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Posted in Tay on Theatre

The Broadway Show of My Heart, “Spongebob Squarepants”

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I’m not even going to attempt to write a clever opening or be professional in this post. fucking love this musical with every fiber of my being, and I hope it wins so, so, so many Tony awards tomorrow.

Here’s the deal. I’ve seen this musical three times and it’s not enough. I have four t-shirts from the show (soon to be five because I can’t deal with not having them all—I know I have a problem and I can’t stop, but that’s okay). I listen to the full album a few times every week.

I was flabbergasted once the show was over.

I went in with super low expectations. I thought I would have fun, have a few laughs and then go home. Instead, I was changed forever by this little gem of a musical and I will fight anyone who says it isn’t good, okay?

I saw it for a second time on February 3. And then a Third time on June 1. If I could, I would see this musical every week (that would be excessive, but not necessarily unheard of for me). In order to organize my thoughts, because I could go on forever about this show and just be a mess, here are my favorite things about Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical, tied into why it means so much to me and why I think it deserves all the things.

This musical is probably one of the happiest and hopeful shows I have ever seen on a Broadway stage. The show stars all of the original Spongebob characters from the title character to Patrick Star to Sandy Cheeks to Mr. Krabs and more. It features a storyline where a volcano is threatening to destroy Bikini Bottom I can see why you wouldn’t like the show if you weren’t a fan of the original TV show. However, I vividly remember the first episodes and I loved it as a kid, so I have that connection to it.

Affectively, this show is remarkable and unlike anything else I’ve seen on Broadway. By affect (because I’m an affect theorist in my academic life) I mean the attachments and orientation of physical sensation, feeling and emotion in relation to people, places and things. So many shows that I see on Broadway capitalize on loss or grief in order to power the show. Spongebob, though, ran expressly on hope and optimism. “(Just a) Simple Sponge” is also probably in my top three of all Broadway show tunes I’ve listened to. I love the hopeful message of that song so much.

This infectious hope and optimism, which permeates everything from the set to the costumes to the music to the choreography, is what made me fall so madly in love with this show. It’s two-and-a-half hours of pure optimistic fun where the underdog good guy wins. It’s two-and-a-half hours of color and brightness and fun that I’ve never really encountered in theatre before, not like this.

This musical breaks boundaries. Men and woman dance together in a pink-sequined chorus line. Spongebob is anything but the stereotypically masculine hero. The show smartly pokes fun at religious zeal, corporate greed, xenophobia and government inefficiency. It is the silly, fantastical musical we didn’t know we needed in 2018 during the Trump presidency.

Besides that, I also love that romance isn’t a part of the plot. Not in the way that it’s not part of the plot in Frozen. It’s just absent from the show. Instead, Spongebob and Patrick have the most intensely pure and platonic friendship. Seeing male characters bond and love each other on stage without romance or sex is so refreshing and relatable and needed. The show also plays with gender roles. Spongebob, played by Ethan Slater, is a tiny guy with a huge heart and without any distinct talents. He’s just a dude that loves his town, friends and job. That’s why it’s so inspiring to see him ultimately save the day.

Ethan Slater is also my favorite actor on Broadway right now. The range of voices, noises, hand gestures and athletics that he needs to perform to bring Spongebob to life is incredible. This show could have very easily become cringy and corny, but performances by actors like Ethan saved the show and gave it an authentic sense of fun and its overall wow-factor.

The rest of the cast is equally fun to watch. It’s a joy to hear Jai’Len Christine Li Josey, who plays Pearl Krabs, belt out her notes so incredibly, and she’s just a teenager. It was fun to finally get to see Lilli Cooper on stage. Danny Skinner is the perfect Patrick. Everyone in the cast so fully embodies and embraces their character, bringing some of my favorite childhood characters to life.

The other aspect of the show that brings it to life is the gorgeous set and the immersive experience of the show. I remember the first time the doors opened and I saw the stage, lit gorgeously in blue. Seeing this show has always felt like escaping to a happier place, if only for a few hours. When I’m in a bad place or having a shitty day, the Spongebob Squarepants Original Broadway Cast soundtrack is the first thing I turn to now. Listening to the music and reflecting on my memories of the show brings me so much happiness.

Whatever happens tomorrow night, this show will always have a special place in my heart.

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Posted in Tay on Theatre

Self-Love and the (Human) Heart of “Once on this Island”

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Content Warnings: Discussion of mental illness including depression and implied suicidal ideation

Full warning: this post is gonna get hella deep.

Something that I love about theatre is that it feels so intensely intimate. There’s something about sharing the room with people who are all experiencing what you are and also sharing the air with the people on the stage that makes seeing a show so, so special. There’s a kind of energy that gets charged in the room. At least once during every show that I really love, I get totally lost in the show and it feels real, like it’s really happening, and in a way, it is.

Theatre is also one of the places I turn to in order to work out my emotions. There’s something comforting about the way stories are told on stage. I trust it. When I see the right show at the right time, it ends up being transformative. I started going to see Broadway shows regularly when I was fifteen and especially in the past five years. I’m pretty sure that if you cut open my heart, the show tunes that I love most would flow out like a Pandora’s box, with just as much hope at the bottom.

Theatre resonates with my heart, whether I’m sad, angry or happy. It’s always there for me. I’m always able to find the perfect song that describes how I’m feeling. I also pull a lot of strength from theatre. If I have my earphones in, I’m more than likely listening to a show.

This past week, I went to see Once on this Island with one of my best friends. I had seen it shortly after it opened in January with another one of my best friends, but didn’t know much about the show before I saw it. I was so impressed and amazed with the set and the cast and the music, though, and the power of the story, that I promised myself I would go back and see it again.

A beautiful, smart musical about love, family and Caribbean racial politics (specifically in the French Antilles), Once on this Island tells the story of Ti Moune, a girl who is orphaned after a terrible storm, saved by the gods and raised by a peasant family. The gods, after hearing Ti Moune desire for some kind of purpose, arrange for her to fall in love with Daniel Beauxhomme, one of the lighter skinned grands hommes that lives on a different part of the island. Chaos ensues, as it does in any great love story, and the musical leaves off on a note that shows the worlds of the island being somewhat reunited.

The entire musical is framed as being a tale told to a small girl frightened during a bad storm and is about the power of love and stories. It’s about learning your history. It’s about using the power of storytelling to overcome adversity. It’s about the all-consuming power of love. It’s wonderful, and if you live near New York City you should definitely try to see it at Circle in the Square right now (plus the cast is just phenomenal). It’s done in the round and Circle in the Square is just such a special venue, especially for a story like this.

My post won’t touch upon the racial and class politics or the French Caribbean culture represented in the musical, though. It’s not my lane to talk about those elements of the show anyway in a post, although I appreciate the way that the culture is celebrated in the show and how deeply attuned to history.

Instead, I’m going to talk about how I connected personally to Ti Moune’s intense devotion and love in the play, and how it made me reflect on issues I’ve been thinking about lately in my own life. This show has taught me about the value and importance of self-love, and the consequences of ignoring its importance.

I am a very intensely emotional person. I also have a bad habit of putting other people’s feelings ahead of my own. I am not the kind of person that instinctively puts on her own oxygen mask first in a time of crisis. My instinct is to make sure everyone around me is okay first. All I want to do is take care of other people, even if I get hurt in the process. I used to think that was love. I’m starting to learn it’s foolishness. Once on this Island helped me see that, but from the safety of a cushioned theatre seat and with the comfort that other people around me were just as emotional (the woman sitting behind me and I were sniffling together and it was comforting).

Anyway, let’s take a step back. On Monday, I was talking to my friend while we were walking to a bookstore. Venting, actually, about mental health stuff, because I’d been having a hard weekend. I talk and write things out to think. At one point I insisted that I knew I hurt myself in an effort to save my friends from the emotional shrapnel that I send flying during my worst moments. And my friend snapped back at me, that no, I didn’t know that. It was quick, but it was like someone pinched me hard enough to wake me up.

Because oh shit. He was right. So right. But I always do such a good job of masking my insecurities. It was the first time someone I really love ever saw past that and reprimanded me for being foolish. I needed that.

Fast forward a few hours and I’m watching Once on this Island. The whole show, because it’s just so sad, makes me so emotional. It didn’t hit me the first time, but it sure as hell did the second time. I’m a person who believes in love and fate. I’m a hopeless romantic. But this time watching the show was different. During “Forever Yours,” a song in which Ti Moune takes care of Daniel obsessively after he’s in a bad car accident, I started to feel tears form in my eyes. Ti Moune and I, as people, are very different of course. But I connected to the way she devoted every ounce of her energy to take care of Daniel. It felt like I was watching myself on the stage, sacrificing my own strength and energy for someone else. What theatre does is it allows me the distance to understand my own feelings and work through those emotions. Catharsis.

As the musical went on, the knot that had formed in my stomach tied tighter and tighter and tighter throughout the show. When Ti Moune leaves her loving family to chase love. When she takes care of Daniel. When she is ultimately forsaken by the grands hommes and they kick dirt at her. I felt the tears build and build and build until “When We Are Wed” started and that’s when I just lost it.

It’s the moment when Ti Moune’s selfless love and displays of emotion come back to bite her.

As a survivor of sexual violence, too, I felt all the shame and guilt of having the rug pulled out from under me. I felt every little bit of the way that loving someone so strongly and so deeply, putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, can destroy every fiber of your sanity. I felt like that emotional through-line of the show was a caution to me, that if I kept on the path I was going on, I would eventually emotionally exhaust myself and eventually I would go too far and I would never recover.

So I started crying even harder during “A Part of Us.” Tears were streaming down my face and I couldn’t make them stop. It was a mix of sadness and joy and admiration at the beauty of the show’s end. Every time I tried to wipe away my tears, more came.

It was the moment I realized I need to change my life. I need to take care of myself. I need to put myself first. Because while it’s beautiful how Ti Moune sacrifices herself and ultimately returns to the gods, I want more than that. And I knew watching this scene that I had a choice. I could continue to be self-destructively selfless and end up like her, as a story, as a tragic, cautionary fairy tale. Ti Moune will never get to experience real, validating love. She will never get to see her loving family again. She will never walk among the trees or in the surf again. She sacrifices herself for love and that’s the end. She lives on in a way, but her light still goes out.

Or I could stop. I could slow down and look around me and breathe. I could put my oxygen mask on now because I need it. Because if I kept going the way I had been, I knew I was going to burn out. I could feel it. And I could feel myself starting to prepare to say my goodbyes, even if I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing.

I want to live. I want to be here for a long time. I want to make so many memories with friends. I want to love others deeply, but I want to love myself too. I’m always going to hold Once on this Island close to my heart now, because seeing it might have saved my life, even in just a little way. It’s so beautiful, so hopeful and so magical. That’s the power of theatre.

When I hear the music, I will always now remember the power of love, but also the importance of knowing to balance a love of others with a love of self. Self-love is more important than anything else. I’m going to fight my mental illness head on this year. I’m going to get help. I’m going to deal with my shit. And love will win, but it won’t destroy me, because I’ll have self-love on my side.

That is why I tell the story.

Posted in Book Review

Review: Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs by Jason Porath

35887203Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

As a girl and as a staunch feminist and lover of female accomplishments throughout the ages, I love stories about kickass girls. I also like pretty pictures and well-researched historical writing. If you’re like me and love these things too, you’re going to love Jason Porath’s new Rejected Princess book, Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs. Filled to the brim with fifty stories of badass women who got shit done on their own terms, beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched and cited, this book is a feat. The book features women who were mothers, literally and figuratively, and centers on this idea of the fierce maternal instinct. You need this book in your life because you need the stories of these women, and Jason’s funny, thoughtful writing and carefully, gorgeously rendered art in your life. 

I’m a huge fan of Porath’s first Rejected Princess book, Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics and if you want to know why, check out my review of it. I’m also a huge fan of the online project, which features lots of free, awesome content about girls just as badass in the books as well as bonus content and other goodies!

But you should buy both of the books. Seriously. Before I even begin to tell you in detail why these books mean so much to me, add the book on Goodreads. Buy it from Barnes and Noble, Amazon or your local independent bookstore (you all should know that this is the way to go). Strapped for cash? Go and reserve it from your library.

All set? Got your future hands on a copy of this book. Cool. Let me tell you why it’s so fantastic now.

Rejected Princesses, in its online and book iterations, is something I desperately wish I had as a teen girl and even as a kid. Even coming of age in the aughts and teens of the new millennium, I was constantly told by the adults in my life to be “more ladylike” and to “act like a girl.” I was not thrilled with this. I loved Disney movies, especially Disney Princesses growing up. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but basically I dressed up as a Disney Princess every Halloween and had Disney Princess backpacks, shirts, etc. It was bad. And it was especially bad because they were badass in their own ways, but they weren’t…revolutionary to say the least.

The women–young, old and everywhere in between–that Jason writes about in Rejected Princesses aren’t just revolutionary. They’re also real. These are the ladies you should have learned about in history. They come from all over the world. All across time. Reading Jason’s work isn’t just enjoyable and entertaining. It’s downright educational too. I promise you, you will learn so much from this book and it is so worth the wild ride of reading every single story.

I also have to talk about the design of this book, and where do I even start. The cover is beautiful, to begin with. I love the deep, royal blue they chose. It gets even better when you open up the front cover. I loved the inclusion of a map that shows where all fifty of the women are from, and it shows that Jason really picked women from all over the world. My only point of critique is that I wish more South American, African and Southeast Asian women were included, since the map reveals that, while included, these areas are more sparse of inclusion than say, the United States and Europe.

I also love the system of content warnings. It makes it easy for readers to avoid potential triggers or topics they just rather not read at that moment. The ordering by level of maturity and clear indication with color coded and labeled warnings make this SO easy and it is so seamless in the design (these are also included in the online project).

Moreover, the page design of the stories is pure perfection. I loved the inclusion of all the little illustrations in the watermarked frame on each page. This just goes to show the level of detail Jason put into the design of his own book and how seriously he takes this project, its style and its atmosphere. Pushing this level of detail even further, the corners have a fun surprise. Flip the pages to generate a fun little animation. It’s fun and addictive, and so darn cool.

As an art historian and visual culture nerd, the illustrations are my favorite part of the book. They’re colorful. They’re dynamic. And they’re super detailed. Reading the art notes at the end of each vignette and getting to see the thought, the time and detail that Jason put into his images is one of my favorite parts of the project.

This brings me to another aspect of the text that I love: the writing style. The vignettes about each woman is fun and fresh to read. It’s written in an accessible way that people will get, with a touch of humor and ample amounts of empathy. We need more men like Jason in the world, not just as authors but as people. He puts in the time and the work to highlight these historical women. He listens to his readers. You can tell from reading about the project and from one or two entries that he deeply cares about the work that he’s doing, and that in turn makes the experience of it and the joy of reading his vignettes all the better. I am so grateful that these books, this project, exists. I hope you are–or soon will be–too.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Wrap-Up (aka y’all are AWESOME)

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry while writing this post and I’ve already lied to myself. Great. This post is going to be a mix-up of me just gratuitously thanking people so so so much for all of their efforts and things I’ve taken away from this event.

It would be an understatement to say that I think Shattering Stigmas is one of the most important endeavors I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. Even if my blog isn’t hugely big or popular, even if we don’t have the power to build Rome in a day and end mental illness stigma once and for all, I feel that the work we do during Shattering Stigmas is really important. And that work is giving people space and a chance to tell their stories. That work is listening to each other and broadening our compassion, empathy and understanding of the human beings around us. That work is an act of storytelling, of faith and of love.

I hope that I can continue to be involved in efforts as valuable as this one throughout my life. I am applying to help plan my graduate school’s first ever Mental Health and Arts Festival. I go to a very special school within NYU that promotes these ivtersectionalities and part of a very special group of bloggers who’ve I’ve been blessed to co-host this event with. I don’t think I would even consider applying for this new opportunity if it was not for having them, and Shattering Stigmas, in my life.

I would now like to thank everyone who made Shattering Stigmas an amazing event for me. First off, a HUGE thank you to everyone who came onto my blog and has been reading the posts and leaving comments. Y’all rock.

Next up, a huge thank you to my fellow co-hosts. I swear I’m not tearing up again (I’m lying). It has been such an honor to work with y’all, plan with y’all and read the posts and see the content y’all have had on your blogs these past two weeks. Taneika, it’s been so lovely making a friend from around the world. Vlora, I love your bubbly enthusiasm. Inge, you’re such a lovely, kindhearted person and I just want the best for you. Shannon, I feel like you’re the mom of the group who kept us on track. And Holly, thank you so much for giving me that chance to write last year, which led to my interest in co-hosting this year. Your support is invaluable to me. I love y’all so much, and the rest of us reading this should check out their blogs/channels:

Holly @ The Fox’s Hideaway

Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight 

Inge @ Of Wonderland

Vlora @ Reviews and Cake

Taneika @ Flipping Through Pages

Now. my posters. Thank you so much for participating in this event for me. Thank you to Tiffany, Amy and Akemi who did Q&A’s for me, taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer my questions. Thank you to Paula for writing such a long, thoughtful and helpful guide to helping your friends and loved ones with anxiety. Thank you to Hannah for writing the post that’s closing out this event on my blog. Thank you to my two anonymous posters. I hope y’all saw how your voice matters, even if your name is not attached to the work. And thank you to Katie, Scully, Cody, Troix, Lyla, Shalena and Aurora to writing beautiful, thoughtful and powerful posts. I am in aw of all of your strengths and especially your writing. I can only hope I will be blessed to have some of you return to the blog for Shattering Stigmas next year.

And finally, a reminder that there are still two Shattering Stigmas giveaways. We are giving away six mental health reads from Book Depository. The book is your choice and if you’re my winner, you can pick any book purchase up to $15. If you want recommendations when you win, I got you. You can enter that giveaway here:

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway HERE!

I am also giving away a self-curated self care kit on Twitter. RT+Follow, US only, no giveaway accounts and you can enter here.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

To the Ones Up Front by Hannah Moskowitz

I am so pleased to introduce Hannah Moskowitz as the final poster for Shattering Stigmas on my blog before my wrap-up. I think that her message about writing more subtle mental illness rep is super important and a great reminder as we close this event. You can find Hannah, who has written several young adult novels including A History of Glitter and Blood, Not Otherwise Specified and Gena/Finn (with Kat Helgeson) among others, on Twitter or her website.

CW: General discussion of mental illness, including bipolar disorder and eating disorders, throughout. 

Everything’s louder in fiction. Conversations are snappier, kisses are deeper, death tolls are higher. It’s like when I was in high school theatre, putting on makeup before a show. Up close, you look ridiculous with your overdrawn lips and bright patches of blush, but once you’re washed out under the stage lights, that’s how the back row sees you. A book needs to be able to hold its own against all the other books, and God knows there’s always going to be something out there flashier and grabbier than yours. I’ve yet to meet a contemporary author—hell, probably any author—who hasn’t heard from a critique partner or an agent or a publisher, or maybe even just from that nagging voice of self-doubt in their head, that their book is too quiet. That it won’t stand out in the marketplace. That teenagers wouldn’t pick it up compared to something louder.

I am such a fan of quiet books (which I guess makes my first metaphor here kind of off, since my lipstick stash would tell you I’m definitely not a fan of quiet makeup) but I think when we’re talking about YA books about mental illness, it goes beyond personal preference. We need those quiet books in a way that I’m not sure publishing understands. It’s really, really important, and to get into why we need to talk about mirrors and windows.

Mirrors and windows is a concept we talk about a lot in YA, and about how teenagers need books that function as each one for them. A window is a book that lets you see into another culture, whether that’s a straight kid reading about queer kids, a white teenager reading a Desi love story, or a healthy person reading a dystopian with a chronically ill hero. It’s the base explanation of why we read, and it’s definitely important. It’s how we learn about things that we don’t personally experience, without having to go up to someone and interrogate them and intrude on their lives. We can read without bothering anyone. It’s voyeurism in the best way. Then there are mirrors. That’s when you see yourself in a book, whether for the first time or the hundredth. You’re not here to learn; you’re here to feel like you’ve been heard, like you’re not alone. Ideally, it’s a more comfortable reading experience, because you’re seeing yourself. You’re not stretching yourself the way you are when you look into someone else’s world. You are safe and protected.

In reality it doesn’t always work out that nicely. Especially in books about mental illness. What people who write about mental illness for teenagers need to keep in mind is that the vast, vast majority of mentally ill teenagers have not been formally diagnosed, because that would involve talking to their parents and doctors in a way that’s difficult for a neurotypical kid, never mind a mentally ill one. I’ve known I was bipolar since I was in middle school, but I went undiagnosed until I was nineteen. There were people close to me who had absolutely no idea. And that’s not something that, reading about bipolar disorder in fiction, you’d ever think was possible. Bipolar disorder in fiction is unhideable. It’s catastrophic. There is nothing quiet about it, because there can’t be anything quiet about your book.

And that leads a lot of teenagers—including me, who’d known since she was eleven that something was wrong—to question themselves. Maybe I’m actually fine. Maybe it’s supposed to be this hard. I must be normal, because I am more normal than this.
So by having only these loud mental illness portrayals, we’re not only showing neurotypical people that mentally ill people are so different from them; we’re showing mentally ill teenagers that mentally ill people are so different from them, too.

Not so good.

When it comes to things like cutting or eating disorders, having only over the top portrayals introduces a whole new problem. When you’re writing a book to be a window, you have to introduce people to your topic, and in a book about say, anorexia, that often amounts to writing an orientation packet on how to develop an eating disorder. And as if that weren’t enough, teenagers who have eating disorders are going to read it and see everything more they could be doing, how much they don’t count as someone with a real eating disorder because theirs is not as big and bright and dramatic as what’s in a big, bright, dramatic book.

I’m not saying that there aren’t people with mental illness who live these stories that, to me, seem sensationalized. These stories wouldn’t exist if they didn’t happen to people. But this is the risk we run when we try to use one story to encompass a whole range of experiences. It’s a problem when you’re writing about any marginalized experience, but I’m not sure it’s as damaging in other topics as it is for mental illness. If teenage-me read a book with a Jewish main character that didn’t feel right to me, that can be uncomfortable, sure, but it wouldn’t have the devastating effect on my sense of self that a book telling me my mental illness wasn’t bad enough would.

So here’s what I ask of writers, publishers, and readers: make quiet mental illness books.

Give us something soft. Show us the range of experiences.

You don’t have to play to the back row every time. Play to that one girl in the front, leaning in, trying to see.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Start Here: I Believe by Cody Roecker

I know I’ve been gushing about all of the posters for nearly two weeks, but Cody is one of my favorite people and writers so I am especially excited to welcome him onto my blog today. You can find him on Twitter and his blog, Roecker Reviews

CW: Mention of Rape/Incest/Molestation along with Mental Illness (PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety)

Everything is serene, calm waters gently billowing across the ocean. The sun is bright, a yellow sunflower in the sky. The trees are the most vibrant of greens, contrasting the other colors of a perfect day. The simple things have such immense beauty, but that purity only lasts for so long. The sense of belonging, the sense of trust, the sense of love that doesn’t dissipate.  

It does one day. The day where betrayal ruins all of the beauty that life seemed to hold. And for me that was when I was six years old. But I didn’t really realize what had happened, I burrowed it away in a hole that I never wanted to dig into again. When I was ten years old, I was forced to when my parents said,

“Your brother raped your cousin.”

And the memories of what had happened to me came flooding back into the forefront of my mind. Tears became a waterfall, never-ending, consistently flowing. And I had to face the fact that he had forced me to do things I hadn’t wanted to do. Did I realize that at the time? Did I know what kind of horrors had been inflicted on me? No, I had suppressed that all too far in the back of my mind. I hadn’t been raped myself but I still had been forced onto my brother’s penis.

Talking about that experience was one of the best things I could have ever done, as difficult as it was. While it’s still fresh in my mind, and there are days where it leaves me debilitated, I know how to deal with hearing things that could trigger me. Ive adjusted through talking about it. Any mention of incest, any mention of molestation is very hard for me to stomach. I have to force myself to remove myself from the situation before I can even think to move forward.

And it’s hard. Every day is fucking difficult living with this kind of pain. And that’s when I realized something in my head isn’t okay anymore. I have never been diagnosed with PTSD, and I’m not entirely sure if that is something I have or not, but I do know that those memories haunt me.

Try growing up gay knowing that something like that has happened to you. It’s not fucking easy. In fact, it’s fucking hard. I hate when people say that I’m privileged and the only thing I have about me that isn’t is that I’m gay, and that I don’t have a lot of money….

There is more to my story. But I digress, growing up gay after being sexually molested at least once (I only remember it happening once, but who knows how much I actually suppressed.) was really freaking difficult because… my real emotions were scary as it felt rooted in a negative aspect of my life experience. Point being, this was hard. And life is hard. That much is abundantly clear to almost everyone I meet.

But still even with depression, and “anxiety that is worse than your depression,” I have to keep on keepin’ on. Not saying that it’s easy. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying there are things you can do that help with all the fucked up shit you’ve been through… or all the fucked up shit you haven’t been through. That’s the fucking reality about mental illness in any form… sometimes it’s caused by events in one’s life, sometimes it’s genetic, and sometimes there is no fucking explanation for the way you feel… you just know everything fucking sucks and you wish there was something you could do about it. A day that feels normal. Just one. One. Fucking. Day. That’s all it would take, you might think, one day of “normality” whatever that even is.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be neurotypical for once? Yeah, I guess. And that’s something I’ve thought for such a long time, and really I understand… I understand why you would feel that way. Most of us with Mental Illnesses have felt that way.

I know that it can be hard to be interested in things when you’re depressed or hard to focus on anything but failure when you have anxiety… but when you find that one thing… that one thing is everything.

For me, I find that coping mechanism in reading and writing for Young Adults and Young Readers. I wouldn’t be here today without More Happy Than Not, When the Moon Was Ours, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, They Both Die At The End and so many more.

I wouldn’t be here without the authors that taught me that who I am is okay, and everything I’ve been through doesn’t make me weak. I wouldn’t have the strength to write, the drive to create stories, I wouldn’t be able to do anything I want to do in life without these people.

I am so thankful for people like Becky Albertalli, Lianne Oelke, Melissa Albert, Anna-Marie McLemore, Caleb Roehrig, David Arnold, Adam Silvera, Jasmine Warga, Leigh Bardugo, Rachel Strolle, Taylor Tracy, Marie Lu, Alexandra Bracken, Susan Dennard, Mason Deaver, Jenna Corso, and all the other wonderful people in my life. I wouldn’t be doing anything I do without these people’s presence in my life.

Find your passion. It can save your life. Surround yourself with people who bring you up instead of take you down. Do what makes you happy… search for what makes you happy. It’s going to be hard, fuck at times it might seem damn near impossible but you can do it, my friend. You are magic in a human, and if I can do this… so can you.

People believe in me, and that’s why I’m here. I believe in you, let’s start there.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

How Taboo Books Saved Me by KM

I’m really excited to finally share this post with y’all because I think it does such a good job or encapsulating the power of stories. Stories are always there for us, and I hope you all have stories that bring you comfort and joy like the author of this post.

I hate saying I’ve ever felt alone. After all, I shouldn’t feel alone for even a second. I have a supportive family and close friends who take me out to have some fun when I’ve gotten stuck in my own head. With school and work, I am constantly around others. How, then, can I claim I’m lonely?

Answer: Loneliness isn’t just about physical solitude. It can also be emotional.

Unfortunately, it sometimes doesn’t matter that I know I have people who will listen. At the end of the day, I lie in bed and wonder why I’ve been put on this planet. It seems all I do is exist. All I do is take. All I do is sit in my room, read, eat chocolate, and continue my life as my loved ones’ burden.

It took books—the ones banned and condemned and tossed aside, like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park—to make me realize I’m more than that.

For me, reading came naturally. My great grandfather stowed away in libraries to bask in the hushed quiet and devour book after book. My grandmother is Agatha Christie’s biggest fan and has written books herself. My mother is the furthest thing from a hoarder—except when it comes to novels. Reading is in my genes.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that.

When the silence threatened to drown me, when my clip-on booklight was my only reprieve from darkness, I huddled in the corner of a loveseat and read. For me, though, reading wasn’t just an escape; it was a reflection.

It sounds horrifically self-centered, but I saw bits and pieces of myself in narrator after narrator. I spotted my almost unrelenting cynicism in A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. I saw my introversion in Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I found my dangerous loyalty in The Female of the Species.

With the help of young adult novels, I also recognized signs of mental illness.

The protagonist of Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word made me realize I wasn’t the only one who had streams of dark thoughts and impulses. My brain wouldn’t ever shut up. If I took notes in class, the pages would be in odd numbers—never even. These weren’t quirks I had to “put up with”; these were signs of something more.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar revealed my own social withdrawal and clinical depression. Like Plath’s narrator, Esther, I felt I was “stewing in my own sour air.” Though I could see the years of my life as telephone poles, stretched out, all nineteen of them, there seemed to be no more beyond that. There was nothing left for me. I was alone, and the world had left me to fend for myself.

It was the scores of books I read that made me see I wasn’t alone. I never was. I was just afraid. Afraid to speak up and afraid to seek help. Yet, despite facing situations even more dire than mine, the characters of each of these novels found a way to overcome their fears and continue living their lives to the fullest.

I was going about life thinking I was alone, but I had allies all along. Some, like my friends and family, were waiting for me to reach out. Others were simply hidden in the pages of the books on my shelf.

I won’t say reading was the only thing that saved me; it took a tremendous amount of support and time to get where I am today, and I still struggle now. I will, however, say that reading is what pointed me in the right direction. It’s what showed me my feelings were not “wrong” or “too risky to say aloud,” but simply human.

Books that unflinchingly portray mental health shouldn’t be taboo. They shouldn’t be banned or censored. They should be celebrated. Reading “troubled teen” books allow young adults to see their mental illness for what it truly is: a conquerable obstacle, not an unspoken death sentence.

I still don’t know a lot, but I know this: With a book on my table, I’m never, ever alone.