So excited to share another wonderful, thoughtful and honest post from a book blogger about anxiety and reading today. Lauren runs the book blog Reading, Writing, and Me and you can find her online here.
YA books taught me not to feel bad about my mental health. I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, and OCD since elementary school. When I was younger, it felt like I was the only person on the planet who had a brain that worked like mine. While that’s still true, I now know I’m not the only person who deals with intrusive thoughts, skin picking, or days when it feels like there’s absolutely no point in getting out of bed. Mental health wasn’t a widely discussed topic among my family or school community. While I’m sure other students were experiencing similar struggles to mine, no one ever showed it. I got repeatedly told to cover cuts on my thumbs so I wouldn’t look weird. And, yet, I wanted to talk about mental health. I wanted to understand why my brain sent me from panicked to feeling like a zombie and everywhere in between over the span of a week. It was in the thick of this confusion and mountain of stigma that I found my first YA book.
When I read All The Bright Places, it honestly felt like a turning point. Looking back, the bipolar disorder portrayal could be harmful, and it wasn’t handled as well as it could’ve been in the layers of possible romanticism, but as a 14 year old desperate to feel understood, the book felt like a life raft. Though the idea of reading about two suicidal teens terrified me at the beginning, I started to see anxious and depressed thoughts I had echoed through Finch and Violet’s voices. I bawled my eyes out when the book was over, and I looked for more books centered on mental health. I felt like I was doing something wrong, and I wondered if my parents would take the books from me if they knew what was inside them. Girl In Pieces was my first time reading about self harm. Though I don’t have personal experience with it, the book was incredibly moving and well written. It also made me understand why people turn to something like self harm in desperation. It’s never a good choice, but it doesn’t deserve the stigma it carries. Girl In Pieces is set in a hospital where Charlie is receiving treatment, and while it was a mental health story so separate from my own experience, I realized the importance of showing pieces of worlds the average person would never see the inside of. Demystifying in-patient care and destigmatizing it could go a long way to save lives.
Over the last four years, I’ve continued to discover and promote well written books, so many own voices, exploring the complexities of living with mental illness. I made these books a partial focus on my blog to help other teens find these titles too. The first time I read about a girl with OCD who picked at her skin (in All Our Broken Pieces by LD Crichton), I was overwhelmed with relief at not being the only one. Skin picking was the most isolating part of my compulsions because it crosses the line from mental to physical. There’s proof all over my hands. But, suddenly, it was clear that there were people out there with hands like mine. There’s a relief in knowing others share your thoughts and worries. This connection meant the world to me.
Breaking down stigma and expanding empathy is imperative to fighting the current mental health crisis. Creating a broader understanding around mental health and mental illness is highly important to increasing accessibility to mental healthcare and allowing people to succeed in their day to day lives. Books are an extremely powerful tool to help people who haven’t experienced anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness understand what those who do go through on a daily basis. There’s no other tool to allow you to temporarily live another person’s life so effectively. I will be eternally grateful for the YA books about mental health that have served as a vessel for me to come into my own and to help other teens who share my story.