Posted in Shattering Stigmas

I Went 2000 Miles from Home, but Home Was All I Could Think About by Taylor Lien

I am so thrilled to welcome my name-twin, Taylor Lien, onto the blog today to discuss trauma and place. This is such a poignant, compelling and beautiful piece that I hope you will enjoy and ponder. You can find Taylor on Twitter and on her blog.

Home is a very loaded word for me; the concept of a hometown is even more so. The place that I grew up and spent most of my life is a place that holds years of pain and trauma. For most of my childhood it was a place that I believed I would never be able to escape. When I was eight years old, I didn’t want to make it to my high school graduation, but something told me that I would.

So for the next ten years, I let that voice propel me towards getting away from the place that almost ended my life. I was lucky enough to leave my hometown for college, and with that came feeling the full weight of the trauma I had experienced over the last eleven years. I entered counseling for the second time in my life and began to unravel everything and the concept of home came up almost immediately. This continued to be a thread that followed through the rest of that first semester and my sessions.

That Thanksgiving I was going home for the first time since leaving for college, and I was terrified. I was paralyzed by the idea of everything going back to the way it was when I lived there, and I just couldn’t handle it. I was paralyzed by the panic of backsliding into who I was when I lived there. In the end, I went home kept myself busy, and mostly avoided having an emotional breakdown. This cycle repeated every time I was home for that first year, and sometimes I handled it better than others. My relationship with home remained tenuous, and I continued to pretend that the trauma I was carrying around while impacting me on a day to day basis was left within the city limits of my ‘hometown.’

Fast forward to January 2018, I was preparing to study abroad in Chichester, England for a semester. This would be my first time traveling internationally, and I was very excited for a change of pace, as well as all the opportunities and personal growth I knew would happen. It didn’t come without some trepidation, but somehow my mindset became do the thing and don’t stop to consider everything that can go wrong helped me keep my anxiety at bay. As a chronic overthinker and someone who is very anxious, this was a huge departure from my normal attitude, but in the months since has not gone away completely and was a very important habit I brought back with me.

After flying there safely, navigating the London Underground system with two suitcases and very few stations without stairs, and orientation, I was ready for my first day of class. Currently, I’m a third year student at the University of Northern Iowa, and I’m studying digital media marketing and English. My abroad semester consisted of creative writing classes with one literature class in the mix.

My first day, I had a creative non-fiction class, and after everyone introduced themselves, and the syllabus was handed out, the professor launched into a writing prompt only centered around the word ‘home.’ Since I had introduced myself everyone knew I was an American exchange student and very far away from ‘home,’ but when describing how comfortable I felt in this new country versus where I had lived my entire life, I was met with reasonably surprised reactions.

My professor seemed intrigued by my complicated feelings towards the idea of home, and encouraged me to explore that further. Little did I know at the time, that home and my relationship to the trauma attached to it would be all I could think about even when I had an entire ocean of geographical distance between us.

When I went college, I wanted everything about who I was prior to fall 2016 to disappear, and to a degree when I went abroad. I wanted to run away from everything that I was tired of dealing with in America. I logically understood that the geographical cure wasn’t real, but I had so fiercely believed for years that everything in my life could be solved simply by moving as far away from that place as possible.

Except here I was the furthest from home I had ever been in my life, and all I could write about was the trauma I experienced and all the ways I was still grappling with it. That’s not to say that the distance didn’t do me any good. The distance gave me perspective and space to heal in ways that I had not previously been afforded, but it didn’t cure me, it didn’t erase my experiences. It did give me perspective and clarity and all the things I had been lacking still living so close to the things I had experienced.

Now, my relationship with home is no less complicated, but it is less viscerally painful. The things that happened there may be more in focus, but I live with the reality that I made it out of what has been the worst years of my life alive. Not only that, but I was able to have the semester of a lifetime, and experience things I had read about for years in books. I’m still trying to find out where home is supposed to be, but for now I take refuge in the people that support me, and create home wherever I am.

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 Book Review

Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of Cages by Robin Roe, Disney-Hyperion, 320 pp. Source

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

True brothers aren’t always blood related. Sometimes it’s the people we are fated to be around that become our true family and the people who affect us the most. This is certainly true in Robin Roe’s touching new novel A List of Cages.

Adam Blake is a popular guy who’s close to his social worker mom. Julian was a foster child in his home for months before being taken in by a distant uncle, who cut off all contact with the Blake family. When Julian and Adam are reunited, partially due to an assignment to Adam from the school psychologist who he works as an aid for, a series of events is set off that will bring the boys together, but also threaten to separate them for good.

I love books about sibling relationships and unconventional families. In that vein, this book did not disappoint. Despite not being genetically related, in every other way Adam and Julian felt like brothers. The way that Adam so tirelessly included Julian in his life was such a pure demonstration of brotherly love, and one of the things that I love about this book most.

On a craft level, this book is well written. It checks off all the boxes on the qualities of a dark contemporary without feeling too much like an issue book. It has flashbacks. It has some suspense. It has some scenes that will make you flinch. Trigger warning for physical and emotional abuse and violence, with strong implications of sexual abuse. The overall tone is dark and intense, but there are lighter moments and an overarching theme of hope and love.

Bridging a discussion of craft and character, Adam and Julian were my favorite characters by far. The novel is told from the two boys’ perspectives and each voice was richly developed. Adam’s energy and good intentions shined in his narration while Julian’s quiet resilience and hesitation shined in his. I was happy to see on the page representation of ADHD in Adam and dyslexia in Julian as well, both of which are needed in books for teens and adolescents.

The depiction of Adam’s mom, his friends Charlie, Matt, Emerald and co. and Julian’s uncle Russell were also well developed. If anything I would have liked to see more of Adam’s mom and it took me a while to get Adam’s friends straight. There is also a romance between Adam and a girl (I’ll keep it spoiler free) that was cute but seemed unnecessary and didn’t add much to the plot.

All of the adults in this book are super incompetent so if you’re a fan of the musical Spring Awakening, you might like this book too. Between the teacher’s cruel attitudes towards Julian, his lack of disability accommodations from the school and the school’s psychologist’s obliviousness, I was getting seriously frustrated with the lack of good judgement from any of them. Still, it seemed believable enough in the context of the book and didn’t bother me too much while I was reading it.

Overall, this is a powerful and heartbreaking story of love, trauma, loss and family. I finished it in a day and couldn’t put it down. These two boys will pull you into their world, and you won’t be able to help but wonder what happens next. Hope this emotional read is in the stars soon for you!