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.

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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.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

13 Reasons Why I Hate 13 Reasons Why by Scully

On this Friday the Thirteenth, I have my dear friend Scully to share their thoughts on 13 Reasons Why as a tv show that inappropriately represents mental illness and contributes to the stigma against mental illness. This post is a powerful list, pointing out some less oft discussed aspects of the show, and raises questions about issues and dynamics to consider when representing mental illness in media. You can find Scully on Twitter.

CW: Suicide, suicidal ideation, depression, gun violence

Preface: I have been professionally diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, chronic depression, suicidal ideation, and attention deficit disorder. I have attempted suicide and also spent time in a stress center. I go to therapy every week. I know my shit.

  1. The show completely ignores the American Foundation of Suicide’s guidelines: 

    Shows hannah’s suicide graphically and shockingly. Lack of appropriate trigger warnings before episodes.

  2. Hannah blames her suicide on other people: 

    Suicide is a personal decision. Factors may play into that choice but, no one/nothing kills victims of suicide besides themselves and their mental illness.

  3. There are no signs of depression: 

    Hannah is shown constantly wearing nice outfits, with curled hair, and the perfect ‘no-makeup’ makeup. When depressed, you barely have the energy to get out of bed, let alone make yourself look presentable or even “nice.”

  4. NO ONE CAN LOVE AWAY YOUR DEPRESSION/SUICIDAL IDEATION: 

    Hannah tells Clay that if he hadn’t been afraid to love her, she would still be here. While this is true, Clay couldn’t cure her mental illness. This creates an abusive power imbalance (if you leave I’ll kill myself), perpetuates unhealthy stereotypes (only lonely people can be depressed), and to go back to point 2, puts the blame on other people.

  5. Blatant romanticization of suicide: 

    Hannah leaves her suicide “note” in the form of cassette tapes. How fucking vintage and quirky and Urban Outfitters and “manic pixie dream girl” of her.

  6. Unhealthy coping: 

    Skye says she cuts instead of killing herself. This is a very unhealthy coping mechanism and should not be seen as an alternative.

  7. Clay’s rebound: 

    After Hannah’s death, Clay goes after Skye. Skye is the token “angsty depressed teen who wears a lot of eyeliner and spikes”. Clay hadn’t really liked Skye before but, determined to not let the same thing happen to her he starts flirting with her. Don’t date someone for pity, or to make yourself seem righteous for dating someone no one else will. To go back to point 4, people with mental illnesses aren’t going to get better just because of someone else.

  8. Inaccurate portrayal of psychosis: 

    Clay struggles from psychosis and hallucinates after hearing the tapes. The portrayal of psychosis, I have been told by a friend who has this mental illness, is incredibly inaccurate and a dangerous portrayal. Also, by focusing on Clay’s psychosis, we are taking away from the main story-line; Hannah’s suicide.

  9. School shootings don’t happen because of fucking suicide: 

    Tyler buys guns after hearing the tapes. It is assumed he will shoot up the school. School shootings are caused by many things, but suicide of a student isn’t one of them.

  10. Blaming Justin: 

    Hannah blames Justin for not interfering with Jess’s rape. This is so unfair to Justin. He’s just as scared of Bryce as Hannah and Jess are. You cannot be upset at one of the victims of an abuser for not standing up to one. Bryce is Justin’s only savior from the abuse he endures at home.

  11. If you need a show to tell you not to be an asshole to someone, 

    You’re probably too big of an asshole to change.

  12. Over-simplification of mental illness: 

    You don’t suddenly decide one day you’re gonna kill yourself. It’s months of suicidal ideation, months of deep, crippling depression.  It’s making three attempts but chickening out at the last minute. It’s succeeding but going to the hospital because someone found you. It’s NOT cute, or quirky, or something this simple.

  13. Season two: 

    If the creation of a second season wasn’t enough to prove this is a desperate attempt at using mental illness to shock people and make money, I don’t know what is.

So sure, 13 Reasons Why sucks. But why does it matter? It matters because this is a very popular show. It matters because this show is aimed at young and impressionable people. It matters because this could be someone’s first introduction to mental illness in media, or mental illness at all.

By perpetuating these harmful stereotypes, you are continuing the stigma against mental illness, the same stigma that makes people, like hannah baker, not want to reach out for help. The same stigma that kills people.

Basically, don’t use me and my experiences as a scapegoat to sell your manic pixie dream girl aesthetic. Mental illness is not cool or fun. It fucking sucks and this show and shows like it are the main reasons there’s such a stigma surrounding it.

My mental illness is NOT for your entertainment. Fuck you.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with A.S. King

UnknownHello everyone! I am so, so honored, thankful and thrilled to feature one of my favorite authors, A.S. King, today for Shattering Stigmas. Amy is a fantastic writer and a lovely person. She writes unflinchingly raw, real and honest books about teens that are complex, vibrant and full of hope. Her latest YA book, Still Life with Tornado, is about Sarah, a girl who has an existential crisis and deals with the implosion of her parents’ marriage via various past and future versions of herself. It’s weird, it’s real and it’s lovely like Amy’s other YA books including Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Everybody Sees the Ants and Glory O’Brien’s History of the FutureYou can find her on Twitter or on her website.

You tackle so many critical teen mental health and wellness issues in your book from grieving the loss of a parent to bullying to domestic violence to the pressures of standardized testing. What usually comes first, the characters or the issues and contexts that they’re placed in?

Characters seem to come first for me. They show up and start talking and tell me about themselves. I don’t think beyond that. They have to tell me what to think about. In Sarah’s case, after she told me her first chapter, I thought: Why does she think there’s no such thing as an original idea? What’s so wrong with her that she couldn’t fight this claim? What’s she trying to tell me? And then I write and she tells me, eventually. In this case, I found out over time that her father is a controlling abuser and the whole family system has been adjusted in order to allow him to do this in a way that feels normal. But it’s anything but normal.

You’ve mentioned in the past that part of the fuel behind your writing is to help teens understand adults and help adults understand teens. How do you hope your writing builds the bridge for teens and adults to talk about the real stuff like mental illness?

The first step in that equation is: adults need to read the books. If they don’t, then they can’t be reached. The bridge is inside the writing. When teens read it, they feel as if someone understands them and they also, through the adult voices I write, get a chance to see why the adults around them may seem distracted or uninterested. Adults who read my books—the ones who write to me, anyway—are usually floored by the fact that they could “feel” their teenhood again and they find things there (as we all do throughout our lives) that are messing up their present day lives. I’ve had people as old as 70+ write to tell me that my book changed their mind about something that happened to them as a teen—they’d never taken it seriously before. Why? Because that’s what teens hear all the time. Not to take things too seriously. Things are “a phase.” Things aren’t so bad, this is hormones. Etc. When really, more than a quarter of teenagers are suffering from mental illness in silence because adults have a hard time taking them seriously. Teenhood is when many mental illnesses come to light. As parents, we forget that—no—we aren’t told that, so we often don’t even know it. We blow off all sorts of things. Our culture approves of this blow off. And then you end up with statistics like this one: The second leading cause of death of those aged 15-19 is suicide. If this doesn’t make us stop and finally TALK about mental illness, I’m not sure books can. Parents must be willing to walk halfway across the bridge and drop the stigma of reading a book about teenagers first, then they might be willing to drop the stigma of teens with mental illness.

If there’s anything I know, it’s that people with a mental illness usually do not know what is going on. If that person is 35, a friend or family member may say, “You should see a doctor.” But if that person is 15, a friend or family member is more likely to say, “You’ll feel better tomorrow—this is teenhood, kiddo.” So, my books are here to help young adults recognize that not only might they be going through something inexplicably hard and not just normal teenhood, but I also aim to urge them to SAY SOMETHING ABOUT IT. And if adults read my books, they might actually LISTEN. Most of the adults in my books are living with bad stuff because they feel stuck with it. I’m here to say: yeah, we’re all stuck with some stuff but we don’t have to be stuck with others. There are many ways to live life and see the world. And we can help ourselves and help our loved ones if we could just LISTEN.

Many of your books feature surreal twists such as Lucky’s visits to Vietnam in Everybody Sees the Ants, the kids in I Crawl Through It and the Sarah’s in Still Life with Tornado. Can you discuss a little bit about how you use surrealism to represent mental health or psychological journeys in your writing?

Mental illness is surreal. I know because I am surrounded by it in everyday life. Shock is surreal. I know because I’ve experienced it. Being bullied is surreal. Again, I know because I’ve been there. Psychological journeys are most important to me because they accompany every other kind of journey. Regarding mental illness, we just rarely talk about it and it’s still so surrounded by shame that people are judgmental about it rather than compassionate. Which is downright weird if you ask me. So surrealism certainly fits into my work because the world in which I live—the world in which we all live—is super surreal.

We have become a huge number of unconnected people vying for some sort of trophy. Depends who you are which trophy you’re aiming for, but we seem to have forgotten that we are all little pieces of a far larger thing. Maybe that vision is too big to fit into the viewfinder, and I get that. But in real life, we should be helping each other more. We should be talking to teenagers and helping them grow and learn and not lecturing them about how they’re always on their phones. Dude. I’M ALWAYS ON MY PHONE TOO. And so are most adults. I see them everywhere. 70% of the adults who drive by my house are literally looking at their phones while they drive. But sure, tell us again how it’s the teenagers who are ruining everything.

So yeah. Surrealism is a huge part of my work because I think life on Earth is surreal. But being a teenager—in a culture that pretty much thinks you suck and you’re stupid at every turn—is surreal. (Much like being part of any marginalized group is surreal because this same attitude rules the lives of so many people long beyond teenhood.)

 

One of the goals of Shattering Stigmas is to dismantle the stigma against mental illness by creating a safe space for people to discuss these issues and raise awareness about mental health via their favorite mental health reads and personal experiences. I know that talking and writing about mental health is important to you. Could you say a bit about why you think writing about YA is so crucial and has your view of it changed between when you first started writing and now? 

I wrote for a long time not knowing I was writing YA. This is a common story. However, I have my own reasons. (I was in a foreign country where YA didn’t exist like it does here.) But once I started writing YA knowingly, I guess I thought back to myself as a teenager and how much I needed books that made me feel like I wasn’t so awful. Or how about this? I needed books that helped me understand myself without judgment. Or I needed books where I could see myself and see a character like me succeed. I spent most of my youth hearing that I’d never get anywhere if I didn’t do A, B, or C. I was sure I was going to be a complete loser for life. Turns out A, B, and C were not the only way to succeed.

As for how my writing has changed, I don’t know. The more I meet teenagers all over the world, the more I see the stigma of just being a teenager. And the more I want to offer an outreached hand to help in whatever way I can. A small escape from the hazing, I guess. It makes me more determined to keep writing the books I do, even though I’m always broke and need a few other jobs to survive. Money means nothing compared to helping human beings. I have no idea where I got that idea, but I know I’ve had it from a very young age because I used to have recurring dreams about it. (Which you will see in a graphic novel one day soon.)

  

Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in YA?

 I had to think about this one for a while. You know, I think YA has some great representation in the fiction arena for most mental illness or emotional upheaval. What I’d like to see more of? Non-fiction. Books that are there to help teens deal with their mental illnesses and see the symptoms themselves because at this point, I’ve given up on adults figuring it out. I’m not saying all parents are awful. It took ME more than a year to figure out something was going on with MY KID. My partner went undiagnosed for 45 years and in our 30 together, I never once thought to look up his behavior to see if it was a result of a mental illness. I just thought he was being a jerk. But he was suffering. Badly. And now here we are, a family who talks openly about mental illness. Healthy—as healthy as we can be—day to day. So, I’d like to see more non-fiction, self help, maybe alongside story collections, poetry, things that both enlighten the reader to the symptoms or spectrum of symptoms of a disorder, and then a story or poem that relates. (Whoever runs with this idea, please let me know. I’d love to contribute somehow.)

  

Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share?

I am not very good at self care. I’m working on it. One of the things I most need in my day is time alone to just sit by myself. This is hard for my family to understand sometimes because as far as they can see I’m in here in the office alone all the time. Why isn’t that enough? (Answer: because I’m working in here, not “being by myself.”) So I have learned to tell my family that I am going to go sit by myself and take some time. And they have learned that this isn’t a huge deal—and that I just need some time.

 

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Amy! It has been such an honor to host you on my blog for Shattering Stigmas.

Thank you so much for asking me to join in and thank you for your work. We have to start talking about this a lot more than we do. Books with mental health issues in them must stop being mislabeled as only “issue books” with a roll of the eyes. Because those “issues” are real and people live with them every day and I have had it with eye-rolling. Condescending to teenagers (or things connected to teenagers) never helped one single teenager. Not ever. It’s our job—society’s job—to help them if they need help and stop this consistent lack of respect. I thank you for caring enough to keep talking about it. ROCK THAT, TAYLOR TRACY!

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Posted in Shattering Stigmas

We Are Not Your Model Minority: The Silent Battle of Asian American Mental Illness by Lyla Lee

Today I have my dear friend Lyla on the blog to talk about the intersections of mental health and Asian American identity in a post that I found to be incredibly eye-opening and impactful. Welcome, Lyla, who you can find on Twitter or her website!

CW: depression and suicide

I lost a friend last year.

I hadn’t seen Sarah—not her real name but let’s just call her that—since high school so I wasn’t sure if I even had the right to feel sad about it, and I wasn’t sure why I felt so deeply about someone I hadn’t spoken to in four years. Since I went to college out of state (while most of my friends, like her, stayed in Texas), I’d long accepted the fact that Facebook would be the only way I’d keep in contact with most of my childhood friends. And even then, although I liked and commented on Sarah’s posts, I never felt compelled to reach out and message her to ask how she was doing because—from what I could see anyway—she was doing really well.

But then, suddenly, she wasn’t there anymore. Well, her Facebook was—is—still there (a rather morbid byproduct of our modern age), but she ended her own life last July.

When I read her obituary page, I realized why I was affected so much by her death. It was because she, as an Asian American student that fit the stereotype of the “model-minority overachiever,” fought the same silent, secret battle with mental illness that I’d been fighting my entire life.

One of my most memorable moments as a Psychology major was when I encountered a brief section in my textbook that was solely dedicated to the Asian American stigmas towards mental illness. In that section, the book detailed how Asian patients might not even be aware that anything is wrong with them mentally…and are more likely to seek treatment because of the physical symptoms of mental illness (i.e.: digestive problems related to anxiety, back pain/neck strain because of high levels of stress, and alcoholism/fatigue related to depression.) This, the textbook explained, was because of the great levels of stigma that Asian cultures had towards mental illness. According to many Asian Americans, mental illness was something to be ashamed of and not a viable reason to see a doctor, while physical illness was.

Since Psychology is (in the US, at least) primarily a “white-people” dominated field, my first gut instinct was that the book was being racist. OF COURSE people could tell that they were mentally unwell, couldn’t they? Wasn’t saying that Asian Americans weren’t actually aware of their own illness kinda degrading?

But then I thought about my own experiences with my family and friends. Although this number has thankfully changed since then, at the time that I read this textbook, 0% of my family and friends sought professional treatment for mental health. 0%, and yet I’d spent many long nights serving as an informal suicide hotline for several POC (mostly Asian) friends in high school and college, even though I had similar problems myself.

And this all happened because none of us felt like we could turn to anyone else (I’m not even sure we were taught the suicide hotline in high school, and if we were, we never thought we could call it because it seemed like a “white people thing,” and our parents made it clear that mental illness, queerness, etc. were all stuff that “white people made up.”)

After talking with some friends about Sarah’s death, I realized the full extent of this tragic phenomenon. One mutual friend (who’d been Sarah’s roommate in college) said that he lost THREE Asian American friends (including Sarah) in the last year alone. I also saw posts on social media from friends who went to college in different parts of the US grieving the deaths of their friends (all Asian American young adults) that had died due to suicide. This was a real problem, yet no one was talking about it…at least not until after someone died.

For the longest time, I considered becoming a psychologist since I wanted to help spread mental health awareness among the Asian American community. Asian Americans (esp parents and/or those of immigrant background like my family, friends, and their families) are more prone to seek help from other Asian people, so this was an important goal of mine. But then, some personal things happened in the beginning of my senior year of college and I realized that the field wasn’t for me. So I returned to my first and longest love, writing, and began working on the novel that would later on get me my agent.

Today, I keep writing. Although I don’t know if I’ll ever get published, I write about Asian American teens grappling with mental health and/or their queer identities (which is another thing I often felt lost about as a teen). I do this because I not only want to fulfill my lifelong goal of becoming a published writer, but also because I remember the many years I spent reading books about white teens tackling LGBTQ/mental health issues in order to feel less alone, only to feel Othered because of the often racist (whether intentional or not) sentiments towards Asian Americans and other PoC.

Intersectionality isn’t always welcomed in publishing (in all honesty, it’s been an uphill battle so far), but I keep trying to get my books out there because I want them to be there for teens who need books that understand their struggles. So, I write books about Asian American teens learning to love themselves and their queer POC identities. At the expense of being told that “too much is going on” or that “[people] can’t relate” (actual feedback I received from white editors), I write about Asian American teens struggling with mental illness who seek professional help.

The world failed me and other Asian teens so that we felt alone in our struggles, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t change for future generations. And I am trying my hardest to be a part of that change.

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