead of listening to how I was feeling, I was ashamed that I couldn’t appreciate what I had and hold my life together.

This is what I need to remind myself over and over: your feelings matter. Mental health problems happen to so many people, regardless of how great your life seems, and it doesn’t mean you’re whiny or weak. It means you deserve to get help.

It took the stress of my debut year to admit to myself that I was struggling with anxiety and that I needed help. About two years later, I still have days that are worse than others, but I accept that as part of my life and use it as a reminder that I need to take care of myself and utilize support resources.

For me, a big part of The Chance You Won’t Return is learning that these kinds of problems get worse the more you keep them to yourself. We need to be more open and honest about mental health, both with each other and with ourselves. We all deserve the opportunity to take care of ourselves.

Author Bio: Annie Cardi is the author of The Chance You Won’t Return, which was named a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year for 2015. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and a BA from the University of Virginia. In her free time, she enjoys running, baking, and spending too much time on Tumblr. Annie lives near Boston with her husband and a portrait of a sea captain. You can find her sharing funny gifs and pictures of corgis at: Blog Facebook Twitter Tumblr.


When your mom thinks she’s Amelia Earhart, navigating high school, first love, and family secrets is like flying solo without a map.

Driver’s ed and a first crush should be what Alex Winchester is stressed out about in high school – and she is. But what’s really on her mind is her mother. Why is she dressing in Dad’s baggy khaki pants with a silk scarf around her neck? What is she planning when she pores over maps in the middle of the night? When did she stop being Mom and start being Amelia Earhart? Alex tries to keep her budding love life apart from the growing disaster at home as her mother sinks further into her delusions. But there are those nights, when everyone else is asleep, when it’s easier to confide in Amelia than it ever was to Mom. Now, as Amelia’s flight plans become more intense, Alex is increasingly worried that Amelia is planning her final flight – the flight from which she never returns. What could possibly be driving Mom’s delusions, and how far will they take her?

Candlewick Press, 2014

See all the #MHYALit Posts Here


  1. Thank you so much for this post. As I was reading about your story I honestly felt like I was reading about myself. Right down to the dislike for the Cat in the Hat as a child (he shows up while parents are away and destroys their house-terrifying) and the almost unbearable nerves when calling someone (calling to order food? The worst!)

    • I STILL avoid calling to order food–the worst! I’m sorry if you’ve been struggling, but I really appreciate your comments and empathy.

  2. Great post, Annie. I absolutely get it, thank you for sharing this and being a part of the MHYALit project. We need to share these things.

    PS I am enjoying THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Tom! Love your powerful post as well. I’m so glad we’re part of this amazing project, and taking part in important conversations. And major thank you for the kind words about TCYWR! 🙂

  3. Annie, my debut novel just came out last September, and my debut year was much like yours– lots of tears, lots of panic. Ativan, therapy, essential oils, vitamins, and prayer were my weapons, but I’m still learning and still battling!

  4. Your post resonates with me so much! As someone who deals with chronic illness in my life, I also sought help after struggling for some time. Life can be tricky and we need all the support we can get, without feeling we can’t ask for it because we don’t have a major mental illness. I’m so glad you and your novel are breaking ground on this important subject. xo

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