Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Announcing Shattering Stigmas 5.0!

Summer is winding down. The smell of pumpkin spice everything is practically hanging in the air. That means it is time for Shattering Stigmas to come back around, and for us to gather around and continue the conversation around mental health and mental health awareness with two weeks of guest posts, interviews and more. This year will also hopefully mark the debut of Mental Health Reads, an ongoing community archive of mental health representation in books for kids and teens primarily for bloggers, librarians and teachers.

So what is Shattering Stigmas? Four years ago, Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight launched the first Shattering Stigmas, a blogging event dedicated to posts about mental illness to address and challenge the stigmas against it. Through book reviews, discussion posts and lists, Shattering Stigmas has continued conversations around mental illness for the past three years.

Three years ago, during the second year of Shattering Stigmas, I did a guest post for Holly @ The Fox’s Hideaway, which you can find here. It was such a fantastic experience. It gave me a platform and a voice to talk about my mental health story that mattered to me so much that I volunteered to co-host two years ago and then officially took on Shattering Stigmas last year. Check out last year’s content here.

This event means the world to me and I want to ensure its ongoing success and expansion within the YA blogging community, Shattering Stigmas 5.0 will run October 6-19, 2019.

Currently, I am looking for co-hosts and guest posters.

Co-Hosts are responsible for posting guest posts either daily or at least every few days during the two weeks of the event’s run. Please not this is a bit of a time commitment, but I am happy to help and answer any questions or concerns you might have. If you are interested in co-hosting, please fill out this form by August 22, 2019.

In terms of guest postsI am actively seeking authors, bloggers, writers and readers to write posts (personal essays, top ten lists, letters, etc.) about mental illness, stigma and mental health awareness. You may write about any topic connected to mental health (bookish or not), at any length, in any format as long as I can figure out how to put it on my blog. To see some prior Shattering Stigmas posts from past hosts, click here and here.

Some ideas for posts:

  • A book review of a book with mental illness representation
  • A discussion post about a book with mental illness rep that means a lot to you
  • A Q&A (authors, I’m looking at you! I’m always happy to promote authors who write about mental illness and their books)
  • Some kind of list post related to mental health and/or books
  • Discussion posts about identity and mental illness

Please note that I am particularly interested in posts about the intersection of mental health & illness with other marginalized identities based on race, ethnicity, religion, disability, neurodiversity, etc. 

If you would like to write a guest post, you can comment with the following:

  • That yes, you would like to participate!!! (I really hope you’ll want to!)
  • The best way for me to contact you be that via email, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I just don’t have Facebook.

You can also contact me directly via my E-MAIL. Please do not DM me on Twitter. I am currently on hiatus. However, you CAN and should DM me on Instagram. I am @tayberryjelly.

Let’s keep using the power of words to fight the stigma against mental illness. ♥

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

The Silencing of Mental Health (and How to Stop It) by Jessica Sankiewicz

My dear friend (and YA/NA writer and poet) Jessica Sankiewicz (some of you may know her by her romance-writing alias Lilly Avalon) wrote an amazing post that, as soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to close out the event with. This post sums up why an event like Shattering Stigmas exists and why I will continue to kick and scream about mental health awareness. Thank you for writing this. You can find Jessica on Twitter and on her blog
Something I’ve been thinking a lot about these days is mental health. Not just my own mental health, but also people I personally know and even the ones I don’t. When you struggle with a mental illness, you can usually empathize with someone else who has one, or at least to some degree sympathize. And when you discover someone else who has experienced the same feelings and emotion as you have, you feel less alone.
Although a large percentage of people have a mental illness, there is still a huge gap between those who understand it and those who don’t. This gap has created a divide, and this divide has caused a fear of open discussion. While I’m more than willing to discuss mental health with certain people I trust, and to openly talk about my anxiety and depression online, I’ve been feeling that fear anytime it is brought up elsewhere.
Since I want to help others understand mental health better, I tend not to shy away from bringing it up when a discussion occurs. When I do speak up, however, there’s a moment with my words hanging in the air where one of two things happens. Either the person fully comprehends what I’m saying, or the person immediately puts their guard up. If it’s the former, everything is fine because we’re on the same wavelength. But if it’s the latter? They will then choose to steer the conversation elsewhere or simply stare.
That moment where I’m hoping for a mutual understanding and the other person doesn’t get it or refuses to? It’s painful. It makes me continue to talk, to attempt to make my point, to achieve some sort of positive reaction out of them… or it makes me shut up and wish I had never spoken in the first place.
That look, as though they are uncomfortable with my honesty, and possibly now uncomfortable with me? It hurts. It feels as though a relationship has changed entirely based on one single conversation.
And it makes me question why I even bother.
Here’s the deal, though… I have to stop myself from the negative thoughts. Does it bother me when I receive that bad reaction? You better believe it does. But if I choose to stop talking, I’m not helping erase the stigma surrounding mental illness. Even though I’m going to come across people who squirm, I can’t let their reaction cause me to close up. I spent years bottling up my emotions, not being able to make sense of them. There’s no reason for me to return to a place where I’m unable to be honest about my feelings.
So I would like you to know that if you’re fearful of speaking up, too, you’re not the only one. I’d also like you to know that you’re strong enough to speak up. Sure, we’re both going to face challenges when it comes to discussing mental health with those who refuse to truly listen. But we will find those who need to talk, who are grateful for us being brave enough to. That’s why I will never be silenced again.
Thank you so much, Jessica! And thank you to EVERYONE who has supported, written and boosted Shattering Stigmas these past two weeks. I’m grateful for all of you. 

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

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!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Shattering Myths Around Addiction by Paula Stokes

Y’all, I am…stoked…to welcome our next guest, Paula Stokes, to the blog to talk about an aspect of mental illness that I don’t think gets nearly the amount of attention, compassion and conversation that it deserves: addiction and substance abuse. I am so happy to welcome Paula back to Shattering Stigmas. Her book, Girl Against the Universe, was a gateway and a game changer for my own consideration of my mental illness and she is such a wonderful, compassionate gem of a person. I’m going to let Paula get to it because we have a lot to cover, but you can find Paula on Twitter and on her website. You should sign up for her newsletter and read all of her books, which include Girl Against the Universe, Hidden Pieces and This is How It Happened. Take it away, Paula!

Hi. I’m really psyched that I was invited back to Shattering Stigmas, one of the most thoughtful (and helpful!) blog series I’ve ever encountered. This year I’m going to share some myths about addiction. I’m passionate about this topic because I’ve been working with Substance Use Disorder patients for the last year and a half as an inpatient nurse and I know a lot about the stigmas they face—both inside the hospital and out. I would like to continue working with this population in the future as a counselor, so I’ve begun the coursework and supervised hours needed to become a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor in the state of Oregon. Although I’ve never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, I overcame a severe addiction to internet gaming back in college (the kind where my GPA went from 4.0 to 1.5 and I nearly lost my scholarship), so I can speak a little about the topic from my personal experiences too. Okay, let’s get started!

MYTH: Addiction is a choice.

Addiction is a brain disease. Sure, it’s technically true that unless someone is given something against their will (e.g. the way sex traffickers will try to get their victims addicted to drugs as a way to keep them controllable) that the person does make a choice to first try gambling, or alcohol, or cigarettes, or drugs, etc. But that choice is often legal, and one that many people make without ending up addicted. Sometimes the choice is even recommended by a physician. (Plenty of people got hooked on opioids after being prescribed them for post-surgical or post-injury pain.) Other times it’s simply a bad decision made without much thought when someone is feeling alone or in pain. We’ve all made bad decisions. The thing about addiction is that some of us are at a much higher risk of getting addicted after bad decisions than others.

Have you ever asked yourself why some people can go to a casino or have a few drinks and be fine while others get caught up in the spiral of addiction? I don’t want to bore everyone with a lot of biology, but you should know there are not only genetic components and environmental factors, there’s also an increased risk for people who endured multiple childhood traumas. There are even things that can happen when a baby is still in the mother’s womb that make them more likely to struggle with addiction later in life. I’m talking actual changes in brain development where the parts of our brains devoted to impulse control and decision-making suffer long-term impairment. So if you’ve ever compared yourself to an addict and assumed you were smarter, more disciplined, more moral, etc., the reality is you just might just have been blessed with different genes or a more stable childhood. For more on how adverse childhood experiences predispose people to addiction and other issues, read this short report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.CYCLE.jpg

MYTH: If addicts wanted to stop using drugs or alcohol, they would.

Once you become addicted to something, it’s really, really hard to quit. Again, there are multiple factors in play, but one reason has to do with the body’s natural tendency to work toward homeostasis. All of us are born with a certain amount of neurochemical receptors. When we experience pleasure, the brain releases neurochemicals like dopamine that make us feel good. When a person drinks alcohol (or uses other substances/engages in addictive behaviors), the amount of dopamine released is a lot more than when that same person experiences a natural high, like watching a sunset or getting a smile from someone we like.

This means the brain’s dopamine receptors get flooded and the body’s response is to try to return to a baseline level of dopamine by turning off some of the dopamine receptors. And that means after the first few times someone drinks, it’s going to take more alcohol to get that same euphoric feeling. And the more they drink, the more the body responds by shutting down additional receptors. Until eventually, the person is drinking because if they don’t, those natural highs aren’t nearly enough to make them feel good. Forget feeling euphoric. Now this person has to drink more and more alcohol just to keep from feeling terrible—sick, lethargic, depressed, etc. For more info on how addictions combine with our biology to trap people in a vicious cycle, check out this blog post from Harvard Medical School.

It is especially hard to quit if your life is full of other stressors. Whether it’s the stress of homelessness, the stress of mental illness, or the stress of being forced to work eighty hours a week as a brand new lawyer, it’s hard to fight an addiction if you’re already rundown from dealing with other difficult things. Just think about the last time you tried to make a healthy change in your life. Would you have been successful if you had to start from a place of balancing multiple struggles and feeling awful?

MYTH: Addicts are mostly criminals/homeless/impoverished/insert your generalization of choice here.

This is a thing people say because addiction is devastating to witness and no one wants to admit “Hey, that could be me someday.” Reality check: That could be you someday. Some addicts are criminals. Some are poor or homeless. And then some are wealthy country club members and some are CEOs. I personally have worked with corporate executives, doctors, nurses, cops, military officers, college athletes, models, upper-middle class new moms, and seventy-five-year-old grandmas, all of whom were addicted to alcohol or opiates. Addiction is a huge problem that affects all segments of society. If you have noticed the prevalence of addiction in certain groups over others, that’s probably because people of privilege have better access to treatment, and can also more easily hide their problems from the public.


MYTH: Rehab doesn’t really work.

Not all types of rehab work for all people. Luckily there are lots of different types of programs, from inpatient medical detox to residential treatment to partial hospitalization to outpatient therapy. Not sure which path to take? Speak to your primary care provider or call around to find a treatment facility that does free assessments. No insurance? Google free or low-cost therapy for your town, or search via the SAMHSA website. Even no-cost support groups vary widely, from traditional twelve-step programs, to the cognitive behavioral therapy-focused SMART Recovery, to the Buddhism-inspired Refuge Recovery. Most support groups also offer online sessions for those who are housebound or lack access to transportation. There are options for everyone. People just need to find the right program that will work for them and their particular addiction.

Also, not all rehab is going to work the first time. Have you ever tried to lose weight or start a new exercise program or learn a new language? Were you immediately successful with no setbacks or relapses into your old habits? Probably not, an overcoming an addiction is even harder than doing any of those things. So if someone you love is on their third try to quit drinking or their fifth try to quit smoking, instead of being upset about how long it’s taking them, consider just being glad they haven’t given up, that they’re still committed to becoming a healthier person.

MYTH: People aren’t addicts if they can hold down jobs while using.

There are plenty of functional addicts. You are an addict if you meet even two of the eleven criteria as set forth in the DSM-V for Substance Use Disorders. If I use these criteria and extrapolate out to addictive behaviors, I am addicted to writing, Twitter, caffeine, chocolate, and exercise, among other things). And maybe you think, “Ah, but those aren’t bad addictions. Some of them might even be healthy!” I would disagree because…

MYTH: Some addictions are healthy.

Okay, this one is my opinion since what constitutes “healthy” is highly subjective. Sure, some addictions are less likely than others to kill you or make you wish you were dead. But if we’re using the official criteria for addiction, being addicted to anything represents a fundamental lack of balance. It says, “I prioritize this substance or activity so highly that I’m doing harm to other important areas of my life.” Nothing should be that important, should it? You tell me.


If you’re interested in learning more about addiction, I highly recommend the book IN THE REALM OF HUNGRY GHOSTS, by Gabor Maté. He’s a Canadian physician who works with some of the country’s most severely addicted people. I read this for a class and it’s written in interesting, accessible prose that intertwines the author’s personal feelings with the medical, social, and political realities of addiction. CW: Maté is unflinchingly honest when describing the traumatic histories of the people he works with and the difficult realities they currently face. There are mentions of gross neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, as well as graphic descriptions of drug use.

One thing I learned from the book was this “equation” for addiction:


I want to end with this because I think it’s a really good summary of addiction. We can’t do much about how receptive we are as organisms to addiction—a lot of that is coded into our biology and genetics. And some of us can’t necessarily avoid addictive substances/activities. After all, cigarettes and alcohol are available at most grocery stores and Facebook is available via almost every phone.

But what we can do is reduce stress—both our own and the stress of other people. Individually, we can start by practicing self-care. And I know that term has been distorted to mean a lot of silly things, but what I mean is simple stuff anyone can work toward—taking five minutes a day to meditate or relax, getting more sleep, taking breaks from being online, eating healthy at least occasionally.

Self-care also means asking for help. My internet gaming addiction was a direct result of a reality I couldn’t handle—I ended an emotionally abusive long-term relationship with my first serious boyfriend at the same time my parents were going through a bitter and contested divorce, which left me feeling completely alone to handle the aftermath of both events. I wasn’t really alone, though. I just opted to try to handle everything by myself instead of reaching out to a friend, a sibling, a counselor, or even my college advisor.

And yes, I know that in some cases (clinical depression for example) that it’s almost impossible for a person to reach out for help, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I could have sought assistance in dealing with my own breakup and my parents’ divorce. I didn’t because I thought needing help would mean I was weak. Wrong, wrong wrong! If you take one thing away from this post, please let it be this: ASKING FOR HELP IS BRAVE.


With respect to others, reducing stress means being supportive when it comes to your friends and family and practicing compassion when it comes to strangers. Addiction is a huge, huge problem worldwide and it’s true that we can’t help people who aren’t yet ready to help themselves. But we can behave in ways where we don’t make the problem even worse.

Do you need help? Start here. Or call the Drug and Alcohol Helpline at 1-800-923-4357.

Thank you SO much Paula! I learned a lot from this post and I hope if you’re reading this, you did too!

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

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!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Rooted by Cassandra Chaput

I love welcoming writers to talk about their work during Shattering Stigmas. Today, I am welcoming Cassandra Chaput, the author of the poetry collection Rooted to talk about mental health and share a lovely poem with us. Follow Cassandra on her blog, on Instagram @Folded_corners and on Twitter. You can buy Rooted here.


Hi everyone! My name is Cassandra Chaput. I am a Canadian writer and blogger, here to talk about mental illness.

The stigma around mental illness continues to be a big problem in society today. It shouldn’t be something we feel the need to hide.

Everyone needs a safe space to talk about their struggles…We need more access to resources for mental health help.

Don’t be ashamed if you have anxiety, depression, any mental illness. It does not define you. You are so much more than your illness.

My debut poetry collection, Rooted, has lots of focus on mental health, as well as other topics such as love and heartbreak, self-improvement, and self-love.

The poem below is the first one in my book, inspiring the title of my collection.

Don’t let the winds tear you down.
You’ll make it through this storm.
I am rooted.
A tree standing tall, resilient in the harsh, blowing winds.
Strong I stand.
I feel the storm arrive.
The clouds surround the sun, suffocating its light, allowing for dark days.
There are days when the ghosts whisper in my ears, making me question all that I know.
There are days when the clouds cry, making the ground muddy from their tears.
I walk, and feel stuck.
Unable to move
My feet are slowly sinking into the earth
I feel like crying with the clouds.
But I’m too strong for that.
The winds are powerful, and I feel like anything could knock me over.
I’m not the best with balance, but I’m getting there.
My feet are still learning how to support the body they were blessed to be a part of
although they don’t always see it as a blessing.
I want to hide
To block out everything around me and just, be
But rather than hide away, I need to force myself to grow and bloom.
I need to stand strong and face the ghosts, the demons, that try to attack me.
The storm blows strong, but I am stronger.
I am rooted.
A tree standing tall, resilient in the harsh, blowing winds.
Strong I stand.

Thank you so much, Cassandra!

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

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!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Em Ali

One of the joys about Shattering Stigmas to me is the chance to hear about mental health and mental wellness from so many different perspectives. Today I am so happy to welcome Em to the blog, who I talked to about writing anxiety, mental health recs and more. You can find Em on Twitter

Tay: In your book Soft on Soft, you include mental illness (anxiety) representation in a fluffy book. Can you talk a bit about your decision to include that representation and why it was important for you to include?

Em: It was more of instinct than decision that made me write June (the main character of Soft on Soft) as anxious. I felt like I had to portray my own experience with anxiety especially relating to June’s feelings concerning how social media has made so much of her life public even if she didn’t want a certain aspect to be so. I wanted to portray how some people like June who are comfortable with their sexualities, comfortable with their bodies, might still be extremely uncomfortable with sharing their lives with people online. That’s how I felt sometimes whenever I’d share something that’d get any kind of negative reaction.

Tay: Can you talk a bit more about managing your own mental health as a writer? How do you decide how personal to get when writing about mental health issues and how do you navigate the stresses of mental illness with the stress of being creative?

Em: Honestly, my mental health has taken a dip since the release of the book. Anxiety quite literally made me so unsatisfied with Soft on Soft that after four days of releasing it I thought to delete it. I wanted to refund people (which I have; in a moment of panic) and to disappear. This wasn’t because I was defensive but because I had extreme negative thoughts about my writing. Voicing these issues is extremely personal to me and I’m extremely cautious not to over-share on Twitter. As you have read, I don’t really know how to be creative and mentally unstable. I definitely am looking towards a solution, though.

As for writing about mental health issues…It’s just always going to be something I will do. I want to share the troubles people like me face. People who live in negative environments that don’t support them. People who can’t share who they are, whether it’s expressing their sexuality or gender. My people, who have to rely on social media to find validation. Who need books in which the characters share those anxieties and troubles. But I also decided that I won’t let mental health issues be the sole representation I give to people who read my words. I want to give them a happy ending no matter how unrealistic it might seem to people. I want to give them close to no conflict. I want to send a message of: your mental health issue should never be a problem for a significant other.

Tay: You’re a huge fan of romance books. Can you talk a bit about representation of mental illness in romance books that you’ve read, what you’ve liked and didn’t like?

Em: The very first time I read a depressed heroine, who is also a woman of color (Hawaiian-Japanese), I cried. Her name is Livvy and she’s the heroine of Alisha Rai’s Hate to Want You. Livvy’s struggle with depression, how it shaped her decisions and her life and ultimately what stirred her to snatch her happily ever after, resonated with me.

Another representation of depression I recently read and loved is Hannah of Talia Hibbert’s Untouchable. It’s Hannah’s anger and negative feelings that would surface through her mind and coat her tongue with all the negative things she couldn’t let in. It’s Hannah’s need to control so much of her life just to feel a semblance of stability.

Other romance books with mental illness representation I loved are Wrapped by Rebekah Weatherspoon (anxiety), The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (anxiety), and Mr. Hotshot CEO by Jackie Lau (depression.)

*Note: I know the questions asks about ones I didn’t like but I honestly don’t bother reading books without content warnings and if someone tells me MI is used as a tool to further the plot or to magically disappear when the big ILY moment happens, I don’t read it. So, I am glad I don’t have books like that.

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? 

Em: Because I can’t pray away depression. I can’t just casually wake up at 7 am and work a 9 – 5 job. Because mental health has made feel alone and only talking about it opened the door for friends and family to reach out and help me.

Tay: What types of mental health issues or mental illnesses would you like to see more widely or better represented in books?

Em: I would like to see intersectionality when it comes to representation of mental illness. I want LGBTQIAP+ people to see that developing mental health issues is totally not something bad. I want Arab people to know that they can and should seek out help and that praying five times a day shouldn’t be their only way of finding peace. I want marginalized people to know they are not weaker for being mentally ill.

Tay: What mental health/mental illness tropes are you tired of seeing in books?

Em: If I’m talking romance, it’s definitely the way romance idealists think finding a partner erases mental illness, that “if you can’t love yourself you can’t love anyone else,” which is such a wrong statement, and the fact that people in relationships might even think that just because they’re in a relationship means they should be “happy.” Mental illness doesn’t disappear if someone finds companionship.

Tay: What do you wish bloggers did to make the bookish online a community a better place re: discussing mental illness?

Em: Definitely allowing space for mentally ill bloggers who aren’t white allo cis het to express their anger, their bitterness, their negativity. Let’s be real, we don’t really like talking about negative things when it comes to mental illness. I want bloggers to know that they are allowed the range of emotion and not fear that people will judge them for it.

Tay: What are your top self care tips, tricks and secrets?

Em: Sleep is my automatic response to a depressive episode. Also, crying. I’ve found that once I released my emotions whether talking about what’s bothering me or just crying over a sad line in a song (hello, Nobody by Mitski will give you a good cry,) always helps. I also like to ease myself into a good mood with the use of a good book. Sometimes I’d re-read an old favorite fanfic or short story.

Thank you so much, Em!

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

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!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Fadwa @ Word Wonders

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.

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

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!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

What Most People Don’t Know About My Depression by Silvia V.

I am close or friends with many of the people you’ve seen write posts for me over the course of Shattering Stigmas. But today, I get to welcome one of my best, best, best friends, someone I’ve known for years and who has been there for me in dark times and vice versa. I’m so happy to welcome Silvia to the blog today. You can also find her on Twitter

I’ve always been a big advocate for ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. In college I joined clubs and organizations that tried to educate my peers on mental health. Now, mostly through social media, I share stories of people struggling with mental illness and those who advocate for them. Yet, apart from those close to me, not many people know my own story.

I’ve suffered from depression ever since I can remember, and most recently anxiety as well. Sometimes I think I was born depressed. And maybe I was. Yet, it wasn’t until high school that I found the word “depression” and realized that it applied to me. Growing up, I remember hearing the laughter of my siblings and cousins running around my grandmother’s patio while I was locked in my room crying. I did not understand why I could not feel as happy as they were and simply assumed there was something wrong with me.

I’ve always wondered about the cause of my depression and it is what led me to study the brain and its inner workings. I decided to study neuroscience and psychology because I thought it would help me understand my own brain or more specifically what was wrong with it, although my own shame has never allowed me to publicly admit this to anyone. When someone asks why I decided to major in neuroscience I always reply that we need more women in science, and although true and something I passionately believe in, it is not the whole reason.

My parents migrated to the United States when I was very little. I was 2 when my mom left and had just turned 4 when my dad did. I did not see them again until I was 9 and by then I did not remember their faces. My maternal grandparents raised me until I was 11 and they did a great job. But I’ve always wondered if that early experience led to my depression.

When I was 12 years old, I had my first panic attack. By then I had already migrated to the United States and had started to assimilate to American culture. My parents used to fight a lot before they separated for good. During one of those fights, I started panicking and hyperventilating. I assumed it was because of the fight. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what had happened.

During my first semester of college, I had suicidal thoughts. Until now it has been the lowest I’ve ever felt. My downward spiral started since that summer. I don’t know what triggered it. I only know that by the second weekend in October, I wanted to die. I remember being in a friend’s car, the car speeding up as it reached the highway and wishing it would crash against the wall so that I would die. The week after, I had my first therapy session.

Studying the brain did not give me any special knowledge as to why I have depression. I do not know if it’s genetic, a chemical imbalance, hormonal, environmental, a mixture of all those or simply bad luck. I do know that depression is something I live with every day. Some days I forget it is there and I go through my day like nothing’s wrong. Other days I can’t get out of bed and have to lie to my boss or professors or friends or parents and fake a physical illness. There are days when I shut people out and withdraw myself. During those days it takes double the effort to do routine stuff like eating. And when my feelings go from extreme to numb, things become scary.

A few weeks ago, as of the publishing of this blog, I had another major panic attack. That day I had drank a lot of tequila trying to be in a festive mood celebrating Pride. When I got home, I started crying and hyperventilating. I ended up punching a wall and kicking a door. I woke up the next day with three purple fingers and a bruise on the bone above my wrist that still hurts when it is too cold.

I’ve always been able to hide the bad days. I am good at faking physical illnesses. Most days I can go to work or school and pretend there is nothing wrong. That first semester of college, I earned straight “A’s.” The door I kicked, I was able to fix the next morning so no one would notice.

Being good at hiding the not so pretty parts of yourself means that there is always a wall between you and others. I have always being afraid to push away the people I care about. Everytime I shut down or have one more panic attack I wonder if that will be the one that will scare people off. Dating was even more difficult. I was wary of getting close to someone for fear that they would run away as soon as they heard the word depression.

Recently I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and Vitamin D deficiency and that has brought more challenges to managing my mental health. Through all my research, I learned that women with PCOS are more likely to have depression. I also learned that Vitamin D has also an effect on mood. There are days when I wake up knowing it’ll be a bad day and I don’t know if it’s because of my hormonal imbalance, my depression or because I didn’t have enough sun the day before.

There is still a long way to go before I don’t feel ashamed of my depression. Before I can call in sick to work because I am having a panic attack and not because I made up a fever and stomach ache. Telling my story is the first step to getting there.

In spite of it all, I know there is hope. I’ve felt it.

I have supportive friends who are always there for me and who understand how I feel. I have an amazing girlfriend who has helped me see I am more than my depression. I’ve been privileged enough to have access to mental health resources from counseling and therapy to hotlines when I needed them the most. I am also changing the way I see myself. I would describe myself as overly sensitive; I feel everything too intensely. I used to think it was one of my weakness but now I realize it is one of my strengths.

I know there will be bad days ahead but I am strong enough to get through them.

And so are you.

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

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!