• Lists,  mental health,  Top Ten Tuesday,  Writing

    Top Ten Tuesday: Mental Health Awareness

    May is Mental Health Awareness month – a cause near and dear to my heart. So for Top Ten Tuesday, I have a list of ten books that highlight mental health, the need for it, or one that takes steps forward in removing the stigmas of mental illness and/or asking for professional help.

    1. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – This book highlights grief, loss, the stigmas of suicide and tackles all of it in an unconventional wellness retreat setting. While I definitely do not recommend a wellness retreat with a crazy director, the messages were not lost in the story.
    2. There There by Tommy Orange – One of my favorite books this year, this book highlights addiction, mental health, suicide, and the overwhelming need for better mental healthcare in the Native American community. It’s a must-read.
    3. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan – This is a beautifully written young adult book that addresses severe depression, the aftermath of suicide, grieving, and healing. I have read this book twice.
    4. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – The definitive guide on how not to pick a psychiatrist. This is not a book to read while actively dealing with depression. But on the other side, it is one of the more accurate depictions of what it’s really like to struggle with severe depression and loss.
    5. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – This book takes on the stigmas of having a transgender child and highlights the importance of family and community support. This story can make you a better person.
    6. Stitches by Anne Lamott – Anne is one of my favorite writers. I read this book during an enormous season of change in my life. She addresses change, loss, and grief with both humor and candor. It’s a short book and I recommend it often to those in the midst of change.
    7. Normal People by Sally Rooney – I finished this book in a few sittings earlier this month. It tackles abuse, loss, suicide, depression, and asking for help through therapy and medication. I found this story to be very raw, honest, and helpful in addressing the stigmas around asking for help and what can happen when help is not received.
    8. Dry. by Augusten Burroughs – One of my favorite memoirs. Too often I feel that addiction is left out of the mental health discussion. There is an overwhelming need for understanding and education around what addiction is and how to support a loved one dealing with addiction.
    9. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – While this book will raise some eyebrows when reading it in public, it highlights the need for community, loss, grief, and the power of telling your story.
    10. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Despite the public uproar over throwing away your house, this book and method really did change our lives. I have become a big believer in less physical clutter = less mental clutter.
  • ARC's,  Book Reviews,  mental health,  parenting,  Writing

    I’m Saying NO!

     

    This is the post no mother ever wants to write. But here I am.

    At the height of the #METOO movement, our daughter had her own encounter with sexual assault. She had just turned 14 and the perpetrator was 14. She was also not his only victim.

    We talk often in our home about telling our own story and her story is not mine to tell. But I do have a mother’s perspective to give on empowering our daughters and encouraging our sons to find their voices and speak out against sexual harassment, assault, and pressure.

    The #METOO and #TIMESUP movements have done a tremendous amount of good but we can still do better.

    The post I was writing to share yesterday changed drastically as I received this series of frantic texts from my now 15-year-old daughter. I shut my laptop and spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone with the school, emailing administrators, and checking in with my daughter. With her permission here is what happened:

    Her: Mom I need you to call the counselors office and have them ask to have me sent to see them.

    Me: You have a counseling pass. Give it to the teacher and leave. (this is part of her 504)

    Her: I can’t. I’ll explain when I get to the office. Please call them now. I’m going to have a flashback.

    Me: I called and left a message. JUST LEAVE.

    Her: I can’t.

    I then called the front office and told them that I didn’t know what was going on, that she has a counselor’s pass, but for some reason, she’s not able to use it. The front office said they would take care of it immediately.

    I sat and waited. She wasn’t answering my texts.

    Finally, the counselor called with my daughter and I learned what was going on.

    Why wasn’t she able to use her pass?

    Because she was scared to ask the teacher.

    Because it was the male teacher causing her distress.

    In a discussion completely unrelated to the class, this teacher was going into detail about the juries he has served on. One of which was a 14-year-old boy sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl.

    This teacher went into graphic detail about the girl’s video interview, the “doll” used in her interview, and the things said.

    My daughter has been in counseling and was able to recognize the situation she was in and was resourceful enough to get herself out of the situation. She has come a long way in a little over a year.

    Since this was just yesterday afternoon, this is obviously still being addressed with the teacher. I have full confidence that the administration will handle this appropriately. I emphasized with them that while my daughter was impacted, this would have upset me as an adult and statistically my daughter was not the only one in that class being impacted by his words.

    We can do better.

    When a grown man feels that a discussion like this is appropriate – in mixed company, to discuss a graphic sexual assault in detail, with no applicability to the class. WE CAN DO BETTER.

    If we are still at the point where educators do not understand the power their words and actions can have over former victims, books like I’m Saying NO! are still desperately needed. Not just for the education of those who love, support, and teach former victims but also for the former victims themselves.

    I was honored to be selected to be a part of the #IMSAYINGNO campaign and it could not have been more timely. And maybe even a little too timely in our own home. Because while time has passed and she has learned ways to manage her anxiety and PTSD, things like this are setbacks.

    I’m Saying NO! does an excellent job of helping former victims find their unique voice. Many, many times it’s far more complicated than just telling someone to say NO. For someone who has already been harmed, healing has to occur to get to that place and this book provides sounds steps and exercises towards saying NO.

    There are also valuable tools for parents and advocates discussed in this book. I have had to learn to advocate for my daughter in a way that makes a mama bear look tame. And the more I have understood about where she was coming from the more effective I have become. What took me a year to learn, is in this book.

    An aside about advocating: you have to be passionate enough to show you mean business but calm enough to keep from being disregarded because you’re emotional – sadly, that’s an actual thing.

    But a few words about that – this book is not a substitute for therapy. The therapists who have helped our family through this past year have been invaluable. There are also parts of this book that could be very upsetting for former victims without the assistance of a therapist. There are plenty of warnings throughout the book that warn of triggers which I appreciated.

    As yesterday reminded me, there is still work to be done and I am grateful for a book that recognized the need and went beyond the initial movements.

    If you are a parent, this book is a great place to start. We need to be talking with our kids much younger than we probably think – I know this was my experience.

    If you are an educator, you are on the front line and the more you understand about what your students are facing, the more compassionate and empowering you will be.

    And finally, if you are a former victim, with support this book can be a great aid in your healing and recovery of your voice.

    Thank you to She Writes Press and BookSparks for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

     

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish,  mental health,  parenting,  Recommendations

    Book Review: This is How It Always Is

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    Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

    – Martin Luther King Jr.

    Rating: ✂️✂️✂️✂️.5/5

    If you want to read a book that will make you laugh, cry, think, and easily find your way into someone else’s shoes, This is How is Always Is is a great pick.

    I was raised conservative Methodist, went to private parochial school, and was indoctrinated with conservative southern views and politics just by living in the buckle of the Bible Belt. Today I classify myself as a moderate liberal but more than that, I classify myself as pro-kindness and believe it’s important to extend respect and grace even when we have different views.

    This book does a beautiful job of illustrating just that: grace.

    When Claude, the youngest of five boys bounds down the stairs in a dress and insists on wearing it outside the house and eventually to school, everything this family knows as normal is turned upside down as Poppy emerges as their youngest family member.

    Remember the part about being in someone else’s shoes? That happens a few minutes into the book and the author doesn’t let you change your shoes until the end. And at that point I don’t really think you will want to anyways.

    From each family member’s perspective, the reader gets to question, grieve, get angry, keep secrets, and learn to accept their youngest sibling/child as Poppy.

    There were the expected struggles in school, with friends, and most often with other adults but you also got the unique voice of Poppy, an intelligent, insightful, and brave girl. The author did a fantastic job giving us a glimpse of the inner dialogue of a child trying to figure out who they are; just like all kids.

    It gives the reader plenty of time to consider what they would do and for me it was obvious: I would love my child and support them as they figured out the world.

    We all have our differences, be it mental illness, a physical disability, personality quirks, or even something that happened in our past that permanently changes who we are. Despite that, we all want to be who we are and to be accepted. Same with Poppy.

    The characters were all well-developed and I especially enjoyed the relationship between the husband and wife, Penn and Rosie, who also had non-traditional roles. Penn is an author and stays at home. Rosie is a physician. The dialogue between the two of them was real, honest, and accurate for parents navigating raising five children.

    My one problem with the book as a whole was when Penn and Rosie referred, multiple times, to having four and a half boys. It’s their story but it felt like a minimization of their youngest child. A kid is never half a kid.

    I enjoyed this book immensely and while I found the writing a tad sloppy at times, it never distracted from the story or the very timely message. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories about real families dealing with real issues. Don’t be afraid of an “agenda” because it’s just not there.

    The only agenda here is that parenting is messy and all we can do is love our kids for who they are, not who we want them to be.

  • Bookish,  Feminism,  mental health,  parenting,  Personal,  Wit,  Writing

    Wednesday Words: The Joy of Syntax

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    Have you ever felt like a second person narrator in your own life? What is a second person narrator? Here you go:

    This point of view is the least common of all three persons, mostly because it’s the hardest to pull off …. You’ll recognize this point of view by the use of you, your, yourself with the absolute exclusion of any personal pronouns (I, me, myself). The narrator is the reader. It’s tricky, but it can be done.

    This sounds like the parenting life!

    The past four years of my life have felt like they happened to me. Multiple situations completely out of my control but demanding every bit of strength I had.

    Severe mental illness, physical assault, death, grief, angry and grieving teenagers, a traveling husband, a third teenager who slipped through the cracks, sexual assault, PTSD/anxiety/depression, police interviews, suicidal ideation, therapy appointments, psychiatrist appointments, loss of a hobby, loss of a passion, being used, disrespect, entitlement, addiction, lost dreams, lost friends, a new school, brighter days on the horizon…

    How are you feeling? What do you need? How was your school day? Your orthodontist appointment is tomorrow. The school called about the assault on you. You have therapy tomorrow. Did you take your meds? Are those boys leaving you alone? You can’t drink as much as you are. You can’t do drugs in our house. It’s time for you to be an adult. You love high school?! You have overcome so much. You are fierce.

    You get the point.

    The definition of the second person says that it can be tricky but it can be done; it’s  exclusively you, they, them. That is 100% accurate and correct; it is tricky.

    The exclusion of  I, me, myself is a dangerous way to live. It happens but it’s not without consequences. You miss what’s happening in your actual life while trying to stay on top of everything else that is moving so fast.

    It took four years but it caught up with me. Don’t worry because I’m ok. I have a great therapist. And a fantastic husband.

    I’m writing again. And in my research, along with my favorite “Ferris Bueller” quote, I found the antidote to living in the second person: change the point of view. Tell my story and flip the script to the first person POV where I can ask for help, I can say how I feel, I can put boundaries in place, and I can tell my story.

    Please don’t take this as me making it all about me. Because every good story has a balance; multiple perspectives and plot lines. And if the book is good, they converge and tell a cohesive and relatable story. But it takes everyone, even the antagonist(s) to create a rich plot. Because without adversity, there’s really no story arc and it results in something flat and boring.

    Our life has been anything but boring. Would I change anything about the past 4 years? Probably not. I certainly have learned from these years and for that I’m thankful.

    But I’m also really, really thankful that what our family wrote doesn’t resemble a horror novel and something closer to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

    Ferris-Bueller-s-Day-Off-jennifer-grey-38291373-1280-528.jpg

    And yes, I unapologetically admit to being Jeanie.

    Isn’t writing amazing? What surprising thing has it taught you about your own life?

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