There are so many people in the book community that I look up to and admire for the incredible work they do. Fadwa, who you can find on Twitter and on her blog, is one of them. I am so happy to welcome her to the blog today to talk about her mental health series she’s been doing on Twitter, mental health rep in YA and more!
Tay: Can you talk a little about the experience of dealing with mental health issues on a person level, but then also seeing them from the perspective of the medical field as a student? How has that been illuminating and/or frustrating?
Fadwa: It’s definitely been…enlightening to say the least. I’ve dealt with PTSD since I was five, anxiety for the past decade, and a few depressive episodes in the same amount of time and studying these mental illnesses as well as others in depth has been both incredibly validating and difficult. On the one hand, I keep thinking “yes, my struggles are real, I have all these symptoms and here’s why, so I really am not making it up” especially when it comes to depression, since the kind I have isn’t really chronic. On the other hand, it makes me feel exposed (even if no one in class/the hospital knows that I actually struggle), it makes me feel as if I’m being looked at through a magnifying glass and every part of me is being dissected. So it’s a struggle, but the good of it outweighs the bad by far.
Tay: Recently, you started a Twitter series called #WWTalksMentalHealth where you talk about various mental health issues and debunk myths and stereotypes around them. Why did you start this series, what has the response been like so far and what are your hopes for it in the future?
Fadwa: Yes! I have psychiatry classes this semester and they’ve thought me so much already, and made me realize just how many misconceptions most people have when it comes to mental health issues and how much lacking the overall knowledge and education around mental health is, so I took it upon myself to share what I learn (not all of it of course, since a lot of what we learn is specific to health professionals) in the hopes of shattering the stigma (ha!) and bringing more awareness. So far, I have two threads and they’ve unfortunately gotten less attention than what I hoped for, don’t get me wrong, they’re getting interaction and being read by people who either feel seen or educated, which is the goal, but I hope that in the future, the series starts gaining more visibility as to reach as many people as possible.
Tay: So many of the conversations in the bookish community are focused on the experience of it within the United States (and maybe the UK, but almost exclusively the US). Can you talk a little bit about the perception, management of and stigmas against mental illness in Morocco?
Fadwa: Mental health awareness is unfortunately almost non-existent in Morocco, which breaks my heart because a lot of people struggle with mental illnesses, like everywhere else. And it all comes down to the lack of education. Most people hear think that if you need to see a therapist, need to get meds, then you’re weak or cr*zy, or something that they don’t want to deal with, which automatically puts you on the margins of society and get people to look at you either with pity or disgust and really, who wants to deal with that? So when you struggle with you mental health, you either refuse to go see a therapist or hide it from the world. The treatment of mentally ill people in our society is pretty bad, and it breaks my heart.
Tay: Shattering Stigmas is an event centered on continuing conversations around mental illness to debunk the stigmas around it. Why is talking about mental health important to you?
Fadwa: Like I said, in my country, talking about mental health issues can be seen as rather shameful and I sometimes feel like I’m screaming into the void when I try to get into the topic, but that won’t stop me. Because there’s so much work to do, and if I let that silence me, there will be no progress done. I just want people to be able to talk freely about their struggles without being scared of the way society will view them or reject them. It’s also to get neurotypical people to recognize signs and manifestations of mental illnesses in their loved ones, the more educated about these issues they are, the easier it will be for them to actually be helpful.
Tay: What types of mental health issues or mental illnesses would you like to see more widely or better represented in books?
Fadwa: All of them! But especially those that are stigmatized the most like schizophrenia, personality disorders, bipolar disorders, etc… people with these illnesses are often viewed and depicted as dangerous which can be pretty destructive, so they need accurate portrayal the most, to end that stigma around their illnesses. Also, I’ll be selfish and say PTSD, there are SO MANY different ways it can manifest, and I’ve only read one book that gets it close to my own experience (Girl made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake) and the more it’s represented in books, the bigger a chance there is for people with different experiences with PTSD to see themselves.
Tay: What mental health/mental illness tropes are you tired of seeing in books?
Fadwa: STOP VILLAINIZING MENTALLY ILL FOLKS. I’m sorry for yelling, but it’s true, the most common way of depicting us is rude, lazy, abusive, neglectful, and for the most unlucky of us, dangerous. And yes, mentally ill people can be all of those, just like the neurotypical can be as well. It’s not because of the mental illness. There’s also another one I hate, it’s when the mental illness is used as a plot device or for shock value. Please trash that.
Tay: What do you wish bloggers did to make the bookish online a community a better place re: discussing mental illness?
Fadwa: Use content warnings. PLEASE. I’m begging you. It doesn’t take you much but it saves us from a whole world of heartache and spiraling down into dark places. Also, please try ridding your language of ableist terms, like crazy, stupid, and using actual mental illnesses as hyperbolic adjective such as “He’s so bipolar/psychotic/a psychopath/a sociopath”, I know we’re used to having them as integral parts of our everyday conversations, but if I managed to not use them anymore, you can too and it won’t change anything to your quality of life.
Tay: What are your top self care tips, tricks and secrets?
Fadwa: Oh lord. I suck at self-care and have only started putting a conscious effort into it a couple months ago so I’m definitely not an expert. One thing that has been my lifeline for as long as I can remember now is music. A lot of people say that you should listen to uplifting music when feeling down but that’s never worked for me, it only made me feel worse, I like listening to music that I can relate to, that feels like it understands me, it makes me feel less alone.
I’d say don’t be afraid to put yourself first and be selfish about your well-being, this is something I still struggle with but it can be necessary for your own sanity sometimes to just take a step back from life (if you can) and just focus on you and what you need to get better, even when what you need isn’t really what you want. Because self-care isn’t always a walk in the park, it’s making decision that might suck in the moment but that you know will be better for you in the long run. I wish I had more advice but self-care is such a personal thing that what might work for me might not work for you, so all I can say is figure out what helps YOU and do it, even when it’s hard.
Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, one of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!