#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.

joshua-coleman-623077-unsplash
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.

post divider 2

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.

post signature

Advertisements

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

Hello bookish friends! Welcome back to Lady Gets Lit!

IMG_0110

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.

post divider 1

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

post divider 2

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!

post signature

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!

gray ipod classic
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.

post divider 2

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!

post signature

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.

IMG_4007

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.

post divider 2

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!

post signature

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.

fullsizeoutput_2bb5

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

#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.

fullsizeoutput_2bc3
@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.

fullsizeoutput_2bb5

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?

linegraphic1

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!