Please Stop Romanticizing Toxic Relationships!! || A #MentalHealthMonday Discussion

Mental Health Monday is a (sometimes) weekly discussion series I discovered through Wendy @ what the log had to say. To see more of these posts, check here.

Hello and welcome to another rant discussion post! Today I want to talk about something that gets me really fired up: the way toxic and abusive relationships are viewed as sexy and romantic.

First, a little bit of background. When I was 18, I fell in love with an older guy. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he was insecure, and he took advantage of my feelings for him and lack of experience. What followed was one of the most tumultuous, on-and-off again, secretive, destructive relationships I’ve ever experienced. This relationship affected my self-esteem and my ability to have effective relationships for years afterward—and plunged me into multiple depressive episodes.

Recently, a series of New Adult romance books by “Wattpad sensation” Anna Todd gained a massive following.

Until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of After. As one does, I picked up the book and read the back cover… and let me tell you, I don’t need to read this book to know it’s about a toxic relationship. Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from the blurb:

“With his tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, tattoos, and lip ring, Hardin is cute and different from what she’s used to. But he’s also rude—to the point of cruelty, even. For all his attitude, Tessa should hate Hardin. And she does—until she finds herself alone with him in his room. Something about his dark mood grabs her, and when they kiss it ignites within her a passion she’s never known before. He’ll call her beautiful, then insist he isn’t the one for her and disappear again and again. Despite the reckless way he treats her, Tessa is compelled to dig deeper and find the real Hardin beneath all his lies. He pushes her away again and again, yet every time she pushes back, he only pulls her in deeper.

Goodreads Blurb (emphasis mine)

As a bookseller, I’m well aware that people have different taste. I never read Fifty Shades of Grey either, but that series still draws a huge audience. People are entitled to their own taste in reading material; if we all liked the same things, the world would be incredibly boring.

So what, exactly, is the problem with a series like After?

I mean, if adults want to read a book about a college girl in an on-again, off-again toxic relationship with a “bad boy” with a “dark past,” isn’t that their prerogative? Absolutely. My issue with the book, however, is that it’s not just targeted to adult women; teens are showing up in droves to devour the series, along with the movie that recently came out.

I was a teenager once. Back in my day, the YA genre had hardly even been born (and certainly not in the capacity that it is now). By the time I was 16, I’d pretty much run out of books written for teens and was well into steamy adult fiction. At 16, I probably would’ve eaten After right up, in spite of the apparently shoddy writing style.

At 16, I would’ve read this book and learned that true love is worth fighting for—even if he treats you like absolute shit.

Even without After, I gained plenty of unrealistic expectations of relationships by the time I met my first love at 18. I was already stubborn about sticking to my guns when I liked someone; I never gave up, regardless of how unlikely the romance really was. And I firmly believed that love comes at a cost, that sometimes you had to go through the hard times to get to the good.

Fortunately, I’m a lot wiser now, and I’ve finally found a solid, happy relationship with a basis in mutual respect. But it took years of therapy for me to rebuild a sense of self that wasn’t defined by someone who treated me like dirt. It took me years to retrain my brain that just because you love someone doesn’t mean they’re the right one for you. It took me years of my healthy relationship with my now-husband to stop flinching every time we disagreed about anything—because I had learned that everyone leaves.

Books like After have very real consequences when they’re praised as amazing romance stories.

A book that shows a girl in a healthy relationship who abandons it for a guy who’s rude and cruel teaches young women that good relationships are boring, that abusive behavior is just passion. A book that shows a male character who refuses to talk about his feelings is romanticizing toxic masculinity. Calling an on-again, off-again relationship “romantic” loses sight of the reality of how traumatic such turbulence is—and I’m speaking from experience.

Even if these types of stories are firmly categorized as adult romance, teens will still pick up these books—they already are. In fact, I had a Mom and her young teen daughter in a few days ago buying the entire series…after they’d been to see the movie together, twice. That’s the scary part: the average person doesn’t seem to see how harmful these types of narratives are.

I’m not suggesting that we take the fun out of romance, or that teens shouldn’t be allowed to read adult romance novels.

I love a steamy romance as much as the next person! As a teenager, reading these books was as close as I got to having a real relationship, honestly. But I have high expectations for my romance plot lines…and I think the book world, in general, has a right to expect more.

What I’d Like to See More of in Romance Plots

  • an open discussion of consent, where characters verbally talk about sex, what they’re comfortable with, etc.
  • guys who are called out when they treat women like dirt, rather than being rewarded for it
  • romantic heroes who don’t just fit into the traditional masculine stereotypes (more soft boys pls)
  • more queer romance, always (duh) & more romance with non-traditional bodies
  • toxic relationships that end with the girl realizing how awful that relationship actually was
  • realistic romantic obstacles: couples overcoming long-distance, different backgrounds, pregnancy scares (and talking about protection!!!), balancing real life with their relationships, etc.

Realistic Romances I Love

*This book actually shows a toxic relationship, with the lens that it is, in fact, toxic.

Have you read After – and do you agree with my opinion? Do you have any swoonworthy romances you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

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Is Blogging Bad For My Mental Health? || A #MentalHealthMonday Discussion

Mental Health Monday is a (sometimes) weekly discussion series I discovered through Wendy @ what the log had to say. To see more of these posts, check here.

I recently took a week off blogging as part of reading deprivation in general. Although the first two days were really rough, the forced reform of my habits showed me just how little time I was spending purely for myself. Everything I do seems to come with some sort of obligation, whether it’s blogging or even just the reading I do on my own time. Taking a week off brought me to question whether or not blogging is a benefit or a detriment to my mental health.

I’ve talked about this before, but the blogging community has made me feel less alone on so many occasions.

Back in 2017, when I first started blogging, I was completely isolated, not just from my friends but from people my age in general. Blogging helped me connect with other like-minded individuals, as well as learn more about other people’s perspectives. I started discovering amazing diverse authors that I probably never would’ve heard about otherwise. And I made some amazing friends who’ve encouraged and supported me over the years.

One of the best things about blogging for me comes from writing these posts about my mental health.

Depression isn’t something I really talk about in my everyday life, short of making darkly humorous remarks at work every now and then, or talking with my best friend. I’m pretty quiet about my mental health in real life, so to be able to talk openly about it on my blog is somewhat of a big deal.

Beyond just being honest about it, though, I am always amazed by the responses I get. Sure, I may not be a big blogger, but each comment I get—particularly on these types of posts—never ceases to inspire me. I have learned that I’m not the only one whose mental health gets in the way of their writing, that I’m not the only one who wonders if meds are really working, or if my jokes are possibly a little too much. I am not alone. Seeing real proof of that in someone else’s response to reading my words…that’s an irreplaceable feeling.

And yet, being involved in the online world means I’m constantly exposed to opportunities for comparing myself to others, which inevitably leads to self-judgement.

I am not that person with a flawless Instagram aesthetic; I pretty much just take pictures of books, whether it’s at home or at work. I’ve written at length about why Twitter doesn’t really work for me. Every time I see the follower count on the blogs I admire, I wonder how I will ever come close to that. Hell, who knows if I’ll ever surpass 100 followers at this point? Especially if I give in to my Depression Brain and quit blogging altogether.

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s placing unrealistic expectations on myself and my work.

Despite the fact that I’ve been back blogging for less than six months, I expect myself to post five times a week. Even if I make that expectation, I expect myself to not only respond to every comment I get, but to also keep up with the endless stream of posts in my WordPress Reader, and comment at length on other people’s discussion posts (I’ve pretty much given up commenting on reviews or other types of posts—there just isn’t the time). I’m talking about this openly because I acknowledge that I do both less and more than other bloggers…but I beat myself up about it either way.

Quitting is not the solution.

After all, I tried that before. I completely scrapped The Story Salve and erased its existence from everything aside from my Scrivener doc. I let myself disappear, but that didn’t solve my constant self-deprecation over not living up to my own expectations. Giving up on the parts of blogging that I truly love will not erase my own self-loathing. Sometimes the only way out is through.

I do want to re-evaluate how I blog in the future.

My high expectations for publishing new posts is getting in the way of not only the rest of my life, but also my ability to really enjoy blog hopping. I hardly ever have enough time to catch up on my reader, and even when I do blog hop, I feel rushed by how behind I am at scheduling posts.

So I might be posting slightly less in the future, but I hope to be around the blogosphere more. I want to get back to reading what I love, and reflecting that love here on my blog. I want to get back to spreading love to other bloggers who work so hard for their blogs.

I don’t want to quit blogging just because it allows me to be too hard on myself. I want to use this as an opportunity to challenge myself, to learn from my mistakes and grow until I can hopefully stop beating myself up for my imperfections.

Do you place unrealistic expectations on yourself? How do you manage blogging pressure? Has blogging helped your mental health? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
As always, thanks for stopping by! Until next time,

#MentalHealthMonday || Are my meds working?

#MentalHealthMonday is a (sometimes) weekly discussion series I discovered through Wendy @ what the log had to say. You can read more of my #MentalHealthMonday posts here.

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Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Today I want to talk about something pretty personal: my relationship with anti-depressant meds.

I first started taking medication for depression when I was not-quite-18.

I was a senior in high school, and my inexplicable depression had finally reached the point where I couldn’t—and didn’t want to—handle it on my own. I was prescribed a low dose of Lexapro by my family’s general practitioner. This was also around the time I started therapy.

I honestly don’t remember how well the meds worked. I do remember getting some relief, but at the same time, it was a pretty tumultuous time for me in general. I graduated high school and started college; I was also involved in a pretty toxic relationship with an older guy that definitely took a toll on my mental health. It’s hard to say if the meds stopped working, or if life just got really hard.

Somewhere in my college years, I switched from Lexapro to Cymbalta—which I would not recommend. Cymbalta is designed to work differently from other anti-depressants; instead of a traditional SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), Cymbalta also acts on Norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter that affects your mood. Cymbalta did work for me, but it also has a really short half life. What that means is that it passes through the body quickly. When I would miss even one dose I would get terrible withdrawal symptoms like headaches and mood swings.

After Cymbalta, I took Prozac, perhaps the most famous anti-depressant in America at least. Prozac has an extremely long half life…which means that after a while your body often gets used to it…which makes it feel like it’s stopped working. This is a vicious cycle that I don’t think people talk about often enough: you start taking the drugs to feel better, but then you become dependent on them to not feel like total trash.

After the Prozac stopped working, I switched back to Lexapro, which made me so nauseous in the first two weeks that I almost threw in the towel. I kept taking Lexapro, then quit abruptly in the fall of 2014. I then entered the actual worst depressive episode of my life. I’d just moved to New York City and was making some pretty poor choices when it comes to my overall health. It was only through many long months of therapy and the act of separating myself from people who weren’t good for me that I managed to pull through.

Finally, in the fall of 2017, I couldn’t take it anymore and went back on meds: this time, on a low dose of Zoloft. Due to lack of health insurance, I weened myself off Zoloft last summer, but began taking it again in the fall of 2018. I am currently still taking medication, although I admittedly sometimes forget a day here and there.

Are my meds working?

When I go back to see my doctor, he always asks questions about how the medication is working. I never seem to be able to answer. I’ve stopped crying every day, which is something. Now that I no longer work in the coffee industry, I’m actually getting decent sleep. And while I do experience nerves leading up to important events, I don’t feel constantly on edge about the state of my life. In general, I go about my day feeling like I can do whatever it is that I need to do—as opposed to feeling overwhelmed and completely incapable of managing.

There’s a part of me that weirdly hates feeling so even-keeled though. Growing up and living with depression for most of my life, feeling okay about being alive is a weird feeling for me. It doesn’t feel like me. I’ve always been the kind of person who cries regularly as a form of catharsis, but I don’t really cry anymore. I don’t even journal the way I used to, pouring out pages and pages about how I’m feeling. If anyone asked me how I’m feeling, I don’t even know how to answer that.

At the same time, I know I still have so many depressive thought patterns to work through. I can’t afford therapy (again) even though I know that’s what would truly help me. Part of me wonders if I’ll ever have the time to truly work through all my cognitive distortions.

Does this mean my meds are working? Hell, for all I know, “just okay” is how non-depressed people feel. Maybe this is what being alive is supposed to feel like. And then I feel guilty, because I know I should be grateful that medication still works for me, when so many people have reached the point where nothing really helps them.

I guess I just wish I didn’t need medication to feel like I’m capable of managing my life.

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If you feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear your experiences with medication. Do meds work for you, or not really? Have you experienced the on-again-off-again situation like I have? Let me know in the comments.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Forgotten Bands That Got Me Through Depression

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. Each week, bloggers come together to build a list on pre-selected topics. If you’d like to join in, check out That Artsy Reader Girl’s post for more info!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since this week is a freebie, I thought I’d talk about something (almost) completely unrelated to the rest of my blog: music.

When I was in high school, I was a total band nerd. I started playing clarinet when I was 10 years old and kept going all the way through my senior year of high school. I only quit when I realized that statistical improbability of ever being That Good at clarinet, versus the likelihood that I might be That Good as a writer.*

I went through a pretty bad depression in high school that was thinly disguised as Teen Angst. I came of age at the time when iPods were still new, but my iPod was probably my best friend at that point. This was back in the days of Limewire, when you’d just illegally download all your music because nobody really cared. I had whole discographies of these bands on my iPod, but I also had lengthy playlists that helped me feel like maybe I wasn’t so alone.

*although we’re still not sure about that one…

Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Forgotten Bands That Got Me Through Depression.

1. Simple Plan

The year I turned 14 was the year I became a bitter, angsty mess of a person for no apparent reason. I still have all my old journals from this time, and I was basically just mad about everything—even though the worst thing that happened to me was that some guy didn’t like me back and the popular kids didn’t know I existed. No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls pretty much never left my portable CD player the summer of 2004.

2. The All-American Rejects

It should be noted that a good portion of this list results from my older brother’s musical hand-me-downs, and this band is one of them. I still maintain that their first album is the best one, but “Stab My Back” from their sophomore album got me through some awful friendship trauma my sophomore year of high school.

3. Dashboard Confessional

Oh, Dashboard. Just a man and an acoustic guitar, giving me something to cry to for most of high school. I cried along to “Screaming Infidelities” more times than I can count, despite the fact that I’d never been in a position of being cheated on. “Swiss Army Romance” also may or may not have inspired a story…or two.

4. Coldplay

I have a confession to make: I still listen to Coldplay—but not any of their new stuff. I have a Spotify playlist of the Coldplay discography from 2000-2008 that I still listen to when I’m feeling down, or I just want to get zen’d out. Viva La Vida came out the summer after I graduated high school and those songs still feel me with that giddy feeling of being 18 and having my entire life in front of me.

5. Relient K

I was pretty religious in high school, in a non-denominational, quiet kind of way. I went to a Christian high school, which is how I discovered Relient K. In the depths of my depression, I came across “Let It All Out,” which beat out Dashboard as my go-to sobbing song. This song taught me that sometimes you need to let out whatever feelings are poisoning you from the inside, and that it’s okay to feel like you’re not okay.

6. Panic! at the Disco

A list of old bands wouldn’t be complete without Panic! (although aren’t they still doing stuff? somehow?). I fell in love with the complexity of their lyrics…and also how pretty they all look wearing eyeliner in the music video for “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”

7. Something Corporate // Jack’s Mannequin

In college, I discovered the musical genius of Andrew McMahon and never really looked back. Something Corporate covers the angst, and Jack’s Mannequin covers the hopefulness. So many of these songs got me through rough times, but “Hammers and Strings” is by far the one that really spoke to my depression.

8. Into It. Over It.

Along with my brother, another of my great musical influencers  is one of my good friends, Megan. We used to make each other mix CDs weekly, and I owe her for introducing me to so many bands over the years. Sometimes I forget who introduced who to which bands! She got me into Into It. Over It. and I started listening to Proper over and over again my senior year of college.

9. Paramore

I have Hayley Williams to thank for getting me through my years living in New York City. I went through one of the worst depressive episodes of my life in the fall of 2014 and into 2015 (right before I met my husband, actually). In my darkest moments, early Paramore helped me feel understood. In times when tentative hope was peaking its head out of the shadows of my heart, mid to late Paramore filled me with that feeling of potential energy. When After Laughter came out in 2017, I was struggling through yet another episode, and “Fake Happy” helped me remember that I am not alone.

10. Bayside

I owe my somewhat newfound love of Bayside to my husband, Seth. When we first started dating back in 2015, he took over where my brother and Megan left off and gave me a bunch of new music that just solidified why we were perfect together. I have an entire Spotify playlist of bands he got me into, but Bayside sticks out on that list. Why? The Walking Wounded. When I’ve been struggling with what to do with my life, when I’ve been dealing with the depths of depression, “The Walking Wounded” (the song and the album) made me feel validated in my feelings.

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If you enjoyed this post, check out my playlist!

Do you have any favorite forgotten bands? Is your music taste now similar to your taste in high school, or do you feel like you’ve completely evolved? What’s your favorite nostalgic genre? Let’s talk about it!

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writing toward recovery

This is the third post in a series of posts on writing—my journey as a writer, what writing means to me, and what I’m working on now. To see other posts, check here.

I have a confession to make: I feel like a fake writer.

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It’s weird, considering I’ve been writing fiction for 15+ years and I’ve been calling myself a writer pretty much as long as I can remember. It’s weird that I am this insecure about the one thing I’ve always known I could do. But it’s not weird when you look at what the rest of the world thinks writing is.

Last week, I talked about the kinds of “advice” people like to give writers: how we should all get creative writing degrees and then self-publish and everything will be hunky-dory. Obviously, I have a lot of image issues when it comes to who I am as a writer—because I haven’t done what they said I should’ve done. Part of being a writer, to me, means going my own way, but the cost is that I’m constantly questioning myself.

So yes, I feel like a fake writer: because I’m still unpublished outside of this blog; because I don’t have a writing degree; because this blog is mostly me shouting into the void, still, and I’m not savvy enough to gain a real Twitter following; because I go long periods of time where I’m between major projects; because I’ve decided to go back to school and become a teacher until such point as this writing thing pans out for me.

I feel like a fake writer, but the reality is that I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t a writer.

It sounds dramatic, but learning to express myself in writing was the best thing I ever did for my mental health, back before I even knew what depression was.

In ninth grade, I started writing to myself in black-and-white composition notebooks.* I poured out all my angst toward my parents, frustration toward peers, and pining over guys who didn’t know I existed. I let everything out onto the page and I realized that writing about my thoughts and feelings really did make me feel a bit better. Sometimes I would come to the page with a problem and leave the page feeling at peace about the situation, either because I’d found a solution or simply the relief of not holding it all inside my head anymore.

The deeper I tread into the sinking pit of my adolescent depression, the more I wrote. I switched to 5-subject spiral notebooks, which I filled in a matter of two or three months sometimes. I repeated myself almost constantly, talking myself in and out of a feeling or a thought pattern. Yet, for all that repetition, writing was there for me when literally no one else was.

By the time I reached adulthood** keeping a journal became a lifeline. I went longer between entries, but the page was always my last resort when I was feeling particularly down and occasionally even suicidal. Writing about depression didn’t always solve the underlying problem*** but it kept me from hurting myself. Putting my feelings down in words enabled me to deconstruct my negative thought patterns—even when I had to deconstruct the same thoughts over and over again.

*which I named Martin B. Sneed, for reasons I literally can’t remember.
**aka the point at which I was out of college and paying my own bills, I guess?
***I still made horrible choices when it came to relationships, but that’s an entirely different story.

Writing fiction has also been an integral part of my depression recovery.

When I was in college, I got involved in an unhealthy relationship with an older guy. I was incredibly open about my feelings for him, but he refused to admit to feeling anything beyond lust. For years, we went back and forth and around and around the marry-go-round of turmoil before I finally moved on.

It has been seven years since I’ve so much as spoken to him and I’m in a much better place now.* Still, there is a part of me that’s haunted by this bad relationship. For years after this guy abruptly stopped talking to me, I tried to write my experiences into a novel. It took, two, maybe even three goes before I came up with a finished draft, a hundred thousand words or so.

This draft is still sitting on my computer, collecting dust; each time I’ve tried to revise it for potential submission, I can’t do it. Writing Brain tells me that the story needs a lot of work, but that it can certainly be done. Depression Brain, on the other hand, tells me that no one would want to read a story about a girl who lets this kind of relationship happen to her. Even now, I get this odd ache in my chest when I think about this story. It’s the one closest to my heart but the one that pains me the most to read over again.

*I’m literally marrying my favorite person in the entire world next week!

There are some stories we write that just need to come out.

I firmly believe this. I had to write the most personal story I’ve ever written, because I had to get it down, somehow. That doesn’t mean that I need to show it to anyone, or that I should suck it up and edit it so I can publish it. Not everything we write has to be shared. Sometimes, we just need space to come clean.

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Do you struggle with feeling like a fraud as a writer? How has writing helped you cope with life? Let’s share tips in the comments!

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#MentalHealthMonday | Is laughter the best medicine?

#Mental Health Monday is a (sometimes) weekly discussion series I discovered through Wendy @ what the log had to say. To see more of my thoughts on mental health, check here.

**Trigger Warning: Discussion of self-harm and suicide.**

When it comes to mental health issues, we all have different ways of dealing with it.

I tend to rely on daily journaling to release and deconstruct any problematic thought patterns arising throughout the day. At various points throughout my life, though, I’ve turned to other sources to find relief from depression. One thing that’s remained constant: the ability to laugh my way through it.

I grew up in a family of jokesters.

Sarcasm is basically my second native language, and I’m fairly positive my dad is the originator of the Dad Joke. My whole family has long-running jokes about everything from my dad and his compulsive organization streak to how we plan to all be in the same nursing home together so we can have wheelchair races. Humor is just…how we are.

While I’m still a huge goofball, there’s also a part of me that’s a little more sensitive, that maybe doesn’t appreciate certain kinds of humor. I’m always wary, though, of being called out on being too serious“why do you have to take everything so seriously all the time? We’re just trying to have fun!”

When it comes to jokes about mental health, I’m not sure where I stand.

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@stigma_resistant gives me life on instagram

Growing up with depression, I got really good at self-deprecating humor. I found that if I was able to poke fun at my own outlandish emotions, others were better able to handle me and what I was going through. It made my depression less terrifying for all of us.

Sometimes joking about mental health issues gets us talking about it, which is better than nothing.

I’d like to say I grew out of that, but that would be a total lie. While over-dramatic and incredibly insensitive on one level, joking about my mental health has made it easier for me to ease into conversations about how I’m really feeling.

Is laughter the best medicine?

The folks behind The Hilarious World of Depression have built an entire podcast around this question. In each episode, host John Moe interviews various comedians on their experiences with mental health. As it turns out, some of the funniest people struggle with depression, anxiety, OCD, and more. These comedians talk about their past, as well as how humor itself has helped them.

When I was at my darkest, listening to this podcast helped me feel less alone. Sometimes, learning to laugh about the worst parts of life can help me get out from under the cloud of Depression Brain so I can see my problems more realistically.

At the same time, I’m guilty of making jokes at the expense of my mental health a little too often.

Especially at work, I often make jokes like, “I’m just going to go cry over the state of my workload for a minute” or “one of these days I’m just going to hang myself in the stockroom.” None of these things are truly funny when they’re happening to you. While I might feel better making it into a joke, the feelings are usually still there. What’s worse, I could be triggering someone else’s suicidal thoughts by treating the situation like it’s a joke. Suicide isn’t a joke.

Similarly, I find myself using the word “crazy” to describe anything…

from the ridiculousness of a customer who’s impossible to help to the inconsiderate nature of Oklahoma drivers. This one is so insidious that I don’t even notice it’s happening anymore. Which is weird, considering I get mildly upset when I’m reading a book and a character calls another character crazy. Words like crazy have been used against people with mental illnesses for ages, and throwing it around any which way isn’t going to make it any less harmful when it’s used against us.

Ultimately, humor has helped me get through tough times, there’s no doubt about it.

But joking about mental health just gives people less of a reason to take us seriously when we’re in trouble. I vividly remember trying to tell one of my best friends that I’d attempted self-harm and having him assume I was joking—because making a joke about self-harm fit into his understanding of who I was more than the fact of me actually cutting myself.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who takes everything super seriously and sucks the joy out of life. But I also don’t want to contribute to the way the rest of the world sees mental health: as something we do to ourselves, rather than something that beats us down until we feel powerless.

So I’m going to try to stop making a joke out of my mental health, not only for myself, but for my mental health warrior siblings out there.

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What is your take on mental health humor? Do you think laughter is the best medicine, or do you think jokes just detract from the seriousness of mental health issues? Let me know what you think!

 

#MentalHealthMonday | Childhood Mental Health Issues, Then & Now

#Mental Health Monday is a (sometimes) weekly discussion series I discovered through Wendy @ what the log had to say. To see more of my posts on this topic, check here.

The topic of childhood mental health crosses my mind quite a lot. Up until pretty recently, I’d never considered myself a depressed kid. Yet, in considering my childhood as an adult, there were definitely signs that, at the time, neither myself nor my family really recognized.

I grew up in the 1990s, before mental health awareness was much of a thing.

By the time I reached fifth grade, I really struggled to bond with peers. I felt constantly excluded in tiny ways that couldn’t really be pin-pointed. I dreaded going to school so much that I vividly remember breaking down in tears one morning, much to my mother’s confusion.

I got special permission to go see the elementary school counselor once a week, but I don’t really remember us talking much about my issues. At no point was I told, “hey, you’re depressed, and that’s okay, it just means that sometimes you take things a little harder than other kids.”

Because I didn’t have a firm self-concept at that age, I became obsessed with making other kids like me in middle school. Then, in high school, I became really bitter about the fact that other kids didn’t understand or appreciate who I was. I felt invisible, which just contributed to my depression further. It was in high school that I finally got a label for my problem: depression.

How have things changed for kids and mental health?

While I don’t have children, I do have an eight-year-old niece, E. Because E’s parents divorced when she was five and she now splits her time between Mom’s and Dad’s, she understandably has some emotional stuff to work through that she probably can’t even fully process right now.

I recently found out, however, that E has been seeing the school counselor and that her mom has been informed that E has anxiety. I’m reasonably sure that E does exhibit some anxiety symptoms; I’m also reasonably sure that this counselor probably hasn’t done an official diagnosis. E is eight years old and has gone through some things that would surely qualify as trauma. I also know that depression and anxiety run in E’s family—because both my brother and myself have struggled with depression pretty much our whole lives.

What concerns me, when it comes to my niece, but more broadly with kids across America, is that we’re becoming a little too quick to diagnose young mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The major benefit of a diagnosis is that a doctor can prescribe medications—the same drugs that aren’t usually prescribed to people under 18. My question is: what’s the point of labeling children who haven’t even hit puberty yet? Why subject my bright, creative niece to a stigma that doesn’t help her deal with her problems?

Labels aren’t the answer, but more can be done to help kids with potential mental health issues.

After all, I survived adolescent depression, but not every kid does. 13 Reasons Why might be controversial for many reasons, but the one thing it did is remind the public that teen angst can mask mental health struggles. Instead of writing off these kids as angsty, or labeling them with an illness or even just “Trouble,” what if adults took it upon themselves to give kids better tools to manage the stress of being an adolescent? What if—hang with me now—adults actually took kids and teenagers and their problems seriously in a way that prioritizes actually helping them manage better?

What I’m getting at is this: YA and Middle Grade books have a responsibility to their readers. These books have a duty to reflect real experiences, whether it’s just the struggle of being socially awkward and not fitting in with classmates, or to deal with minor or major trauma that growing up can cause. Beyond that, though, these books have a responsibility to show kids how to manage these issues.

Writers, myself included, have a responsibility to our readers. Teachers, my future self included, have an opportunity to provide more than just a curriculum, but actual tools for life.

If we don’t take childhood mental health seriously while prioritizing helping kids succeed, who will?

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I realize this has been a long and rambling post that probably could’ve been more than one post, but I’d love to know your thoughts.

If you struggle with your mental health, how do you feel about diagnosis? If you were diagnosed, how old were you? Did you struggle with similar issues growing up? How do you feel about labeling kids early vs. late?

What are your favorite YA or MG books that talk about mental health?

I’d love for you to join the conversation, and if you think mental health is important, please share this post. As always, thanks for reading!