8 Books to Celebrate Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month. How about a list of reads all about it?

Hello again from quarantine! If you didn’t know, May is mental health month, and honestly I think we could all use a little help there, especially right now. Mental health is something I’ve been passionate about for a while, both as a neurobiologist and as a person who has struggled with mental health issues. And one great way to see through someone else’s eyes, especially if you’ve never experienced any mental health issues, is to read other people’s stories.

So, to celebrate and spread the word about some of my favorites, here are ten books with strong mental health themes that I enjoyed. Disclaimer: just because I enjoyed them doesn’t mean everyone will. If you loved or hated them, let me know in the comments! And if you want even more recommendations, here is a list of 40 great YA books that deal with mental health.

1. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This is a book I read within the last few months, and I was absolutely blown away by the beautiful, fantastical storytelling. This book tells the story of Leigh, a teenage girl who recently lost her mother to suicide after a long battle with depression. Unlike many mental health stories out there, this one focuses on the people left behind after suicide and depression and is a deep look into one girl’s grief.

2. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

If you’ve followed me for a while, you may know that Fangirl is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s emotionally intense and ends on a warm, fuzzy note. But for this list, I’d like to highlight what this book brings to the table: it tells the story of two sisters moving into college and growing apart, a father with mental health issues, and a main character who deals with severe anxiety.

3. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Okay, so this one is really similar to Fangirl…a shy, anxious girl in love with a world she built, and no one knows she’s the author. But this one focuses on what happens when her anonymity is broken and suddenly everyone finds out who she is. So, so good, and if you like Fangirl, you’ll like this one, too!

4. Something Real by Heather Demetrios

This one is a little different, as it deals with the aftermath of growing up in the spotlight. The main character was a child on a reality show that went off the air – something she was all too happy to leave behind. But after she’s finally learning how to cope with life as a normal teen, her family suddenly wants to bring the show back. A very interesting and unique take on child stardom.

5. The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

This is definitely a bit more difficult to read, particularly if you’re dealing with depression, but if you’re able, it’s so good. This story starts after the main character attempts suicide and follows her journey through recovery. And it doesn’t lie about how hard it is to get through something like that, which is one reason I love it. This book also happens to have one of my all-time favorite covers.

6. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

My last three picks are all by the same author, but she writes many well-done mental health books. This one in particular grabbed me for its dive into what it can be like to be family to an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD. Like The Astonishing Color of After, it’s nice to see a book where the main character is family to someone who is struggling, a good reminder that family of a struggling person need just as much support.

7. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I will admit that not everyone likes this book as much as I do, but this is an interesting intersection of issues: eating disorders, hallucinations, and grief. I think it does a really great job at showing how multiple issues can be interconnected, and like The Memory of Light, it offers a realistic view of therapy while still ending on a hopeful note. I really appreciate that in my mental health fiction.

8. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I can’t end without mentioning this classic, award-winning book. Speak is the story of a high school girl in the aftermath of sexual assault and the way she must cope with what happened and with her classmates and the adults around her. As I said, this is definitely a classic, and it’s won its awards for a reason.

BONUS: All That Glimmers by Selina J. Eckert

This novella, releasing on May 15, is an exploration of grief and moving on, set in the fantasy world of contemporary Fae. Hallie is two years out from her best friend’s death, but she is determined to bring her back…especially when she finds a Fae secret that could mean putting her world back together again.

You can get it on Amazon or any other retailer.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’ve struggled with mental health before or not, I hope this list gives you a strong set of reads for the month of May. If you’ve read any of these, please feel free to let me know what you thought of them in the comments. And if you have any other recommendations, let’s chat about them!

See you in the comments. ❤

10 Mental Health Tropes I Hate in Fiction

Are there certain types of tropes that just bug you? Here are a few related to mental illness that I can’t stand!

For a ridiculously long time, there has been a large back-and-forth between the societal stigma of mental illness and the progress science, and society, has made in understanding and treating these illnesses. This stigma and the views of society are often apparent in fictional depictions of mental health and mental illness. And, honestly, they’re usually at the best not very good and at the worst downright dangerous and harmful. And this is coming from a girl who loves to read books with mental health elements to them! So today I want to talk a little about some of the tropes surrounding mental health that I just cannot stand.

There may be some tough topics ahead, and you may not agree with all my points. But hang on, friends. This is a long one.

1. Labeling a person as “crazy.”

This just irks me, mostly because when it is used, a lot of the time it is simply because the character doing the labeling (like an ex-boyfriend) is making an excuse for the horrendous behavior that led the person to their so-called “crazy” behavior. Or, it is used as an excuse to disregard a person’s feelings and opinions. OR it is reducing a person or a character to someone else’s flawed idea that is mostly just a smokescreen for that other person’s flawed ideas.

And sadly, this happens in real life, too. We can do so much better, people.

2. People with mental illness are dangerous.

OH MY WORD I cannot stand this one. And it’s current! I just saw Bird Box on Netflix this week, and boy, does it hold onto this one!

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT! (Skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie yet) In the movie, there are “criminally insane” people from an asylum who escaped after everything started going downhill for the world. And these people don’t kill themselves after seeing the creatures, like most people do; instead, they force other people to look at them, leading these other people to kill themselves. And if you don’t willingly look, they force you to. Violently.

Here’s the problem: this trope perpetuates a fear of people with mental illness that already exists in society. Furthermore, this is an unfounded fear. In fact, people with mental health issues are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, and if you want a stat, only 3-5% of violent acts are attributable to people with mental illness (that debunked myth, and a bunch of others, can be found over on MentalHealth.gov).

3. Dissociative Identity Disorder

Yes, this disorder gets its own bullet-point.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is often used in fiction to create either dangerous characters (see Point 2) or quirky, multifaceted characters. The alters (personalities) are often portrayed as just good folks in need of acceptance.

But like so many mental health scenarios in fiction, this is wrong. DID is a complex and serious disorder requiring a properly trained and competent therapist to help integrate the alters. Accepting the alters as they are shouldn’t be the goal of therapy or of the person suffering from the disorder. But instead of this, a lot of fiction writers exploit this disorder to perpetuate a harmful idea that alters can be good, or to make their character more interesting.

4. Mental illness makes a person smarter or more creative.

No.

Oh, you want the long version? Okay, let me explain. So there’s this romanticized notion that to be an intelligent or artistic person, you must be a “tortured soul,” aka suffer from some sort of mental illness. But this is yet another myth perpetuated by fiction.

Here’s the facts: people with mental illness typically find that the illness interferes with their ability to think clearly and create. In fact, I can personally attest to this.

You see, a few years back, I suffered from a pretty serious bout of depression, which I had experienced to a slightly lesser degree on and off for years and years before that. Before the depressive episode hit, I was writing thousands of words per day, and I even completed two full-length novel drafts within only a few months. And when the depression hit, I went to school, then came home and sat on the couch until 3-4 in the morning doing nothing other than watching TV. I couldn’t create. I wasn’t more creative or thoughtful or intelligent. I was stagnant and unmotivated and self-depracating. It killed my ability to live to my potential. And for a lot of people with depression, they don’t even survive to come out the other side like I did.

So yes, please, let’s stop romanticizing mental illness.

5. The weird, dangerous, or unethical therapist.

*sigh* Okay. So fiction seems to mostly have two options for treatment of mental illness by a mental health professional: no help (which is Point 6) or help by a therapist who is weird, dangerous, or unethical.

“Weird” therapists are those who seem spacey or are bumbling, fumbling idiots. It makes therapists seem aloof and distant, when in reality, a good therapist is attentive, down-to-earth, and easy to talk to.

But what I personally find even more alarming are the portrayals of therapists who do things that are unethical and, quite frankly, dangerous. They experiment on their clients or patients. They torture them. They form relationships with them that step beyond the appropriate professional relationship. It bothers me.

And why do I hate these so much? Because they scare people by painting an image of a horror movie or ridiculous scenario every time someone suggests therapy. And it can keep people from seeking the help they need. And that is dangerous to their well-being.

6. There are no therapists.

On the other end of the spectrum are the stories where mental illness runs rampant and unchecked or there is never anything to address traumatic experiences. These are the stories where the kid watches his parents die, but no one bothers to consider how that might impact him emotionally or psychologically. Or the girl going through a manic episode just keeps getting worse because no one seems to notice. The reality of life with mental issues and illnesses is ignored in favor of drama. And that is also not okay. I see it spreading a message of hopelessness and feelings of being unnoticed and unimportant. We need more realistic pictures of therapy across the board.

7. Mental illness as a “quirk” or “flaw.”

This is another pet peeve of mine. Writers will take a person, decide they’re too bland or uninteresting, and give them a mental illness, like OCD, to make them more interesting or quirky. Or their character is too perfect, so to give them a flaw, they give them severe and crippling anxiety.

Now, it’s perfectly fine to write characters with mental illness (and in fact there should be plenty of them, since so many people experience them). But what’s not okay is using them as a sideshow for the story. The illness needs to be purposeful and sensitive, and it shouldn’t be used for comedy or to imply that having a mental illness makes a person flawed. There are so many other flaws out there that mental illness shouldn’t be used as one of them.

8. Mental illness can be overcome by trying just a little bit harder.

This one also angers me from my experience. I can’t tell you how many people told me, when I was going through my worst, to “just be happy,” or “get over it,” or “pray more.” Like I wasn’t trying hard enough to get through my problem. Like it was somehow my fault. And unfortunately, this societal attitude carries right through to fiction.

There are so many stories out there where one character will tell another to just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get over it… and they did. And that is completely unrealistic.

And this trope is harmful, because it implies to people experiencing mental illness that it’s their own fault and their own shortcoming that is causing them to suffer.

And that’s so very much not true. Mental illness is like physical illness; even the brain can get sick. Do you tell a person with the flu to just get over it? What about someone with meningitis? No! You take them to a doctor and tell them to let you know if they need anything. And that is how it should be for mental illness, too!

9. Taking a pill immediately fixes everything.

There’s another trope where a person suffering from a mental illness will take a single pill or have a startling revelation and suddenly everything is fine. It’s the idea that a single quick fix can change that person’s state immediately.

That is not how it works.

Some medications take weeks to start working, and they work better when a person also talks to a mental health professional. It takes time. And it’s not a straight process; there are ups and downs, relapses and recoveries. It’s hard work. It’s not just a simple fix of “take this pill and everything will be great!” And every illness, and every medication, has different timelines and effects and side effects. And none of them is that easy.

10. Suicide: romanticizing or using for revenge.

We’ve finally made it to the last one. And this one is the heaviest, and the one I considered not including.

Suicide is never to be taken lightly. It’s not a joke, it’s not something you just casually throw in. And many fiction writers talk about it in ways that can make it seem appealing, like and escape or a way out, especially to people who are struggling with just living life.

And then there is the idea of using suicide as a way to get back at someone. Looking at you, Thirteen Reasons Why! These tropes suggest that suicide is a viable way out, a good way to get the last word. But it’s not. Because the person who dies is still gone. And they leave broken hearts and broken friends and families behind them. Every single one. So let’s stop making it into something pleasant and positive when it’s not.

Concluding Thoughts

I know this was quite a long post today, but mental health is something I am very passionate about, and seeing these destructive tropes in my fiction burns me up! Let’s do better, as writers and readers, to create and demand realistic fiction that doesn’t make light of mental illness, make it a joke, or perpetuate harmful stigmas. Let’s make it something for people to understand and relate to. We need to do better, for ourselves, for society, and for people suffering from mental illness.

And if you are struggling in any way, with anything at all, please consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional. There are so many options available to you, and help is out there, waiting! There is hope. You can visit To Write Love on Her Arms, the National Suicide Hotline, or a variety of other sites all designed to help you get through the bumps and deep valleys of your life. Please use them, reach out, and take those steps.

~~~

I said a lot today, but I also want to hear from you! What are your least favorite (or favorite) tropes related to mental health? Tell me in the comments!

My Favorite Mental Health Novels

Next week, I will be discussing my least favorite tropes dealing with mental health and mental illness. But before that, I wanted to take a week to share some of the books I like on the topic! All of these are fiction, and many of them are also young adult. Also please keep in mind that though I enjoyed them, I’m not saying they’re perfect, and I’m not saying they’re always amazing reads. What I am saying is that they touched me in good ways, and they said something important in regards to mental health.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Okay. So, this is by no means Laurie Halse Anderson’s most famous book. But I think it is one of her best. This is a book dealing with eating disorders, grief, and, I would argue, the recovery process. In the story, the main character, Lia, struggles with an eating disorder that also claims the life of her friend. There is a struggle throughout the book where she feels as if her friend is haunting her, and it influences her own disorder, which progresses as the book moves along.

What I really like about this book comes close to the end: the ideas around therapy and recovery that are realistic and truthful, that the process is long and hard but worth it. This concept is rarely conveyed so realistically in fiction, and it was refreshing and encouraging.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

This was one of Anderson’s more recent books, and it’s about a girl who lives with her father… a former soldier suffering from PTSD. Unlike a lot of YA stories dealing with mental health, the protagonist isn’t the one with the most prominent problem, but rather she is the family who needs to care for the mentally ill family member while still handling her own life and coping with the problems it all creates.

I loved this book because it addresses the needs and experiences of family members, and it is an intense and real look at PTSD. Honestly, I feel this is something that Anderson does best: a real, unromanticized, truthful look at mental illness.

Something Real by Heather Demetrios

This is a different one. In this book, the protagonist was part of a reality TV show with their family for years, until it ended. And being a part of that left her with severe anxiety about things as simple as having her picture taken. And then the show gets picked up to come back.

So, the reason I like this is because it takes a critical look at reality TV, particularly the shows that involve kids under 18, how it affects the people involved, how fame changes people, and how all of that can affect the person’s mental health. As a society, we can be critical of TV stars and celebrities when they crash and burn, but we often fail to humanize it in the way this book does.

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Not only does this book have one of my favorite covers, but it takes a look at something most mental health-related novels skip: recovery. The story begins just after the protagonist attempts to take her own life and then details her journey through those feelings and toward a more hopeful, fulfilling future.

And that is what I loved about this story. It didn’t stop at the realization that something was wrong, it didn’t stop where things hit their lowest. It started there and allowed the protagonist, and the reader, to follow a recovery process that wasn’t perfect and wasn’t a straight path but ultimately ended in a better place.

Concluding Thoughts

There are a lot more books out there dealing with mental health that I didn’t mention. I read some of them, and enjoyed many of them, but by no means all. There were also books I didn’t like, often because of their attempt at portraying mental health. But in this post, I’ve only included some books that more directly deal with mental illness that I did like, though some of my other favorite books, like Fangirl and Eliza and her Monsters also have elements of mental illness.

You may not agree with my feelings on these books, if you’ve read them, but that’s the great thing about books: they are many things to many people. Books are what the reader makes them. Everyone brings their own experience to the pages, and the times in my life when I read them gave me these impressions. I’m sure if I read them again, I would see something different. That happened with Bird Box when I watched the movie; I saw something I didn’t like that I hadn’t picked up, or remembered, about the book.

So whether you agree or not, these are some of my favorite books that deal with mental illness. You don’t need to argue with me, but I’d love to hear what books you’ve really enjoyed on the subject, what books spoke to you and connected with you. Tell me in the comments!

Writing When You Feel Drained

Writing is an intense creative process that can take an immense amount of mental energy. It is impossible to be passive when your mind is actively creating worlds and people and situations. And that can be incredibly tiring. As we write more and more often, it becomes easier for us to sit and extend our writing time, but we all eventually reach that limit where our brains are just too tired to write another word. And normally, that doesn’t present an issue.

But what about when other things in your life are draining your mental energy? When you can barely stand the thought of adding even one word to your manuscript?

Previously, I’ve discussed the difficulties of writing when life is crazy or when you are experiencing some sort of health problems, and today I want to revisit that just a bit with a related topic: writing when you feel drained.

You see, the last few weeks have been kind of hectic at work; we have had a huge project generating mountains of data every day, and I had the herculean task of compiling, organizing, and arranging all of that data. And it’s been constantly changing, requiring me to go back and change all the previously generated analyses. This has led to three weeks of constant data processing for the entire workday, and it has left my brain feeling fried.

And I’m sure I’m not alone. How many other writers are out there with their day jobs sucking away their creative minds? How many other writers toil the day away at work or even at home and feel too tired to work on writing by the end of it? The truth is simple: nearly everyone will experience this at one time or another.

So what can we do when we feel drained? How do we keep ourselves motivated without burning out? I have a few tips (and these might sound familiar).

  1. Give yourself a break. I know, counterintuitive, right? But when we are tired and our creative well is low, we don’t need to be beating ourselves up for not being productive. We need to cut ourselves some slack, understand that it’s okay to take a break, and be kind to ourselves. And if that means not writing for a few days or even weeks, then so be it. You cannot fill from an empty cup.
  2. Take time to recharge. When things are busy and difficult during the day, it can be hard to sit down and write when we actually have the time. So when you can’t write, make sure you are doing things that will refill that creative well, things that will ease your burdened brain. Spend time with your family, go for walks, relax in front of the TV… do what you need to do in order to feel better. Your health and well-being always comes first!
  3. Set reasonable goals. Don’t forget about your writing schedule, even when you’re not writing. Make yourself a goal or two during the downtime. Maybe your goal is simply to scribble one sentence per day. Maybe it’s to brainstorm new ideas. Maybe it’s even to take a week off. Decide what will help you and your writing best, make it achievable, and follow through. Do what you can… but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. Make your writing habits work for you during this time, and don’t worry about making adjustments. Personally, my habits are always shifting, anyway.
  4. And finally, use your time to your advantage. You can recharge while still making your time productive and contributing to your writing. You can listen to podcasts or read or draw your characters. You can talk about the story to a friend. You can simply binge Netflix for “research.” One thing I find helps me when I’m tired is reading books, and this is a great way to keep up on things we should be doing as writers. Whatever you do, try to find at least one thing that will make you a better writer and add it into your recharge time. But make sure it fills that recharge requirement, too!

These are some tips I find helpful when I’m feeling creatively drained due to mentally taxing things going on in my life. One important thing to remember, though, is that you can’t take a break forever. Don’t wait around for things to slow down or life to improve… it may never happen. Make your writing happen instead in the midst of a hectic life. If the draining time is dragging on, it may be time to re-evaluate your daily and weekly writing goals. But when these bouts of feeling drained crop up in our normal lives, utilizing the tips above will help you to recharge, feel better about yourself and your writing, feel better in general, and get back to the things you love.

Take breaks when you need to. Take care of yourself. Cut yourself some slack. And remember this one final thought: you are still a writer, even when you aren’t writing. Taking a break doesn’t make you any less.

And when you’re feeling better, dive right back in.

~~~

Your turn: what tips do you have for when you’re feeling mentally drained? How do you approach your own writing at these times? Tell me in the comments!

Making It Personal: The Trials of Writing from Personal Experience

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you are probably familiar with the expression “write what you know.” And it’s pretty accurate to making a good story. When we write within our experience in some way, we lend an authenticity to our writing and our stories that connects with readers and makes them want to stick around to read more.

But writing what you know isn’t always easy.

Writing personal events, even if they are fictionalized versions that may not address everything you experienced, can be brutal. Especially with a traumatic event or with a situation that the author finds personally triggering. It can bring about inner conflicts just like the ones experienced prior, it can set off new episodes of depression, anxiety, or any other type of disorder it initially triggered, and it can be discouraging and painful to remember.

Recently, I wrote a scene that hit me pretty hard. It was a fictionalized scene of one of the hardest days of my life, and it kicked off a years-long bout with depression at that time. It took me a long time to move past it and sort of be okay with how things went down, three years to be able to write this story, and then I reached this same point in the writing and it’s been difficult. All over again, I am struggling with an old demon.

And then there are other considerations about being completely truthful in an account. First and foremost, how will what I say in this story affect my career outside of writing? And how will my friends and family react to it?

As much as we want to tell the story, there is always that worry about how it will affect us, and it doesn’t matter if the fear is unfounded or not. We are forced to consider how other people will view what we write and how it will influence our real lives outside the story. It’s a messy loop of what you want to say versus what you should say to protect yourself and your relationships. We question whether we should even be telling the story in the first place, but then that gives power to the people or experiences that haunt us. I’m still trying to find this line between telling the story and saying more than I should to avoid hurting myself and the people around me. And I still question how much is enough… and how much is too much.

So why do we do it to ourselves? Why do we torture ourselves by reliving difficult experiences through our writing? For me, there are a few pretty simple reasons.

  1. Writing can be an incredibly cathartic practice. First drafts especially are an excellent place for writers to purge their fantasies, to say things they wished they could’ve said before, or to push all of their negative emotions out onto a page where it’s clearer, less muddled by their own thoughts and problems and pain. I can say anything I want in a first draft; it can easily be wiped away in the next.
  2. Writing can give us clarity. It provides a concise way to state what you know about something and, eventually, a way to look at a situation more objectively.
  3. Writing can give us power over a time we felt powerless. Let’s face it. Life isn’t always in our control, or things happen that we feel we have no control over. But writing? We choose what to write, we choose what to say. Even if we never share it. We are able to write the story as we see fit.
  4. Writing through the difficult times can connect us to other people. Ultimately, this is why I write. I want my experiences and the stories that come from them to give others hope and strength to get through their own difficult times.

I don’t know if everything I’ve written recently will see the light of day, because of my own anxieties and other considerations, but I know, hard as it is, I had to tell this story. I had to set it down on paper, this account of a hard time in my life, if for nothing else than to express it on my own terms. Maybe I can share this story one day without any fear at all, to connect with the people I originally wanted to touch with the story.

But for now, it is enough to write.

What about you? Have you struggled through writing something personal? How did you cope with the difficulties? Tell me in the comments!

How to Keep Writing in the Middle of Health Problems

Nearly every writer will be faced with a health issue at some point in their life that will interfere with their ability to write. As writers, this lack of creative activity can be disheartening, guilt-inducing, and crippling. So when these problems in our physical or mental health occur, how do we keep ourselves creating through the troubles?

1. Understand the illness. The first step in overcoming a problem is understanding what to expect and knowing how to evaluate your ability. For example, someone with depression is likely to have motivational problems and fatigue while someone with a physical illness such as multiple sclerosis or cancer may be forced to contend with pain and lack of energy. When you know what to expect, you can create a plan to address those problems if or when they arise with your doctors, family, and friends. They all want to help you.

2. Know your limits… don’t overextend yourself. Once you understand the illness, take it easy while you understand how it is affecting your mind and body. Pay attention to when you have overextended yourself or when you haven’t pushed yourself enough. Take notes on what makes things better or worse. This can also help you create a plan and a schedule to keep working.

3. Set reasonable goals. Only you can define what is reasonable, but use your knowledge of yourself from point 2 to define it. For me, for a while my goal was simply to write one sentence per day. Maybe for you what it looks like is keeping a journal or writing one paragraph from a writing prompt or cutting down to one writing day per week. And I will be the first to tell you that it isn’t easy to maintain, and you may fall into a creative drought in which nothing is accomplished. It’s okay. Don’t waste the energy on blaming or berating yourself, no matter how justified it feels. You will get past it, and being sick isn’t your fault. Just take care of yourself. Which leads to…

4. Your health comes first. Creativity and creative energy will follow. Make your health and recovery a priority. Talk to the doctors. Follow their instructions. Take your medications. Get enough food, sleep, and exercise. And I know that can also be hard to maintain. That brings me to my last point…

5. Get support. Find an accountability partner to ask you about your health, well-being, and writing. Trust your loved ones to be there for you and encourage you, even when it feels like they don’t or that you are a burden. They do care, and you aren’t a burden. They care, and they want to help. Beyond your loved ones, find support groups. Meeting with other people going through similar things can be very encouraging and helpful to your overall recovery. Find encouraging blogs or posts online and make yourself a motivational or inspirational file, Pinterest board, collage, whatever works for you. I myself have both a Pinterest board and a file on my computer filled with things that encourage me when things aren’t going so well for me.

Whatever you’re going through, please remember that you aren’t alone. There are people who understand, people who have experienced or are experiencing similar issues, people who care, and people who can and want to help. Reach out.

And whatever happens, do your best to keep writing. For a writer, writing can be one of the best forms of self care.

Chin up, my friends. It’s going to be okay.

The Demons of Discouragement

There are few things in life and the creative process that can stop you as dead in your tracks as discouragement. It dries up your wells of creativity, telling you that you’ll never get to where you want to be, asking you why you even bother trying. It keeps your head filled with lies about your ability and capability. It pushes you down in the dirt, even if others try to encourage and build you up. Not much creativity happens when you’re faceplanted in a ditch in your own head.

Discouragement can have a lot of causes. Maybe it comes from a lack of inspiration, that feeling that maybe you’ve just lost your spark. Maybe it’s waiting for the thirtieth reply that isn’t coming, ever, from a publisher or agent. Maybe it’s your health or state of mind that is setting up blocks, setting you up to fail. Maybe it’s a combination of things that started small and grew until you couldn’t stop it anymore. Somehow, the cards are just stacked against you. You get discouraged, and your creativity falls asleep.

But notice what I said. It falls asleep. It doesn’t die. It isn’t stolen. It doesn’t fade from existence. It’s taking a break.

I must admit that I’ve been stuck in that rut of discouragement lately. I’m tired, I’m feeling uninspired, and I feel like no one will ever want anything I create. I feel like a failure and a fraud in my creative life.

And then, while I was just starting to feel a little bit discouraged but willing to keep trying, life hit me in the face. I got a boyfriend (who I love dearly and wouldn’t trade for anything!), so my time to create slowed down as I started reorganizing my time and how I spend my evenings. I had to learn how to still do the things I love while spending time with him. Then my family dog died just a little bit before Thanksgiving, very unexpectedly, which has been hard on all of us, especially since it’s the holiday season. And I’ve had personal demons to cope with as bits of my depression resurfaced as a result of all the lemons life has been lobbing at me. Let me tell you, lemon juice in a wound does not make it feel better.

So I stopped. Everything just stopped. I spent endless hours watching TV or scrolling Facebook for no other reason than I simply didn’t want to do anything else. I started feeling guilty for doing nothing, for ignoring my dreams, for letting my blogs stagnate, for not creating or reading or being Selina as I know her. And I hate that.

But I’m not done. My muse didn’t die, she just took a nap. And while I still feel guilty for the things I’m not doing (sorry guys, I promise I don’t want to abandon you), I also know that maybe it’s time to slow down a little, put a bit less pressure on myself to be productive. I need to let myself take it easy and simply create for the joy of creating, to remember why I love to read and write and draw, to lose myself in the process of creating. And I know getting back into it will be hard, especially since I’ve been pretty sporadic and unscheduled since my final year of grad school. But I dearly miss having my writing schedule, thinking 24/7 of my story and characters, plotting as I’m doing everything else. I miss the excitement I felt waiting to come home so I could lose myself in the world I had made, to experience my own story in a new way. I want to be the artist I know I am.

I know it’s going to be hard. And if you’ve ever felt this way, I know you understand. It’s in these times that we must trust our own dreams and desires, that we trust the people who love and support us, and that we trust ourselves.

We will get through it.

We just can’t let ourselves give up.