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!

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! 

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?

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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.

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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.

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