This isn’t a book review, i’ll get back to regularly scheduled reviewing when it’s not the middle of the night and I’m not asleep, again.
I like reading books with characters who have mental illness, because I’ve had anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. Rereading my review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan the other day, made me cringe. I wrote it when I was depressed and grieving the death of a friend, so there’s a lot of my own crazy in there.
My whole life I’ve found it difficult to talk about my mental health/lack of it. But as i get older, i realise more and more how important it is to talk about it personally, but also in general, to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness.
“I stand by my belief that in hiding mental health issues just contributes to stigmatising and isolating those who suffer . . . But it’s one thing to believe, and another thing to act. It’s hard to casually say to a crowded room, ‘Oh no, I don’t have the flu, I have depression'”
– Corinne blogging at About Teaching
I’m currently grieving the death of my cousin; the circumstances were horrific and my whole family is in shock. This made my insomnia much worse, but my anxiety levels were bad before his death.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve read two things online about mental health that really helped me in this difficult time.
“I know I’m not alone in this. There are so many of us who struggle with mental health. Everyone acknowledges that it affects others, but we so rarely admit to it in ourselves.”
Some of her readers were surprised at her change to the personal, but the majority were supportive and many shared their own experiences of mental illness in the workplace.
I follow comedian Ben Pobjie on twitter. Most of the time his tweets are lmfao-worthy, but sometimes he tweets about his depression. Last week I saw this in my feed. In between tweeting about how bad he felt, he said he knew some people didn’t like hearing this stuff, and its certainly confronting, but it was cathartic for me. Earlier I’d been crying (for my cousin, etc) but reading his thoughts dried my tears and i just wanted to hug him. I had those exact thoughts when I was depressed, just as my thoughts were echoed in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. This made me realise I wasn’t depressed now, just grieving and anxious. My anxiety can be debilitating and in combination with depression I cease to function, but i’m managing my anxiety levels to an extent, despite the insomnia and tears.
This is why we need YA books with characters who have mental illness in all its different flavours (there are many diagnoses, but also a spectrum on each diagnosis). Teenagers with or without mental illness can read about these experiences: the same difficulties, the same highs and lows, knowing you are not the only one and your mental illness does not define you. It may always be a part of you, but you are a person before everything else and there will be good days, even when all you can see is a gaping abyss of nothingness.
If you’re feeling that abyss now, talk to family, friends, doctors, the community mental health worker who is paid to care about you, or just tweet about it. You should have been there that time I live-tweeted a hospital stay, on my return home I did a lot of deleting. But seriously, talking and asking for help is how we find the good days. I have more good days now I’ve learned (still learning) to manage my ups and downs, that’s all i can ask for.
If you’re looking for a book to read with characters who have mental illness Disability in Kidlit has reviews and interviews with authors. They also blog about titles to avoid with “dodgy disability narratives and painful mental illness tropes.” Disability in Kidlit is US based, but there are many Australian titles I’ve read (or half read due to my mental state). When my brain’s working better, I’ll make a list.