Posted in Shattering Stigmas

“Advocacy Over Awareness” by Taylor Tracy

Hello! I’m not going to take too much time introducing myself. I just want to take this space to encourage you to support NAMI, Trevor Project and other mental health organizations and to call your reps to encourage them to make accessible mental healthcare a part of their larger healthcare policy. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram. Thank you all SO much for supporting Shattering Stigmas!

In many ways, it feels like we’ve come to a crossroads in mental health awareness. similar to the crossroads we face with things like breast cancer “awareness” or “awareness” of various social problems. Being aware of something is insufficient.

I am aware that I am tired and hungry and cranky while writing this post, but this cognitive recognition does nothing to address or solve the actual problem, which is that I need some food, some sleep and some time to properly veg out on the couch.

Being aware of the growing ubiquity of mental health problems is important on a level. Depression and anxiety levels have been skyrocketing in recent decades, although that is probably due to a combination of mental health “awareness” as people more and more recognize the signs of excessive worrying and sadness/hopelessness and environmental factors. We live in a time of crisis. Environmentally. Politically. Economically. Socially.

It’s great that we can talk about these issues more today than ever before. I’m proud of the space that Shattering Stigmas has given people to speak their truth, to have a space to tell their story.

The issue is when you tell people who have opened up about their mental health to “talk to someone” or “get help” like there are accessible mental healthcare resources like there’s a Starbucks, McDonald’s or CVS on every corner.

Simply said, there are not enough mental health resources in this country to help everyone who needs them. Therapy and medications are out of reach geographically, logistically and financially for so many. Including me.

I don’t think people realize how expensive medications and therapy can be even if you have decent insurance. It adds up when you need to be in therapy once a week (not even breaching the topic of how expensive inpatient programs are). Or you might need to try multiple medications before finding something that works, and therefore shell out tons of money for something that might help, but also might not at first.

Even if you can afford it, you still have to get an appointment at understaffed, overworked and underpaid facilities, clinics and doctors. Crisis workers, social workers and clinical psychologists are stretched incredibly thin.

There are not enough seats on the lifeboats and right now, the system at large does not care.

Politicians are too busy blaming people with mental illness for mass shootings instead of passing gun control legislation. Governors and representatives would rather create databases of mentally ill people than initiate programs that would fund the certification of more licensed therapists and crisis workers or force insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to regulate costs of medication and therapy. Colleges need to devote more funds to counseling resources, which are so overstretched that college students, an extremely vulnerable population in terms of mental health, can frequently get zero to five free visits at best from their colleges while students struggle, especially those who feel alienated and isolated, to acclimate to the tremendous shift in life that college provides while navigating classes, loans and their futures.

Being aware that you are depressed or anxious or have another mental health condition (it’s arguably more difficult with conditions that are even more heavily stigmatized like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and personality disorders) is great and important, but it’s simply not enough. Everyone deserves to be able to access the care that they need in an affordable, accessible and appropriate manner.

We need advocacy in addition to awareness.

We need people to advocate for and with us, to take the step up to contact representatives about making mental healthcare a part of their policies and donating to organizations that fund research and access to mental healthcare. Part of ending the stigma around mental illness is making mental healthcare affordable and accessible for everyone. It means making depression and anxiety screenings a regular part of healthcare from childhood everywhere, which is steadily improving. It means teaching all kids about social and emotional health from an early age as parents and teachers. It means making training for crisis response accessible to more of the population. It means all of us putting in the effort to make navigating emotional health something we all do together all the time instead of expressing empty platitudes like “Talk to someone” or “Get help” or “You can always talk to me.”

We need to stop shaming people for not being able to access mental healthcare. It’s not someone’s fault if they can’t afford or access mental healthcare. It’s not their fault that it’s really hard right now to get help, even if you so badly want and need it. One in four Americans has reported having to decide between mental healthcare and paying for daily necessities. The percentage of Americans with mental illness who are untreated or untreated is higher.

I am one of the people in this country who cannot access or afford proper mental healthcare. That is not my fault. I am doing the best that I can. I know you are, too. So let’s keep fighting—advocating for ourselves and hope for a better future filled with healing.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Nicole Melleby, Author of “Hurricane Season” and “In the Role of Brie Hutchens…”

I’m so excited to welcome Nicole Melleby, one of my favorite middle grade authors, to my blog for Shattering Stigmas. I loved Nicole’s heartfelt debut HURRICANE SEASON and can’t wait for her next two books IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… and HOW TO BECOME A PLANET. I’m so grateful for the multi-faceted and relatable girls that Nicole is bringing to kid lit and I always love to support a fellow Jersey Girl. You can can buy HURRICANE SEASON on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. You can pre-order IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. You can find Nicole on Twitter and her website.

Taylor Tracy: In Hurricane Season, there is the emotional arc of Fig’s Dad, who is struggling with mental illness, and then Fig, who is struggling with questioning her sexuality and the stress of managing her Dad’s mental illness to “protect” her family from CPS. Can you talk a bit about how you developed these two arcs and what you hoped to say with this story? 

Vincent van Gogh plays a major role in Hurricane Season. He serves as a lens through which Fig copes with her Dad’s illness and her role in relation to it. How did van Gogh and his life come to be a part of this story and did any research you did on his life surprise you?

Note: These were originally two separate questions that Nicole answered together. 🙂

Nicole Melleby: In spring 2017, my cousin Andrew was studying abroad in London. My aunt and uncle were planning a vacation for themselves and Andrew’s two younger sisters to go out for a week to see him. I pretty much decided I was going to crash the trip, and they, being the best, didn’t complain about it. 

At the time, I was coming out of a low period emotionally, and hadn’t really been writing anything much; it was too hard to be creative when I was feeling the way I was. But I was finally ready to try something new. I knew I wanted to explore the relationship between a father and daughter…but that was pretty much all I had. I didn’t really expect to work on the idea at all while on vacation, but I adjusted to the jet lag pretty quickly, while my family decidedly did not. So, I had my mornings to myself and I knew that the National Gallery in London was free—and I do love a free museum—so I decided to check it out.

When I got to the Van Gogh paintings, there was a tour guide talking about Van Gogh’s mental illness, and there was just…something so unbelievable relatable about what he was saying—particularly since, like I said, I was just coming out of my own depression—and I ended up going to the gift shop and buying a book of Van Gogh’s letters. At the time, the only thing I knew about Van Gogh was that he cut off his ear—so the surprising part was learning how much I felt connected to him and his thoughts and his mental illness the more I read about him, the more I wanted to understand him. 

I read all of his letters on the plane ride home, and I knew exactly what I wanted to write by the time we landed.

As far as Fig’s sexuality—I always knew I wanted to write queer stories, so I didn’t really give it much thought at first. I’m a queer woman, and I know how much these sort of coming of age stories would have meant to me when I was younger. 

The one thing I hope kids get out of this book, the one thing I wanted to accomplish, was that they know they aren’t alone, that they’re seen, that I see them.

Taylor: Hurricane Season and your upcoming 2020 middle grade, In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, deal with the emotional struggle of discovering one’s identity and beginning to share that with the people in one’s life. Can you discuss a bit about what brings you to write about the emotional journeys of queer girls in middle grade and how writing Brie’s story was different from writing Fig’s?

Nicole: Like I said, as a queer individual, it’s important for me to tell stories that I would have needed. That’s pretty much the question that every queer kidlit author is asked: Do you write the stories you needed? Of course I do! But also the answer is a little more complicated than that. The middle grade readers of now are different than when I was a middle grader—what they needed is different than what I needed, or wanted. So I try and think about what it would be like to be queer in today’s world, and mix that with the stories I wish I had when I was younger, and then just tell the most honest story I can about that journey. 

The biggest difference between writing Fig’s story and writing Brie’s, is that Brie’s sexuality plays a huge role in IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS…, it’s basically the leading storyline. Every obstacle that Brie faces stems from her awkward first crush on a girl, and her desperation to connect with her religious mom, in the face of her sexuality and what that means for her moving forward. Fig’s sexuality wasn’t what the story was shaped around, it was just a part of who Fig was. Both books also have coming out scenes—but Fig’s is short, and simple, and easy (which was something I wanted to write more than anything) and Brie’s is much more complicated, and happens over, and over, and over again. Fig’s dad accepts her (he’s even learning about his own sexuality in the meanwhile) while Brie’s family needs a little more work. 

It just goes to show that there’s no one way to come out, there’s no one story, that there are different ways to be accepted, different ways to understand who you are, different understandings of it in general. 

Taylor: I have to say, from someone who was a huge space nerd and Hayden Planetarium geek as a kid, I am SO excited for your 2021 release How to Become a Planet. Can you tell us anything about that book and what you’re trying to do with the mental health representation in it?

Nicole: I keep referring to this book as my inverse HURRICANE SEASON. The story starts off with an 11-year-old girl named Pluto having just gotten a depression and anxiety diagnosis. While HURRICANE SEASON dealt with Fig and her dad struggling with his undiagnosed bipolar disorder for most of the book, Pluto and her mom are struggling to understand and deal with Pluto’s diagnosis and what that means for Pluto moving forward. 

My friend Josh Levy (who wrote a wonderful sci-fi MG book called SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY) actually told me that he called the Hayden Planetarium Question and Answer Hotline to ask them questions about traveling in space while writing his book, which takes place on a public school that is a spaceship. When he told me this, I had already written a first draft of Pluto’s story—and her mom’s love of outer space and how she gave that love to Pluto—and I knew immediately I wanted to write that into my story. So Pluto, while wondering why astronauts decided that Pluto (the dwarf planet) wasn’t a planet anymore, and wondering why she has depression and why her life is changing because of it, calls up the Hotline to ask all of the big questions that are on her mind. Even if they can’t exactly help her. 

Taylor: What are some of your recommendations for great mental health representation, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, etc.? 

Nicole: Here are some of my favorite Middle Grade books that feature characters with mental illness: 

Taylor: Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in middle grade and YA, or issues you hope to write about but haven’t had the chance yet?

Nicole: Just like I said about how there isn’t one story fits all for sexuality, the same goes for mental illness. I would love more of the issues already written about, I would love ones that haven’t been written yet. Just like in LGBTQ MG—there isn’t as many stories about POC with mental illness, so I’d like a wider variety of children’s stories being told, too. I’m hoping to be able to continue to explore different stories about middle grade characters with different sexualities and mental illnesses moving forward, too. 

Taylor: Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share, especially for writers?

Nicole: You don’t have to write every day—I see so many writers wracked with guilt over how much or how little they write day-to-day, and it’s hard! Write how much you want to write, how much you need to write. You decide what those answers are. 

Find a group of writers who are in the same boat as you. If you’re looking for an agent? Find writers to commiserate with. If you’re on sub? Ditto. Find a debut group if you’re having a very first book coming out—because all of these stages are daunting and new and no one knows how to navigate them, but it helps not navigating them alone. 

Also: If you’re facing a rejection? I find it best to sing this ridiculous song, because it’s so ridiculous it makes me feel better every single time I have sung it to myself (which has been often, because rejection is part of being a writer!): Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I should just go eat worms. Worms! Worms! Worms!

Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON earned three starred reviews and was awarded the Skipping Stones Honor Award for exceptional contribution to multicultural and ecological awareness in children’s literature. Her second novel, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… will be released Spring 2020. When she’s not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea..

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Farah Naz Rishi, Author of “I Hope You Get This Message”

There have been few upcoming releases I’ve been so excited for that I’ve started the line waiting to get a copy and meet the author more than an hour before the allotted time at BEA…and I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE by Farah Naz Rishi is one of them. I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE is out next Tuesday, October 22, and I hope each and every one of you will pre-order or buy a copy because this book is such a treat. Farah is also the sweetest human and I knew I had to get her on my blog to talk about mental health, hope and queer teens for Shattering Stigmas. You can find Farah on her website, Twitter and Instagram. You can pre-order I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. Please do, because I want all the books from Farah and can’t wait to see what she does next.

Taylor Tracy: Hope is such an important part of I Hope You Get This Message and not just because it’s in the title. Can you talk a bit about what makes you write about hope and the role of hope in I Hope You Get This Message?

Farah Naz Rishi: Over the course of the three years that I wrote I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE, each member of my family died, beginning with my dad, then my brother, and finally, my mom. It almost sounds unbelievable; I think even now, I’m still a little in denial. But after losing my brother, I found myself in a very, very dark place. Writing this book quickly became a way to find the words I needed to hear to save myself. It’s funny because this book was always meant to be one about finding hope in the darkness, even before I lost my family. I had set out to write a book to help others feel not so alone in a world that often feels nihilistic, in a world where, with all its human-driven environmental destruction and war, it’s almost easier to get swept up believing that nothing matters because it’s easier than fighting to survive. But I hadn’t expected it to become so incredibly personal. How was I supposed to write a book about hope when I’d completely lost mine? That was the challenge. And that was why writing this book became so integral to my own healing. By watching Jesse, Cate, and Adeem endure so much hurt in the face of a world that was literally falling apart around them, I couldn’t help but feel a little less alone. A little more inspired to keep going. My hope now is that it helps someone else, too. 

Taylor: Cate’s mom has schizophrenia, and your representation of her is a woman who is sick and needs help, but who also loves her daughter. Can you talk a little bit about how you developed the relationship between Cate and her mom in the book?

Farah: Schizophrenia manifests in different ways for different people, and for my maternal grandfather, who struggled with finding the right medication for most of his life, it often resulted in anger and confusion. According to my mom, growing up, part of her resented him; she believed his disability was stopping her and her sisters from having a “normal” life. It wasn’t until she was much older that her dad finally got the help and support he needed. But when his symptoms began to improve, my mom said she almost felt frustrated, because now, in her mind, her father had two “competing” identities: the man whose psychiatric disability had often made him lash out, and this new, gentle father who just wanted to be there for his wary children.  But that is precisely what my mom had to learn, or rather, unlearn: that there were no “competing identities,” and that my grandfather had always been that gentle father, one who needed a little help due to his schizophrenia. The reality is that these stigmas my mom grew up on are very much a product of a time that deeply misunderstood psychiatric disabilities–not that that’s an excuse, of course–and yet, these stigmas continue to persist. I wanted to illustrate those stigmas in Cate’s journey, and also show the genuine growth throughout her journey that makes her a better person for herself–and for her mother.   

Taylor: One of my favorite relationships in I Hope You Get This Message is the one between one of the main characters, Jesse, and his crisis counselor, both of whom are queer, even if they don’t necessarily know that about each other. Can you talk a bit about that relationship and the role those characters play in the book in terms of mental health representation?

Farah: It was really important to me to portray the healthy, helpful relationship between a queer teen boy–who clearly has difficulty opening up to others–and his queer crisis counselor, because I don’t think it’s something we see enough of (though there is definitely a rise of books that do!): the normalization of seeking help, especially when young, but also the sheer difference it can make to ones’ own healing when receiving help from fellow marginalized mental health professionals. It’s hard enough being a queer kid in a rural community, but struggling with mental health on top of it all is, I think, impossible to bear alone, and I didn’t want Jesse to bear it alone, either. So who better to understand him and what he’s enduring than a counselor who has struggled with the very same things? Therapy is most successful when the patient trusts their therapist, so seeing a therapist who genuinely understands you, beyond a textbook or clinical level, can help create that immediate bridge. I want to encourage that with my writing.  One of my favorite little things about Jesse is that even though he acts like his counselor is an annoyance, whenever he’s dealing with difficult emotions, his mind always trails back to her and what she might say, how she might call him out. In that way, counseling can be a powerful, introspective tool, a life raft to hold on to when you feel like you’re drowning.      

Taylor: Along those lines, in I Hope You Get this Message, you also subtly explore ways that mental health resources are often spread thin. Can you talk a little bit about that aspect of the book and the role that therapy and mental support play both at the potential end of the world and not?

Farah: It wasn’t until I was looking for a therapist for myself that I realized just how bad the shortage of mental health professionals is, which is especially frightening when you consider the need for mental health professionals is only increasing–and given the state of the world, I think it’s hardly surprising. So with all this discussion about the importance of seeking help, the question then becomes, well, how do I find help when there’s hardly any out there? I don’t have an easy answer for this, but I do want to highlight this problem because without creating avenues for accessible care, we’re failing those who need help the most. Right now, we’re a country that would rather arm teachers than hire more healthcare professionals in schools. That’s messed up. And unless we as a society talk about it, and read about it, things will never change. 

Taylor: What are some of your recommendations for great mental health representation, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, etc.? 

Farah: Recently, I read DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY by Adib Khorram and THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER by Emily X.R. Pan and absolutely loved them both. The first deals with the adorably awkward Darius’s depression in such a refreshingly candid way while still managing not to downplay his struggles with his mental health; the latter is a sensitive, heartbreaking story of the aftermath of suicide and trauma that read more like a sigh–of pain and relief. These two books are entirely different in tone, but I would wholeheartedly recommend each as its own masterclass in great mental health rep. 

Taylor: Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in middle grade and YA, or issues you hope to write about but haven’t had the chance yet?

Farah: I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, and I would love to write a Muslim character dealing with anxiety, too. Soon, I hope! 

Taylor: Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share, especially for writers?  

Farah: Writing can be very draining on your body, and I think there’s this unspoken pressure that your legitimacy or effectiveness as a writer is congruent with your ability to sit for hours on end and spit out thousands upon thousands of words in a single writing session. But that’s absolute garbage! I believe taking care of your body is the first step to taking care of your mind, so I recommend setting timers to ensure that you, if you can, stretch every 30 minutes. Think of it as a built-in part of your writing sessions. Back pain can be detrimental to a writer, and once it starts, it rarely just goes away. For me, yoga has been incredibly helpful in helping my back muscles and spine after a day of stiff sitting. And I’ll be honest, when I’m suffering from writer’s block, I’m gonna lie on the floor and flail around anyway, so might as well make a workout of it. Plus, yogic breathing exercises can also help with anxiety and stress. I recommend trying Yoga with Adrienne’s free yoga videos on Youtube. 

Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her BA in English from Bryn Mawr College, her JD from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter @far_ah_way.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas, Uncategorized

Q&A with Mia García, Author of “The Resolutions” and “Even If the Sky Falls”

Meeting an author when they’re a debut and then getting a chance to watch their career and advocacy within the community is one of the greatest joys of being in the book community. That’s why I’m so excited to welcome author of THE RESOLUTIONS and EVEN IF THE SKY FALLS, Mia García, to the blog today to talk about mental health. When I’m not grilling Mia about the mental health rep in her books, she is endlessly passionate about the environment and diverse latinx representation in kidlit. Keep up with her on her website, Instagram and Twitter. You can buy her latest book THE RESOLUTIONS from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Book Depository. You can buy her debut EVEN IF THE SKY FALLS from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Book Depository.

Taylor Tracy: One of the goals of Shattering Stigmas is to dismantle the stigma against mental illness by creating a safe space for people to discuss and raise awareness about mental health via their favorite mental health reads and personal experiences. What does mental health awareness mean to you and how does it intersect with your creative process?

Mia García: It means many things. It means being kinder to myself and understanding that there’s no such thing as perfect – that even in my personal mental health journey, I’ll never achieve perfect, and that is OK. It’s about being as honest as I can be with myself, my writing, and my characters; it’s about the imperfections and messiness of understanding and the fragility in opening up; it often means finding bits of myself in my characters, caring for them, imbuing them with the hope that doesn’t always come every day.

Hopefully, it means understanding myself better, and making connections, and, if possible letting others know that they are not alone.

Taylor: In The Resolutions, Jess has arguably the most “explicit” mental health representation in her arc. But Nora, Ryan and Lee all go through their own emotional struggles as well. Can you talk a bit about how you came to write the emotional issues that each character goes through and what it was like to bring them all together in a book that is also funny and sweet?

Mia: All four characters have little pieces of my present and past – they helped me examine my own current mental health and helped me look back into my past to realize I’ve been dealing with these feelings for a very long time, I simply didn’t have the language or knowledge to understand what was happening.

As you said, while Jess has the most explicit mental health rep, all four of the main MCs are working through strong emotional issues like familial guilt, fear, heart-break, and feelings of simply not being enough that I struggled through, and still am to this day.

Nora and I share a deep love for baking and family and I remember grappling with the fear of expectations versus my own desires. Ryan got my artist worries – that panic of not being good enough for your art, not worthy, it’s often crippling and hard to put aside. Though not Huntington’s Disease, my family has a long history with a certain chronic illness that I was diagnosed with two short years ago, I was able to explore some of my depression, fears, and hopes along with Lee.

And, of course, Jess, who echoes my long history with anxiety.

Now I feel like I need to apologize to my characters for giving them all my issues!!

I think in the end the humor and sweetness comes from my love for my characters – I genuinely want them to succeed – and the value that humor has as a medicine, a way to keep going, a way to analyze when the world feels too much. I find that often humor allows me the time to take the breath I can’t seem to take.

Taylor: Grief is something you wrote about in Even if the Sky Falls and The Resolutions. Can you talk a bit about what brings you back to discussing this issue in different ways in both books and do you plan to continue exploring it in your writing in the future?

Mia: I recently realized that grief and death are recurring subjects in everything I write – I’m not sure where the subject came from and I can only guess it is connected to the loss of all four of my grandparents, to whom I was close to in varying degrees and to my Puerto Rican heritage.

My abuelos helped raise me as both my parents worked full time, and I can’t think of a single childhood memory that they aren’t a part of directly or indirectly. When they passed we never stopped thinking of them, telling their stories, conversing with them as we cleaned the gravestones, or kept tokens from their lives in our homes, or on our bodies.

Their loss exists in this eternal space in my heart where they are forever alive and forever gone that is essentially the cornerstone of grief.

Taylor: What are some of your favorite examples of mental health representation from other Las Musas?

Mia: Excellent question!! The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante does a beautiful job of examining grief, guilt, love, and family and how it all bleeds together and impacts multiple characters’ mental health and the lengths we will go for family.

And NoNieqa Ramos’s The Truth Is examines a survivor’s mental health in a way that is heart-breaking, frenetic, and funny; it examines the process of grief and self at the intersections of race, sexuality, and pain.

Honestly, I recommend looking through all Las Musas books as there’s much to be said about seeing yourself represented in books and media in a positive light that does wonders for your sense of self and mental health.

Taylor: What are some of your other recommendations for great mental health representation, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, etc.?

Mia: Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After is BEAUTIFUL and lyrical and wonderful and heartbreaking. I highly recommend it.

Taylor: Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in middle grade and YA, or issues you hope to write about but haven’t had the chance yet?

Mia: I don’t have a specific issue I’d like to see more, just more in general, along with intersections of cultural, sexual, and racial identities. I’d like to dig deeper into my own experiences with anxiety. I can look back into my memories all the way to the 1st grade and say with certainty I’ve been having anxiety attacks since then; I just couldn’t name it and to be honest, I don’t think I would’ve been believed if I could, so having more representation in general would be wonderful for the kids/teens reading and adults as well. How different would my journey be if I’d had help at that young age? Would I be better equipped now?

Taylor: Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share, especially for writers?

Mia: It takes constant reminders to remember that this isn’t a race, to go at my own pace regardless of how slow I think I am; to not compare who got what deal and who is writing what; to take deep breaths and focus on the story you love.

If you’ve been having some bad moments, I recommend being silent with friends – which sounds weird – I know. About three years back I had a very dark period of time where I was having constant anxiety attacks and what helped the most was sitting next to someone, watching TV with a friend, or skyping with my sister while she did her daily stuff. I didn’t have to say anything, or do anything, they were just there, and often that helps.

M. García was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York where she studied creative writing at The New School, worked in publishing, and lived under a pile of to-be-read books. She is the author of Even If the Sky Falls and The Resolutions from Katherine Tegen books (an imprint of HarperCollins). You can find her at http://www.mgarciawrites.com.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Erin Hahn, Author of “You’d Be Mine” and “More Than Maybe”

I’m so excited to welcome author Erin Hahn to the blog today. I talked to Erin about her heartbreakingly beautiful debut You’d Be Mine and her highly anticipated sophomore novel More Than Maybe. You can buy You’d Be Mine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. You can pre-order More Than Maybe, out May 12, 2020, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. You can find Erin on her website, Twitter and Instagram. And if you love music and You’d Be Mine, check out Erin’s playlist here. Heck, listen to it while you read this interview…

Taylor Tracy: One of the goals of Shattering Stigmas is to dismantle the stigma against mental illness by creating a safe space for people to discuss and raise awareness about mental health via their favorite mental health reads and personal experiences. What does mental health awareness mean to you and how does it intersect with your creative process?

Erin Hahn: I love the term “safe space”, because I was a teen when the internet first went World Wide and changed the dynamic of sharing personal experiences. The anonymity of the internet (particularly before social media) felt like a safe space to be real. It seemed at the time that you could blog your journey and strangers could read it and there was no judgment. Except there absolutely was! And that same anonymity that the bloggers felt, protected the often cruel readers too. It was a painful realization that hurt so many young people and adults alike and scared many people back into their shame-filled shells.

Books are different. You can’t talk back to a book. You can certainly vet your feelings about something an author has written, but there is no onsite-comments section. At least for the duration of the readers time spent in the pages, they are safe to understand and read and feel whatever the author evokes in their writing. I love this. It impressed upon me that I have this small window of opportunity to reach a reader where they are at with a taste of where I’ve been and maybe show them they aren’t alone. That what they are feeling or experiencing isn’t specific to them. Or if it is, perhaps it takes the loneliness away. It can validate. Let me say that again… VALIDATE. To me, validation is everything. Social media is full of people telling others HOW TO FEEL or telling them WHAT THEY ARE FEELING IS WRONG or telling them TO STOP FEELING THAT WAY RIGHT NOW and thats bullshit (pardon). I wanted to write books, particularly for teens, that showed people saying THIS IS HOW I FEEL and THAT’S OKAY because I AM SURVIVING THE BEST WAY I KNOW HOW.

Sometimes survival is therapy, or treatment or screaming your feelings in a cemetery. Sometimes its medication or journaling or activism. Sometimes its distancing yourself from hurtful people. Its imperative that we are offering up solutions for young people and allowing them the space to see what works for them.

Taylor: Part of what I love about You’d Be Mine is that it’s a steamy romance about fame and music, but it’s also an incredibly poignant story about loss and emotionally struggling in unhealthy ways. How do you balance these two sides of the story when you’re writing?

Erin: Goodness this was a tough one for me. I’m glad you think it worked. 🙂 I was extremely mindful of the all-too common trope of “love fixing all”. More than anything, it was important to me that Clay (and to a lesser extent, Annie) healed first. Love doesn’t fix all and it’s dangerous to let young people believe it can. Everyone has their own battles to face, even in a contemporary romance. Maybe it’s not as heavy as addiction and grief and celebrity, since not everyone is as famous as Clay Coolidge, but that doesn’t mean its not real. When I set out to write a story, I’m actually writing two. I always write a dual point of view, complete with dual character arcs. Every person has a journey and just because falling in love is a apart of that, doesn’t mean its the end of it. It’s taken me a while to reconcile this process… I realize when people are picking up a YA romance, they are looking for butterflies and sweetness and sometimes my version is too messy and raw for that readership.

But that’s okay. My version of events helps me to sleep at night, knowing I’m telling it like it is. My characters will always find their happily ever after, they’ll just have to work a little harder for it.

Taylor: Some of the mental health issues you explore in You’d Be Mine include substance abuse, suicide, the pressures of fame and panic attacks. How did you choose to write about these issues in this book and what was the process of writing them like?

Erin: Wow, when you list it all out like that… *whew*. To be frank, I didn’t set out to write any of those things when I started. I don’t choose issues for my characters to face, just as real people don’t necessarily choose their struggles. I chose to write Clay and Annie’s stories and those were natural motivations and ramifications of their journey. Annie was a traumatized mess when she came to me and thats BECAUSE her parents died the way they did. Clay was a borderline alcoholic at 18, that doesn’t just happen because he liked the taste of beer. He was burying some real grief. I think it’s vital that we as authors are mindful of digging into the whys. It’s irresponsible to give a character mental health issues without exploring what brought those issues about in the first place. One of my favorite parts of that book is when Annie finished performing the song “You’d Be Mine” for the first time in the recording studio and she’s talking to her cousin, Kacey. Kacey kind of scoffs at Annie for saying she and Clay together were a volatile combination. She says, “You’re barely 18, Annie, what on earth do you know about being volatile?” Annie looks at her and says, “I was raised on volatile!” I love how Annie had the sense of self and maturity to realize her and Clay’s emotional baggage was too much even when their friends and family and managers and label execs didn’t.

Taylor: Your upcoming 2020 release More Than Maybe, also explores music, fame and teen love. Can you talk a little about what emotional and/or mental health issues you address in that book?

Erin: Sure! Luke and Vada aren’t famous in the same way Clay and Annie are. That said, Luke is the soft-spoken son of a famous former British Punk Rock icon. He has natural song-writing and singing abilities that drive his father bonkers because he’d love nothing more for Luke to follow in his footsteps and Luke would love nothing less. More Than Maybe discusses a lot of Parent-Child angst. Parents who fail to see who their kids really are and love them as is. Parents who aren’t really parents at all and break their kids hearts. Adults who aren’t biological parents, but end up filling in those parent-shaped holes in a teen’s life. These were all things that I personally related to and while they aren’t super high on the Epic Mental Health Issue roster, I think they are real. Growing up, your first interactions and experiences with mental health involve those closest to you… your families. For better or worse, they form who you become and how you deal moving forward as an adult. Luke and Vada have their work cut out for them and I think they do a wonderful job advocating for themselves as they dive into young adulthood.

Taylor: What are some of your recommendations for great mental health representation, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, etc.?

Erin: Hm. This is a hard one for me, BECAUSE mental health is so personal and I feel like me, listing out specific titles and encouraging people to go there, could lead to someone being disappointed or hurt? If that makes sense. Ironic, I know, as someone who writes the books I do. To be perfectly honest, for me, the most universal mental health representation happens in music. A well-written song can reach a person exactly where they are at and both validate and sooth at once. This past summer, something kind of horrifying and extremely painful was revealed to me, sending me spiraling, even at nearly 37 years of age. I immediately went to music and listened to the same four songs on repeat, every day, until my eyes dried up and my throat hurt from screaming. Were those songs written about me? Or the specific things that were breaking my heart? Nope. But they did a bang up job of piecing me back together regardless. Those lyrics and emotions healed me where I stood. That’s the power of music. I don’t know a book or movie or TV show that can do that so perfectly.

PS The songs were “Waiting at the End” Linkin Park, “I’ll Find You” Lecrae and Tori Kelly, “Praying” Kesha and “Life on Earth” by Snow Patrol.

Taylor: Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in middle grade and YA, or issues you hope to write about but haven’t had the chance yet?

Erin: In my third book, I’m tackling religious trauma. There isn’t a day that goes by that there isn’t some story in the news about some scandal in the church, or about how many young people are distancing themselves from religion because of abuse, neglect, persecution or gaslighting. As someone who grew up in the church and has experienced some or all of these things, I want to write about them and shed light in a pretty lonely place.

Taylor: Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share, especially for writers?

Erin: When I am writing heavy, I have to read light. Or watch TV, light, as the case may be. People assume that because my books are on the darker side, that’s where my interest lies. It might have been at one point, but in the process of writing deep, authentic, hurting characters, I have to also put myself in that place time and again and it’s a lot! I balance that with comedy and kissing books and cross stitch and watching musicals with my little girl. I take my dog for long walks and paint my nails. I have a playlist that is entitled “Just Erin, Not a Character” where its only music that belongs only to me. After finished a particularly rough draft or scene, I bury myself in that playlist and let it heal up the sharp aches. I enjoy coloring and Great British Bake Off. I’ll make confetti cake for my family.

I’ve learned that forcing myself to be social and generous with my time is self care, as contradictory as that may sounds. I’m such an introvert and I love spending time in my head with my characters, but for my sanity, I have to close the door on them and talk to real, live people, too. It’s always a battle, but once I’m there, I’m glad I’ve done it.

Thank you so much, Erin!
It’s been a pleasure to talk to you for Shattering Stigmas!

Erin Hahn spent the first half of her life daydreaming in a small town in northern Illinois. She fell in love with words in college when she wrote for the campus paper, covering everything from drag shows to ice fishing and took way too much liberty with a history essay on the bubonic plague.

She started writing her own books when her little sister gave her shade about a country music-themed Twilight fanfic. By day, Erin gets to share her favorite stories with her elementary students. By night, she writes swoons. She married her own YA love interest whom she met on her first day of college and has two kids who are much, much cooler than she ever was at their age. She lives in Michigan, aka the greenest place on earth and has a cat, Gus, who plays fetch and a dog, June, who doesn’t.She started writing her own books when her little sister gave her shade about a country music-themed Twilight fanfic. By day, Erin gets to share her favorite stories with her elementary students. By night, she writes swoons. She married her own YA love interest whom she met on her first day of college and has two kids who are much, much cooler than she ever was at their age. She lives in Michigan, aka the greenest place on earth and has a cat, Gus, who plays fetch and a dog, June, who doesn’t.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Phil Stamper, Author of “The Gravity of Us”

I am so thrilled to welcome Phil Stamper to the blog today to talk about his forthcoming debut THE GRAVITY OF US, which is out February 4, 2020 from Bloomsbury. You can pre-order it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book DepositoryIndieBound and Target. If you pre-order, you can get a signed bookplate that was actually IN SPACE by filling out this form. I talked to Phil about his adorably gooey queer contemporary debut about the sons of astronauts who might have a bit of an out-of-this-world romance while uncovering secrets about the space program and the media. I read THE GRAVITY OF US this summer and loved it a lot. I am so excited for everyone to read this book and see what Phil writes next. To see what Phil is up to, you can find him on Twitter and Instagram and his website.

Taylor: So I loved THE GRAVITY OF US and want to first talk about the mental health rep in it. First, I LOVED Cal’s mom. It was the first time I saw a parent in a YA book who had mental health issues, but managed them and was still presented as a loving authority figure in the MC’s life. And I loved that you included online therapy as a valid, accessible option through her character. Secondly, I loved the representation of Leon’s depression and how that was complicated by his life in the public eye and how his mental health issues affected how he could connect with other people.

Can you discuss a little bit about how these specific elements became a part of the book and why you wanted to write about them?

Phil Stamper: I’m SO happy that you enjoyed the mental health rep in GRAVITY. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years learning how to manage my own mental health, and that was a big inspiration for me in building out these characters. Such a big part of the mental health conversation is in how we communicate our experiences with mental health to our friends and family, and I’m glad I got to explore that dynamic throughout the book, especially in conversations between Cal and his mother, and Cal and Leon.

In GRAVITY, I got to play with how the media treats mental health, but also talk about something we all experience at some point: how big life changes affect those with anxiety or depression differently. I wanted to include characters who experienced mental health at multiple stages: undiagnosed, but prevalent; diagnosed, but untreated; and diagnosed, treated, but still not perfect. Some of this came naturally as I wrote the story, but I’m glad I was able to hone in on these experiences and make it a part of their character—but not have it define who these characters are.

Taylor: THE GRAVITY OF US is also in many ways about the emotional impact of the interfering forces of fame, reality television, science and technology and myths of American nostalgia all encompassed in a book that reflects on the zeitgeist of the 1960s space race and what a space race to Mars would look like today…with queer teen leads! And these forces have a deep emotional impact on Cal and Leon on their families. Can you discuss a little bit about what brought you to write about these forces and how you developed the larger emotional arcs of the story?

Phil: Ah, it always feels so great when someone fully gets what I was trying to do with this book… and articulates it way better than I ever could! To what brought me to write about this: I have always been a space nerd, especially when it comes to the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions. I’ve read dozens of astronaut/engineer memoirs, watched documentaries, and I’ve got a growing collection of LIFE magazines from the era. 

While reading THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB, actually, I realized that one thing in the background of every astronaut story kept calling out to me. The astronaut families essentially became the celebrities of this era, frequently gracing the covers of magazines and giving interviews for national news outlets. This meant the astronauts’ spouses and children had to be immaculately dressed, polished, and ready to entertain, all while not knowing if their husbands or fathers would come home alive that night. In THE GRAVITY OF US, I wanted to capture this brilliant tension while also showcasing a contemporary queer love story. 

I wanted it to be relevant for today, so I built in the Orpheus missions to Mars and the reality TV elements, but I also knew I personally had a lot of nostalgia for this (very flawed) era that I needed to unpack. Cal is what brought it all together: putting a skeptic at the forefront of the story helped so much with keeping my own nostalgic inclinations at bay and, like a true journalist, he got to the root of the story. 

Taylor: Finally, what are some of your favorite books, movies, TV shows, etc. that feature mental health representation? And what do you hope to see more representation for in the future?

Phil: In the video game Celeste, the main character deals with anxiety and self-doubt through her journey climbing a mountain. The game visualizes this later on by pitting the main character against a “dark side” copy of herself, and you ultimately realize that you don’t need to outrun this “dark side” but rather try to understand and work alongside her to climb the mountain. As someone who’s trying to get a little more comfortable with breathing exercises, I appreciated one part of the game where she’s guided through a panic attack. The player does this by holding down and releasing a button to simulate breathing, while you’re trying to keep a feather floating in the air. It’s all beautifully and respectfully done, which is rare to see in any media.

I would like to see better rep across the board, but especially TV and movies. While I think we’ve come a long way in book publishing, there are still so many toxic mental health stereotypes getting pushed through. That said, I feel incredibly lucky to be an author who can regularly discuss mental health both on and off the page, and I hope that only continues. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I am definitely happy about where we’re at, and where we’re going.

Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. He has a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. He works for a major book publisher in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog. THE GRAVITY OF US is his first novel, but he’s no stranger to writing. His self-insert Legend of Zelda fanfiction came with a disclaimer from the 14-year old author: “Please if you write a review don’t criticize my work.” He has since become more open to critique… sort of.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

“Happy, Revisited” from Troix Jackson

Welcome to Shattering Stigmas 5.0 and to the first guest post this year. I’m so happy to introduce Troix Jackson, who has been writing for Shattering Stigmas since I started co-hosting and who I met through this event. Troix is a fantastic writer who you can find on her Twitter, Instagram and website.

Hello again. This is now my third year writing something for Shattering Stigmas and, as usual, a lot has changed for me.

My depression has become something that drives me to bed when there’s work to be done, that coaxes my eyelids shut as I type at my computer, that yawns over my shoulder and asks me if a quick nap doesn’t sound nice. My depression is the cat purring in my lap, the whir of my computer fans, the hum of my mother’s oxygen machine.

I generally like to take a positive approach to the way I write about mental illness—I like to take a positive approach about everything, usually. I like to be a smiling face behind my screen. I want you, the reader, and me, the writer, to feel comfortable and somewhat pleased.

But it’s raining outside today, and fog is rolling over the town I’ve lived in my entire life, and I don’t feel like being all too positive this year. And that’s okay, I think.

I think a lot of my social media presence has been dedicated to being happy and peppy. I think I put a lot on myself, emotionally, by investing in being the friend you can cry on. There’s nothing wrong with that. If part of what you want in life is to please others, you’re going to live well, I think. Being open and being willing to giving back is part of what makes someone a well-rounded person, and a good friend. But it’s just as important to take a step back and to evaluate yourself, for once. A month or so ago, my partner told me that I tell people “I’m here if you need me” too much. And I think they’re right.

Having a good relationship with others begins with understanding and having a good relationship with yourself. Which sounds like something from a self-help book, but I don’t think that’s so bad, either. I want to help people. I want to help you, reader, who’s either seen my previous posts for Shattering Stigmas or has never read a word I’ve written up until this point. I want you to be an amazing person the way I know you already are, I want you to have days where you’re bright and vibrant and on top of the world. But this year, and in this post, I think I’m reconciling with the fact that having those moments where you’re at your peak means accepting moments when your mental illness drags you from what you love to do, that makes even smiling at someone you care about an enormous chore.

I said in my first post in 2017—which I dug from the thumb drive I keep all my old writing in, an act that made me feel ancient—that I felt that I was broaching happiness. And I still feel that way. But I also think I’ve grown and changed a lot since then, and I’ve learned some things along the way. And yes, this will sound like it’s straight out of a self-help book, but that’s the kind of positive affirmation I’ve needed, recently. And maybe it’ll be some kind of affirmation for you, too.

Happiness isn’t Sunday to Saturday smiles, and coffee runs where the barista only ever gets your order right. Happiness is crying sometimes—or crying a lot. It’s letting my depression lull me to sleep with the knowledge that this is what I need to do for myself emotionally right now. It’s learning to smile when things go right, and not feel guilty about frowning when things go wrong.

At least, that’s how it is for me.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas, Uncategorized

Welcome to Shattering Stigmas 5.0

Hello and welcome to the fifth year of a blogging event that’s all about coming together and speaking up to continue to break down the stigmas that surround mental illness and mental health treatment. I am so excited to share these next two weeks with you and hope it will be a productive opportunity to continue to think and rethink about how we conceptualize mental health in our own lives and in relation to those around us. Statistically, it is a guarantee that you know people who are struggling with their mental health. If you found your way here and you’re struggling, I see you and you matter. You can do this and I hope these posts, if nothing else, provide you with the sense that you are not alone. We are all in this together.

As usual, we have a stellar line-up in terms of hosts and posters. You can check up on the other posts from my amazing co-hosts Mari @ Musings of a Girl, Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight and Amber @ YA Indulgences. Please make sure to check out their blogs over the next two weeks for lists, Q&As, personal essays and more! This event is such a joy to run, and I’m so thankful for their company and ongoing support.

Posts will begin going up tomorrow and will be posted here as they go live for easier browsing. Please make sure to comment, share and support all of our amazing contributors. As always, thank you. To everyone. And let’s continue to fight the stigma.

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

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.

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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.
Rooted
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.
Rooted

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!