Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Difference Between Romanticized Mental Illness and Romance with Mental Illness | YA Talk



Today I've brought Leah from While Reading and Walking on the blog to talk a bit about mental illness romanticization. Enjoy!

As writers, readers, and reviewers, there is a lot of responsibility on our shoulders when it comes to the representation of mental illness. 

Bad representations of mental illness can do real damage. Teens especially in the midst of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more, can be influenced by what they read in books that they believe are faithful representations of what mental illness looks like—and what healing can look like.

I’ll be talking specifically about the relationship between mental illness and romance in fiction. romanticizing mental illness can mean a lot of things. Here, I’m talking about the common trope where someone has a mental illness and then falls in love. 

I am a novelist and book blogger who has depression and anxiety. There is obviously a range of experiences when it comes to these issues, and there are many more forms of mental illness that I can’t personally speak to. I am a cis white woman who has a privileged life in many respects, and others who do not have those privileges might have a different experience.

The Example

You have a character. Let’s call her Leia. She has anxiety and is susceptible to panic attacks. She often obsesses all day about small things. Her anxiety can arise from real-life issues or from nothing at all. 

She meets a girl. That girl is cute and funny and makes her laugh. What next?

  • The Right Path:
There is a lot of truth to the idea that anxiety and depression are easier to get through when you have someone by your side who will make a conscious effort to support you, listen to you, and understand what you’re going through. 

If every time you have a panic attack, there is someone on the end of the phone who is ready at all times to talk to you and talk you through that attack, then anxiety becomes just that little bit less scary to face. The world gets a little more secure when you have someone you can depend on, who can ground you and remind you that they aren’t going anywhere. That's absolutely okay to reflect in your writing.

  • The Wrong Path:
The problem is that many novels seem to imply that mental illness can be fixed and healed by being in love. That if Leia just finds this girl, her anxiety will melt away and never come back. She’ll never have another panic attack. These YA novels make it sound like love makes everything sunshine and rainbows, and mental illness flees from relationships like opposite ends of a magnet.

But having someone in your life you love doesn’t mean that your mental illness goes away. Saying it does implies that anxiety and depression are not real illnesses. But they are. Mental illness is physical, and chemical, and while it can be triggered by things in the outside world—for example, the death of a loved one or a break-up can lead to depression if you’re susceptible—it’s still a genuine illness. This is the same reason why Leia could be the sunshine optimism of her friend group, have an amazing job, pets, supportive family, and a new beautiful girlfriend and still have panic attacks. 

The Impact

When a person with mental illness reads a novel that implies that their conditions would melt away if only they had someone who loved them, it can have serious implications on their psyche and emotions. 


They can think, 'I have a boyfriend. I'm in love. Am I not in love? Or is something just wrong me?' or they can get into a headset where they believe that chasing love is the only way they'll ever get better. Teaching young people that the right way to heal is to fall in love and then things will get better ignores the real causes of mental illness, and can make people think that things won’t get better after all. 

Like I said: A person who makes you laugh can help to make a day with depression less awful. A person who grounds you can remind you that you have a handle on things in the midst of your panic attack. A person who makes you laugh might be able to get you out of the house on a day when you can’t leave your bed. 

  • But having Leia fall in love and then her panic attacks never return sends the message that loneliness is what causes mental illness. 
  • It implies that you need a savior to get better, and that you have no control over your own healing. 
  • It implies that mental illness is a neatly solved problem if you would just fall in love.

So what do I do? 

Write well.
Call out novels that clearly romanticize mental illness.
Be reasonable, but be vigilant too.

A romance in which the character has mental illness is not “romanticizing mental illness,” but it is a huge problem in the book community where we conflate the classical tale of being lost and completing your life with the addition of another person who balances you (classic love story) with the idea that a mental illness can be 100% healed if you would just find your soulmate.



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Friday, January 20, 2017

Recommendation: Under Rose-Tainted Skies - Louise Gornall: Agoraphobia and Being House-Bound

In UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES, Norah is house-bound because of her agoraphobia and steps out of her comfort zone when she develops a crush on Luke, the cute boy next door.

What intrigued me: I've been looking for more mental illness #ownvoices stories because I've been disappointed with books by authors who don't write from their own experiences lately.



Compelling story and lovely protagonist


UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES is a very quiet story of a girl with OCD, agoraphobia, anxiety, and depression. It's definitely unlike anything I've ever read before, because it absolutely does focus on Norah's struggle with her illnesses while telling a compelling story that you'll surely grow very fond of. From her daily struggles and little things she needs to check periodically to her crippling fear of other things and her reaction when confronted with them, UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES shows the full spectrum of Norah's illnesses and tells the story in an honest and compelling way.

It absolutely shows that Gornall knows what she's talking about. I've never read anything like this. Protagonist Norah is so lovely and adorable that can only get invested in her story even if you don't share her mental illnesses. Gornall doesn't shy away from anything and describes Norah's life in such a brutally honest matter that it's awe-inspiring.

Mental illness without romanticization

The thing I love most about UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES is how unapologetic and honest it is. It's not a love story, not a fun contemporary, not a coming-of-age story, it's just a novel about a girl with mental illnesses and her daily life, with a side of a little romance. If you're looking for a typical YA romance story, this is the wrong pick. UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES feels a little literary and different, just completely unique and very much delightfully so. 
The side romance actually is what I was scared about the most because I feared this might venture into romanticization as so so so many other novels about mental illnesses do. The protagonist falls in love and suddenly they're cured. 

That's absolutely not what UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES does. It does quite the opposite of romanticization actually by having the love interest Luke seek to understand Norah's illnesses and not trying to change a single thing about her. They're such an adorable couple and it's so refreshing to read a love story involving a sick character who doesn't change a single thing about themselves to be with their partner. 



Rating:

★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

This is the kind of story I'm hoping many people with illnesses will pick up. It's so heart-warming to see a story like that and I can just whole-heartedly recommend UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES to everyone who's either living with similar mental illnesses and/or seeks to read and understand what life for people with these illnesses might look like. UNDER ROSE-TAINTED skies is bold, daring, and beautiful. Give it a shot.


Note: Trigger warning for self-harm


Additional Info

Published: Jan 3rd 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: Clarion Books
Genre: YA / Contemporary
ISBN: 9780544736511

Synopsis:
"Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.
 "(Source: Goodreads)


What's your favorite read featuring a mentally-ill character?

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

[Review] Furiously Happy - Jenny Lawson: Mental Illness and Life-Affirmation

In FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny Lawson tells anecdotes of her life. In the center of it all stands her life motto of being furiously, aggressively happy no matter what life throws at you.

What intrigued me: Felt like reading some Non-Fiction.

Loud and Eccentric

FURIOUSLY HAPPY is such a loud book that you're probably in danger of going deaf when reading it. It's quirky, eccentric and voice-y and definitely a book that will catch your attention and stay in your memory for quite a whilte. Lawson's narrative voice is sometimes off-trail, mostly shouting, and absolutely unique. And it's just too much for me personally.

It reads like some sort of strange diary without any sense of structure of coherence. Even after reading it I still don't know what this book is about, really.

You have to be in the mood for this type of writing, a type of train-of-thought esque narration.

Offensive humor?

The message of the book and the only thing that sort-of connects the very random chapters to each other is that they're all a mixture of anecdoctes that showcase the author's "crazy" (her words, not mine) behavior because of the multitude of mental illnesses she lives with. And I just don't like that. 

I can't get behind these self-degrading characterizations and as someone who has had experience with mental illness it actually quite offends me. I get that it's a memoir, at no point Lawson ever tries to make judgements about other people who live with mental illness. But at the end of the day it just rubs me the wrong way when she describes the way she reacts to anxiety-inducing situations as overreacting and ridiculous and calls herself insane.

That's just the humor of this book, this is all that FURIOUSLY HAPPY is about - making fun of your own illness to make peace with it. This isn't a negative thing, it's just soemthing that you have to get, that you have to understand and agree with. I don't. I didn't find FURIOUSLY HAPPY life-affirming in any way. I found it disregarding and quite ignorant, which again, is just my personal takeaway and not the author's fault or in any way an objective judgement of the book. You have to see for yourself if that type of humor resonates with you. 


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

FURIOUSLY HAPPY isn't my kind of book. Random chapters, train-of-thought narration, belittling mental illness - it's not my thing. It felt quite pointless and absolutely not funny to me.



Additional Info

Published: 17th October 2016
Pages: 320
Publisher: Kailash
Genre: Adult / Non-Fiction / Biographies & Memoirs
ISBN: 978-3-424-63130-2

Synopsis:
"In LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, Jenny Lawson baffled readers with stories about growing up the daughter of a taxidermist. In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

According to Jenny: "Some people might think that being 'furiously happy' is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he's never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos."

"Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you'd never guess because we've learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, 'We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.' Except go back and cross out the word 'hiding.'""(Source: Goodreads)


What's your favorite Non-Fiction read?

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Monday, September 12, 2016

[Review] The Form of Things Unknown - Robin Bridges: Hallucinations, Schizophrenia, and Ghosts





In THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN, Natalie struggles with hallucinations and suddenly starts seeing ghosts when she's chosen to play Titania in her schools rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

What intrigued me: I've read the first companion novel DREAMING OF ANTIGONE and was curious to see more of Bridges.



Character-driven coming-of-age story

THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN is a companion to DREAMING OF ANTIGONE, featuring some characters you might recognize, but it's by no means necessary to have read the latter. Both novels are coming-of-age stories that feature chronically/mentally ill protagonists and are essentially retellings of Antigone and A Midsummer Night's Dream respectively. 

THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN surprised me by being a lot more hands on and to-the-point than DREAMING OF ANTIGONE. I quickly grew very invested in Natalie's story and was very intrigued by the paranormal (? or not ?) sub plot. Brigdes cleverly intertwines Natalie's mental illness with the past-tense story though I found the novel a little too slow at times. The plot doesn't advance as quickly as I would've liked and aside from the premise, there is sadly not much to THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN. It's purely a character-driven coming-of-age story and you certainly do have to have a soft spot for that to enjoy this. Personally, I'm not a fan.

Belittling mental illness?

I loved Natalie dearly and grew fond of almost all the supporting characters, which ultimately warrants my interest in this story and had me stick around until the end. Without Natalie's entertaining voice and narration I wouldn't have finished this. The truth is, there are a couple things that are problematic about THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN. Love interest Luke is/was suicidal and depressed and has been at rehabilitation facility with protagonist Natalie (who`s been treated there for her hallucinations). 

At no point do both these illnesses feel genuine, realistic, or even just well-researched. Luke is one of those generic mysterious love interests whose depression is belittled, paraphrased: "he doesn't look like he's depressed". Natalie's hallucinations are shrugged off and merely a gimmick to give this novel at least some kind of plot with them searching for ghosts in the theatre. 

It just irked me, though I love that Bridges tries to tackle mental illness in many forms (Natalie's grandmother also suffers from schizophrenia), the lack of research is blatantly obvious. THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN is spiked with microaggressions and slurs that may not be as obvious to a neurotypical reader. Despite all that, there's no story to begin with. 

Rating:

★★☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

I certainly liked THE FORM OF THINGS UNKNOWN more than DREAMING OF ANTIGONE, but because mental illness isn't handled very respectfully and the novel overall lacks direction and plot, I wasn't really a fan. The high rating is mostly warranted by the great voice and characters, and trying to include neurodivergent characters.



Additional Info

Published: August 30th 2016
Pages: 240
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: YA / Contemporary
ISBN: 9781496703569

Synopsis:
"Natalie Roman isn’t much for the spotlight. But performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a stately old theatre in Savannah, Georgia, beats sitting alone replaying mistakes made in Athens. Fairy queens and magic on stage, maybe a few scary stories backstage. And no one in the cast knows her backstory.

Except for Lucas—he was in the psych ward, too. He won’t even meet her eye. But Nat doesn’t need him. She’s making friends with girls, girls who like horror movies and Ouija boards, who can hide their liquor in Coke bottles and laugh at the theater’s ghosts. Natalie can keep up. She can adapt. And if she skips her meds once or twice so they don’t interfere with her partying, it won’t be a problem. She just needs to keep her wits about her."(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read novels that portray mental illness accurately?

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Do We Need Books About Mental Illness By Neurotypical People? | YA Talk


Mental illness is a topic that I've only recently started getting very interested in. Sadly, the books I've encountered that deal with OCD, depression, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and many more, are just not realistic. 


Raising Awareness: Why I think it's important

In everyday life there is no way you'll just stumble upon the different kinds of mental illness, unless you meet somebody who actually has it.

If it weren't for the internet, I had no idea social anxiety was a thing. And there aren't even only a few people that live with it. Same goes for many other mental illnesses - you just don't run into people randomly that care to inform you about it. I understand that no one wants to talk about a personal matter like that in real life. This is why I think books on those topics are insanely important.

...

But here's the twist. I don't think I can endure any more poorly researched novels, else my head will probably explode. I recently tried FINDING AUDREY by Sophie Kinella, I tried SOLITAIRE by Alice Oseman. Two books that are very popular and praised for dealing with sensitive topics. I don't want to make any guesses on whether those books are inspired by experiences of the authors or not - but I can tell you, both of them are pretty poor excuses for diverse books.


What really bugs me here: Being Allergic to Research

The two books I mentioned play into all the clichés you have in mind when thinking about social anxiety and depression. 
The characters are cliché, the plot development unrealistic, and romanticized. It just doesn't feel like you're reading a novel about a sick person. I mean that's what mental illnesses are, ILLNESSES. It's not fun, it's not quirky, it's an actual illness that limits peoples' lives. I want to learn about it, because I think it's important to raise awareness that these things do exists. But books like these aren't helping us. They are making things WORSE.

What good does a book that deals with a controversial topic, but just fuels stereotypes? 

We simply don't need it. I want books that show the ugly sides of mental illness. I want books that even just show both sides, it just doesn't have to be all sad and depressing. I'm just tired of reading about characters who are completely over the top, or miraculously cured when a cute love interest enters their lives. 

So please, non-neurotypical authors, help us out. I'm craving realistic portrayal


Do you think we need more books based on experience with mental illness?



Come back next tuesday for a new YA Talk!


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Saturday, August 22, 2015

[Review] Solitaire - Alice Oseman


For 16-year-old Tori, school is just an annoying necessity. She doesn't have a lot of friends, and she doesn't really care about anything.

When teenage anarchist bloggers under the pseudonym Solitaire start terrorizing her school and a new guy called Michael Holden appears in her life, she is forced to leabe her comfort zone and start acting.


Diversity: How not to do it

I'm not surprised that this is yet another inaccurate representation of mental illness. I'm yet to find a novel that doesn't make my toes curl. 16-year-old teenager Tori is probably the first cliché character that comes to your mind when thinking about depression. 

She's apathetic, she has no interest in anything, and she thinks the world revolves around her. The thing about mental illness is that it affects people differently. Oseman chose the most common portrayal of depression and wrote a novel that's very representative of that.

Not everyone is like Tori, not everyone shows clear symptoms, and to me this is one of the many mistakes this novel makes. There are a lot of diverse characters, gays, bisexuals, anorexics - and every single one of them is a walking cliché. I like that Oseman tried to incorporate diversity, but it just isn't realistic to make every character struggling with an illness or being super eccentric. It just feels like you're reading a bad fan fiction about characters with purple-hair, oddly colored eyes, and weird names. Coincidentally, you can find all of this in "Solitaire".

Very unlikable protagonist ruins the story

Oseman really hits the nail on the head in terms of character voice. Tori's voice and Oseman's writing are a nice match, so you really get how Tori feels, from her apathy to her disconnection from the world. However, I found this incredibly exhausting. There is no way to like Tori as a character. Maybe it's the whole point of her character to be a blank sheet and full of self-centered thoughts and to be living in her own little world where all she matters is her; but really, it's not fun to read about a character like that. You can have the best plot in the world, but it will be exhausting and boring if you narrate it in such an annoying, condescending character voice.

The writing style is very unique, and features a lot of short sentences and information dumps that are absolutely unnecessary. Whenever a new character is introduced, you can prepare for about three pages of backstory of a random memory Tori has of that character. What kept me reading were probably only the pop culture references. I love a novel that addresses the quirks of the 2010s, and the nods to tumblr and blogging here and there were pretty entertaining.

...

I've come across a lot of reviewers that consider "Solitaire" to be a truthful voice of our generation, a brutally honest manifesto of a teenager. Well, I think it's quite the opposite. I don't even think that Oseman intended to try to capture the high school experience. Tori has a very limited perception and is very judgmental. She picks out flaws in everyone and the world that Tori sees does not reflect reality. Everyone around her is irrelevant, nothing has a point for her, and nobody has a right to be happy about anything. Yes, you might say that's just the side effect of her depression, but I'm not a fan of that portrayal.

Rating: 
★★



Overall: Do I Recommend?

I thought it was very boring and exhausting to read. Oseman clearly is a talented writer, but the characters are not doing the novel a favor. I would have liked this more had it been told from the point-of-view of her best friend Becky. I also believe this would have worked better without Solitaire itself. It has potential to be a great character-driven novel, instead of a very badly executed mix between character -and plot-driven.

I wouldn't recommend this, because I think it's very offensive for people suffering from mental illness. Portrayals of depressed characters that just show the apathy and ignorance aren't very creative, and frankly inaccurate. I'd still pick up Oseman's next novel, simply because I believe she is a good writer and just chose terrible characters to write a mediocre story about.

And yeah, the synopsis isn't very accurate. "Solitaire" totally is a love story.



Additional Info

Original Title: "Solitaire"
Author: Alice Oseman
Published: 21st August 2015
Pages: 384
Medium: Hardcover
Publisher: dtv
Cover: dtv, 2015
Genre: YA / Contemporary
ISBN: 9783423761192

Synopsis:
"In case you’re wondering, this is not a love story.

My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.

Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.

I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.

I really don’t."
(Source: Goodreads)

 Have you read "Solitaire"?


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