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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

Meet Olivia James

11193332_10152762213502601_1744363452546004244_nOlivia is a marketer by day and a writer by basically every other time. If you met her you’d probably think “well there’s a big ol’ nerd” and you’d be right. You can often find her playing Dungeons and Dragons, cuddling with her cats, or ranting at anyone who will listen about social justice. Olivia has a weird obsession with octopuses and Latin, which is why it’s very important to her that it’s octopodes not octopi. In addition to blogging at “We Got So Far To Go” and doing actual work that she gets paid for, Olivia’s current projects are a young adult sci fi novel and her wedding to the coolest nerd partner anyone could ask for.

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

img_1511

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

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

 

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

 

I know. I know.

 

Good times.

Good times.

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

If only it were that easy.

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Frank Turner “Get Better”

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

#MHYALit: USING YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE TO COMBAT THE SECRECY OF ADDICTION, a guest post by Heather Smith Meloche

Today we are honored to host another #MHYALit Discussion post, this one about addiction. Author Heather Smith Meloche writes about addiction in her new Putnam release, RIPPLE.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.

MHYALitlogoofficfial

When I finished writing my novel, Ripple – a contemporary YA about two teens caught up in the ripples of addiction from one generation to the next — and sent it out into the world for publication, I never wanted to be the “face” of it. I wanted the book to stand on the legs I gave it, take its words to whoever needed them, and do the tough promotional work without me. Part of the reason was because I, like many writers, am a private person. Introverted. More comfortable in the confines of my writing study than standing in front of people talking. But the bigger reason I didn’t want to talk publicly about my book was because of secrecy.

ripple

I grew up with an alcoholic stepdad, just as he had grown up with his alcoholic father. And I learned, as he had, that telling people about the liquor-induced chaos behind my front door was only going to make me less “normal,” less accepted, casting a pariah-like shadow on me. So I never talked about it, nor did my family. I rarely invited friends over to my house. My best friends knew of what I lived with, but there was a silent pact to never bring it up.

I thought, as my mother and sister most likely did, that being tight-lipped and closed off was an act of self-preservation, but like a kind of domestic Petri dish, my step-dad’s addiction and my destructive symptoms of living with it grew monumentally, overflowing into the healthy areas of my life as my teen years progressed.

The reason my home life got worse was simple: Addiction is built, cultivated, and perpetuated through silence and secrets. It germinates by being hidden and feeds off the simple maxim that if you don’t state the problem, you can’t fix it. Luckily, I became a writer, realizing quickly that YA literature is one of the best, most healing ways of stating the problem.

Recently, I went into a high school and talked to all the Language Arts students about writing and how I became a novelist. As I talked, I stated that I grew up in an alcoholic home. Heads popped up. I mentioned my husband also grew up with an alcoholic mom who was most likely bipolar, though she was always too drunk and drugged on prescription pills to correctly diagnose, and those high schoolers leaned in closer. When I talked about how my husband and I struggled to combat the patterns of addiction in ourselves, those teens looked at me like I had just physically folded inside out.

I mean, who was I to be saying out loud in such a blunt way that I had lived with addiction and struggled with my own? That’s way too embarrassing to bring inside high school walls. It’s mortifying. Uncool. Un-normal. And still, those kids who were engaged when I spoke were focused and locked in because they, heartbreakingly, understood exactly what I was talking about and felt the need to keep talking about it.

Close to 12 percent of children in the United States live with a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out suffering from the emotional stress of living with an addicted parent can lead to irreparable damage socially and emotionally, making these kids more likely to become addicted themselves.* Yet, unlike the affliction of cancer or heart disease, addiction is looked at as an immoral choice made by someone flawed. So community support tends to fall short. The stigma surrounding the mention of addiction is thick, and the isolation felt by those who deal with it is oppressive.

But YA writing brings hope. With YA writers and their editors now able to delve more deeply into tough topics, today’s YA books can tackle the scope of addiction not just in all its gritty reality and tragic circumstances, but also with potentially optimistic outcomes. These stories have the ability to cut through the shame and stigma of talking openly about the issues, and with more discussion, a path is paved for librarians and teachers to more effectively recommend the appropriate book at the appropriate time for each teen reader.

During the promotion of my book, I’ve caught myself telling people my novel “isn’t for everybody” or “it’s really for those who have been through it.” But that’s simply me being the shameful child of an alcoholic — my long-conditioned, knee-jerk reaction to hide the disease. Yet keeping in mind the high social and financial cost of alcoholism and drug abuse affecting everyone, I’ve learned to turn secrets into tools to reach teen readers and get healthy discussions rolling, which, hopefully, can open doors for a forum of understanding and for finding help for those kids who need it.

About RIPPLE

When their too-adult lives lead them down self-destructive paths, these broken teens find a way to heal in this YA novel perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins.

With her impossible-to-please grandmother on her back about college and her disapproving step-dad watching her every move, Tessa would do anything to escape the pressure-cooker she calls home. So she finds a shot of much-needed power and confidence by hooking up with boys, even though it means cheating on her boyfriend. But when she’s finally caught red-handed, she’ll do anything she can to cover up what she’s done.

Jack is a prankster who bucks the system every chance he gets—each transgression getting riskier and riskier. He loves the thrill, and each adventure allows a little release because his smug smile and suave demeanor in the face of authority doesn’t make life at home with his mom any less tough. He tries to take care of her, but the truth is he’s powerless in the face of her fragile mental health. So he copes in his own way, by defacing public property and pulling elaborate pranks, though he knows in the end this’ll only screw up his life even more.

As they both try not to let their self-destructive patterns get the best of them, Tessa and Jack gravitate toward one another, discovering the best parts of themselves in the process. An honest portrayal of the urges that drive us and finding the strength to overcome them.

Meet Heather Smith Meloche

heathersmithmelocheHeather Smith Meloche has had the honor of winning the Katherine Paterson Prize and the Writer’s Digest National Competition for her children’s/young adult writing. She lives with her family in Michigan and spends her days sampling a wide variety of chocolate, letting her dogs in and out constantly, and writing and reading as much as she can.

Win a Copy of RIPPLE!

Heather has generously donated 3 copies of RIPPLE to give away, 1 each to 3 lucky winners. You must be a U.S. resident to enter to win. Enter by doing the Rafflecopter thingy below by Saturday, November 12th.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

#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: For Whom The Book Is Written: Addressing Intended Audience in YA Novels about Mental Illness, a guest post by Katherine Locke

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen we write, we write for an audience. That audience may be ourselves, our friends, people whom we want to understand us, a broader audience, or ourselves when we were younger. But whenever we sit down to write, especially for publication, there’s an intended audience.

 

The way I see it, there are generally two types of books with mental illness at their core. The first type is for readers who suffer the same or similar mental illness. The other type is for outsiders, readers who don’t suffer that mental illness. The second group of readers might be curious, or pick up the book for other reasons, or have that type of mental illness in their family or friend group. But they don’t personally suffer through it themselves. This isn’t a quality statement–there are good and bad books in both groups–but it does change how I view, review, and recommend these books.

 

For example, a book about a character with anorexia could be for someone with anorexia nervosa, or for outsiders/non-sufferers who are curious (and there is endless cultural curiosity about anorexia).

 

In general, though there is one exception I’ve read which I’ll detail below, books for teens with anorexia do not include weight and numbers. Because anorexia isn’t about weight and numbers. It’s much deeper and more insidious of a disease than that. Eating disorder books which include numbers are for outsiders/non-sufferers. Weight and numbers are a way for outsiders/non-sufferers to understand the severity of the disease and they’re more tangible than the incongruous and seemingly irrational thoughts of an anorexic person.

 

Moreover, weights and numbers are one of the most common triggers for those thoughts to an anorexic person and merely reading them on paper can damage a recovering anorexic’s positive trajectory.

 

A novel that shows only the extremes of a mental disorder is usually–though not always–for outsiders. A novel that shows the nuances, ones that don’t fit a stereotype or introduce more complexity than may be seen on a TV show or in a movie, is for the people who are intimately aware that a disorder is no less real or a part of their lives on an everyday basis, not just in moments of crisis. When I say, “is for,” I don’t mean that one group cannot read the books intended for the other group. I’m speaking of intent, audience, and for whom that book might have the greatest impact.

 

And more importantly, when recommending books to (or writing books for) teens who may be suffering from mental illness themselves or who have a family member, it may help to keep this in mind.

 

Which book do you reach for?

 

If a teen is suffering from mental illness, they often seek a reassurance that they aren’t alone, that they’re understood, and that there’s a way out (or a way to a middle ground). They rarely need to know what Worse Case Scenario looks like–they need or want to be reassured that they are not the worse case scenario.

 

A teen whose parent, sibling, guardian, or close friend is suffering from a mental illness might want a book for outsiders, that helps explain why the person does the thing they do, and one that shows how outsiders can best support the ill person.

 

There are crossover books, and I do want to highlight a few of my favorites.

 

wintergirlsLaurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls is one of those books. While I am extremely careful when recommending it to teens with anorexia due to the numbers written on the page, I also think it’s one of the best YA novels about anorexia for people suffering. Lia’s hope at the end, for me, is enough to tip the scales toward for sufferers, though I’d only give it to a teen solidly in recovery. I’ve seen too many quotes from that book flying around pro-anorexia tumblrs and Pinterest (an issue also addressed in the book) to give to someone not working with a team of professionals. But I also think it functions very well for explaining the thought process, the re-rationalized thoughts, and the frustration of someone who wants to get better and yet doesn’t at the same time. In that way, it’s an excellent book for outsiders.

 

everylastwordAnderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory is an excellent book about a girl whose father suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, while Trish Doller’s Something Like Normal shows a soldier’s return from war from the inside. Doller’s Where the Stars Still Shine is another crossover book that shows the complexity of mental illness and its ripple effects on the people around a sufferer without ever demonizing mental illness itself. Emery Lord’s When We Collided is an excellent book that crosses over, showing both a character whose bipolar disorder isn’t well managed and ricochets across the page, and a character affected by his mother’s depression and the other character’s mental illness. Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word is about a character with OCD that shows OCD without diving deep enough to be triggering (in my experience).

 

This issue is something I think about often, and that I am still wrestling with in my own recommendations, reviews, and writing. I don’t think there’s any easy answer to what you recommend kids or teens who are suffering themselves from a mental illness or who are experiencing someone else’s mental illness. But I do think we need to think about the intended audience of a book to reduce harm–I learned eating disorder behaviors from books when I was in my late teens–and make sure we create space in our communities for teen readers to safely discuss these books.

 

Meet Katherine Locke

headshotKatherine Locke lives and writes in a very small town outside of Philadelphia where she’s ruled by her feline overlords and her addiction to chai lattes. She not-so-secretly believes most stories are fairy tales in disguise. Her Young Adult debut, THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, arrives Fall 2017 from Albert Whitman & Company. She can be found online at @bibliogato on Twitter and KatherineLockeBooks.com

#MHYALit: How to Help, by Ally Watkins

Today our #MHYALit Discussion co-coordinator Ally Watkins shares some tips for helping teens in the midst of a mental health crisis. But not just teens, anyone really.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.

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There’s something darkly ironic about dealing with a mental health crisis the year that you’re helping coordinate a project about mental health awareness in YA Lit.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how to manage and what it looks like to live with chronic mental health problems. Things were actually pretty good then! I had all of these really great intentions of reading backlist over the summer, doing a bunch of reviews, helping contact guest posters.

And then the bottom dropped out.

I won’t drag y’all through the details with me, but little by little (as it often happens), my cocktail of meds stopped working for me. And by the time I realized what was happening, I was in trouble. Throughout the summer and early fall, me and my mental health team (I’m very grateful to have a good medical team!) attempted five different adjustments to my medications before we settled on a combination that worked. During this, I was in therapy and monitoring my symptoms really closely. The process was something akin to torture. And the side effects? I don’t even know where to start. Special thanks to my friends (including my lovely co-coordinators Karen and Amanda) for helping keep me somewhat grounded throughout this process. I seem to be more regulated now, which is great, because I’m going to need everything that I can to fight the approaching seasonal depressive symptoms I’m already starting to manifest.

This entire episode really got me thinking about the teens that we serve that deal with these illnesses and disorders. The books that we’ve been highlighting throughout this process are all fantastic and important, but what if, like me, a teen is suffering with anxiety so severe that it prevents them from being able to concentrate on a book? We need to find ways to meet suffering teens where they are, especially considering that mental health symptoms often make it difficult for them to seek help or resources on their own.

Audiobooks
Please consider this your regular reminder that audiobooks are books and that listening to them is is reading and not in any way cheating. Audiobooks are basically the only way that I was able to read this summer. Talk to your teens that are dealing with mental health struggles. Ask them what they like to read, and if it would be helpful for you to have those titles in an audio format. Whether it’s lack of focus caused by anxiety or depression or if it’s a side effect, being unable to concentrate on a book is real, and if you’re a reader, it’s a real loss.

Busy Hands

Is there someone on your library staff or in your community that can teach a handiworks class in your library? Whether it be knitting or crocheting or scrapbooking, having something to keep your hands busy (maybe while listening to an audiobook! Or watching something on Hoopla!) can be really helpful for someone whose brain is constantly racing. Consider leaving coloring sheets and colored pencils out in your teen area, or having programs that include this type of craft or activity. If a kid feels like they can be included in library activities despite their illness, they’ll feel the sense of inclusion that we’re always trying for.

Resources

If there are teens in your library that are struggling, try to meet them where they are. Make a resource list of reputable online information about mental illness that they can peruse at home. Include local resources or care providers. Remember that a symptom of anxiety is often not wanting to approach anyone, so they may be seeking this information on their own: having it available for them in a trustworthy list of resources will help them get their hands on correct information curated by a professional.

Fall is a really difficult time for a lot of sufferers of mental illnesses. Let’s do what we can to make it easier on the teens we serve.

#MHYALit: Speak Up! A guest post about PTSD by author Shannon Greenland

Yesterday, PTSD got a lot of attention. The truth is, PTSD is a psychological response to extreme trauma. Soldiers are not the only individuals that experience PTSD. Many other people experience PTSD, including victims of violent crimes, people who experience an extreme life event like a car accident, and even women who have a traumatic birth experience. There is no shame in PTSD. People who experience PTSD are not weak or somehow less than. Today we are honored to host author Shannon Greenland who is discussing her book, Shadow of a Girl, and PTSD as part of the #MHYALit Discussion. You can read all the posts as part of the Mental Health in YA Lit Discussion here.

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I’ve heard authors talk about the “book of their heart,” and I used to think that was such a hokey thing to say until I wrote Shadow of a Girl. Normally I write very quickly, but this book took me years to complete. I wrote scenes, I deleted scenes, and I went round-and-round until it all finally came together.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a very real and powerful health condition caused by experiencing a traumatic event(s). The condition can last months or years with triggers that can cause flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and intense emotional and physical reactions. Most people associate PTSD with rape and/or soldiers, but any unpredictable and uncontrollable incident that overwhelms you with feelings of helplessness can contribute to the disorder.

I wrote Shadow of a Girl under my real name, Shannon Greenland, versus my pen, S. E. Green, because of the personal connection I feel to this story. Fear is an interesting thing. It makes weak people strong, strong people weak, frail people into just a shell of themselves, and numerous other scenarios. It’s how you finally emerge from the fear and take action that decides so much about your life.

In the novel I really wanted to explore the life of a girl who finally decides to take action, who slowly begins to heal, and who realizes it is okay to say goodbye to the past and not let it dictate the person you become. It is okay not to have guilt and shame over circumstances out of your control.

Know that if you are struggling in your life, it’s scary, but don’t be afraid to speak up and reach out. Know that there are people available to help. Friends, organizations, teachers, extended family. Don’t let fear dictate you anymore. If you need help, ask for it.

About Shadow of a Girl:

“Gritty and intense, the tension sizzles off the pages!” –Kimberly Derting, author of The Taking

Use cash and keep moving. 

After I ran away from home, these were the two rules that dictated my life. Scoring a job as a roadie fit perfectly for what I needed. Traveling, cash, and life out of the spotlight.  But when my path collides with West, the lead singer of Bus Stop, I can’t seem to stay out of his spotlight—especially since we’ll be touring together for an entire year.

West is determined to break down my walls. He won’t give up. And little by little they come crumbling. But if he knew what lurked behind them, he wouldn’t be so eager to get rid of them.

The more time we spend together, the more the lines of our friendship become blurred. He makes me dream of things I never thought possible. But while our friendship has been evolving into a romance, my secrets have been closing in. And just when I’ve decided to reveal my past to West, I’m confronted by it. The cost of my freedom could ruin the life of the guy I love…

Author Bio:

Shannon Greenland is the award winning author of several novels including the teen spy series, The Specialists, and the YA romance, The Summer My Life Began. Her latest teen novel, Shadow of a Girl, is due out 9.19.16. She also writes thrillers under S. E. Green and lives off the coast of Florida with her very grouchy dog. Find her at www.shannongreenland.com

More #MHYALit Posts on PTSD

#MHYALit: Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ada, and Me

#MHYALit: IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT: LIVING EACH DAY WITH PTSD

More About PTSD in the Life of Teens

PTSD in Children and Teens – PTSD: National Center for PTSD

Signs, Symptoms & Effects of PTSD in Adolescents

PTSD Facts and Help‎

#MHYALit: Five Ways to Cope: A Survival Guide for Family Members of Those with Mental Illnesses

If 1 in 4 adults suffers from some type of mental illness, and they do, then that means that a significant portion of our teenagers are living in families that are affected by mental illness. Today, as part of the Mental Health in YA Lit Discussion (#MHYALit), guest Deanna Cabinian shares some tips for surviving as a caregiver to those with mental illness. You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.

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One thing that isn’t talked about often when talking about mental illness is the effect it can have on family members. I have close loved ones who’ve struggled with OCD, depression, and bipolar disorder and have firsthand knowledge of how difficult it can be for those on the sidelines. Over the last twenty years I’ve developed some strategies for coping. Here are my tips:

  1. Talk about it. Talk to a friend, another family member, or a coworker. Share as much or as little about the situation as you would like. Book an appointment with a therapist if necessary—there is no shame in seeking professional help. Venting about what’s happening in your life helps release some of the stress.
  1. Sweat it out at the gym. Do cardio, yoga, or weight training. Walk around a local forest preserve. Eight years ago, when things were especially hard I took up running in a major way, competing in 5Ks, 10Ks, and at my peak of running fitness a half-marathon. Running was the one activity that calmed my mind down and allowed me to focus on something else rather than what was happening at home.
  1. Keep up with your passions and hobbies. If you love to craft or play the guitar do not give it up just because it might seem selfish under the circumstances. If you start to lose yourself your situation will start to feel even more out of control. Go ahead and take your Wednesday night cooking class. You putting your life on hold is not helping your family member.
  1. Seek out others in similar situations. Talking to people who have been through the same things you have is a relief and makes you feel like you’re not alone. NAMI is a great organization that connects you with others who have been through exactly what you’re going through. They have chapters all over the country. I highly recommend their family to family class.
  1. Write about what’s happening, even if you have no plans to share it. Making a list of what worries you or what frustrates you about a particular situation is another good way to relieve stress. The best part about it is you don’t have to be a writer or like writing to do it. Keep the list around and cross items off if things improve. Better yet, tear the list up—you can always make a new one.

About the Author

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Deanna Cabinian has worked in radio, television, and magazine publishing, but her greatest passion is writing. A graduate of Northern Illinois University, she has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a Master’s degree in sport management. Her debut contemporary YA novel, One Night, was released on September 5. Find her online at deannacabinian.com.

#MHYALit: Why You Shouldn’t Ban Your Kid from the Internet, a guest post by Laura Tims

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen I was growing up, losing internet privileges was a common punishment in my family. It’s a common punishment in most families. Bad grades? No screen time for a week. Missed curfew? No internet.

 

It seems like a reasonable punishment. However, it may have unintended consequences.

 

Nowadays, twenty percent of adolescents have a diagnosed mental illness. That’s a huge number. But school counselors are typically understaffed and not equipped for longterm mental health care. When you’re under eighteen and you need mental health care, it pretty much has to go through your parents.

Imagine telling your parents that they need to pay for your therapy and medications, which even with insurance can be expensive, and drive you to appointments, which can be far away. This is assuming your family has insurance, a car, and the means to afford treatment. This is assuming that the guilt and self-blame, common with many mental illnesses, and the stigma of needing mental health care aren’t enough to keep you silent. This is assuming that you have a good enough relationship with your parents to come to them with this immense vulnerability. And even the most well-meaning parents don’t always understand what mental illness is – the fear that they’ll react with unintentional ignorance, dismissiveness, or self-blame themselves is enough to stop a lot of teenagers from speaking up.

 

It’s unsurprising that a lot of teens have little access to adequate mental health care. So they reach out wherever else they can – you see people trying to manage their own mental health and that of their friends’ at the same time, which, obviously, can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, they turn to the internet.

 

On December 28th, 2014, trans teen Leelah Alcorn died by suicide after posting a final note to her Tumblr. Among other things, she had been isolated by her parents and restricted from the internet for some time. Her death shone a light on what had already been going on – that plenty of teens share suicidal ideation on their social media accounts when they haven’t told anyone in real life.

 

Blocking access to the internet can cut someone off from the only venue where they might feel comfortable reaching out for help before they do something drastic. It creates an opportunity for someone to see the message and contact the authorities.

 

There’s also the fact that a lot of teenagers turn to the internet as their primary source of mental health resources. While it’s not a replacement for professional mental health care, there are tons and tons of blogs, videos, and forums online for DIY mental health care, which is sometimes all someone has access to.

 

Acting out is often a symptom of mental illness.  It can be the worst time to isolate a teenager from their best source of resources, or from their support group of friends. Even if you don’t think your teenager has a mental illness, it’s possible that they just don’t feel comfortable bringing it to you. There’s a stereotype of kids getting hysterical for no reason when losing access to their phones or laptops (often going along with the ‘millenials are too attached to their devices’ refrain) but if your teen reacts with seemingly unreasonable desperation or intensity to having their internet privileges taken away, it’s best to talk to them and see what it is they need instead of chalking it up to dramatics. You may be removing their only way to cope with a mental illness.

 

For a thorough list of online resources for mental illness and other issues, check out the resources page on my mental health blog

 

 

Meet Laura Tims

Laura Tims PhotoLaura Tims is a young adult author, a fan of humans, and a reasonably cute organism. Her debut novel, PLEASE DON’T TELL, will be out 5/24/2016, from Harperteen. Her second, THE BEST THING ABOUT PAIN, is coming 2017. She’s a Hufflepuff, an ENFP, a Cancer, and she likes pretty much everyone. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and her mental health blog.

 

 

About PLEASE DON’T TELL

Debut author Laura Tims writes an intense and utterly gripping contemporary YA tale perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars. Joy has done everything to protect her twin sister…including murder.

Joy killed Adam Gordon for what he did to her sister, Grace. At least, that’s what she thinks happened. Now Adam can’t hurt anyone ever again, and her sister can be free from the boy who harmed her.

But someone else knows what Joy did, and they’re going to out her as a cold-blooded killer if she doesn’t expose the scandalous secrets bubbling just below the surface of her mundane town. As the demands escalate, and she finds herself falling for Adam’s half brother, Joy must figure out the blackmailer’s identity before everything spirals out of control.

ISBN-13: 9780062317322

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/24/2016

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

Ummm, no, not going to happen.

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481448567

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 05/17/2016