Has Mental Health Become Just Another Buzzword?

Everyone’s talking about mental health. Often, it’s in the context of commodifying self-care – face-masks, bath bombs, and adult-coloring books galore. Conversation around mental health has created an entirely new market, capitalizing off the notion that “everyone has mental health.” Which brings me to the question of the day – does everyone have mental health?

In short, of course everyone has mental health – we all have brains and emotions and experience stress and feelings of anxiety. But not everyone suffers from a mental illness, and we make very little distinction between clinically diagnosed mental illnesses and every day mental health. In reality, there is a huge difference between the terms “mental health” and “mental illness.” Mental health is likened to emotional wellness, described as

a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

To juxtapose this, mental illness is much more medical and much less universal. Mental illness is

a recognized, medically diagnosable illness that results in the significant impairment of an individual’s cognitive, affective or relational abilities. Mental disorders result from biological, developmental and/or psychosocial factors and can be managed using approaches comparable to those applied to physical disease (i.e., prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation).

Naturally, markets have capitalized around the growing prevalence of mental health in our vocabulary. Notably, these markets appear to be targeting women, with huge emphasis on relaxation products, self-help books, and over-priced essential oils. Does self-care work? Of course! It works for some people, many, in fact. For example: face masks make me feel better when I’m stressed or come home from a long day. But self-care frankly doesn’t get at the root of my mental illness – a bath bomb doesn’t change the fact that I have multiple, clinically diagnosed mental health disorders. Instead, my options for treatment stretch outside the realm of self-care and into the world of professional treatment and medication (which, unfortunately, are incredibly inaccessible and not viable options for many).

We sweep up mental illness and emotional wellness into the same category, all falling under the buzzword “mental health.” Though often not intending to, universalizing mental health by saying things like “everyone has mental health” and “everyone needs a mental health day” further delegitimizes mental illnesses by implying that they are something that everyone experiences. Not everyone experiences mental illness, and most people never will. Mental illness is not the same as every day, situational stress that everyone feels. We need to stop feeding ourselves this narrative that self-care is the solution to all mental health related problems, because for many folks, self-care is not an option due to the debilitating nature of mental illness.

To quote Vice,

we’ve reached a brick wall with mental health. For starters…the overuse and misuse of words like “anxiety” can lead to them losing all meaning. “Raising awareness” and “breaking taboos” are nice phrases for brands and publications, but at this point, are they really changing anything?

Instead of marketing mental health and convincing ourselves that mental health complications are universal experiences, it’s time we start acknowledging the pain folks who suffer severe mental illnesses experience and work to change our oppressive behaviors, policies, and structures. Mental health services continue to be cut, further oppressing people with mental illness, people who do not feel “cured” from a bit of self-care, but desperately need these services to live healthy lives.

It’s not an easy, surmountable task, but it can be done. From realistic representation of mentally ill characters in television and books, to fruitful conversations about ableism with family and community members, to lobbying against budget cuts to mental health services, we can all find a part to play in the movement to create a just and equitable society for people with mental illness. The buzzword of “Mental Health” has began to break the stigma – and now it’s time to create tangible, equitable change for people with mental illnesses.

Writing Vlog #1!

Hey folks!

Exciting news: I am working on posting videos to my YouTube channel about my writing experience! As a young, unqualified, struggling writer, I want to connect with others in similar positions, or anyone who has advice!

Check me out:

Poetry Instagram – LIVE

Hi folks! As many of you know, I was working on a book at the beginning of this past summer. That book is now complete, awaiting my final read-through and responses from agents. I will keep everyone updated about that process, but to be frank, it’s a little disheartening. It’s so much work. Query letters and summaries and resumes and cover letters…I just want to get that story out there!

A piece of excited news — I have launched my first writing Instagram, where I’ll be posting lots of poems and allowing my most recent wave of creative energy to take over. Follow me @littleerinbigworld on Instagram! I am in the process of compiling a collection of poems that focus on my experience with seasonal depression, of which I’ve deemed “cyclical.” I will be posting bits of those pieces to my Instagram and on here as well.

Thanks for sticking around! I’ll provide a longer update when I get around to it! For now, go hit that follow button!

21 Books that Broke My Heart

I read a lot. Often, when I find myself stuck in my own writing, I turn to books to fuel my need for words and creativity. And books…they have a way of breaking your heart. Even more than that. Tearing it up into little shreds! Yet my favorite books of all time are the ones that have broken my heart into a million pieces – it’s a cathartic kind of release, and it shows the power of words and storytelling.

Warning: there may be minor spoilers below. Here is my list, from least to most heart-breaking (granted, they’re ALL heartbreaking).

21. Mosquito Land by David Arnold. I really enjoyed this story, particularly the reveal at the end of the novel. A great exploration of mental health, grief, and growing up.

20. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I absolutely adore Doerr’s work – I’ve read a lot of his short stories and love how worldly they are. This book was beautifully written and full of feelings – a unique perspective on Europe during WWII.

19. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. When I was in high school, I went through a huge Jodi Picoult phase. I love the raw emotions in her work, but this novel in particular blew me away. Picoult managed to show all sides of a tragic story about a school shooting in the most memorable way…this will always be my favorite Picoult book.

18. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. While Nineteen Minutes it my favorite Picoult novel, My Sister’s Keeper broke my heart into many more pieces. Out of character for me, I saw the movie first. The book is much different, and the twist was so unexpected for me…such a deep and thoughtful novel.

17. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. This is the best novel about a dog that I have ever read, such a deep and powerful insight into human life. And, as everyone knows, dog novels always end up breaking your heart in the end.

16. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This may be my favorite book about mental health. Such a real and honest look into depression and anxiety. I saw the end coming from miles away, but it still hurt.

15. Sold by Patricia McCormick. This one didn’t make me cry as much as it made me gasp, so much heavier than most novels because it is based on true events. I felt for all of the girls in the novel. EVERYONE should read this book.

14. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Ah, the classic tear-jerker. Even though I was able to predict the ending from pretty early on, I still cried, and I cry every time that I re-read the book or watch the movie.

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green. At first, I really didn’t like the characters, so it was really hard for me to get past the first part. But in the second part, Green provides such a realistic look into how death impacts students and friendships…I cry every time!

12. The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. I read this book after a friend committed suicide. It was the most realistic book about losing a friend to suicide that I’ve read thus far…

11. Pastel Orphans by Gemma Liviero. This may be one of my favorite (next to The Book Thiefbooks about the Holocaust. I was speechless while finishing it.

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I bawled after the last movie. Harry Potter was my childhood. The last book will ~always~ get me.

9. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. This book hit home so much for me, because Charlie’s experience with mental health is so similar to mine. Such an amazing novel. I have read it so many times – my copy is fully annotated! This is my favorite book — while it may not be number one on my heartbreak list, it’s number one in my favorites list.

8. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. It took me a while to get into this book, mostly because I don’t know much about planes or war. But the twist at the end of the novel…it was like a lightbulb lit up over my head! I cried so much! Highly recommend everyone read this and stick with it until the end.

7. If I Stay by Gayle Forman. This book will always make me cry – the concept of losing your entire family is so jarring, and the decision Mia had to make haunts me.

6. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. It took me about half-way through to get into this book, as the two different timelines confused me a bit. But once I realized what had happened in the story…wow. This was a book that stuck with me for so much longer after I finished reading. The characters were so profound, it is one of my favorites.

5. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid. Yet another one where I actually watched the movie first, not knowing there was a book. This story amazes me every time, there are so many layers…highly recommend. It deals with loss and grief and mental health in such a beautiful way, as well as dealing with historical trauma, racism, oppression…so well done.

4. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I read this novel shortly after I had lost a friend, unexpectedly, and it was so real, and so shocking…such an amazing book. It impacted me so greatly because I was going through a traumatic loss at the time.

3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Every time that I read this I sob uncontrollably, in all honestly. The last time I read it I cried for over half the novel, I was a mess! This book hits home especially for me, because a friend of mine was murdered similarly. The way that Sebold describes the family member’s reactions, how they continue with their life…so heartbreaking and real.

2. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. SO GOOD. Even though the narrator (death) literally tells you what’s going to happen, it’s still so heartbreaking!!!

1. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. This will forever be my number one because it was the first book that ever made me cry, and showed me the immense impact of storytelling.

 

SHORT STORY: Depression’s Apology

I was there when Cynthia’s mom died. She was only seven. She didn’t know who I was, or what I was, but she saw me. She felt me there, I think. She didn’t want to see me, though, so she closed her eyes and I hid. I stayed hidden for a while after that. Always there, but hidden.

I watched when the kids on the playground would tiptoe around her. They could all see me there, standing, hovering…watching. The visible, painful sadness, always in the room. But Cynthia? She ignored me for as long as she could.

I was there the day that the teacher with the long nose and messy hair called her out for being late. Cynthia hung her head and tried to ignore me. When the long-nosed teacher passed back her math test and Cynthia saw that she got a D-, she stuffed the test into her backpack and glanced up at me. She knew just where to look, which makes me think that maybe she knew I was there the whole time. When she got home, she let me hold her, and she cried so hard she threw up. I don’t think she was crying about the math test. Not really.

I was there when she got cut from the soccer team. The coach said she was too distracted, she wasn’t there, she didn’t get along well with the other girls. She didn’t connect. She let me hold her that day, too. I think it was my fault she got cut. I was always in her way. But she blamed herself.

I was there each time she felt a rush of emotions, waves of pain and sadness and anxiety that would suffocate her. I saw the looks her friends gave her – some furrowed their eyebrows and twiddled their hands nervously, worriedly, others rolled their eyes and snickered. “Is she crying?” the boy with the square-shaped head whispered to the freckled girl sitting on his lap. The girl shrugged and rolled her eyes. I held Cynthia’s hand when she cried alone in the bathroom stall.

Eventually, she looked at me. She looked at me for longer than a glance, she stared at me, she let me enter in through her eyes and travel down to her heart. I latched on, I made her heavier, and I held her tight. She let me wrap my arms around her each night and she let me tag along behind her at school. She let me whisper in her ear. “Worthless,” I told her, “There’s no point.” I didn’t really think that. I’d become quite fond of her, actually. But it was my job.

She let me consume her. I loved her and I think she loved me too, in a messed up sort of way. I couldn’t help it. I needed her to feed, to drain her, to fill her heart with my darkness. And she needed me to hold her at night. I think I made it all worse, but she didn’t have anybody else to hold her, not even herself. So I did my job.

The kids on the playground used to see me following her. They would look me in the eyes. They would point to me and they would hug Cynthia, thinking if they held onto her, I would go away. I never did. Eventually, they all stopped seeing me there. Stopped noticing. The more and more Cynthia gave herself to me, the more invisible I became. Cynthia didn’t see me then, when she was a wide-eyed, pig-tailed girl on the playground. But she sees me now, and nobody else seems to. Funny how that works out.

This is my apology, I guess. I know that I’m just doing my job. But I can still apologize.

I’m sorry,

Depression.

Time to Write a Query Letter?

Hey folks! A very exciting update – I FINISHED MY (hopefully?) FINAL READ THROUGH OF MY BOOK!!!! Which means…it’s time to find an agent? Or submit to publishers?

I’ve been obsessively googling how to get a book published, and everywhere tells me it’s hard. But I’m going to take it step-by-step and begin with drafting a query letter to send to agents. Since I don’t have much of a platform nor have I ever published a book, this is going to be hard work. WordPress followers, readers, & friends, if you are able, I would love to hear any advice you have! And, of course, if anyone knows somebody who could be a fit, please do contact me. I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated. Being honest about this process has been holding me accountable, which is important!

So, there’s where I’m at now. Wish me luck…

On Recieving Feedback

Throughout this whole process of getting my book published (I firmly believe that if I keep saying it’s going to happen, it will!), the scariest thing for me has been opening myself up and letting people read it. Before this process, I was terrified of feedback. I receive feedback on my academic writing constantly, but my creative writing? Never. It usually stays hidden in files on my computer or tucked in between the pages of my journal. Although my creative writing is often about fictional characters and not me personally, so much more of myself shows up in my creative writing. I was afraid to share that with the world, and I am still am.

Part of my fear stems from my general introversion and trust issues (hey, we’ve got all them), but another part comes from the sense of elitism that is so pervasive within the writing community. I don’t have an English degree, nor was I drawn to it – to be honest, I’ve never liked the way English is taught in academic settings. It may be my best subject, but that’s only because I’ve learned to write the way that professors and teachers want me to. Perhaps I’ve just had poor professors, but all the English professors I’ve had in college have stifled my creativity, which is what drew me away from an English or Creative Writing major and pushed me towards Social Work, where I’m working on fulfilling my dream of doing some good in this world. By sharing my writing, I’ve learned something incredibly important: You don’t need an English degree to be a writer.

I’ve been blown away by the heart-warming and positive responses I’ve received. People are really connecting with the characters and invested in the story, which makes me so so so happy! I’ve been told by multiple people that I write like John Green, which is one of the best compliments a person could give me. But, of course, I opened myself to constructive criticism as well, something I don’t generally take well – I’m a highly sensitive person who thinks she knows best. I can be rather difficult.

HOWEVER, I’ve seen that the suggestions people have given me are helping me figure out the parts of the story that I struggled with and they have made the story so much better. I am so excited for everyone to be able to read the final version – I am almost done with the last read-through and am actually proud of it! Which means a lot, coming from a perfectionist.

Overall lesson from this experience: People aren’t as mean as you think they’ll be. If you put your heart and soul into your writing, it’s important and worthy of readers. People want to help. And besides, if you don’t agree with their criticism, you know the story best!

Until next time! 

SHORT STORY: Steel

Hello all! Please enjoy my first short story that I am posting to this blog – a departure from my regular, and often heated, personal accounts and opinion pieces. Please leave comments!

My walls are bursting with people. A little girl leans against me, tracing shapes with her fingers. Her name is Ana. Her sister, whom I have not heard the name of, is asleep on Ana’s shoulder. Ana is careful not to wake her sister as she draws shapes upon my walls. I know that I am cold to touch, but she barely flinches when presses her little fingers against my steel. Their father stands beside them because there is no room for him to sit down. His eyes are closed but I do not think that he is asleep. I have heard that it is impossible to sleep while standing up, but I am not sure. I wouldn’t know.

They told me that I was built for a purpose. My walls are red and painted, and my wheels are brand new and turn smoothly against the tracks. I have yet to rust or grow old, but I am already tired of the tracks. I thought I would see the world, but I have seen the same thing over and over again; the same green fields, similar towns, and similar faces. The same brick walls and metal gates and men in uniform. My wheels are tired of the tracks that always lead back to the same place. I try to find something new in the people, because maybe I was not built to see the world, but to see the people of the world.

The first people I held were very loud. I opened my doors widely, ready for my first journey. There were a lot of them, and I was afraid that my walls were not strong enough. Yet they were – I was built for this. The first people were all talking, introductions and greetings. I remember a man, whose name I never caught, talked the entire time. He kept telling everybody that things were changing; that he was heading somewhere great. Nobody else seemed to share his enthusiasm.

None of them talk very much anymore. Sometimes, they fight it, but they always end up within my walls. By my fortieth trip, only the children sounded hopeful, while their parents wept. I wanted to hold them and comfort them. But my walls are made of steel, and it is far too cold outside.

The night is cold and dark. Their eyes are closed, but I do not believe that they are all asleep. My walls are far from comfortable. The children breathe steadily and the old snore loudly. The adults close their eyes but I know that they are not asleep. They are trying to stay awake. I wish they would sleep, but I suppose I cannot expect them to.

This lot came on with bread in their hands; one slice of bread per person. This happens on days when the uniformed men are feeling particularly charitable. They never leave anything on my floors; not even a crumb. Little Ana’s father pulled an onion from his pocket when they stepped into me, something he had brought from home. He split the bread and gave it to his little girls so that they would have extra. When he bit into the onion, tears began to pour down his face. Ana and her sister laughed; Ana grabbed the onion from his hands and shoved it towards her sisters’ face, threatening her eyes with the sting of the onion. Their father smiled at them and took it back, shaking his head. But when he finished eating, the tears didn’t go away. Ana laughed, thinking it was still the onion, but her sister took his hand in hers and understood something that the little one, Ana, didn’t. She has been silent since. I think she is asleep, but I am not sure. Perhaps her little mind is wide awake. I know where they are going and I wish that she would get some sleep.

Ana is tracing the shape of a dog, I think, against me. That’s what it feels like; the outline of a little puppy, repeatedly, against my cold steel. Snow falls on my roof. I worry because none of them have thick coats. The sister stirs, and Ana whispers to her: “Do you think they’ll have dogs?” Her voice carries in the silent compartment. The sister does not say anything back, but their father leans down and tells Ana: “We’ll see Rudy again.” She nods her head up and down very quickly, her lip quivering just slightly.

I don’t like to watch what happens when we arrive. I stopped watching that part many trips ago. I saw a dog bite off a man’s arm. That’s when I stopped watching. I feel the familiar tracks against my wheels and I want to stop; I want to pull myself off the tracks. I’ve tried so many times and it never seems to work.

I hear men talking about not having enough space. I hope that they will keep the people on here, with me. I like the feeling of Ana’s hands on my walls, and her father leaning against me, and the little boy in the corner who picks the bread crumbs off my floor, and the old man against my wall, who breathes so slowly I am afraid he will stop.

We stop anyways when we reach the brick walls and the metal gates. There is so much snow on the ground and in the air that nobody can see further than a few feet in front of them, not even me with my big, fancy headlights. I prepare to stop watching; I prepare to shut down. But this time, it is different.

They open my doors and stand in front of them, stopping the people from exiting. The men hold sticks in their hands and raise them to stop the people who try to jump down. I cannot hear everything because of the yelling and the screaming, but I hear one thing being said over and over again: “Men and women: come. Children: stay.”

Ana and her sister grab their fathers’ legs, but he tells them they must stay. “You will be safe,” he says. He grabs both by the shoulders. There is hope in his eyes. “Stay, stay, please.” The sister does what she is told. She grabs Ana around the waist to stop her from following. Ana punches her sister and screams, but once they close the doors, she is stuck inside of me. I hope that I will take her somewhere safe.

This happens everywhere, in each cabin; screams of children and pleading parents. A few children are beaten because they try to follow. I want to stop watching, but I can’t. The men and women are separated, as usual. I do not see more than that because, with my walls much less full, holding only the small bodies of the children, I am moving again. I am going somewhere I have never been before, and I think about Ana and his sister and hope that I am taking them somewhere where they will be much warmer. My steel can only do so much.

The children are very loud, and many are screaming. The older children hold the babies, not sure of what to do with them. “We are safe! We are safe!” A little boy cries, a boy who had arrived without parents. He does not have anyone to miss; nobody to be scared for. I’m sure he did, before, but they are gone now.

The chatter does not stop for a long time. They talk amongst themselves, they spread out, they take turns trying to calm down the screaming babies. Ana’s sister holds one in her arms, wrapping it in her shall. Ana has returned to tracing shapes. This time, I feel her draw a bunch of stars, up and down my walls. An entire galaxy upon my steel, full of planets that I will never see.

The chatter does not stop until my walls fill with gas and silence fills them all.

Soon my walls will be bursting with people again. I keep going because I cannot stop. The silence speaks louder than all the voices I have ever heard, and Ana’s hand is still against me. My walls get colder and colder as the night passes. As does her hand. I wish I could make them warm again, but there is only so much that I can do. I am only made of steel.

 

 

I’m Writing a Book!

Hello WordPress universe, and anybody else who comes accross this post! I have been talking a lot about my writing with peers, on Facebook, and on my Instagram, but have yet to properly enter the world of branding and marketing (because, quite frankly, it confuses & terrifies me — I don’t want to sell myself!). This post is my first step into marketing and putting myself out there into the writing world — that’s right, I’m writing a book!

I suppose I should begin by introducing my book, but it’s nearly impossible to do that without spoiling things! It’s a wild ride to read, and it’s been even wilder to write. As an overview, it’s a story about loss, mental health, friendship, and change. It follows the life of a girl named Jamie Madison, who picks up from her small town home in North Carolina to move to a boarding school, leaving behind her father and her little sister. I obviously won’t give anything away, but that’s the premise, and I can tell you that the story ends in a very different place than it begins, as with most stories. Oh, and I suppose I should give you the title: Chasing Lightning.

So, where am I at? Well, awesome news – I’ve just finished my THIRD round of re-writing and editing! I have to go through another time for typos, but for the most part, the content part is DONE (awaiting commentary from a few more readers, that is). I am so excited to begin this scary process of attempting to find an angent/publisher (side note: if anyone reading this has connections to a young adult genre publisher or agent, help a girl out).

The writing process has been hard. People have asked me if it’s harder to write the first draft or edit the third, and honestly, it’s equally hard. The first draft is hard because you have to get the ideas from your mind to paper, but the third draft is just as hard because you KEEP FINDING TYPOS and it takes so long to get the story to feel perfect…!!!

I’m planning to start posting more updates, and possibly a video, about all of this soon. Yay for marketing!? Anyways, if you’re interested in learning more about this and staying updated on my process, please please please follow me and sign up for my mailing listIf you are a personal friend of mine, I fully expect you to do this, okay?!

Thank you for reading this!! Although the publishing process is terrifying because 1. Beaucracy, 2. Literally putting my SOUL out there to be judged, and 3. Marketing said literal SOUL, I am doing it!! My amazing room mate (shoutout to Mary, if you’re reading this) not only read draft two in five hours, but afterwards sat down with me for five more hours and went over everything she loved & her suggestions, said something that made me hopeful for the process just the other day — the conversation went something like this:

Her: So what are you planning to do with this?

Me: I mean, ideally, publishing would be amazing. But it’s so hard.

Her: Well, my gut is always right, and I have this gut feeling that your book is going to be on the shelves one day. Next to John Green and Perks of Being a Wallflower and all of those young adult books.

Here’s to making her gut feeling come true.

(Below are some pics of my process, for those of you visual folks)

My view while editing outside

An old draft, editing in a coffee shop. I guess this is a sneak peak…