Remember that phenomenon that went around a few months ago? You know, the one where seemingly sane people dumped buckets of ice water on their heads in the name of awareness and raising donations for the ALS? I even joined in and did my own video (though maybe not correctly). It was a huge success—raised lots of money, got people aware, and not mention all the calories burned from shivering under the ice water!
But, as writers, creating a marketing challenge that goes viral isn’t necessary to raise awareness and compassion for a cause you feel strongly about. We don’t need videos and a catchy challenge—we can write!
You’ve probably written a character like you or one who deals with things you’ve dealt with. It comes naturally. Like my mother character who tends to overcook food because she gets distracted… It’s what we know, so it’s what we write. But at the same time, our characters are hopefully connecting with our readers and making them feel something.
I know that after reading The Tortilla Curtain, I had stronger compassion for Mexican immigrants who sneak into the country illegally. The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns helped me better understand what happens in the lives of Afghani people. Even The Fault in Our Stars and Me Before You showed me what life was like dealing every day with an illness or on-going injury. I learned something reading these books and it changed my perspective.
Defective by Susan Sofayov is a great example of seeing into the life of someone with Bipolar Disorder. I’ve known people with it, and even though I understand depression, I didn’t fully understand what it was like to experience the sudden, uncontrollable up and down a person with this disorder experiences, and how it can really mess with your life. It’s opened my eyes and hopefully will do the same for others. If you know someone with Bipolar Disorder, or you have it yourself, this book is a great resource.
Check out my review of Defective, and watch the brand new book trailer:
This type of understanding and insight through books is the reason We Need Diverse Books is such a big push. The more we write about difficult things, the more we can raise understanding and compassion. And having more compassion for people makes the world a better place.
But diversity is not limited to race and sexual orientation. It’s about anything that gives a person a stigma in some way. Which includes mental illness.
Because I’ve dealt with depression, it tends to crop up at times in my writing. I don’t set out to write with the idea that “this will teach people something,” but I think that honestly portraying anything lets that happen by default.
I just read The Program by Suzanne Young and was shocked to hear of a world where people were basically not allowed to be depressed. If they were found to have become “infected,” they were forced into the “the Program” where they were stripped of their memories and made into a new person. Basically, the society’s idea was that to curb the epidemic of teen suicide, they would just take away everything that made a person sad. And most of what made them the person to begin with. They were quite literally not allowed to exist as a person with depression and even crying or grieving could get you “flagged.”
While the book built it as an extreme in the world, I thought their way of thinking maybe isn’t too far from what we live with every day. Sure, no one wants to be depressed, but how often do we say things like “you should be happy”? What if what a person needs is just to feel sad for a bit, talk it out, and get some help through it instead of feeling like it was a requirement of life to be happy?
Sometimes life just sucks. I think it’s normal to expect a person to feel down at times and even depressed. To feel frustrated or off balance. To cry. A lot. It’s healthy to express emotion. What’s not healthy is being made to feel like a failure for being depressed. And what’s worse is that this pressure to feel happy, or even just act happy, can often lead a person to NOT get the help they truly need. I know people who’ve said they’d feel embarrassed about going into therapy or would be concerned about what people would think if they were on anti-depressants. But, if someone breaks his ankle, do we look down on him for going to the hospital to get it fixed? No, instead we’d chastise him for leaving it alone and going about life in pain.
Why then, do we not more readily applaud those who are in treatment for mental pain? Do people send get well cards and bring over casseroles when someone suffers a mental illness? Perhaps if it’s something that’s an acceptable reason in our society—like the death of a loved one. You undergo surgery and have a hard time getting around the house, people come out of the woodwork to help you. And they absolutely should. After having foot surgery a few months ago and now taking care of my husband who broke his ankle and will have surgery next week, I know how exhausting it is to handle things on your own and be in pain and have limited mobility.
But what happens when anxiety or depression hit so hard that you can’t get out of bed? Do people come and help you clean? Do they bring soup in large crockpots and put you on prayer chains? Maybe if you’re dealing with someone who understands or has been there, but the most common response is to tell them to suck it up and get over it. Just get up, just go to work, stop being lazy and feeling sorry for yourself. But what if we treated mental illness like any other illness and just sat with someone in pain? Or brought them dinner and helped them get on their feet? Usually, when I feel down, I often think that no one cares. If we really went out of our way to show care, maybe we’d see more people improve and the world would have greater compassion to the unseen illnesses that continue to grow in our society.
Here’s my question for you—how are you feeling today? And who can you talk to if you’re not feeling good? Don’t feel like you’re a failure for not being happy. Talk to someone. Take care of yourself, inside and out.