#Mental Health Monday | Depression, A Herstory

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Hello, and welcome to my very first #MentalHealthMonday post! This is a weekly (or however often, honestly) discussion I discovered through one of my favorite book bloggers, Wendy @ what the log had to say. On my old blog, I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk more honestly about my mental health in a way that I don’t feel comfortable or safe doing in real life. I hope to do several of these posts in the coming months. I figured I should start by talking a little bit about my hisherstory of depression, and how it’s affected my life so far.

I have been dealing with clinical depression for the past 11 years, give or take. I first noticed depression around my junior or senior year of high school. I was going through a bit of a rough time socially; not only was I always slightly on the outside with the majority of my peers, but at that time, one of my best friends had begun to drift away from me for reasons I couldn’t discern. I had always been pretty introspective, but the vacuum left by my closest friend meant I turned inward a lot more.

While my voracious journaling helped me to keep my head on straight, it also meant that I was dwelling a lot more on my emotions than was perhaps healthy. I became extremely melancholy and lost all interest in normal activities. I remember coming home from school, plugging into my iPod’s endless stream of sad music, and crying until I fell asleep. Eventually, my parents caught onto what was happening, and I was able to get help. I got a prescription for Lexapro from the family doctor and I started seeing a therapist in the early spring of my senior year of high school.

Since then, I have been in and out of therapy about five times, and I’ve been on and off medication about as many times. I am fortunate, in that I have relatively mild to moderate depression that mostly gets bad in the winter and fades around springtime. I tend to get a lot better and go off meds/therapy for a while, only to get hit with the brunt of my depression in the fall. Depression makes me feel like I’m incapable of handling even the most basic of tasks until I slowly build myself back up again. Still, I have access to resources when I truly need them, as well as a family that supports and encourages me along my path to growth as a person. Compared to a lot of people who struggle with depression, I am extremely privileged. I recognize this more and more as the years go on.

Currently, I’m on a pretty low dose of Zoloft, which keeps my mood stable and my emotions manageable, but I’m not currently seeing a therapist since I don’t have health insurance. I started doing regular yoga about two years ago, and this past fall I added in a daily meditation practice to keep myself grounded. I feel blessed to have reached this level of stability, but, like any good depressive, I know that my next downswing could be right around the corner. And this, to me, is the hardest part of living with depression: even my good months are somewhat clouded by the fear that it’s all temporary, that I will always be someone living with depression, even when I’m living in recovery. Which is why I refer to myself as a “depression warrior”—no matter how I’m doing in this moment, my mental health is always something I have to fight for. I am fortunate in that I have the tools to fight for myself and I know now that I’m worth it.

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Do you struggle with depression or anxiety? Feel free to share with me below, or reach out to me via email if that feels safer. Either way, let’s support each other!

xoxo,
Lady aka Christine

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Review | The Cruelest Month

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

Genre: Mystery | Pub Date: 2007

Diversity: side characters| My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

img_0301Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat.

It’s spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth.  But not everything is meant to return to life…

When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil—until one of their party dies of fright.  Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along?

Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.

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My Thoughts

I should start this review with a confession: I don’t actually read a lot of mystery novels. Aside from having read The Millennium trilogy, I don’t read a lot of crime thrillers either. Generally speaking, I stick to pure, reality-based fiction that’s character focused. Which explains why it took me so long to pick up my first Louise Penny mystery, in spite of the fact that at least three family members insisted how much I would love her writing.

On the surface, The Cruelest Month is merely a murder mystery—although it’s the third murder to occur in the small town of Three Pines in the space of about six months. When some of the villagers hold a seance at the creepy old Hadley house, no one expects that one of their number will quite literally drop dead of fright. With this highly unusual situation, Penny begins a tale that’s so much more than a murder mystery.

The Cruelest Month is the third book in the series, so I’ve had three books now to consider what it is that compels me (as well as certain members of my family) to fly through this series and not be able to stop in between books. Like most stories with a mystery element, I’m drawn in by wanting to understand what happened, how it occurred, and, of course, “whodunnit.”

Louise Penny goes beyond just that storyline though, by bringing us into the hearts and minds of her wide cast of characters. She gives us Peter and Clara, the artist couple, who are subtly jealous of each other’s talent and yet love each other so deeply. Then there’s Olivier and Gabri, the gay couple who run the town’s bed & breakfast and bring a smile to everyone’s faces, even in the face of murder. There’s Myrna, the black woman who gave up her psychology career to run the secondhand bookstore. And, of course, there’s Ruth, the bitter poetess who never has a kind word to say about anyone, yet is loved by all.

Beyond the townspeople, of course, we’re given a view into the thoughts and feelings of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, arguably the main character of the series, as well as members of his team. While attempting to catch the murderer, Gamache also deals with the uncomfortable politics of the Sûreté du Québec as one of his own colleagues attempts to discredit him with smear tactics.

Louise Penny’s careful efforts at deconstructing the psychology of her various characters, and the intricacy of the mystery itself, results in a story that has stuck with me in the days since I finished reading. In fact, while I have plenty of books that are more pressing priorities, I’ll probably end up picking up Book 4 in this series—just because I’m already homesick for Three Pines and Chief Inspector Gamache.

–Find this Book–

Goodreads | B&N | IndieBound

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Have you read the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series? Who is your favorite mystery writer? What’s your favorite book outside your usual genre(s) that took you by surprise? Let’s talk in the comments below!

who am i, and what am i blogging for?

img_0196New Year’s has come and gone, but I’m still left trying to sort out what I want for my life this year. While other pieces fall into place naturally, this blog is the one thing I’m slightly unsure of.

I’ve never managed to have a clear direction when it comes to keeping a blog. In college, I used Tumblr to record random thoughts and save other people’s posts to act as a reference point for what I was going through at the time. After college, that slowly faded away as I threw myself into working and writing. It was only when I found myself unemployed and, quite frankly, a bit bored, that I took up more serious blogging in the spring of 2017. While some of you might remember me as The Story Salve, that blog faded out of existence pretty quickly when constraints on my time made blogging feel more like an obligation than a hobby.

Ultimately, that’s what I want to avoid, starting now. Yes, I want to post consistently, if not incessantly. And yes, I want to maintain a relatively singular focus—on books and writing, with a dash of mental health discussions. I want to stay organized so that I don’t fall behind and end up throwing up slap-dash posts (like this one, tbh). I want to write the kind of posts that you, whoever you are, actually care to read. It’s just that I don’t want to sacrifice who I am to please other people.

What am I blogging for? I’m blogging to create a space that accurately reflects who I am and what I care about most. I want to share what I’m reading, offer others a place to find unique and hopefully diverse reading material to add to their own TBRs. I want to talk about my writing process in a way that’s honest, and not just a reflection of how I think I should be as a writer. I want a space where I can write openly about the complex realities of living with depression, even when I’m mostly doing okay. And I want a space where others feel safe and inspired to share their stories with me. I want to connect with other people who have similar interests and an array of life experiences that might better inform my own perspective. I want to share, and I want to learn to listen. 

Join me, if you wish. I can’t promise it will be smooth sailing, but perhaps we can offer each other something. 

Review | Brightness Falls

Brightness Falls by Jay McInerney (1992)

Genre: Literary Fiction | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

IMG_0264.JPGBrightness Falls is one of those rare books that manages to be both funny in its absurdity and terribly sad, in equal measures. Ostensibly the story of golden married couple Russell and Corrine Calloway, the book paints a disturbing picture of 1987 New York in all its excesses.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I picked it up as a bit of research for my own New York novel, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting to be entertained. This isn’t the kind of book where you emotionally invest in characters who are inherently good, if flawed. McInerney’s characters wear their flaws on their sleeves so that one almost develops a love-hate relationship with them. I did genuinely felt for Corrine, who’s stuck between wanting a successful career—or at least wanting the financial status that comes with it—and wanting to start having children. I didn’t, however, feel sorry for Russell, who decides he wants to buy out his publishing house despite having no money, and then spends half the book resisting having an affair (spoiler alert: he can’t hold out against the pull of sex with a woman who’s not his wife. Hashtag: not all men).

For all the ways this book plays into typical narratives, it’s still a very thoughtful book. For all the moments I laughed at the absurdity of Russell and Corrine’s social life, there were the brief glimpses into how the other half lives. A huge subplot involves Russell’s best friend, Jeff, as he descends into heroin addiction; meanwhile, Corrine volunteers at a mission serving food to homeless men, many of whom are also fighting addictions of their own. McInerney makes sure we see all sides of the excesses of the ‘80s and he doesn’t spare our potential feelings about it either.

My main problem—*spoiler alert*—is in what happens to Jeff. After coming out of rehab, Jeff obviously relapses and ultimately dies “of pneumonia.” It’s clear, to me at least, that Jeff died of AIDS, which he contracted from unsafe needle use; yet the book doesn’t make this clear—probably because in 1992 even mentioning AIDS wasn’t really done. Still, I wish this storyline had been more explicit to draw attention to the crisis that was going on at the time.

I certainly don’t think this book is for everyone. It’s definitely dated, particularly in its treatment of racial issues and subtle homophobia. Overall, though, it was an enlightening read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to the characters in the next installment.

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What’s your favorite novel from the 1980s-90s? Got a great New York novel you think I should read? Let me know in the comments!

My Top Books Read in 2018

top reads of 2018

Since I wasn’t around the blogosphere last year, I figured I’d talk a little bit about some of my favorite books I read in 2018. These are listed in the order I read them. If you want more, check out my Goodreads Year In Books!

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Fiction Top 10

luuk+c7vtceg6psyw0vakgAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

This was one from my backlist that I was able to check out from the library now that the hype has somewhat died down. I determined that the hype was NO LIE. The beautiful writing and the unlikely storyline—a Nigerian immigrant to American who winds up moving back to Nigeria—make this one of my favorite books of 2018.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I know John Green gets a lot of hype and/or hatred in the book community, but in this book I feel he truly earned it. The protagonist, Aza, struggles with OCD in a way that’s incredibly real—Green wrote from his own experiences, and it comes through in a heartbreaking, yet beautiful way. Plus, the story has a mystery and a small touch of (realistic) romance. All in all, it beat out Looking For Alaska as my favorite Green novel.

Like Water by Rebecca Podos

I picked this up for the bisexual Latinx rep and I was not disappointed. The story follows Savannah as she realizes her bisexuality, but it’s also about her dealing with millennial confusion as she wonders what to do with life after high school. It was incredibly refreshing to read.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

This is one of those rare YA books that tackles tough topics in a complex, realistic way. It isn’t one I’d recommend to just anyone, as it comes with several content warnings, but I really appreciated the complexity McGinnis brings to the issues of rape and violence in particular.

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie

This was by far the quirkiest thing I read in 2018, if not the quirkiest thing I’ve ever read. It follows engaged couple Veblen (a squirrel-obsessed temp worker) and Paul, a brilliant neurologist whose pet project gets scooped up by money-grubbing corporate assholes. For a “literary” read, this had a lot of funny moments as well as thoughtful ones.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Pretty much my entire family has been telling me to read Louise Penny’s mystery series for months. I finally started them this fall and I wasn’t disappointed. While I’m not usually drawn to mystery or crime-related narratives, these aren’t your typical murder mysteries. Louise Penny focuses on her characters, giving them complex thoughts and feelings, and the mysteries themselves are complex and unusual. To top it off, each of the three I’ve read so far are incredibly atmospheric, set in this tiny town in Quebec. I want to move there so badly!

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

This book broke my heart in the best possible way. In case you haven’t heard, the YA Book Communities two fave authors teamed up to write this gay meet cute set in New York City. It’s not your typical romance either, and I loved the realism of the ending.

Home and Away by Candice Montgomery

I was lucky enough to score an ARC of this highly under-hyped debut, and I’ve been trying to push it on people ever since its release in October. Tasia is a black girl who plays football and finds out that her biological father is actually white. The story follows the identity crisis that follows, with a sprinkle of love and a lot of sass. I freaking loved Tasia so damn much.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I stumbled upon this intellectual/literary vampire trilogy by accident and it was worth the investment. Sure, it’s heavy on the romantic and occasionally cheesy, but I loved the lore behind the vampires, witches, and daemons and how they avoid detection by humans. Plus, Deborah Harkness has a PhD in history or something, so it’s more intellectually stimulating than, say, re-watching The Vampire Diaries on Netflix for the fifth time. Not that I would do that or anything…

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

I spotted this one on a list of books set in New York City, which I’m researching for my WIP. The story follows 85-year-old Lillian as she takes a long, meandering walk through New York City on the eave of 1985, and alternately reflects on her past, as the highest paid female advertiser in the 1930s, to her present. If you like spunky ladies defying the odds, add this to your TBR.

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Nonfiction Top 5

img_0245Lost Connections by Johann Hari

This is a book about depression, and about how its causes and solutions aren’t necessarily what we think they are. Hari argues that people are more depressed because of the way we live today. As he deconstructs our modern problems with meaningful connections, he also offers solutions that, admittedly, are more difficult to achieve than simply taking a pill. This is a really thought-provoking read for anyone who cares about mental health.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

This one took me months of effort to get through, but it was well worth it. Zinn takes us on a journey through American history, but rather than basing the story around the rich, famous, and white, he talks about what life was like for the poor, working-class, women, and people of color. If you’re interested in reading diversely, this is a great look at the kind of diverse history that’s often erased in the American classroom.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

This book was the orange-covered kick in the pants I needed to get myself onto a new track toward a future that I choose. Manson light-heartedly deconstructs a lot of the messages of the self-help industry and points out that the key to life is choosing the one thing that you’re okay with struggling toward, the one thing that’s worth it. This really helped me narrow my focus and let go of ideas that weren’t really serving me anymore. I recommend this to anyone, even if you think you’re not into self-help books.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Another ambitious read, this book takes us back to the beginning of humanity and talks about how we came to be where we are today. I loved learning about the different theories about how spoken language developed, about why we went from hunter-gathering societies to agricultural ones, about what the future might look like if we keep on the way we are now. My sociology brain loved this one!

The Gentrification of the American Mind by Sarah Schulman

This is the book I finished right at the end of the year, and really left me on a good note. I won’t say much, since I recently posted my review, but this is a must-read for anyone who cares about LGBTQ+ issues.

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What are some of your favorite reads in 2018? Got a recommendation for me? Drop a comment below!

Review | The Gentrification of the American Mind

The Gentrification of the American Mind: Witness to a Lost Generation

Author: Sarah Schulman (2012) | Genre: Queer Memoir | My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Goodreads Synopsis:

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In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981–1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.

My Thoughts

Part memoir, part socio-cultural analysis, The Gentrification of the American Mind is a thought-provoking book that’s a worthy read for anyone who cares about queer issues. Schulman compares the gentrification of New York City from the 1970s-90s with the erasure of queer history of the AIDS crisis. Rather than sticking to a strict academic need to prove her arguments, however, Schulman takes the reader on a meandering journey of her experiences at the time, as well as the conclusions she draws from it.

Gentrification, as Schulman defines it, is the concrete replacement process that homogenizes at the expense of the existing culture. She talks a lot about a spiritual gentrification, where people without representation are alienated from the process of social change. In this way, she explores the diminished consciousness, particularly of young queer people, when it comes to how political and artistic change happens. 

Despite being such a short book, at only 180 pages, there’s a lot to unpack. Schulman connects the loss of political activism of the AIDS years with the ways that gay culture itself has become gentrified. Rather than seeing a queer identity as inherently political, she argues that many young queer people fight to assimilate into heterosexual cultural norms. In fact, she’s quite critical of the fight for gay marriage and adoption rights, since she argues that’s not what being queer is all about. While I don’t necessarily fully agree with her, she brings up important points that I feel like nobody really talks about anymore.

The most powerful chapter, for me, talks about the erasure of gay literature—especially lesbian literature. While I’ve made a point to seek out queer writing in recent years, the fact remains that it’s something one must seek out. There are no out lesbian writers on the bestseller list in this country. Queer writers often publish through smaller presses or must resort to self-publishing; it’s incredibly hard for a queer writer to actually support themselves financially through their writing. As Schulman states, “our literature is disappearing at the same time that we are being told we are winning our rights. How can we be equal citizens if our stories are not allowed to be part of our nation’s story?”

Every young queer person needs to read this book.

Even if I disagree with certain aspects of Schulman’s argument, this book promotes a way of thinking that’s disturbingly absent in visible gay culture today. We need to understand our history if we’re ever going to move forward in a more radical way. The personal is inherently political—if we can remember it.

2019: reading, writing, & blogging goals

I am a sucker for new beginnings.

No, seriously. There’s nothing I savor more than the fresh blank page of a brand new journal—or, in this case, a blank new blog that no one’s even following yet. I love the calendar New Year because it inspires me to get my life together in various ways, and it encourages the taking on of new habits and the sloughing off of the old.

But there’s also nothing I fear more. After all, who am I to think I can become a new person just because it’s a new year? I’m old enough to know that change doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work. Fortunately, I’m feeling up to a little work this year.

My last blog died when I lost the motivation to keep fighting for it, when I wasn’t sure why I was really doing it anymore if no one was reading. I want this space to be different. This is, ultimately, a space for me, but a space that I’d like others to enter into if they’d like. I refuse, however, to put pressure on myself to be something as a blogger that I’m just…not.

Without further ado, my goals for 2019.

blogging goals

  • to keep this place alive, even if it’s more or less on life support
  • post anywhere from 2 posts a month to 2 posts a week
  • use monthly wrap-ups to keep track of my year in reading
  • connect with other readers & writers in a way that feels meaningful
  • spread the joy of stories whenever possible

reading goals

  • read 75 books total
  • read 15 nonfiction books
  • 2 books by women OR 1 marginalized author for every book by a non-marginalized author
  • for every new purchase, read 2 books owned/borrowed
  • read 25 books from the unread shelf
  • no more than 5 re-reads
  • 20 books written before 1970 (including 10 books written before 1920 & 5 books written before 1895)

writing goals

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to find a new way of writing. I’ve always been a heavy planner, and I’ve also always written loosely about my own experiences. For my current WIP, I’m trying to write about what I don’t know, using research when necessary, and I’m also trying to break my addiction to writing within the lines of my plans. My goal for this year is pretty simple: to keep writing, and to keep challenging myself, and to complete this project (in readable form) by the time I presumably start grad school in August.

personal growth goals

  • learn how to cook (because it’s about damn time)
  • do 250 days of yoga for the entire year

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Do you believe in New Year’s Resolutions? What are your goals and hopes for 2019? Let’s inspire each other in the comments below!