Book Award: Sign of Progress for Mental Illness

Sep 19

Thanks to the work and dedication of many people, the concepts of mental illness and mental health are beginning to emerge from their dark hiding places and experience some much-deserved sunshine. Canada Goose Expedition Parka Mental illness in general is still difficult to discuss and can be met with cold misunderstanding; however, that is beginning to change. Parajumpers Lightweight Simona 6 Doudoune Understanding and empathy are increasing. nike air max 1 femme noir It’s becoming a little bit safer for people experiencing mental illness to seek and receive help. Nike Zoom Crusader A sign that thing are moving in a positive direction in the field of psychology, mental illness, and mental health is that professional and respected book review companies are honoring novels about mental illness and people living with it. Kirkus Reviews has released its list of Best Books of 2016, and Twenty-Four Shadows has been awarded a place on that list. Marcus Cannon   In their review of this novel, Kirkus Reviews said, “An exploration of dissociative identity disorder, this fourth novel by Peterson My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, 2014, etc.) valiantly addresses the stigma of mental illness….[She] is able to say to the reader in earnest: this is mental illness, this is how it feels.” Twenty-Four Shadows was named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016 because of the way it addresses dissociative identity disorder, a serious mental illness. Stanford Cardinal For similar reasons, Kirkus Reviews named My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel to their list of Best Books of 2014, further indicating that mental illness (anxiety disorders and avoidant personality disorder) are important to bring into the sunlight. Air Jordan 8 Armani Survetement Other well-known review companies have recognized the novel Twenty-Four Shadows as well. Parajumpers Kodiak The Midwest Book Review lauded it, and The US Review of Books awarded it one of their coveted Recommended ratings. Nike SB Paul Rodriguez 9 adidas gazelle homme blanche All of this is a very good thing. Such honors for a novel that addresses a previously taboo subject shows that society is beginning to open minds and hearts to those living with mental illness. Oklahoma State Cowboys free run 5.0 grigio uomo When readers learn about mental illness through realistic stories, mental illness, and those living with it, are humanized. I speak a bit more about this in the below video, and I read a passage from the novel, too. Canada Goose Solaris Parka Nebraska Cornhuskers Jerseys I invite you to tune in. Air Jordan 13   Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Justin Pugh Roll-Top Timberland Bottes Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities.


Mental Illness Isn’t Who You Are

Sep 6

Experiencing any mental illness can be challenging, frustrating, and sometimes debilitating. It is something someone deals with, but it isn’t who someone is. Mental illness is a challenge, not an identity. Blue Black Jordan Shoes

You developed schizophrenia, and I know from talking to you that it’s scary and frustrating and it has brought a lot of changes to your life. Under Armour Rocket But it’s not who you are, Penelope. It is merely something you have to deal with. Your mind plays some pretty nasty tricks on you sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that you are unlovable. — Oliver to Penelope in Leave of Absence

Mental illness is a challenge, not an identity. Increasing understanding of mental illness helps this truth be known.That mental illness, any specific mental illness, isn’t an identity isn’t always easy to believe. Often, people associate their mental health challenges with who they are as a human being. There are multiple reasons for this.

  • Mental illnesses impact emotions, and often life feels out of control and hard to handle. It’s natural to believe that these intense, sometimes erratic feelings are a sign that we’re flawed somehow, unable to handle ourselves and the world around us.
  • Mental illnesses impacts thoughts. Parajumpers parka Mental illness can impact the way people think about themselves and the world. Nike Air Max Thea Femme Blanche Everyone has what are called faulty thoughts or automatic negative thoughts (like imposing “shoulds” upon yourself or catastrophizing/blowing something out of proportion and stressing out), but mental illnesses have a way of intensifying these thoughts.
  • Mental illnesses impact behaviors. Emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are intricately connected, and they affect each other. Faulty thoughts and intense emotions can affect actions people do or don’t take. Anxiety disorders, for example, can be very life-limiting when they prevent people from going out or doing certain things because of fear and worry.
  • Society doesn’t fully understand mental illness. Phoenix Suns A word commonly used for this misunderstanding is stigma. Canada Goose Chateau Parka There’s a lot of misperceptions about what mental illness really is, and this can negatively impact how someone living with mental illness is treated. Sometimes, outsiders see the mental illness before seeing the real person experiencing it.

Together, these can cause someone believe that mental illness is who they are. The truth is that mental illness (again, any particular mental illness) has affected the brain, not the essence of who we are. Memphis Tigers Jerseys The truth is that there are numerous treatments available to reduce the impact mental illnesses have on emotions, actions, and thoughts. The truth is that understanding can be taught. By listening to people’s shared stories, by reading memoirs and non-fiction books and articles about mental illness, by reading novels that show what these challenges are like for people, society as a whole is developing deeper understanding of what mental illness really is and what people living with mental health challenges experience. The truth is that mental illness isn’t who you are. AIR MORE UPTEMPO Therefore, you can rise above the illness to thrive. Journalism students from the University of Oregon interviewed me for a production for Allen Hall Studios. I share a bit about my own experience with mental illness — and transcending it. Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Asics Gel Lyte 3 Femme Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities.


To Understand is To See One Another as Human Beings

Sep 22

remember-your-humanity-and-forget-the-rest Mental illness changes lives. Masterpiece Kodiak Doudoune It does not, however, change our humanity. Penelope Baker is one of the main characters in the novel Leave of Absence. She lives with schizophrenia, and she is filled with shame and self-loathing. In this scene, she is lamenting one of the ways it has impacted her life: “I used to be proud of myself. Nike Air Huarache Femme I graduated from the University of Chicago and worked as an advertising executive at Anderson Fletcher.” She paused and hugged the beach ball against her chest. When she resumed, she spoke quietly. “But then I changed, and I’m not the same anymore. I had to take quit the job I loved. canada goose snow mantra At first, I thought I could take a leave of absence, just a little break to get well and then go back. Doudoune Parajumpers Homme But I never got better enough to go back. I had to quit completely, and now I’m just a loser.” Tears rolled down her cheeks and splashed onto the ball. Leave of Absence Cover I wrote Leave of Absence because no one experiencing mental illness should ever have to feel like a loser. I possess a unique combination of experiences that I carry with me into my writing—my novel writing, my Anxiety-Schmanxiety column on, my newsletter writing for my local NAMI chapter, and my blog writing. That I write about mental health is no coincidence, for I have experienced mental health and mental illness from both sides of the proverbial couch. Air Jordan 13 For Kids Having been both a counselor and a patient, I have a deep understanding of how people can suffer emotionally in so many ways, how people can triumph emotionally in so many ways, and of how every human being deserves empathy and understanding. Joe Montana Notre Dame Jersey I use my many experiences to create stories that, while themselves fictional, are a very real manifestation of mental health and mental illness. It is my hope that Leave of Absence, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, and all my writing will help people understand each other more deeply. I have a rather intimate relationship with mental illness. I understand it intellectually thanks to an intense graduate program, and that lends a solid factual background to my stories. I understand it professionally thanks to all the people I have worked with in various capacities; in working with people, I have developed a real-world understanding of what people need in order for them to help them help themselves heal, and I weave this into my stories. LUNARGLIDE 8 And I understand mental illness personally thanks to my own experiences with it. Parajumpers Homme Big Bend I try to draw on all of these aspects to infuse my character-driven novels with not only facts but feeling. My own roller coaster ride with mental illness officially began in 2004 when I sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. Because I could walk, talk, and physically care for myself, I didn’t qualify for brain injury rehabilitation programs. That didn’t mean that I was functioning well in other areas of my life, though. I saw a psychologist for counseling, and when that wasn’t enough, I was admitted into a behavioral health hospital. Avera The Airhaven Behavioral Health Center that is the setting for much of Leave of Absence is actually based on the hospital in which I stayed. The characters are completely fabricated, of course, but the physical description and other little details (such as Oliver’s hatred of the ticking clock in his room) are based on my own personal experience in the hospital. Parajumpers Denali I was in and out of that hospital five times over the course of a few years, and it was there that I was officially diagnosed with bipolar I disorder and anxiety disorders. So it’s on multiple levels that I understand what it means to suffer mentally and emotionally, how mental illness impacts every single facet of one’s life, what it’s like to live with the stigma and have people shun you both personally and professionally. Andre Tippett I believe passionately in the importance of bringing these issues it to light. When we learn about each other as human beings, when we take time to really listen and look, we begin to understand.


Empathy, Fiction, and Humanizing Mental Illness

Sep 14

  empathyThere’s currently a disconnect between understanding mental illness and understanding/accepting the person behind it. We need to look beyond the descriptions and symptoms of mental illness and see the human being living with it. I have a desire to be one of the many people who work to change this. My motivation stems from multiple sources. Professionally, I have a Master’s degree in counseling, am a Nationally Certified Counselor (US), and I’ve worked and volunteered as a teacher and a counselor. Parajumpers Californian Newport Adidas Ultra Boost Femme Personally, I experience bipolar I disorder and various anxiety issues. Chris Jones Therefore, I set out to tell stories to change the way the world thinks about mental illness and the people who experience it. Yes, stories. Nike Air Foamposite Pro Stories of people. My stories happen to be in the form of novels, of fiction. Air Jordan 10 Retro
However, fiction is a powerful vehicle for illustrating fact. Fiction entertains, and fiction educates. It provides opportunities for conversation. Fiction, at its core, is about life and about human beings. nike free run 4.0 homme We often become attached to characters in novels, and we empathize with them. Chaussures Nike Commonly, we transfer our empathy to real-life human beings. Asics Gel Kinsei 6 Homme Jordan Horizon I write my novels with a purpose. Mujer Air Jordan 4 Duke Blue Devils I’m exasperated by the negative stereotypes that exist against mental illness and the people who experience various forms of it. The stereotypes have led to a stigma so intense that it causes discrimination and isolation and can prevent people from seeking the help they need. AIR ZOOM ELITE 9 I like to believe in the best in people, so I don’t think that people are intentionally cruel toward those experiencing mental illness. Instead, I think they are basing their thoughts and subsequent actions on misinformation and misunderstanding. Canada Goose Foxe Bomber SMU Mustangs Jerseys Mainstream media continues to portray mental illness inaccurately: television, movies, books, advertisements, and the news are all guilty of this. FLYKNIT LUNAR3 New Balance 1300 homme The National Indie Excellence Awards committee selected (2013) Leave of Absence as a finalist in their “faction” category—fiction based on fact. Air Max 95 Hombre Recently, Kirkus Reviews awarded My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel their coveted Kirkus Star, a distinction “awarded to books of remarkable merit,” and had this to say: “As in her previous novels, Peterson demonstrates a tender, notably human understanding of mental illness….[S]he accurately captures the crushing sensations of anxiety disorder[s] while simultaneously offering rays of hope. A vital tool for sufferers and their families that broadens understanding of a debilitating illness.” Losing Elizabeth received Storytellers Campfire’s 2014 Marble Book Award for being a book that “makes a significant difference in the world. James White This is a good sign, I think. Perhaps the world is ready to open its collective mind and heart and deepen empathy and compassion.


Under The Bell Jar: It’s Hard to Fight Insanity When You’re Depressed

Jan 31

(For a brief explanation as to why I’m commenting on novels about mental illness, see Books As Insight Into Mental Illness.)


This is a bell jar:

A Bell Jar

Imagine living inside one of these. Not just the top of your head, mind you, but all the way down to your toes. It would be like wearing one of those awful plastic Halloween masks only worse. Worse because there are no air holes. Worse because it would fog up. Worse because there would be no air circulation but you couldn’t just slide it easily to the top of your head and let it rest. Worse because it wouldn’t be worn by choice, for fun, but instead against your will and for no fun reason at all.Bell Jar

It is this object, this functional device turned torture device, that Sylvia Plath chose as the symbolic title of her 1963 novel. It’s an apt title. It represents mental illness itself, a heavy, stifling, confining jar that descends over one’s very mind and impedes the ability to fully, freely live.

The novel’s main character, the young woman who sinks deeply into mental illness, is one Esther Greenwood. She muses over this thing that she doesn’t fully understand, this illness that has covered her and seeped deep within, and the description she gives is telling: “…wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” For Esther, like so many who live with mental illness, the problem isn’t where in the world she is. The problem is the stifling, oppressive bell jar that has fallen down upon her, and even in an exotic location there it would be.

Sylvia Plath wrote a fiction novel. However, it was slightly autobiographical. Esther, while indeed a separate entity, is representative of Plath herself. Sylvia Plath struggled with mental illness, and, tragically, she took her own life in 1963, the same year The Bell Jar was released (originally under a pseudonym). In the novel, it is Esther’s attempted suicide, the result of inner torment, that lands her in psychiatric hospital after psychiatric hospital.

The terminology used in The Bell Jar is very much indicative of the lack of understanding typical of the era. To be sure, the fields of psychology and psychiatry existed. Modern psychology had been ushered in by Sigmund Freud over half a century before. The American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual existed but was in its infancy; the first edition was released in 1952, and while it provided a uniform terminology, there was much that went unmentioned and more that was misunderstood. (In fact, the manual is still being updated and revised as we advance our understanding of the brain; the fifth version was released in 2013, and it most certainly won’t be the last version.)

In the 1960s, the time of The Bell Jar, so little was fully known that Esther is simply considered to be “insane.” She stays in an “insane asylum” where she is not so much treated but managed and controlled. She receives a series of shock treatments, very common back then and used much more recklessly than they are today. The reader gets the feeling that these treatments aren’t quite administered with accuracy and purpose. It seems more as though the doctors are trying what they can to jolt, force, shock, shake Esther back to the world of the sane.

And indeed, this is how it often was. Sadly, people didn’t really know enough about the brain, mental illness, and psychiatry to truly be helpful. Thankfully, people wanted to know more, so they researched and studied and listened until we have arrived where we are today. Oh, we still have a long way to go as both scientific and lay communities, toward fully understanding, treating, and accepting mental illness. At least, though, the term “insane” isn’t applied as a blanket term for someone experiencing mental illness and most people aren’t controlled and most people aren’t shocked recklessly and against their will (electroconvulsive therapy does exist, but it’s not like the shock treatments to which Esther was subjected).

Because of the lack of true understanding and the use of the term “insane,” Esther never does receive a more specific diagnosis. (Which explains why she wasn’t helped very well; how can one be helped if no one understands what’s going on?) I only know what is revealed to me by Esther, of course, so I can’t make an official diagnosis for her. That said, it seems evident that Esther was experiencing major depressive order, commonly known as depression.

More than one thing points to depression as the culprit for Esther’s immense suffering.


The entire book (told by Esther) has a detached feel. She is completely disengaged from life around her. She has no desire for connection with those around her or even for simple conversation. She shows little emotion, other than occasional irritability or anger.

Esther shows us how depression can feel: slow; separate from reality, as if things are happening around her but she’s not fully part of it; powerless to take action, which is fine because she doesn’t want to anyway; a confused detachment from the world, as though watching people parade around you, saying strange, incomprehensible things.

Misinterpretation of the world:

In the hospital after her suicide attempt, she is visited by her friend George. George just wants to see her, but Ester is hurt and angry, believing that he only wants to gawk at her as if she’s an animal in a zoo. She “knows” he wants to see what a crazy girl who tried to kill herself looks like. He tries to convince her otherwise, to no avail. She screams at him to get the hell out and never come back.

Later, in a different hospital, another patient by the name of Miss Norris is completely silent. Esther is hurt by this silence, and she believes that the staff told Miss Norris that Esther is stupid and bad and so now Miss Norris is ignoring her.

She even misinterprets her mother. She is hurt and angry because she thinks her mother is ashamed of her and embarrassed to have a daughter in an insane asylum. She goes so far as to throw away the bouquet of roses her mother gives her on her birthday and then order her mother to leave.

Many forms of mental illness, depression among them, make it difficult for people to interpret the world accurately. Thought patterns are different than they would be without mental illness, and the stigma attached to mental illness can make it easy to believe that others are judging you.

And speaking of stigma! It existed in Esther’s world as it does still in ours today. I believe a simple quote from The Bell Jar will say it all. The comment was made by one Buddy Willard when he stopped by briefly to see Esther (or, more accurately, to make sure there wasn’t something he did to land her there). Buddy and Esther had previously dated, and at one point Buddy was interested in marrying her. Buddy had recently been released from a year-long stay at a special hospital for people with tuberculosis. (Those facts amplify the impact of his statement).

Buddy to Esther: “’I wonder who you’ll marry now, Esther. Now you’ve been,’ and Buddy’s gesture encompassed the hill, the pines, and the severe, snow-gabled buildings breaking up the rolling landscape, ‘here.’”

The Bell Jar is a powerful novel for many reasons. It takes us inside the mind and heart of someone experiencing “insanity”—or, if you will, depression. It’s powerful, too, because it leaves us with a sense of hesitancy yet hope.

Says Esther, “But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure at all. How did I know that someday—at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere—the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?” And another time, “…all I could see were question marks.”

And that is so accurate. With any mental illness, there’s always a shadow lingering, a fear that things might get bad again. And again. And that a good spell is only temporary. Yet Esther’s statement is significant. She’s thinking ahead. She’s envisioning college and Europe. No matter where the bell jar may be, there is possibility. There is hope.