Book Update: Questions & Answers! VIDEO

Hi folks! Time for another update on my writing process, except this time, it’s in VIDEO FORM!!! Thanks to those of you who submitted questions to my instagram, please enjoy (click on the link on the word video).
Xoxo
Erin

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…
 

 

I’m Not Doing Okay: Mental Disability and Oppression

I’m not doing okay. Those words scare you, don’t they? They scare me too.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability. I’ve mastered being vulnerable about my past – I’ve learned how to wrap up my hardships up in a little box and tie a ribbon on top. I’ve learned how to turn my stories of struggle into stories of hope, into stories of “I’m-doing-a-whole-lot-better-now” and “look-what-I’ve-overcome.” I’ve seen how powerful other people’s stories of vulnerability can be in encouraging others to share there own stories and reach out. But how come vulnerability is only acceptable when it’s contained to the past? How come I feel so much more comfortable sharing my past struggles, but not my present ones, the ones that need to be shared?

When I talk about mental health, I tend to talk about it in the past. Like it’s something I faced when I was younger. Something that I’ve overcome. And in a sense, I  have grown since then – I’ve learned how to care for myself and I’ve established a better social support system. But no matter how great of a job I do at self care, no matter how many times I go to counseling and no matter how great I am at remembering to take my anxiety medication, I still have bad days. Really bad days. And I don’t know how to talk about them, nor do I feel I have the space to talk about them (which is why I’m writing a post about it…forcing myself to be extra vulnerable).

I’ve learned that no matter how much self-care I do, I will still face hardship from my mental illnesses on two levels: 1) The biological, chemical level, and 2) The oppression I face for my disability.

On the biological level, I can’t help it. I’m sick. Sometimes I feel like a ticking time bomb – like one day, the depression will get so bad that I’ll explode. And that scares me, no matter how good I’m feeling, I’m terrified of that happening to me one day.

On the societal level, I am damn tired of constantly feeling pressured to normalize and minimize the oppression that I face. I took a social justice class last year. The professor was the best I’ve ever had, but I first started to notice something about the oppression I face as a person with a disability in this class – disability is always the first to leave the table. When we fell behind in class, the disability unit was the first to be cut. I attended a leadership conference a few weeks back. We did an activity about identities, where various identities were all put up around the room. Disability was not up there. I raised my hand and asked why, and was told that not all models are perfect. While that is true, I’m tired of disability being discounted from discussions about oppression. It’s incredibility important, especially when talking about intersectionality and the cross-over between other identities (i.e. race, gender, sexuality) and disability.

When it comes to invisible disabilities like mine, I feel like I’m constantly having to prove my disability to others. I’m very high-functioning. Like, in my three years of college, I’ve only missed a course because of a panic attack once. I volunteer a lot. I’m active on campus. Because of all these things, people doubt the validity of my mental illness. People assume that because I’m not having panic attacks at school like I used to in high school, it means I’m all better now.

Mental health is not simply an individual issue. Like I said earlier, I know how to practice self care. I go to therapy. I take my medicine. I work out and eat well and I do everything I can for my mental health, but it’s still not enough, and it won’t ever be enough if people continue to let the stigma that surrounds mental illness be so pervasive in society. Oppression for those with both physical and mental disabilities is real. I face it from  my own thought patterns that have been socialized into my behavior, from my peers, and from laws/policies/political rhetoric.

I’m tired of always being the voice to advocate for myself. Where are all of my friends who had my back for so long, who have seen first hand the things I experience in my mind – where are my allies? It’s exhausting enough to live with a mental health condition. It’s even more so to constantly have to speak up for myself when nobody else does.

When I say I’m not doing well, I generally get one of the following responses: Either people freak out and assume I’m at risk, or people think I just mean that I had a bad day. I hope that one day, I’ll live in a world where I can tell others I’m not doing well and they’ll understand what I mean – that I need support. Isn’t that what all of us need?

di9radxat

Why I’m Afraid of Netflix’s New Hit Show: Imitative Suicide and 13 Reasons Why

After watching 13 Reasons Why, suicide has been all I can think about, in an unhealthy way. I’ve been watching the show despite it being incredibly triggering, because I keep being told to give it a chance. I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast about suicide (highly recommend Freakonomics if you’re into podcasts like me), and it was enlightening in that it talked about the issue that 13 Reasons Why has been making me fear the most – imitative suicide.

One of the most intriguing cases of imitative suicide with the most telling results happening in Austria in in the second half of 1987. Because of high profile coverage of suicides on the Viennese subway, there was a huge jump in imitative suicides. To address this problem, the Austrian Association for Suicide Prevention developed media guidelines about to address suicide, what images to show, and how to better prevent further instances. By changing the way that the Austrian media talks about suicide, there was a dramatic decrease in suicides in Austria. However, is censoring media coverage of suicide only furthering the problems with the stigma that surrounds suicide? Does starting the conversation about suicide and preventing suicide always have to be head-to-head?

For a short answer to that big question, I would say no. I’ve had successful experiences in small groups facilitating discussions about suicide prevention and I’ve seen it done on the media, in social settings, in the classroom, etc. 13 Reasons Why does provide an important conversation about bullying, sexual assault, and suicide, and my problems with the show aside, the cast is incredibly talented and diverse. Yet the show, in my opinion, is dangerous. My opposition to the show does not mean that I think suicide should remain silent and taboo – in fact, I’ve spoken out against the suicide taboo many times – but is a critique on the way that suicide is addressed in this show.

Graphic depictions of suicide lead to increases in suicide (again, listen to that Freakonomics podcast!). It’s not a controversial opinion; there is data that backs up these findings. When I first read the book, I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, and was just beginning to be influenced by mental illness and anxiety. I was hoping that a book about suicide, a topic that had been creeping into my mind, would help me better understand what I was going through. It only made me feel worse, and I can’t imagine what seeing a visual representation of the story would do to a person watching the show who is experiencing suicidal or self-harming thoughts. Granted, there are content warnings before more brutal or heavy episodes. But I know that I wouldn’t have paid much attention to them when I was younger, because I didn’t fully understand what I was going through.

Suicide cannot be riddled down to thirteen reasons or thirteen people. It’s complicated and complex. If you’re interested in the complexities, reach out to me, I’ve got access to a lot of resources and scholarship.

I am glad that the show decided to take on such an important topic, but am unhappy about the ways in which the topic was portrayed. I believe there could have  been more of an effort to talk about mental health and prevention. I know that the story is about a girl who was bullied, not mentally ill, and that thousands of suicides occur because of bullying. But I’m thinking about the impact here –  it is so difficult to access information about mental illness as a young person, especially if they are just beginning to experience mental illness, and this show is triggering to a point far beyond what I was expecting.

I know that I can’t speak for everyone. But my experiences are certainly relevant. I was bullied throughout my life – I was a bossy little kid who liked to read and would brag about my spelling test scores. Of course kids were mean to me. “Ditching” me on the playground was a game at recess – I wouldn’t go to the bathroom during the day because everytime I did, I would come out and my friends would be gone. In  middle and high school, friends talked about me behind my back frequently. Granted, we all talked about one another behind each other’s backs – but words affected me in a way that they didn’t affect everyone else. I had friends turn on me and break my heart. So yeah, I was bullied.

And on top of that, I had traumatic experiences with grief and loss and mental illness going on. So suicide is a familiar topic for me, as I’ve been in the position of feeling suicidal and I’ve dedicated a lot of my research and extracurricular experiences to suicide prevention and awareness.

I’ve seen a lot of articles and talked to a lot of people who have expressed concern with 13 Reasons Why – who feel it doesn’t represent the whole of feeling suicidal and feel that it portrays a false and dangerous message: If you kill yourself, everyone will feel bad about it and regret ever being mean to you. Even as someone who is no longer high-risk, the thought of everyone who was ever mean to me or pushed me aside feeling bad about it is appealing. And that terrifies me. If it’s appealing to me, how appealing is it to young people who are high-risk? Or are starting to have inklings of suicidal thoughts?

Yes, the show is addicting. Yes, there is phenomenal acting and representation in the show, which I don’t want to overlook at all. Maybe the show just isn’t made for people like me, who have had close experiences with suicide. But I think it’s safe to say that, if this show is having such a profound and terrifying effect on me, it’s having a profound and terrifying effect on many people. And the mere fact that so many people who identify as mentally disabled, have experience with suicide, or have experience with bullying are expressing discontent with this show demonstrates that there’s a problem. Obviously, not everyone with these experiences is expressing that there is a problem. But enough of them are.

I’m not saying that you’re not allowed to like the show, regardless of your relationship to suicide. I’m happy that there are people who have expressed love and healing that have come from this story. I’m so happy that it has facilitated a discussion about suicide, rape, and bullying.

I’m trying to say that, just  because you like the show, doesn’t mean you should discount the voices of people who are expressing concern. Do not label them as sensitive or easily triggered – I think I’ve made it quite clear that I’m not afraid to talk about suicide. My voice, and the voices of everyone else expressing concern, mean something, and that deserves to be heard and validated.

netflix27s_13_reasons_why_title_screen

Because I think talking about suicide and hearing stories about suicide is so important, here are a list of some of the better books that I have read that I think approach the issue in a much more accurate and less triggering way:

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

 

 

 

Not Just “That Time of the Month”: Living with PMDD

10 days left until period. Once my lovely period tracker app reads those few words, I can already feel the panic. Every single time, spot on, I PMS for 10 days straight. But, it’s not just normal PMS (not that any PMS is particularly normal) – I suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD, a disorder that I was recently diagnosed with, despite knowing for years that it was happening to me. PMDD often goes untreated or unnoticed – people, even doctors, tend to write it off as “just PMSing.” This all, as too many things do, connects back to the narrative we tell ourselves about women and PMS – women’s experiences aren’t valued the same way that the experiences of men are. When I would try to explain my severe emotional PMS symptoms to doctors, I was not validated, and I felt crazy.

I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder a while ago, on top of multiple anxiety disorders. Not until recently has a clinician reassessed this and validated my experiences with depression and PMS. And unfortunately, many women have this similar experience.

Yes, I get cramps and I get emotional and I crave a lot of chocolate and fatty foods. But it’s more than that, and it lasts for 10 straight days. I have severe mood swings. I get sad, really sad, and I question everything in my life in those ten days. I have panic attacks. I’m irritable. I can barely make a decision about anything – which is incredibly frustrating, as if lasts for such a long time. I get night sweats. I’m so tired, I feel depressed, and I feel hopeless. I know that it will end; I know that once my period starts I will feel so much better.  But knowing that it gets better doesn’t stop the symptoms from happening.

The cycle is exhausting. It’s incredibly predictable and I tell myself that I know how to handle it – but sometimes, when I think about how 10 days out of my 30 day cycle are spent feeling depressed and anxious because of my period, I get really hopeless. I’ve tried birth control and that only made it worse, anti-depressants have helped treat my anxiety disorders but haven’t helped much concerning my PMDD. And the worst part is that I find myself invalidating my own experiences and belittling myself – I hear that voice in the back of my mind telling me that I’m just a crazy woman who’s PMSing. It’s been socialized into my brain to invalidate women’s experiences with their periods, even though I am a woman. That’s the most frustrating part.

Read more about PMDD here and ways to treat it (thanks Web MD!) and don’t be afraid to seek help from a therapist if you feel like you have PMDD.

pmdd01_amanda_excell_web

 

To My Facebook Friends who are Tired of seeing “Sad Political Posts:”

 

Please stop sharing pictures of cute dogs saying that it’s better than the political debates you’ve been witnessing on the internet. As much as I love cute pictures of dogs, I am also aware that distractions are not the way to address the current political climate. Do not complain that politics are making you sad when there are people whose lives are being threatened because of the political environment.

 

Want to hear a lot of “sad” facts? No? Well I’m sorry, they’re happening right now, as we speak. Hate crimes surged after the election of Donald Trump (they may have declined since, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over). The Trump administration recently released policy to implement the Muslim Ban, reinstated a global gag rule on abortion to block federal funding from contributing to international family planning services, froze federal government hiring, and issued an executive order to continue the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

 

I don’t feel sorry for you. I don’t feel bad because you’re sad by all the terrible, terrifying news you see on your feed. I feel sorry for the people who are being affected by these policies. I feel sorry for people being held in airports, for people who have been victims of hate-crimes, for people who rely on Obamacare and are worried that they aren’t going to have insurance anymore.

 

I do hope that you take a moment to reevaluate your privilege, and realize that many people do not have the luxury of “feeling better” when they look at cute pictures and funny memes. This is a constant, on-going fear in the minds of immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and womxn across the continent. If you’re tired of seeing sad policies posts, than maybe you should take action to change things instead. Not everyone has the ability to distract themselves from these issues.

 

So, if you’re feeling down because of the news, instead of complaining about it, take action. Here are a list of resources for you to start with:

National Immigrant Justice Center

Daily Action

Call your government officials!

Wall of Us

Educate yourself about privilege.

Ask your local Church/Community Center/School what they are doing to fight the oppressive administration. And get involved!