I’m not a rabid John Green fan. I like his books, but I wasn’t waiting with bated breath for his next novel.
Until I heard it was about mental illness.
After reading a short interview with the author, I opened up Amazon and pre-ordered myself a copy of Turtles All the Way Down.
The package came right on the day of release. The dust jacket was colorful and coated in something soft that made it impossible not to pet. I eagerly anticipated cracking it open.
The next day I did. I was immediately sucked into the story, into the journey of Aza and Daisy and Davis. But after reading about a third of the book, I had to put it down.
You see, reading this book was hard. Not because it was boring or pretentious, but because it was real.
I not only read but FELT Aza’s pain. My stomach twisted in knots as she worried away at the callous on her finger until it bled, feeling the pain of myself picking at hangnails and my lips in such a similar way. My eyes filled with tears as she isolated herself, both literally and figuratively, from her family and friends.
My fears are not Aza’s fears. But intrusive thoughts? I’m no stranger to them. I know what it’s like to have your brain take one passing thought and send it down a twisted path so fast you get mental whiplash. I know what it’s like to yell at yourself but be unable to listen to your own good advice. I know what it’s like to be so involved in what’s going on in your own brain that you can barely see what’s going on around you.
John Green has stated that he also suffers from Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He clearly poured himself into this book. He took his own fears and thoughts and applied them to Aza in a way that explains them better than any other book I’ve come across.
Turtles All the Way Down was an amazing book, beautiful and touching and honest.
But it was really hard for me to read.
Have you read Turtles All the Way Down? Do you intend to? Did you like it? Have you read other books about characters with mental illness that were difficult to read? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether or not you suffer from mental illness also.
First of all, this is a totally sappy and self-indulgent entry about my new kitty, so plan accordingly. It’s full of pictures and obnoxiously cute captions and I’M JUST GETTING THIS OUT OF MY SYSTEM, OKAY? Onto the entry:
Shortly before I started this blog my cat of nine years, Mr. Muggles, died suddenly.
I was heartbroken. We’d had no warning. He got sick one day, we took him to the vet, and the next day he was gone. I had no idea losing at pet would affect me that much. I remember crying when I realized I was going to have to update the about section because it mentioned him.
I’ve been really depressed ever since. It’s affected everything in my life, especially my writing. I knew I didn’t want to live without a feline in my life, but I had to put it off, first because my parents were both grieving too, and then because my nephew’s wedding was coming up and we were going to be gone several weekends.
Then this week I decided to just go to a shelter and take a look. There didn’t seem to be many kitties available at the local shelters, but there was one or two listed online that looked promising.
I didn’t really expect to find a cat that day. I hoped, I really hoped, but I thought it might take a few visits to find just the right kitty for us.
That morning, two eight-month old kittens had come up for adoption. Their owner was moving and couldn’t take them with her and they’d both just been spayed. Another person was in the kitty room playing with them.
They were cute, but I was more interested in Patches, a beautiful gray adult. Truthfully, I only played with the kittens because I was too shy to ask to take a different cat out. I figured I’d work up to it eventually, but until then I’d just enjoy being around them.
I was starting to get braver and I reached out to scoop up one of the kittens. I wasn’t even sure which one I’d grabbed, the shy one, or the outgoing one. Providing she didn’t freak out, I was going to give her a snuggle and tuck her back into her cage so I could take someone else out.
To my surprise, she didn’t protest being held at all. Instead, she leaned into me, purring up a storm. After a few minutes, she climbed onto my shoulder. I thought she wanted to get down, but instead, she just laid down (or tried too, she really isn’t little enough to nap on shoulders anymore).
I think I knew the second I picked her up. As much as we loved Mr. Muggles, he was a very difficult cat. He was affectionate, but only on his terms and quite frankly if he’d ever been in a shelter I don’t think he would have gotten adopted. He had too many behavioral issues. We had to be so careful when people came over, we never knew when he was going to lash out.
It was immediately evident that this kitten was the polar opposite of Mr. Muggles. She just wanted to purr and be held. She curled up in the crook of my arm and melted my heart. When I finally put her down, she came over to my chair and stared up at me, waiting until I picked her back up so she could snuggle some more.
I think it was obvious to everyone that I’d found my kitty. I wish I could have taken her sister too, but it was evident that they weren’t particularly bonded so I didn’t have to feel too guilty.
We picked her up the next day and brought her home. I’d planned on keeping her in my bedroom for a few days while she got used to things, but by the second day it was clear she was fine and we let her out to roam. She follows me around the house all day and she loves to be scooped up and snuggled. I’m loving every second.
The whole experience has been so healing. I don’t know how I survived being without a cat as long as I did. I had no idea just how important being a cat owner had become to my mental health. (That will be a future blog entry, I’m sure.)
I’m still a nervous wreck, despite not being a first-time kitty mama. I’ve spent a lot of time on Google (Is she peeing enough? How much should I be feeding her?) and worrying about squishing her (she weighs seven pounds, less than half what Mr. Muggles did).
I have a kitty again. And she’s the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. It’s been exactly a week since I met her and I’m already having trouble remembering what it was like without her.
Meet Nutmeg. If you follow me on social media, you’ve already seen her and know just how besotted I am, but this is her official blog debut. Expect to see much more of her in the future.
If you came here looking for answers, you’re probably going to be disappointed. I’m not sure there are any answers. Depression is a terrible creature. It rears it’s head at the most random moments, leaving you with a terrible feeling of inertia that’s almost impossible to explain, even for a writer.
I guess it all depends on how depressed you are. Is it depression with a little d or Depression with a capital D? If it’s the latter, reading a blog entry or trying to psych yourself up probably won’t do anything. Then there’s situation depression vs chemical depression. Each requires different approaches, many requiring professional help. (Seriously, don’t suffer alone. Get help. There are so many places that can help you. No one should have to go through depression alone.)
Today I wanted to write. I really did. I’ve been busy with stuff related to a family wedding (congrats Cal and Amberlyn!) but now that it’s over with I finally have the time and brainpower to write.
But I couldn’t. It really is the weirdest thing. I know what I want to do, I know what I want to write, but somehow I just can’t make myself pick up my laptop. It’s right there but my body doesn’t listen to my brain and I just CAN’T.
Today I didn’t write. Sometimes it’s better to recognize the feelings and give yourself permission to just take care of yourself. I went on Twitter. I talked to my mom. I identified today’s depression as situational (I miss having a cat) and took a step to change that situation (I put in an application for adoption at a shelter. Don’t tell my dad!).
I even did something writing related. I picked out a notebook to make a ‘story bible’ of sorts in. I looked at articles I’d saved on Pinterest and made a list of things I want to include. I made a list of characters that need profiles or short bios (Dang this book has a lot of characters).
After all that, I felt a little better. I decided to write the blog entry I’d jotted down an idea for earlier. I’m ignoring my perfectionist side and posting this without a fancy graphic or making sure I share with every social media page I have. I’m just putting the words out there and maybe I’ll come back later and do the rest.
I don’t know how to write when you’re depressed. I don’t know how to write when you aren’t. All I know is what I do and whether or not it worked for me on any given day.
Do you suffer from depression? Or any mental illness really? How does it impact your writing life? Is there anything that helps you when you’re having a bad day? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Every morning I take four pills. Three for Anxiety and one for Depression. I’ve been taking the first three for nearly a decade. I have no plans to stop.
Medication for mental illness is a hot button subject. Everyone has an opinion, including people who have no experience with which to form said opinion. Some are for it, some against it, and some think it only should be used in the direst situations.
I, for one, am pro-medication. That doesn’t mean I’m a pill pusher, or that I think it’s the answer for everyone. It just means it’s worked well for me and I would never advise someone to avoid it.
A year or so before my seventeenth birthday I had finally hit bottom. The anxiety disorder I didn’t know I had had been stalking me for over a year, manifesting in near constant nausea and the inability to focus on anything but the unpleasant physical sensations that were plaguing me. I followed my mother around the house, terrified to be alone. At that point, it was obvious something needed to change.
My doctor prescribed Paxil. It was new to the market, the new miracle anti-depressant. I was so convinced there was something physically wrong with me that I agreed to medication without even realizing what it was for. It wasn’t until I left that I realized she had prescribed me something for my anxiety.
Paxil was like a miracle to me. Within a month not only had I been pulled out of the deep hole I’d been living in, but I felt better than I ever had in my life.
Suddenly, my whole life made sense. All those little eccentricities I had as a kid? Anxiety. The strange fears that cropped up? Anxiety. The way I’d never been able to handle anyone being angry at me? Anxiety.
I remained happily on Paxil for a few years until the side effects prompted me to find an alternative. On the second try, we found one that worked for me nearly as well as Paxil had.
I take that medication to this day, along with the two others that were added over the years (if you’re looking back at the first paragraph and wondering if one of the side effects is losing the ability to do basic math, I take four pills but only three medications. Two pills are the same drug.).
I am one of the lucky ones, someone who responds well to most medications. They don’t cure me, they don’t change me, they just give me the ability to get up in the morning and be me, not Anxiety.
I will take these pills for the rest of my life if I need to, the same way my father will likely take heart medication for the rest of his life.
And I will never be ashamed.
*in addition to therapy, which is an integral part of treating mental illness. I’m very lucky to have found a great one. (Hi Julie!)
Welcome to An Anxious Author. I am said anxious author, Lydia Elizabeth Winters. I thought I’d take a few minutes with this first post to give you a little background information and a mission statement of sorts for this blog.
I was born and raised in Southern New Hampshire. I currently reside in a small town on the Vermont border (I can see Vermont from my window!). I have an upstairs apartment in a house I share with my parents and the memories of my tempermental kitty, Mr. Muggles.
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. An avid reader from a young age with a big imagination, it was a natural transition. As a teenager I began writing fanfiction, something I’ve continued to this day. I ran a website for many years where I posted all my writings and where I made a lot of good friends I still keep in touch with.
I’ve never been bored a day in my life. My current hobbies include knitting, spinning (as in yarn, not on a bike), memorizing the Nations of the World song from Animaniacs, reading, and of course, writing.
I’m a thirty-something proud aunt of five and great-aunt of three who is trying not to feel ancient when I remember those things. My mom is my best friend in the world and we are freakishly close.
My apartment is full of geeky memorabilia, including my large Funko Pop collection. My bookshelves are overloaded.
1. I admit, starting this blog is at least partially in the hope that a little accountability will help me keep in a good writing routine. After all, if I don’t write anything, I won’t have anything to post!
2. Making some new friends. You can never have enough writing friends. People who understands having a search history that could probably get yourself on a terror watch list.
3. Share what it’s like to live with chronic mental illness and how that impacts my daily life, including how it impacts my writing.
4. Generally be an outlet for myself to talk about life and whatever else is on my mind.
If you made it this far, I’d like to say thank you in advance for giving my little blog a chance. Please forgive me while I figure out what the heck I’m doing.