Dump the Reading Slump

Reading slumps. They happen to almost every reader at some point. Some come because of a bad book, others because of what is going on in the reader’s life.

I’ve been in a bit of reading slump this year that doesn’t seem to have been caused by any one thing. It just kind of happened. I didn’t even realize I was in one until I took a look at my Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge and saw that I am behind. A lot.

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Since I’ve been keeping up with my yearly reading, I’ve only had one really bad year where my depression spiraled out of control. That year I only read 59 books. Normally I can hit 100, no problem. My highest year was last year with 116.

This year, I’m not sure what my deal has been. I listen to a lot of podcasts, so I’m thinking that with everything going on in the world, there’s been more to keep up with so podcasts have just taken precedence. I also sometimes just prefer to listen to people talking to each other (it sometimes helps my anxiety) so that’s another reason I’ve probably been utilizing podcasts more.

I’ve also been watching more television. One of the ways my husband and I spend time together is by watching our favorite shows. We have several (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place, Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend…just to name a few) so whenever we get a night in together, we’re usually watching something.

I also have this bit of fear that accompanies starting a new read. I’m finding that more and more I’m having to push myself into taking that first plunge. Once I’ve started, everything is fine and back on track, but getting past each beginning has been difficult.

What does all this mean for me? I think it means I have to be more intentional about my reading. I’ve already started challenging myself to read or listen to so much of a book before doing something else. It’s worked well so far, but I am still 23 books behind goal, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. October is often a great month for reading for me because of the fall atmosphere and my love of picking up spooky stories, so hopefully that will give me a nice big push to finish the year strong.

How’s your reading been this year? Any suggestions in how to dump a reading slump?

 

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Six Sad Childhood Books

Recently BuzzFeed published this listicle: 16 Books You Read As A Kid That Were Actual Emotional Torture.

I read the list. Exactly zero books listed match the sad books from my childhood.

Of the sixteen books, three I’ve read as an adult, six I’m aware of but have not read, and seven I’ve never heard of prior to this list. Some of these books weren’t even out when I was kid.

I’m not sure who comprises the BuzzFeed community that submitted those titles, but I’m going to guess millennials. I’m technically a millennial, but an old one, so I decided to share the six saddest books from my (very ’90s) childhood. I know some are still around and read, but I hope I’m not the only one that remembers the others.

Oh yeah, spoilers incoming.

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The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D. Taylor

Reading this book was the first time I learned about and understood racism and injustice. Seeing the family in the book be treated so terribly for being black and driving a fancy car made me so sad and angry as a seven-year-old and I’ve never forgotten it.

 

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A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace

At some point we all read a book or see a movie where the dog dies. This point for me was first or second grade. I remember being really happy that the main character went from being mean to dogs to a dog-lover, but then the dog, Kitty, dies, because elementary school kids need more reasons to cry.

 

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The Christmas Spurs by Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace really had it out for me as a kid. That, or he really thought kids should learn about death and how to deal with it. I don’t remember the exact specifics of the plot, just that there were two brothers, a pair of spurs, and that the younger brother dies from cancer. It has some kind of little twist that made the ending bittersweet.

 

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On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

This book was read to my class during library time by the librarian in fifth or sixth grade. I hated it. And then, when it got to the crux of the story, that one of the two main boys actually dies because they were being silly kids, I hated it even more. Then you have to actually be there when the surviving boy tries, and fails, to tell the other boy’s parents what happened. It’s The Worst.

 

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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

My sixth grade reading teacher was a Lowry fan, so we read two of her books that year. This was my first Lowry book and the first time I’d read anything about the Holocaust. The oppression and terror the characters experienced was awful, but at least this story didn’t end too terribly (leaving everything to escape to a different country because your people are being kidnapped and killed is pretty happy, right?).

 

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

This short, simple book is full of terrible things. Infanticide, senicide, forced birth, forced suppression of biologic functions, and a complete and total lack of individualism make up the main character’s world. He doesn’t realize these things are terrible (or even happening) until he meets The Giver and receives the memories of the past before everything changed, and some of those memories are terrible and painful. Then the little kid narrator has to leave everyone and everything he knows to save a baby and escape his controlled existence, only to end the book near death in the snow. Talk about emotional.

 

These books taught me things, the main lesson being I prefer books where the overwhelming feeling at the end isn’t sadness. I’ll still read a sad book from time to time, but they are harder for me to start than most others. Is it because of these early forays into sadness or because currently, the world is sad enough as it is?

I’m going to go with both. Both is good.

What books would make your saddest childhood books list?

 

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Evolving Identities

josephine-amalie-paysen-341672CN: discussion of sexual and romantic identities, sexual attraction, romantic attraction, sexual arousal, labels

If you asked me when I was 16 what my sexuality was, I would have said straight.

I would have been lying.

I wouldn’t have meant to lie, at least not exactly, but there would have been a few things I didn’t mention when I answered that question. Like how I sometimes had crushes on girls. Or how I never thought of people as sexy and didn’t ever desire sex the way most people seemed to.

I wouldn’t have told you about that one time in 5th grade when me and three other girls pretended that two of us were guys, and we carried on, holding hands and flirting. I told myself that it didn’t matter if I was acting gay, everyone else in my class was gay so what did it matter? Granted, that was a truly erroneous statement, and I barely had a concept of what the word gay meant, but I was trying to justify liking a girl when I had a vague but menacing notion that it was not approved of in rural Tennessee.

If you had asked me that question at 16, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you about the girls I kissed in college because it hadn’t happened yet. I wouldn’t have been able to explain that we just did it for fun, none of us were anything but straight (because there was only straight and gay, right?), or that despite enjoying kissing them, as well as some guys along the way, I never had sexual feelings for any of them, something I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain.

So now that I am not 16, now that I have found my voice, I can tell you the truth:

I am not straight.

I did labor under the delusion that I was straight until my late twenties. It was then that I stumbled upon the word demisexual. This word seemed to describe me perfectly: a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone (from AVENwiki). This opened up all kinds of doors for me. It made me feel seen and understood and I no longer felt broken or weird for not desiring sex like most people seemed to.

It would take another couple of years for me to be fully honest with myself that demisexual was not the whole story of my sexual identity. During this time I was also transitioning from being an evangelical, Southern Baptist conservative to a spiritual, Two Commandments liberal, so my views on feminism and LGBTQIAP+/queer issues were solidifying. This led me to a greater understanding of human sexuality, namely that identity is fluid and that there is more than one kind of attraction.

So last year at age 30, I determined that my full identity was hetero-demisexual and biromantic, which meant that I was only sexually attracted to men after making a strong emotional connection, but that I was romantically attracted to men and women. That fell under the asexual umbrella term gray-ace, so that is what I started using.

A year later, gray-ace is no longer my preferred term. The reason is because no matter how much we may know ourselves, sometimes there is always more to learn.

Earlier this year, I was planning a presentation on asexuality, so I had to dive in deep in order to try and describe what being ace means to the many types of people that fall under the ace umbrella. In addition, I had to try and explain this to both ace and non-ace people. One of the key points of this presentation was that sexual attraction, sexual arousal, and sexual action are three different and separate things.

The more I understood about these three things, the more I realized that in my own sexual identity, I had been confusing sexual attraction with sexual arousal. I thought that because I was experiencing arousal (in my body) that meant I was experiencing attraction (in my mind). But while the two can correlate and happen simultaneously, they don’t have to, and I realized for the first time that I was not actually experiencing sexual attraction, which means I am simply ace, no other descriptors needed.

As to my romantic identity, I had some learning to do there too. Attraction can be a funny thing and mine is quite specific. There usually has to be some combination of facial features, outward presentation, and personality to ring my romantic/sensual/aesthetic attraction bells.

But I realized this extended beyond binary-identifying people, so I fall under panromantic. In queer communities, bi- is used to mean “more than two,” so biromantic still fits as well, but I’m trying to get comfortable using panromantic because it is more in line with how my romantic attraction manifests.

So it has taken me about five years to understand my own sexual and romantic identity to the point where I feel solid in the labels I choose to use. Does that mean they won’t change again at some point? No, but at least for now, I feel confident that I am representing myself in the truest way possible.

Identities evolve, and that’s okay. You should never feel ashamed about questioning who you are or how you relate to the world around you. It took me a long time to figure things out, but no matter how long it may take you, your journey and your identity are valid. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

For more information on asexuality, please visit
The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network.

To look up terms mentioned in this post, please visit the AVENwiki.

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Photo Credit: © 2017 Josephine Amalie Paysen via Unsplash

I am Kafka’s Bug

James Sutton via Unsplash

I read a lot of books.

In general, I like most of them, and sometimes they even affect me emotionally, though the latter is rare. I can usually tell when a book will make me emotional or cry because I tend to have specific triggers relating to my personal history.

But recently I was surprised. I got emotional about a book that I had no idea would resonate with me so deeply.

On a whim, I had decided to read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. I was in the mood for something short and had access to a copy, so I read it. It’s a classic that I knew little about — a man turns into a bug? — and I knew even less about the author. I had heard lots of things in culture be referred to as ‘Kafkaesque’, meaning they replicated his absurdist style.

But I found The Metamorphosis to be hardly absurd.

Sure, I get why people say that. A guy, Gregor Samsa, wakes up to find that he has transformed into a bug of some kind (though the fact of what Gregor turned in to, and if he did indeed turn into anything, is hotly debated) and the how and why of the event are never explained. That’s all pretty strange.

But despite Gregor’s new bug persona, the feelings, emotions, and tragedy of the story are all human. So human, in fact, I found myself thinking that Kafka had reached into the future, seen the inside of my mind, and used it as a blueprint for Gregor’s struggles.

Absurd? Absolutely. But I related so strongly to what Gregor was feeling, my chest was heavy with the connection. It completely changed my mood and my day.

Because the narrative is so layered, I can see how one could get many different meanings from the text. The book has obviously meant something to many, many people over the years, given how thoroughly it has been discussed and dissected.

But to explain what I got out of it, I’ll have to get into some of the things that happen in the story, so spoilers ahead.

After Gregor realizes what he has become, his family finds out (he lives with his parents and his sister). His parents soundly reject their son, but his sister feeds him and looks in on him and cleans up his room. There are a few occasions where Gregor is beaten or attacked by someone in the house and he is injured and does not really heal from these wounds.

Gregor is trapped in his bedroom and because of his size and the unfamiliarity with his new body, and later, his injuries, he has trouble moving around the space. He can understand his family, but they cannot understand him.

His mother comes around at some point and starts helping his sister take care of him, and they start leaving the bedroom door open for him in the evening so he can see the family at dinner. Through this open door Gregor sees the life he once had, the life that he can no longer participate in.

Because the family now lacks Gregor’s income, the other three reduce their use of paid servants and take jobs. They struggle to support themselves and wish to move to a smaller place, but cannot due to Gregor’s condition. After months of this strained living, they rent some of their space to three men and hide Gregor from them.

In addition to having strangers in the house, Gregor is also more isolated because his sister and mother are so busy all the time that they no longer take care of him like they used to. His room gets dirty and they don’t notice when he stops eating. His sister, in particular, seems to grow bitter at the anchor Gregor has become on her life.

These feelings of being trapped, of not being loved, of worthlessness, of depression and hopelessness, are all things I’ve experienced. My life is difficult in ways that I did not choose and I cannot escape, and I do what I can to make the best out of what I’ve got. But beyond relating to these feelings that Gregor, and to some extent, his family, experience, there were two other aspects that struck me.

The first is that there was no rhyme or reason as to why this happened to Gregor. He didn’t do anything to cause this; it just happened.

I struggle with those bad things in life, minor and major, that just seem to happen, especially when no good comes of them. Sometimes there is not a lesson to be learned or a brighter spot made from dealing with the darkness. Sometimes things just happen to people and they have to deal with them. It’s not fair or just or right, but there’s nothing that can be done about it. I felt this so strongly with Gregor’s situation; he could not stop his transformation or change his situation and it made for a sad and tragic story.

The second aspect of this story that was so moving to me was that there are no villains. Everyone in the story is an imperfect person. Parents reject their son, the sister neglects her brother, Gregor goes a little mad and envisions imprisoning his sister in his room so she can play him the violin forever. But even at their worst, none of these characters are villains or even bad people. They are simply dealing with a difficult situation the best they can.

Gregor wanted certain things to alleviate his great suffering, even understanding they were not good things to want but feeling that getting these things was the only way for him to retain his humanity. His family denied him certain things, not out of malice, but because they didn’t know, and couldn’t know, if he had any humanity left within him.

They all tried their best to handle the crisis. Unfortunately, they all failed. But seeing that they were given an impossible situation to begin with, it is hard to fault them.

My situation may not be as completely impossible as Gregor’s and his family’s, but sometimes it feels that way. Reading Kafka’s words felt like him giving me a nod of recognition and a shrug that simply says, “Well, you may be failing, but who can blame you? At least you’re trying.”

I have kept myself intentionally ignorant of the many examinations of this story until I could write this, so I’m not sure what Kafka intended or what others believe he intended when he wrote The Metamorphosis. Whatever the purpose of the story, the experience of reading this, of having my darkest self feel seen and not judged, is invaluable.

Even if I am just a bug.

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Photo Credit: © 2017 James Sutton via Unsplash

Life’s Little Mysteries

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From the time I could read, I’ve been enthralled by mystery stories. An unsolved case, a missing person, an inexplicable event – it didn’t matter the context, I just wanted to follow the clues with the characters and know the answers.

My first mystery stories were ones from my local library. They weren’t exactly mysteries in the traditional sense but they definitely had that mystery element and tended to be about things like ghosts and kids with strange powers. I found my way to traditional mystery novels in junior high and high school, and to this day, I power through mystery novels as fast as I can get my hands on them. Cozy, twisted, themed, classic, contemporary, historical, it doesn’t really matter; I love them all.

But life isn’t often much like books, especially ones that are high concept and take situations to the extreme like mysteries do. I got to thinking about the mysteries I’ve experienced in my own life, true mysteries for which I don’t have the answers. I only have a few, but I decided to write a little about them and speculate as to the truth.

roseThe White Rose

When: December, 1999, the last day of fall semester

Where: my combination junior/senior high school

What happened: School was over and winter break had begun, but I think I had basketball practice that afternoon, so I was staying at the school until practice was over. I had cleaned out my locker, leaving only a few school books I wouldn’t need, and headed to the girls’ locker room to hang out until practice started.

I got to talking with one of my friends and fellow teammates and realized that one of the books I needed to take home over break was one I’d left in my locker. I trudged all the way back to the junior high lockers to retrieve it.

The school was practically empty and no one was about in the halls. Our lockers were old and didn’t have locks, so when I opened my locker, I found that someone had left a white rose inside. The rose was rather large and pretty, and had one of those plastic tubes at the bottom filled with water. I looked around, but no one was there. They had to have put it in my locker in the short time between my first locker visit and me returning to retrieve my book. If I hadn’t needed that book, the rose would have stayed in there until school started again in January, so I was really glad I’d had a reason to go back to my locker.

Whodunit: I’ve always thought it was one of two boys. One of them had a girlfriend at the time, but we flirted a lot and I really liked him. The other liked me but I wasn’t interested in him as more than a friend. Neither of them ever admitted to leaving the rose. And because of the lockless-lockers, it could have been anyone.

Why: Either someone wanted me to have a rose, or they put it in the wrong locker. Your guess is as good as mine.

footprintThe Footprints

When: winter of either 1998 or 1999

Where: my house

What happened: School got cancelled because of snow, so my parents were at work and I was at home with my little sister. The snow fell until about noon, leaving 4-6 inches on the ground the rest of the day.

In the afternoon, my sister got hungry so I made her some ramen noodles. My sister has always been a ramen fanatic, but this was the first time I ever tried making food using the stove without my parents around. When my parents got home a couple hours later, I stood at the door in the laundry room that led to the garage and watched them through the open garage door, facing the backyard and looking at something in the snow.

They asked me if either of us had gone outside. I said no (they’d told us to stay inside during the day and we had). Again, they told us to stay inside instead of coming out there to help them bring in dinner.

We had a window with blinds on it that looked directly into our kitchen from the back deck. I peaked through the blinds that had been open all day to see my mom and dad peering down at the ground as they walked carefully through our snow covered backyard.

When they came inside, I asked them what was going on. They asked if either me or my sister had seen anyone around the house. We hadn’t. They told me to put on some shoes and a jacket and come outside. We walked out on the deck through the back door and there, in the snow in front of the kitchen window, was a pair of footprints.

They were bigger than my dad’s size twelve. They trailed from the copse of tree’s behind the neighbor’s house, through our yard, and to our kitchen window. They had to have been made after the snow stopped falling since they hadn’t been filled in, which means someone was likely watching me while I was in the kitchen or watching me and my sister while we were in the living room (where we would have been visible through the open kitchen door).

Whodunit: Due to the shoe size, the culprit was probably a large male or a medium male with snow boots, and therefore, I’ve always thought it was a pervy neighbor we weren’t acquainted with. But we never found out and nothing like it ever happened again.

Why: People can be creepy.

thank youThe Empty Thank You

When: sometime in late 2004, early 2005

Where: my house

What happened: I was at home from my freshman year of college, either on break or on a weekend, when my mom checked the mail and saw that I had received a card.

The card was smaller than a greeting card and in the return-to-sender corner, all that was written was D. Drury.

I opened the card and saw that it was a thank you card. It was standard white with a simple gold cursive THANK YOU printed on the front, and inside, it was blank.

No message, nothing. I studied the card and envelope for several minutes, showing it to my family. I hadn’t done anything, been to anything, that warranted a thank you card, and I didn’t know anyone with the last name of Drury, but whoever they were, they knew my name and address and thought for some reason to send me this card, blank as it was.

I searched the internet as best I could considering the little information I had (and considering it was 2004/5) and came up with absolutely nothing. I didn’t know whether to think it was some kind of mistake or some kind of weird trick.

Whodunit: I would love to know.

Why: Seriously, I would love to know.

So those are my little mysteries! Do you have any unexplained happenings in your life? If so, are they interesting like in mystery novels or a little mundane, like mine? Let me know in the comments if you wish!

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Photo Credits:

© 2016 Dmitry Ratushny via Unsplash
© 2017 Annie Spratt via Unsplash
© 2016 Paul Green via Unsplash
© 2017 Aaron Burden via Unsplash

Don’t. Assume. Anything.

naomi-august-138149CN: Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicide

While writing, reading, and books are a main part of what I write about on here, I also want to talk about other things that affect me and others around me. In this post, I’m going to be using the term mental illness a lot, mainly because it’s an easily recognizable term. I want to clarify that I do believe that a mental illness is a brain illness, which means it is a physical illness even if it manifests in the intangible mind.

If you are a person with a mental illness, chances are you’ve had some silly things said to you about your illness from people who do not share your experiences. I’m sure I’ve even said some of those things, though I myself have depression and anxiety, because, hey, no one is perfect.

But I want to explain why some of these things can be bothersome, so here are three things that have been said to me in the last three years when I’ve revealed that I have depression/anxiety/panic attacks. These things came from well-meaning individuals, but I found myself feeling less empowered and uplifted and more misunderstood and alienated.

“I never thought you were depressed. You’re always so happy!”

I would like to introduce you to my Survival Mask. My Survival Mask makes it so that I can seemingly function in the world while dying on the inside. My Survival Mask helps me navigate day to day situations without turning into a blubbering pile of despair every time someone asks me how I am. I have stuff to do, and my Survival Mask helps me focus on getting those things done instead of focusing on how I terrible I feel. Each morning I create the mask and once I’m back in a safe space where I can wear my real emotions on my face, I take that mask and throw it against the wall, only to create a new one the next day.

I deserve a flipping Oscar for the amount of people I have fooled into thinking I am a positive, happy, optimistic, always bubbly person. I mean, I am, that’s mostly what the Real Me is like. But the Real Me is only achieved when my depression is under control thanks to medication and other therapies. And while I am open to talking about my mental illnesses, I don’t feel like sharing every problem they cause me all the time. I’m definitely in the camp of “fake it ’til you make it” and I try to live how I want to be, not necessarily how I am. The drawback is that wearing my Survival Mask is exhausting, so when I’m not wearing it, all I want to do is sleep. And not everyone can hide their depression, and really, none of us should have to. The stigma around mental illness is a big reason why most of us try.

If I tell you I have depression, what that means is I suffer from a mental illness that affects every moment of my life. I’m letting you in, lifting the mask, and I’m trusting you. You don’t have to tell me you didn’t know, because I meant for you to not know. But now that you do, I’m hoping you understand me a little more than you did a minute ago. If not, you can educate yourself here.

“Oh, you have anxiety/panic attacks? What about?”

While stress and upsetting situations can trigger/make me more susceptible to anxiety and panic attacks, neither require a source. Sometimes I just feel anxious. Sometimes I just have a panic attack. Both suck and zap me of energy and often leave me feeling fragile and vulnerable. I have learned, through therapy and continued education (which can be found here), how to deal with both in ways that work for me. I use a pressure point and breathing exercise, calming music, ASMR videos, and EMDR therapy (this video usually) to reduce anxiety, and sometimes these methods can keep me from falling into a panic spiral when I feel a panic attack coming on.

But for panic attacks that get to a point where those methods won’t work (or I’m not in a state that I can use them effectively), I often have to cocoon myself, which generally means I have to wrap myself up in blankets, stay in bed (my safe place), and sometimes receive comfort from a safe person. I’ve had one panic attack where I could not get to a safe space, was alone, and could not calm myself. It was so bad I started having suicidal thoughts. I knew I needed outside help, so my only option was to call 911. It was the right decision because the panic attack triggered an asthma attack, so I was in as much physical pain as I was mental pain.

But here’s the real problem with the question above: even if my anxiety/panic attack has a trigger, I’m not likely to tell you what it is. First, knowing that you think all anxiety/panic attacks have a source lets me know you are not a safe person to discuss them with. Second, unless you are already a trusted person with whom I’ve talked about this before, this question feels like prying. I know the intention is usually to help, to identify the problem and reassure me things are fine. But if you understood anxiety/panic attacks, you’d know that while I appreciate your sympathy, your reassurance isn’t actually helpful.

“Depressed? You shouldn’t feel bad about yourself. You’re great!”

Self-esteem has never been a problem for me. Being that I am a woman with a large quantity of fat on my body, the assumption might be that I have body image issues, but I don’t. I’ve always been bigger than other people even before I was fat and it’s never been something that bothered me in a lasting way. But self-esteem doesn’t have to be body related, it can be about my view of myself as a whole person.

To be completely honest, I am brazenly self-centered. I analyze everything I do, say, and think and I live in my own little world most of the time. I talk to myself and I enjoy talking about myself and sharing my thoughts and opinions. I am always intricately involved with whatever is going on with my brain, sometimes to the detriment of my communication skills. I’m compassionate and empathetic, loving and kind, but also cynical, sarcastic, and I can use my words as weapons. I’m extroverted and love to talk to people about things I enjoy, but I’m also introverted and enjoy being alone and can get annoyed when my solitary activities are interrupted. I can be extremely patient and extremely impatient. I am Type-A and can be an insufferable know-it-all. I know I am smart and capable of many things. I can come across as condescending and conceited, overly enthusiastic and loud, a bleeding heart, ditzy. I know I am awesome but I also know I’m not a perfect person. Either way, I do not feel bad about myself. I try to be my best self, which doesn’t always work, but I try, and that’s what matters most to me.

I am a person with depression but I do not have low self-esteem. While low self-esteem can accompany depression and sometimes the two can become intertwined, depression and low self-esteem are separate issues. I believe where the two become conflated is in the notion that depression lies to you about yourself, which is true for many people. But in my case, depression does so by taking over my feelings.

Depression makes me feel worthless, that no one loves me, that no one understands me, that I am utterly alone, and that dying would be better than continuing to live in such pain and turmoil. When depression takes over, I feel those things, but I don’t think them, because the me that does the thinking is Real Me and Real Me knows better. I can even hold two opposing ideas – feeling unloved but knowing I’m loved – in my head at the same time. I’ve been dealing with depression for over twenty years now, so while not all people with depression can, I am able to separate my thoughts and feelings from what depression puts in my head.

artem-kovalev-86365

If I had to sum up in one phrase how to avoid statements and questions that make life more difficult for someone with a mental illness, I’d pick this:

Don’t assume anything.

There are many kinds of mental illnesses, and every person’s experience is different. If someone has trusted you enough to reveal that they have a mental illness, know that they don’t do so lightly. Do your best to be a support to the people in your life with mental illnesses. Help us end the stigma by breaking the cycle of misinformation and bad representation by educating yourself using the many sites and tools the internet provides.

Above all, set an example by treating us with the dignity, respect, and compassion we deserve as human beings.

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If you or someone you know is suicidal, please contact

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

 

Photo Credits:

© 2016 Naomi August via Unsplash
© 2016 Artem Kovalev via Unsplash

[Review] Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Title: Goodbye Days ~~ Author: Jeff Zentner
Series: None ~~ Release Date: 03/07/2017
Source: ARC Tour
FTC Disclosure: I accepted this ARC free of charge and received no compensation for my fair and honest review.

From Goodreads:

Can a text message destroy your life?

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?

When I read a contemporary YA novel, I usually go into it with mild expectations because contemporary is such a broad category, and each book can be completely different from the next. If anyone follows me on Twitter or Goodreads, you probably saw me freakout over Jeff Zentner’s debut novel The Serpent King. It was set near my hometown in Tennessee (with a few mentions of my hometown, no less), and it was hopeful, tragic, atmospheric, and I loved every minute of it. It also made me cry, which is a feat for any book to accomplish. It easily became one of my favorite contemporary YA novels of all time.

So when Stefani of Caught Read Handed sent out a general invitation to join an ARC tour for Zentner’s next book, Goodbye Days, on her Twitter (thank you Stefani!!!), I jumped at the chance to read it. Like TSK, Goodbye Days is set in Tennessee and sounded even more tragic. Now knowing the quality of Zenter’s writing and storytelling abilities, I knew that even if it didn’t reach instant-favorite level, it would still be a good read.

But Zentner delivered again. I honestly don’t know which book of his two I prefer more. Goodbye Days didn’t make me cry, though it came close, and it book spoke to me in a different way than TSK. The Serpent King had a distinct, almost claustrophobic atmosphere made up of small-town life, the weight of hopes and dreams, the potential to live beyond the life we are born into, and senseless loss. All of those factors made the otherwise completely realistic story feel ethereal at times.

Goodbye Days differs in that there is no hazy distance between you and the stark reality of the tragedy in the book. The reality of heavy emotions starts on page one and never lets up. While grief and loss fill each chapter, Zentner also skillfully layers in laughter and hope. As we follow Carver through his coping, and not coping, with the loss of his best friends, we get to see flashbacks of him with the boys. Those moments were electric and alive, and even more than that, they were raw and mesmerizing in their simplicity and joy.

Just like in The Serpent King, Zentner’s writing feels effortless but makes an impact. I flagged several lines in the text, many feeling like gut punches. The dialogue is on-point, and I loved how he integrated the setting of Nashville into the story. One of my favorite things about this book is how well Zentner represents what grief, anxiety, and panic attacks can feel like. Some of Carver’s thoughts felt like they were pulled out of my own head, and his experience with panic attacks mirrored my own. Zentner also shows that getting professional help for mental issues can be helpful and useful, not stupid and pointless like a lot of YA books posit, and I’m glad Zentner included this purely positive representation.

When it came to the characters, I felt like I could relate to almost every one of them in some way or another. I highly identified with Carver and his struggles with mental health in the face of grief. All of the main characters and many of the side characters felt fully formed. The only exception for me was Jesmyn because she just didn’t stick with me the way all the others did. Carver was definitely the closest to my heart, but my favorite character was his sister, Georgia. Some of her lines were laugh-out-loud worthy, and I loved her fierce love for her family and her confidence and wisdom. She is who I wish I was back when I was in college.

The only slight drawback of the book was a subplot revolving around Carver and Jesmyn. It wasn’t bad, I just didn’t feel that it fit perfectly into the story, and the resolution of it wasn’t as satisfying as the emotional journey Carver experiences with the other characters and with himself. But due to the many, many wonderful lines and feelings-inducing scenes, this was just a blip in an overall amazing story.

My words do barely any justice in describing the experience of reading Goodbye Days. I can’t express how much this book made me feel, and I’m not a re-reader, but I’ll be picking this up again and again because it is that wonderful. Goodbye Days is an experience unto itself, and despite it being all about tragedy and grief, the ultimate feeling of hope and recovery make every potential tear worth it.

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