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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Why I’m Embracing My Love of Self-Help Books + My Recommendations

Hello bookish friends! Welcome back to Lady Gets Lit!

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Today I’m bringing you another bookish discussion! One of my goals this year is to write more discussion posts, whether it’s about books, writing, or mental health.

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to Self-Help books.

When I was about ten years old, I went through this phase where I was obsessed with Chicken Soup for the Soul. I read the one for kids, then I read the one for pet owners, then I read the one for pre-teens, then I read the one for teens (which definitely scarred me a little bit). Why did I love these books so much? Because as cliched as the feelings were, they rang true to some extent. Reading them was cathartic in a way I didn’t know how to articulate.

I’ve been in the closet about my love of Self-Help (or, as we call it at work now, Personal Growth) books for a long time.

As I got older, I started to realize how these types of books essentially say the same thing in a variety of ways. In some ways, Self-Help capitalizes on human emotions and struggles. These authors claim to have all the answers to the problems of being human, yet most of their advice boils down to things we could figure out on our own.

More than that, Self-Help gets a bad rap as being pretty hokey, encouraging you to live like you’re already rich, manifest your own destiny, and other (potentially harmful) ideas. As someone who grew up Christian, these ideas sound a lot like the oft-touted “pray about it!” that appears in religious circles. Some of these solutions aren’t necessarily practical for most people.

For a long time, I resisted the pull of Self-Help. Instead, I went to therapy, I made compulsive to-do lists, and I asked a lot from myself. And then, on a whim—and because I could read it for free—I picked up You Are A Badass.

Jen Sincero’s book didn’t change my life. I read through it pretty quickly, and while I found myself nodding along at certain points, I didn’t necessarily buy into all of what she says. Most of the advice is recycled and reformatted from what other writers have said time and time again. Additionally, much of her advice erases the experiences of people dealing with mental health issues; for instance, she insists on having a positive attitude, which is nearly impossible for me when I’m in the midst of a depressive episode.

I didn’t love You Are A Badass, but it did spur me on to read more.

Here’s the thing: there’s a reason Personal Growth books are so popular—because many people are always looking for ways to become better than they are currently.

There’s a lot of unhelpful, cheap trash in the Self-Help genre. It’s not always possible to quit that job you hate, to treat yourself like you’re already as wealthy as you hope to be. Not everyone can (or should) manifest their own destiny.

And yet, there’s a lot of hope in these books. There’s a lot of wise advice that is only repetitive because, for many of us, it takes repeating for it to really sink in.

So I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned along the way—even if it’s cheesy and repetitive. Because I’m done living in the closet with my love of Self-Help / Personal Growth.

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things I’ve learned from self-help books

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled – Life sucks, but once we accept that life is hard, it ceases to be hard.

Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird – You will never achieve success or happiness as a writer if you only write out of the hope of becoming published. You have to love writing, otherwise it’s not worth it.

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness – The key to mindfulness is to try and be fully present with whatever it is that you’re doing—even if it’s washing the dishes.

Jen Sincero, You Are A Badass – Don’t let anyone else define your self-worth, and don’t waste your time chasing external validation.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way – I am allowed to nurture myself.

Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – You can’t possible care about everything, so choose your values wisely and don’t waste your time on what’s not valuable to you.

Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, Make Time – There’s power in choosing one thing each day that you’re going to focus on and then setting aside time specifically to do that. Also, delete all the distracting crap off your phone.

Erin Falconer, How to Get Sh*t Done – Beyond just getting clear about what you want (not what other people want), narrow your goals to three big things. You can’t possibly do more than that, but if you’re specific about your Big Three, you can focus your energy on accomplishing them.

Rachel Hollis, Girl, Wash Your Face – When you make promises to yourself that you can’t keep, you’re training yourself that your words don’t matter, and that you don’t matter. Stop lying to yourself.

bonus: self-help books on my TBR

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Do you read Self-Help books? Who are your go-to authors for inspiration? Are you a closet fan of a category of books? I’d love to hear from you!

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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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Review | Paperweight by Meg Haston

Note: this is a backlist review from my previous blog. This review contains mild spoilers.

Trigger Warnings: disordered eating, severe depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts

CM+BBLnvSoabTrazcJYScQ17-year-old Stevie is convinced that the only way she can atone for past mistakes is by killing herself on the anniversary of her brother’s death. When her dad checks her into an eating disorder treatment center, the anniversary is 27 days away, so Stevie knows she won’t make it through the full treatment. In fact, in the beginning, she refuses to believe that she needs help—in her mind, the only solution to the pain she’s shoved away inside is for her to die.

Paperweight is not a light-hearted contemporary. It’s the most realistic portrayal of not only anorexia/bulimia, but of pure, self-hating, suicidal depression that I’ve ever encountered.

By immersing the reader inside Stevie’s perspective, alternating the present day treatment center narrative with memories of what led her down this road in the first place, Meg Haston shows how eating disorders are about so much more than food, and adds a mystery element that builds suspense throughout. This is also one of those rare books where not a single sentence is wasted, where the gorgeous language itself is enough to keep you reading.

I’m not usually a fan of the hospital narrative in mental illness books.

They often become a way of dramaticizing or even romanticizing mental illness. Not everyone who’s struggling with depression, eating disorders, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc. winds up in a treatment facility. Some folks struggle along on their own—some folks die in that struggle—and other folks don’t have the luxury of a nice facility like the one Stevie has in Paperweight. And yet, two things really made this work for me: the balancing of the present/past narration and the portrayal of the individuals both in therapy and the professionals at Stevie’s treatment center.

the past/present narrative

As the story progresses, Stevie recalls various moments in her life that led her not only to her eating disorder but to her desire to kill herself. Less than two years ago, her mother abandoned the family to move to Paris and start a new life. Stevie blames herself for this loss, believing that if she had just been skinnier, had more self-control over food, her mother wouldn’t have left.

Stevie also believes herself responsible for her brother’s death, which is a big reason she wants to kill herself on the anniversary. She’s never really connected with other girls for reasons she struggles to explain, until she meets Eden, an older, glamorous girl. Eden encourages Stevie’s growing with binge drinking led, which leads to binge eating and purging. Her older brother, Josh, is the only one who notices Stevie losing weight.

All of this not only adds suspense to an otherwise emotionally-driven novel, but it also reveals clues about Stevie’s illness. Controlling food and losing weight are the ways she seeks control and power over her situation, and her brother’s death (which, by the way, is actually an accident and not her fault at all) acts as the catalyst to some serious depression and suicidal thoughts.

Stevie literally wants to starve herself—she wants to disappear, to cease to exist. She desperately wants to take up less space, which is is tied in with her mother’s abandonment. Like many of us with depression, Stevie believes herself to be unworthy of good things, unworthy of life itself. This is self-hatred at its most dangerous, particularly when tied in with her eating disorder.

treatment center realism

In the beginning, Stevie resists her therapist, whom she calls Shrink, but ultimately the two develop a beautiful patient-therapist relationship (something I can’t recall seeing before in this kind of narrative). Rather than crafting the stereotypical overbearing, misunderstanding therapist who spouts cliches, Haston complicates this presentation. “Shrink” aka Anna has a personality of her own, and while she does spout cliches, she ultimately is able to really help Stevie.

Even the other girls in treatment with Stevie have unique characters: they all ended up here for different reasons, from one girl who’s older brother abused her in childhood to another girl who doesn’t even have a big reason that she has an eating disorder. Despite Stevie’s unwillingness to participate in treatment at all, we slowly see her coming around, both through her therapy sessions with Anna, and through her friendship with her roommate, Ashley.

I love the way Haston portrays the recovery process. It’s so easy to write a story about someone who goes from totally suicidal to totally “fixed” by the end of the story. Rather, Haston writes the honest truth about recovery: it’s a long, brutal road, filled with temptations, because eating disorders (and depression) are not something that can be “cured” like the flu. Books like this go a long way toward destigmatizing what it’s really like to live with a mental illness, not just “suffer” from one and then get better.

full disclosure: This book could be very triggering!

particularly if you’re struggling with depression, self-harm/suicidal thoughts, or an eating disorder. Mostly, I recommend this book to folks who’ve never struggled with depression or eating disorders. Read this with an open mind, allow yourself to feel what Stevie feels, and you’ll be a lot closer to understanding what these disorders really do to a person.

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Have you read Paperweight? What is your favorite book with realistic mental health representation? Let me know your thoughts!