Monday, September 6, 2010

Let's open our hearts today.

Okay, before I get all serious on you, I want to remind you to visit my other blog at the dot com for the purpose of hate-mongering all over censorship. Or rather, so you can learn how you can win some supacute Banned Books Week swag.

Anyway, it's serious time. Why? It's National Suicide Prevention week here in the US, and I want to shed a little light on the topic.

I've mentioned in other posts that I struggled with mental illness as a teen -- trufax. Here's the part where I full-on out myself: I'm a woman with bipolar disorder (in remission, as my adorable, grandfatherly general practice physician calls it) and panic disorder. And I'm totally okay with talking about it. Why? Because the stigma is still floating around out there, and that can make an already difficult illness even more tough. Especially if you're a teen.

Whenever I tell someone about my illness, I get the "I never would have known!" response. Even from people I talk to regularly who also know that I have frequent panic attacks (which I guess seem common enough, especially on TV these days) and am easily overexcited and obsessive. Sometimes that makes me feel happy, because, hey, that must mean I'm doing a good job at assimilating as a fully-functional grown up! But in the back of my mind I think, well, it's not always easy to pick us out of a line-up.

Okay, here's an idea: think of your lunch table. Picture them lined up in front of you, in your head. Think about what they like, what they talk about, what they do after school, what classes they're good at and what classes they'd love to skip. Do any of your pals have bipolar disorder? Clinical depression? Anxiety? Schizophrenia? Borderline personality disorder? An eating disorder? Addiction?

Now I'm not saying you should get all diagnose-y on them. In fact, I very much discourage playing therapist at your lunch table. But what I'm trying to say is that there is probably someone you know suffering from mental illness, and you don't have a clue. And that's okay. What I'm trying to say is that you should be there for your friends no matter what, because if someone you know *is* thinking about suicide, or is self-harming, or is having secret panic attacks in the bathroom between periods, sometimes all it takes to keep someone from doing something drastic and ambulance-ride-y is knowing they have someone they can call and talk to when they're having a truly shitty day.

When I was in high school that person was actually my sweetheart (at right, with me, at my parents' before senior prom), whom I'm still in touch with via Facebook. He had issues of his own, too, which, admittedly, made him easier to talk to. I remember one day I was such a mess that I locked myself in the bathroom, refused to come out, and was feeling particularly destructive. (Let's just say it's a good thing my parents were already thinking about remodeling). My parents knew how amazing Sweetheart was, and they called him and my grandmother (who is my best best BEST friend to this day) and they got me out of the bathroom and we talked on the porch and, well, I can't say it was all better, but I survived.

Why am I sharing this with the whole wide Internet? Because I'm hoping that it will help someone reading. I'm hoping this will save someone the scary, scary pain that comes with suicide. Of all my adult friends, I can list on one hand the ones who didn't lose a high school classmate to suicide. Is that terrifying or what?

So let's think about that this week. Let's give our friends extra hugs and let them know that they can call us in an emergency even if it's four a.m. on a school night.

And in case you're looking for something to help you relate, one of my favorite books that deals with suicide is HOLD STILL (Penguin Speak, 2010) by Nina LaCour. In HOLD STILL, the protagonist has just lost her best friend, and is struggling to find her own identity, to make new friends, to relate to teachers who know what she's going through but who are scared to reach out. I also love WINTERGIRLS (Penguin Speak, 2010) by Laurie Halse Anderson, which is way too good at illustrating the harsh reality of anorexia and bulimia, and also deals with the loss of a best friend to mental illness. Of course there is also CUT (Scholastic Push, 2002) by Patricia McCormick, which is a beautifully written novel about a girl in a mental health facility, who refuses to talk about anything, let alone her self-harm.

Recently the book HOW I MADE IT TO EIGHTEEN (Roaring Brook, 2010) was released. It's an autobiographical illustrated novel by Tracy White, about a girl who checks herself into a mental health facility to figure out how to deal with her depression, her eating issues, her substance abuse, and, ultimately, her emotionally draining relationship. Also, check out Samantha Schutz's memoir-in-verse I DON'T WANT TO BE CRAZY (Scholastic Push, 2007) about panic disorder and anxiety. I think all of these books give an intimate picture of what it's like to be a teen with mental illness. And they could be just the trick to opening new doors with friends who are also struggling.

And, please, if you'd like to, take this as an opportunity to share your story. Post it in the comments, or blog about it and send me a link. I think the more we talk about our struggles, the more we can keep the stigmas at bay, and the more lives we can save. Sharing our stories can help us share the struggle, and ultimately help us heal.

(PS, check out Samantha Schutz' blog on this topic, You Make Me Feel Less Alone. I tried to work that in more eloquenty, but failed. Woops.)

I will now leave you with an entry me and my BFF Fiona wrote in my journal in 1999. This was probably around the time I was first seeing a therapist, but I still wasn't aware of the my diagnosis or the seriousness of it, and Fiona didn't know much about my illness yet, either. We were watching a rerun of Nirvana on MTV Unplugged, and it was breaking our hearts and blowing our minds:

(Click the image to see full-size & read my teenage ramblings.)


Lynne Kelly Hoenig said...

Great post, Emily! Thanks for sharing your story. Had to order I Don't Want To Be Crazy after reading!

I think I have whatever the opposite of OCD is (OOCD?), so I need to read more about anxiety disorders since I'm writing about a teen with a lot of anxieties about new things and leaving home.

E. Kristin Anderson said...

Thanks, Lynne! You can ask me anything anytime if you have questions, I'm very open. I also recommend watching THE HOURS as there are some scenes in that film that hit me so hard as real and true. Tracy White's book is amazing, too, and a quick read since it's part graphic novel. I'm glad you're writing a book about a teen w/ anxiety, because the more we talk about it, the easier it is for teens to talk about it.

angel28140 said...

This was an amazing and powerful post. As someone who has been on the receiving end of having to deal with the aftermath a suicide (of a family member), I can't tell you how much this post spoke to me and how brave you were to tell your story. The world needs to know these things, and the only way to do that is talk about it. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

-Lisa B.

E. Kristin Anderson said...

Lisa, thank you. It means a lot to hear this. This is why I talk about it. This is why we all should talk about it. <3

Jessica Lee Anderson said...

Fantastic post, Emily! Kudos for being so transparent and generous as always!

Shelli Cornelison said...

Great post, Emily. There is still way too much stigma surrounding mental illness. When someone who has actually lived it talks about the effects of it, it has so much more impact.

Schuyler said...

Amazing post. I'm 40 and am going through a particularly hard time right now with my own clinical depression and panic attack disorder. I get agoraphobic, so many times the internet is a lifeline. Lately I feel as if I'm reading about everyone having a fabulous life, while I'm just at home sleeping. Thanks for helping me feel less alone today, and maybe like just existing for the moment is okay.

E. Kristin Anderson said...

Jessica, Shelli, Schulyer -- Thank you! It was pretty scary to post this, but I knew I could count on my friends and readers for support. And my ultimate goal is to make it easier for young people to get help when they need it. And to make people feel less alone. <3 Thank you, Schuyler, especially, for sharing. I also have agoraphobic tendencies, and it's a lonely feeling. Hope you feel better soon!

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