Lately I haven’t been able to post.
I haven’t been able to write much at all, actually. I find I am not alone in this phenomenon: many of my friends and classmates from VCFA report the same lethargy when it comes to our writing lives. In fact, we are all so brain dead, fatigued by the news, and full of weather-change doldrums, that my brilliant friend Maddie actually challenged my class (The Writers of the Lost Arc… don’t ask. It’s a VCFA thing) to sit down daily for a lousy FIVE MINUTES to write, because 5 minutes is better than no minutes. Let’s just say we’ve temporarily lowered our collective bar.
I’m feeling so blue that a measly 5 minutes feels like more than I can handle.
Teenager is home from his OCD and anxiety program but he’s struggling hard, backsliding and ticking more than we’ve seen him tick in months. All that hard work for him and for us feels like it’s slipping away.
He’s tired. Tired of working hard, of using a ban book to record “submits” and “resists” every day, of trying to keep it together at school and then going directly to an outpatient program for more exposure therapy and group work and cognitive behavior therapy to help him. He’s tired of working his ass off and not seeing it pay off. He’s depressed and frustrated. More than once, he’s said he wishes he were back at the partial hospital in Philly, where at least he was shielded from most of life’s other stressors.
He can’t sleep. He’s biting his tongue, grinding his teeth, clearing his throat– doing these things until his throat is scraped raw and it hurts to talk, or until a tiny dot of blood appears on his tongue. Only then do the urges subside. Until they come back. And if he resists for thirty minutes, an hour, or even longer, the celebration is short-lived: exhaustion will win, and then he’ll be locked in a series of vocal and physical tics that all come out at once. His brain resists– his body submits. He is losing the battle.
This is what OCD looks like for him (note: not obsessive hand-washing, light switch flicking, or counting– things that some people do but largely comprise the general, stereotype-reliant portrayals of OCD in books and movies. I could name lots of these books, but I’m not going to. Why perpetuate stereotypes? OCD is usually not what you think. Just, trust me, okay? ). There may also be some Tourette’s there. They can’t decide. Which means they aren’t sure how to treat him, or how to tweak his medications. All the experts wringing their hands and saying “I’m sorry. We’re not sure how to help.”
I’m tired, too. I’m tired of his pushback when we remind him to resist, to use a strategy. I’m tired of forcing him to do a mindfulness activity or some thought-challenging exercises. He wants to lose himself in Fortnite and Undertale… well, who can blame him, really?(Thank God This is Us is back. I have something to lose myself in as well. I hear A Million Little Things might be good for a tear or two as well. Yay.) Screen time is only to be used as a reward, but come on. Can’t we give the poor kid a break?
I’m tired of meetings, of phone calls, of submitting claims to insurance and trying in vain to keep track of them, of being told no, not this, try this? Hurry up and do an intake and then wait around and see if they’ll take him. Of providers saying they want to help and meaning it, I know, but not being able to deliver because HE’S JUST TOO COMPLICATED FOR OUR PROGRAM. WE AREN’T SERVING HIM, AND YOU. WE NEED TO TRY SOMETHING ELSE.
We’re all freaking exhausted.
No wonder it’s hard to write. To read. To think, even.
Shit. This blog is supposed to be about books, not me.
So I get up, scan my shelves, and do what I’ve done a million times in my life; wait for a book to jump out at me. They seem to know, most of the time, when you need them. They are excellent, non-judgy friends. And reliably take longer than an episode of This is Us to read.
Here’s what jumped out at me. Friendly reminders of characters I’ve known, fictional accounts that ring so true and offer such comfort and hope. Oh, hope. Hello. We’ve missed you!
Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall effectively convey the seriousness of OCD, depression, panic attacks, and agoraphobia through Norah, who is trying mightily to manage the many debilitating elements of her mental illnesses with the already mind-boggling, angst-inducing process of falling in love. And feeling worthy of it. And most importantly, NOT BEING CURED by it, because that’s BS and insulting to those who are struggling. It’s honest and rocky and bumpy and hard and hopeful and true. Thank you Norah, for the reminder.
Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin, is a beautifully written story about a girl with Asperger’s (which is not, I should point out, a mental illness. But it’s a condition that is co-morbid with many mental illnesses, as my own Teenager demonstrates with aplomb) who fiercely loves homonyms and her dog Rain and is trapped in so many ways by her own rigid insistence on routine and predictability. But when she has to, Rose finds some untapped source of strength to save her dog and get out of her own way. Bring Kleenex.
Beth Hautala’sThe Ostrich and Other Lost Things might be my favorite book of 2018 featuring a character with autism. Olivia is thrilled to star in her town’s production Peter Pan and finally have something separate from her autistic brother, Jacob.But now Jacob’s in the play too, and with the inexplicable disappearance of his stuffed ostrich, he’s more unpredictable than ever. Determined to “fix” Jacob by finding his lost ostrich, Olivia makes unusual allies and learns what it means to truly be found. Olivia’s relatable narration offers a gorgeous portrayal of a rich and nuanced sibling relationship. And it reminded me (slight spoiler, here), that people with mental illness or disability or any other OTHER you can think of do not want or need to be fixed.
Note that these are all middle grade novels, because middle grade novels are awesome. Here’s a few other awesome MG titles that deal with all things middle school (which, I think, we can all agree is just the worst. Would YOU go back to middle school? I thought not) and have autism or mental illness deftly woven into otherwise fully realized, nuanced characters and story.
The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin. Tween and I read it together… twice. It hurts and it’s worth it.
A Crooked Kind of Perfect – Linda Urban. On my list of Top 10 MG reads. And because Linda is amazing and her books are all quietly kind of perfect, too.
The Seventh Wish – Kate Messner (not mental illness, but an intense family crisis the likes of which is not usually explored in middle grade fiction.)
Chester and Gus – Cammie McGovern. Because dogs.
Counting by 7’s. Holly Goldberg Sloan. Because geniuses have troubles, too. A poignant, sharp story you will fall in love with about loss and grief and numbers and family. And a lot more… just read it.
And a few YA titles — because I can’t help myself.
How’s a girl supposed to choose?
The Memory of Light – Francisco X. Stork (remember him from my earlier post? I LOVE his books)
More Happy Than Not – Adam Silvera
My Heart and Other Black Holes – Jasmine Wargas