S is for (Books About) Suicide #atozchallenge

For A to Z 2018, my theme is Books About ____. If you’re stopping by from your own A to Z blog, feel free to leave a link. If you need help with how to do that, you can look here.

If you’re someone looking to read a lot of great blogs, here’s the link for the A to Z challenge.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about suicide and suicidal thoughts. I love that the topic is getting more interest, that books and movies are generating more conversations about it. I don’t love that a lot of the information out there is false. Here are my thoughts on a few books on the topic.

Why People Die By Suicide, by Thomas Joiner (psychology): After his father committed suicide, Thomas Joiner set out to learn all he could about the topic. This book is accessible to people even without a background in psychology and mixes research with personal experience. It’s a fantastic and important book.

All The Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven (YA): Theodore and Violet are both struggling with suicidal thoughts. Violet, after the death of her sister, Theodore because of his depression. The two teens fall into a tumultuous relationship. I loved this book because it shows the path that suicidal thoughts can take, how they can grab a person and drag them down. However, this book could be triggering to someone actually struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. It’s fantastic but be cautious about reading it. (Spoiler alert: it’s not a happy ending)

13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (YA): I debated whether or not to talk about this book because I could devote an entire blog post to it (and maybe I should). As an adult who isn’t struggling with suicidal ideation, I loved it. It’s an entertaining (but dark) read. Previous coworkers who work with teens have said teens have cited this book as a reason they attempted suicide. But let’s be honest… there’s always something that’s going to be the trigger. The two major specific problems with this book are that it made it seem like there’s no point in asking for help, and that suicide is an effective way to revenge yourself on those who’ve wronged you. It’s a good book for insight into the mind of someone contemplating suicide, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide. Teens who read it should have someone to discuss and process the book with. I won’t say teens shouldn’t read it because, other than suicide, it touches on topics of bullying and sexual assault, things I think teens need to be encouraged to talk openly about with adults. But… use caution.

So that’s it for me. Are there any books about suicide you’d recommend?

10 Best Fiction Books About Mental Illness

IMG_8691May is National Mental Health month. If you’ve been a subscriber of this blog for awhile, you know that I’m passionate about destigmatizing and discussing mental health. I like writing about characters who struggle with mental health issues. In fact, I have a novella coming to E&GJ Little Press soon about a man struggling to deal with a mentally ill woman he once loved. Stay tuned…

Memoirs aside, my main problem with mental health in fiction is that it’s not portrayed well. Often times, the mentally ill character is frightening, or a caricature. But I shouldn’t complain, because at least authors are trying to portray these characters in a positive light. We’re all talking about mental illness, which isn’t something we did in the past. But I caution you to use stories as a bridge to discussing mental illness. Don’t assume you know what someone’s going through, just because you read about it. Even if it is accurate, everyone’s experience of mental health is different.

I’ve taken this opportunity to list my 10 favorite books that portray fictional characters with mental illnesses. In no particular order…

  1. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Naess Thirteen-year old Conor has a monster come to visit him, and helps him deal with grief over his mother’s illness. This story was great because it shows how people can grieve before an event happens. So often, we think of grief as a discrete event, occurring after a loved one dies, and having an ending point. Through the story, this demonstrated that grief can begin in anticipation of a loss. Genre: Young adult
  2. All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven Violet and Theodore are on opposite ends of the social spectrum, but are both contemplating suicide. They become friends and start a project together. It’s told in dual point of view, and both of them are heartbreaking. But as one of them starts to recover, the other gets worse. It’s a powerful, haunting story. Genre: Young adult, but may not be appropriate for all teens
  3. Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon Maddy can’t leave the house because she’s literally allergic to everything. Olly moves in next door, and Maddy watches him, getting more and more interested in his life. They become friends, first messaging, and eventually, Maddy risks her life to meet him in person. I can’t tell you why this book is about mental health without spoiling the ending; but trust me, it’s not a rip-off ending where Maddy’s crazy and everything’s a dream. It’s fantastic. Genre: Young adult
  4. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell Cath struggles with anxiety. So much anxiety. When she goes to college, she expects to live with her twin sister, but her sister wants them to meet new people. At first, Cath makes it to class, but can’t even go eat dinner alone. But eventually, she makes friends and some of her anxiety eases up. And, like real life, Cath isn’t the only person in her family who’s struggling. Genre: Young adult
  5. The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick I talked about this one during my A to Z blog, so I’ll be brief. But I liked this one because Pat just got out of the mental hospital and is learning how to live, and his romantic interest, Tiffany is strange and does unexpected things. But they find something in one another that’s important and lovely. Genre: General
  6. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher This book (and the TV series on Netflix, which I haven’t seen) have become very controversial recently. Books about suicidal characters are nothing new, but this book is under fire because it’s about a girl named Hannah who leaves tapes for 13 people, explaining how they contributed to her suicide. Some people who kill themselves want revenge against people who wronged them, and Hannah gets it. There’s also a part where she tries to get help, but the counselor brushes her off. It’s portrayed as if Hannah did everything she could have to get help (though she doesn’t). I debated about putting this book on the list. I liked it, but I’m an adult without suicidal thoughts, and not going to be triggered by a book like this. For a teen who’s contemplating suicide, this could be a dangerous book. If you like dark books, this is an excellent one, and it does a good job of showing how bullying can contribute to suicide. But it’s definitely not for everyone. Genre: Technically Young Adult, but not appropriate for all teens
  7. All Around the Town by Mary Higgins Clark  Laurie is kidnapped as a small child, and returned years later. She leads a normal life until after her parents die, when her history of trauma from being kidnapped and her subsequent dissociative identity disorder come to the surface. Honestly, I don’t know how good of a depiction of dissociative identity disorder this is. I’ve never worked intensively with someone with the disorder. From what I’ve read about the disorder, the book seems well-researched and legitimately portrayed. In any case, I love this book. Genre: Thriller
  8. 600 Hours of Edward, by Craig Lancaster Edward has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. His life is a set routine. When a new neighbor with a nine-year-old son move in, things change for him. At first, he struggles with the change, but over 600 hours, his life becomes different and better. I liked this book because of the way it portrayed his OCD. Too many books and movies just go for obsessive cleaning, but the disorder is about so much more than that. It’s a fast read, and I loved all the characters. I especially loved how the neighbor, at first, reacted to Edward with fear. Because that’s what would happen in real life, and the book doesn’t shy away from ugly truths. Genre: General
  9. The Silver Link, the Silken Tie, by Mildred Ames This is one of my all time favorite books. I just randomly found it at a flea market one day, and it seemed interesting, so I picked it up. Tim has always felt out of place, ever since a family tragedy that he feels responsible for. Felice has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an orphan, and an outcast among her peers. When the two of them are thrown together, working on the school newspaper, they absolutely hate each other at first. Though they don’t fit in anywhere else, they find that maybe they fit together. Genre: Speculative Young Adult
  10. Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock This is a book about two girls who experience abuse from their father. The sisters decide to run away from home to escape the abuse… the ending is one you won’t forget. This is a fantastic, underrated book. Genre: General

If you’ve read any of these, did you like them? Why or why not?

On Wednesday, I’ll post my list of best non-fiction books about mental illness.

 

How My Former Bullies Are Doing Now

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Halloween 2015

We weren’t friends.  I knew her since elementary school because we rode the bus together.  I distinctly remember her bullying me a time or two.

In high school, she left me alone.  I don’t think we ever had a real conversation.

She friended me on Facebook, and I accepted.  Since then, she’s been open about her struggle with depression, which makes sense in light of my memories of her and what I know now about the link between depression and anger in kids.

A few years ago, I posted pictures of a Halloween party I had when I was 10 on Facebook.  Recently, this girl commented on the photo that she remembered the party and that she had such a good time.

I am positive that she was not there.

I have no doubt that she remembers being there.  It’s clear to me that she wants to belong, is seeking out positive memories to help her get through the day.  My first thought was to argue with her and let her know that she wasn’t there; I like to be “right” sometimes too.

But then I thought about it and wondered why I should spoil a good memory she has, even if she’s not correct.  She’s not a bully anymore.  She’s a person struggling to live her life as best as she can.  So, why should it matter to me if she has good memories of a party she wasn’t invited to?

I wasn’t a popular kid.  I was a weird kid, who was usually too buried in books or my own imagination to notice how not popular I was.  The only time I gave it much thought was when people picked on me.

It makes me wonder, if in some way, this girl wanted to be my friend.  Because honestly, I wouldn’t have noticed that either.  But whether she was someone who picked on me because she was unhappy, or someone who picked on me because she wanted me to notice her, it doesn’t much matter to me.  It’s all long since forgiven.

As a side note, I’ve had a few people who bullied me as a kid end up friending me on Facebook.  And I find it interesting that all of them struggle with depression.  They all talk about not wanting to be judged for their struggles.

Keep that in mind next time you hear about a kid who’s bullying someone else.  I know that most of us react that we want to slap that bully down and put them in their place.  But is that really the best approach for everyone involved?

I’m not scarred from the bullying that happened to me.  It also wasn’t that bad, overall.  Not compared to what you hear about nowadays.  And I didn’t have to deal with cyberbullying because it didn’t exist back then.  So I’m not saying that bullying can’t be quite bad and scarring.  But in my case, I believe that it made me stronger, less reactive.  I have thick skin, but I also try to be understanding of people who don’t.  Because I’ve been there.

Have you ever been bullied?  Have you reconnected with any of your bullies?  Did it change your thoughts about them in any way?

I Know How Lucky I Am

Phoenix Art Museum; Photo Credit: RJS Photography

Phoenix Art Museum; Photo Credit: RJS Photography

I was mostly born without the sadness gene.

Over the holidays, I saw some people posting about how they were sad or depressed , and it’s hard for me to grasp that.  I’m a therapist; it should make sense to me.  But it just doesn’t.

There’s so much cool stuff on this planet.  I have my dogs and cats.  I love looking at the stars, watching the sun rise, hiking in the desert.  When I lived in PA, I walked in the woods and discovered the spring that ran through the mountain.  I could spend an hour looking at the roots of a fallen tree.  My life is endlessly fascinating.  I’m seldom bored, and even less often depressed.

I don’t mean to say I never have a bad day or have never gone through a bad time; I have.  It’s just that I don’t tend to get bogged down.  I believe that in large part, we make our own luck.  So, if I’m going to make good luck, I have to send positive vibes out into the universe.  Which is usually why I try to see the positive in things and be happy where I am.

In 2006, my grandfather died.  He was one of my favorite people in the world, and losing him was huge.  My grandpa ran an antique shop, and was very close to his employees.  One of them, a woman I didn’t know well, was helping do all the stuff that needs to be done when someone dies.  No matter what I was assigned, my response was, “That’s okay.  We’ll get it done.”  At one point she exploded at me, “Don’t you ever say anything else?”  I hadn’t realized before then how annoying my attitude could be.

The thing is, that is my attitude in most situations.  I was sad that he’d died, and I still miss him, but being miserable wasn’t going to bring him back.  I’m just grateful that I have so many wonderful memories of him, and that I had such a great relationship with him.  In any situation, there are many choices.  I generally choose to accept.

I’m not saying that everyone can do this.  Like I said, I really believe that our ability to be happy is in part how we’re wired.  For me, being positive comes easily.  But I can’t read or follow directions (they get jumbled in my head).  I don’t like exercise and can get so involved in books that I don’t do anything else for days on end.  But, I think that differences are what make people interesting.  I have to work harder than other people so I don’t gain weight.  I also have to work harder to stay tuned in when I’m talking to people outside of work.  But I do work at these things.  Just like some people need to work harder than others to be happy.  But I believe that happy and positive can be habits, just like anything else.

I had a nice interaction at work the other day that reminded me that we don’t have any idea of our impact on others.  I was chatting with another woman and made a comment that was meaningless to me, but it touched her and made her feel that I cared.  Her face relaxed (she had looked tense before) and said, “Thank you for being you.”

What a nice thing to be thanked for.  My response should have been, “Thank you for noticing.”

N is for Nightmares and New Experiences

I very seldom remember my dreams, and I seldom have nightmares.  I’m happy about that because when I was much younger, I had nightmares all the time.  Still, I do miss some of the odd stuff that pops out of my subconscious in dreams and nightmares.  One of my novels came out of a recurring nightmare I had about getting lost in a room with too many doors.

There’s a really great book by Andrea Rock called The Mind at Night: The new science of how and why we dream.  The book suggests that nightmares are the brain’s way of processing emotion.  They did studies that suggested that people who had certain types of nightmares actually worked through depression and anxiety faster than people who didn’t.  So if you’re someone who has nightmares, it may be adaptive, rather than maladaptive.

On a totally unrelated topic, I also wanted to talk about new experiences.  I like to do all sorts of different things, as long as I have someone with me.  That’s right folks!  Even though I’m an extreme introvert (or maybe because of it), I don’t like to do anything new unless there’s someone with me.  I’m always afraid of looking dumb in public, and because I’m such an introvert (and a know it all), I hate to actually ask anyone how to do things.  On a bad day, I’ve been known to turn down help when offered because “no thanks” has fewer words than a question.  Unfortunately, I’m being quite serious.

I would say I’ll work on this, but then I’d be lying, and I hate to lie for no reason.  ‘Nuff said!

M is for Mental Illness

Readers of this blog will know that by day, I’m a Mobile Crisis Therapist.  By night, I’m a writer of the weird and wacky.  I have a lot of experience with mental illness, both in my job and with people that I know and love.

A lot of people I meet have a number of misconceptions about mental illness, and I’d like to take a moment to look at some of the more common ones I see.

1.  If you’re mentally ill, you’re “crazy.”-  Not true.  People with mental illness often have a chemical imbalance in the brain causing cognitive and emotional disturbances.  An estimated 46% of adults will struggle with some type of mental illness in the course of their lives(NIMH, 2005).  This can range from a temporary depression or anxiety to more serious disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

2.  Most people who are mentally ill are drug addicts, and that’s why they’re crazy.- Not really.  Many people who struggle with mental illness do turn to drugs as a way of self-medicating.  They feel horrible all the time and need some way to escape it.  Because many people are undereducated about mental illness, it can be hard to know where to get help.  Families and friends often want their loved one to get over it, and they can’t.  Drug use can cause mental health like symptoms, but most people who get addicted to drugs started as a way to feel better.  And let’s face it, most people don’t do drugs unless they’re looking for an escape and a way out.

3.  If I take medication, that’s like giving up.-  So not true!  There are many people walking around right now who have struggled with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or an addiction, and you’d never even know it.  People take medication as a way to regulate their brain chemistry, and I believe it works best in conjunction with a therapist they trust.  It can be hard to feel better.  Let’s face it; most of us can’t afford a tropical vacation or time at a spa.  We still have to work, shop for groceries, drive on the road and not get killed.  Taking medication temporarily or permanently can be a way to manage those thoughts and feelings.  You’d take medication for high blood pressure or diabetes, wouldn’t you?

I’d like to see mental illness and addiction addressed in fiction.  Let’s face it, with 46% of the population struggling with a mental illness at some point, it makes sense that it would touch a main character’s life.  And notice, the term I use is “mental illness.”  If you’re ill, you can get better.  A mental illness isn’t a death sentence.  It’s just one more thing in life to deal with.

I’m done for now.  I’ve included the link of my source to the NIMH and for the National Association for Mental Illness, if you’re interested in additional reading.  Coming up in the very near future, I’m going to write a top 10 list about the best books about mental illness.

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1ANYDIS_ADULT.shtml

http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=about_mental_illness

Depressed

It was quite a few years ago that I was really depressed.  The problem was that I didn’t realize I was depressed until I looked back at it years later.

I had a really bad year or so from late 2003 to 2004 and beyond.  It started in November 2003 when my husband lost his job.  Over the next 6 months, both his parents had died (in their 50s), my family stopped talking to me, we moved, and I got a newer, more stressful job.  For the next couple of years, I walked around in a daze.  I was just going through the motions of life, but I didn’t really seem to enjoy anything.  I was tired all the time.  It was like the world had turned from color to sepia and I didn’t even know it.

After a couple years of being a grumpy pessimist who saw the worst in everything, I woke up one day around my birthday and realized that I hated my attitude.  I had started saying things like, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade… but I’m all out of sugar.”  As ridiculous as it sounds, one day after I said that, I thought, “But if I were really out of sugar, I’d just go to the store and get more.  There’s always more sugar somewhere.”  That thought kept me going when I didn’t feel like being more cheerful.  I realized that I just had to keep looking for my sugar.

It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually I got my positive, cheerful attitude back.  I became myself again, and hopefully a newer, more improved version of myself.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had been depressed.  When I was going through it, I had no idea, and because I had moved and my family wasn’t speaking to me, I had no one around me to remind me that who I was wasn’t who I had been.

Since then, I’ve moved again, found a job I love, and reconciled with my family.  Things are better now, but they didn’t get better on their own.  I could have chosen to still be miserable, but I didn’t.  I had to change my attitude first.