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?

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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.

 

Y is for Y (Why) People Die By Suicide

Unknown-10The end of the alphabet is always tough.  I could only find one book starting with a “Y” that I’d actually read, and it didn’t affect me in any way.

This book was one of the many on my “W” list, and when it occurred to me that I could get creative and use it, I was thrilled.  This is a book that I feel very passionately that more people should read.

Why People Die by Suicide, by Thomas Joiner, is a book that was recommended to me when I started my job as a crisis therapist.  It opened my eyes to so many of the reasons that people attempt suicide.

There are a lot of myths about suicide.  We saw that after the death of Robin Williams.  People had opinions.  Many people expressed that he was selfish or cowardly.  It’s easier to believe that, I suppose.

The truth is that when people die by suicide, they often feel that they’re doing a good thing for their friends and family.  They honestly feel that others will be better off without them.

Suicide touches the lives of many people, and I think it’s important to talk about it, de-stigmatize it.  Talking about it gives us all power.  Plus, as I learned while working crisis, you never know when talking to someone frankly about what they’re dealing with can help them to make a less permanent decision.

Suicide is a permanent reaction to a temporary problem.

This is an accessible book for anyone who’s interested in learning more about this topic.  The clinical psychologist who wrote it started asking the question after someone in his family died from suicide.  The information is tied into research, but there are also anecdotes and

This book helped me gain a better understanding of this topic, but it also helped me be more empathetic.  It’s hard for most people to understand what goes through the mind of someone who chooses to die, which is what makes books like this one so important.

Understanding, love, compassion are all things the world could use a little more of.

 

Tales from Jerome

This past weekend, my mom and I went to Jerome.  I knew she’d love it because I did, and we tend to have the same kind of taste when it comes to that stuff.

Sunrise view from our hotel; Photo credit: Doree Weller

Sunrise view from our hotel; Photo credit: Doree Weller

I was there a year and a half ago with my husband, and I loved it then too.  But I “see” different things depending on who I’m with.

The Grand Hotel, high on the hill; Photo Credit Doree Weller

The Grand Hotel, high on the hill; Photo Credit Doree Weller

My mom and I stayed at the Grand Hotel.  It sits high on the hill above the town and is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in Jerome.  We did a ghost tour, and went from boiler room to 4th floor and heard tales of suicides and a potential murder.

See, Jerome was a mining town from the 1900s, and the Grand Hotel was the United Verde Hospital, built in 1926.  They had an emergency room, a psych ward, and later, a maternity ward.  The hospital was shut down for years, until it was purchased and renovated into a hotel.  They tried to keep it quiet that there were ghosts, but people kept asking, so in 1998, they went public and started giving tours.

During the tour, Chris, the owner’s nephew, gave out EMFs, laser thermometers, and digital cameras.  I had a camera and got a few orbs, but nothing terribly exciting.  Something banged in the boiler room at a dramatic point in the story, but it could have just been coincidence.  It probably was… right?

So what do you think?  Orb?  Speck of dust?

So what do you think? Orb? Speck of dust?

After the tour, my mom was determined to encounter a ghost, so she talked to them and kept prompting them to talk to her.  Chris said people could borrow the equipment for the night, so we borrowed an EMF and thermometer.  But still… nothing.

After my mom fell asleep, I started to hear an odd rattling.  We had already been there the night before, and I hadn’t heard anything like that.  It wasn’t like a cell-phone-on-vibrate-rattle (and besides, neither of us missed any calls).  I bought a book, Arizona Ghost Stories, by Antonio R. Garcez from the gift shop.  In the book, someone mentioned hearing a squeaking noise, as if from an old hospital cart being pushed down the hall.  Yeah… I heard that.  It also felt like something nudged the bed, hard, about three or four times.  So, I’m pretty sure I had a run in with a ghost, and it felt playful rather than malicious, as if they were joking around with me since my mom had been so eager to make contact.

In my opinion, no trip to Jerome is complete without a stop to Nellie Bly, the kaleidoscope shop.  So we did that and I bought myself a new and fun kaleidoscope (or three) and then came home to my ghost free environment.

Have you ever encountered a ghost?

National Suicide Prevention Week

image_galleryThis is National Suicide Prevention Week.  I realize this is pretty heavy for a blog about writing, but I think it’s important enough to talk about.  We need to talk more about suicide, mental health, and substance abuse.  These issues shouldn’t hide in the dark where no one can help.

According to the American Association of Suicidology, in 2010, 105 people died from suicide every day.  It is the third leading cause of death of 15 to 24 year olds.  Suicide is a huge problem, but it’s one that no one really likes to talk too much or think about.  I know this for a fact, since I talk about it regularly in my day job.

There are a lot of myths about suicide, so I just want to talk about a few I personally hear a lot.

1.  If someone is talking about suicide, they’re not going to do it.  Not true.  Most people do talk about suicide before they attempt.  Not everyone, but most people.

2.  It’s attention seeking.  (I hear this one, especially with kids).  Sure, it might be attention seeking, but if someone is going to that drastic of a measure to get attention, then pay attention.  Besides, people can hurt themselves by accident.  Just because it started out attention seeking doesn’t mean they can’t get hurt.

3.  You can’t stop someone from killing themselves if they really want to.  Not really true.  Usually, people who attempt suicide don’t really want to die (though they feel like they do in that moment).  Really, they’re in pain and want to make the pain to stop any way they can.

4.  You should never ask someone about suicide because you don’t want to put the thought in their mind.  Trust me.  You’re not putting the thought in their head.  If someone is thinking about it, it may be a relief to have someone care enough to ask.  And if someone’s not thinking about it, they’re not going to start just because you cared enough to ask the question.

5.  Someone who has attempted before won’t try again.  Actually, previous attempts are one of the biggest risk factors for trying to commit suicide, so they may try again at some point.

Everyone can do their part to prevent suicide.  If someone you care about seems depressed or you get the sense that something is off, ask questions.  Lots of people have suicidal thoughts but would never act on them.  It’s not crazy or weird.  Sometimes life is just hard.  Some people have suicidal thoughts and will act.  There are plenty of people out there who want to help.

Here’s the number for Hopeline, a national suicide prevention hotline.  1-800-442-HOPE.  Keep the number handy… you never know when you might want to pass it on.

Cutting

I often try to talk about mental health issues.  I’m passionate about de-stigmatizing mental health issues and raising awareness.  The fact is that these issues are not going away; in fact, in many ways, I believe they’re getting worse.

Cutting isn’t new.  It was around when I was a teen, but few people knew what it was back then.  Nowadays, many teachers know to keep an eye out for it, but I think many parents are still in the dark.

Cutting is a way that some adolescents use to relieve stress.  They feel so much emotional pain that they want to make it into something manageable, and cutting can be a way of making that pain manageable.  Or alternately, they feel numb, don’t feel human.  The cutting can be a way to feel something.

Cutting can be “practice” for suicide, but it can be about the things I just mentioned.  Suicide attempts in adolescence has risen for the past several years, and is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24.

As a crisis worker, adults often think their children won’t talk to me.  But they do.  There’s nothing magic in what I do.  I come in, treat them with respect, tell them exactly why I’m there, and then I listen.  I don’t play games or pull punches with adolescents.  Quite frankly, they probably know more about drugs, sex, and swearing than I do.

If there’s an adolescent in your life, know about cutting.  This article is a great place to start.  Not every adolescent will cut, but most of them have heard about it, or know someone who does.

Dark Comedy

I Google all sorts of things that most people would think was a little weird.  I do this because I wonder about things or wonder about what will come up.  I can’t say I’m actually looking for any real answers when I do this, but it is entertaining.

Today, I Googled “reasons to commit suicide.”  No, I’m not suicidal or anything even resembling it.  I’m writing a story.  Many of my stories are organic.  A first line or a character pops into my head, and I’m off and running.  I write the story, often not knowing where it will lead.  Since I’m not a stare-off-into-space kind of girl, I tend to Google things and see where it takes me.  Sometimes I read something that resonates and makes me think, “Oh, that’s got to be part of my story!”  Most of the time, though, I find things I wasn’t looking for that lead me off onto tangents.  Like today.

If you’re not into black, satirical humor, DO NOT follow the link I’m going to provide.  You probably won’t find it funny at all.  Suicide isn’t funny, but then neither are a lot of things in life.  The thing is, life is what it is.  That’s not exactly deep or profound.  People do things everyday, some of which are wonderful and great, but others aren’t.  I long ago decided that I can respect the individual and still laugh at the dark comedy.  And frankly, I expect others to do the same when it comes to me.

I write a lot of horror, and a lot of romance.  Quite frankly, both are depressing topics to write about.  In horror, as expected, awful things happen or are done to people, which can make me sad about them.  I know… you’re asking, “Why is romance depressing?”  Because in a good romance novel, very little is true to life.  Maybe the characters are great and realistic, but in real life, love is never as easy as it is in a book.  And even if the book is very rocky getting from beginning to end, even if it’s true to life, I can open the book, and it will happen the same way each and every time.  How many points in your life would happen exactly the way they did if you had to relive them?  How much does chance rule your life?

I don’t want you to think I find life depressing.  I don’t.  I know that people are capable of great things, awful things, and everything in between.  And that’s okay with me, as long as I get to laugh.

Here’s the link: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/HowTo:Commit_Suicide