An Evening With Hanya Yanagihara

Last Wednesday, the 5th of October, I had the extraordinary pleasure of attending an evening with Hanya Yanagihara organized by the John Adams Institute. Some of you might remember that Yanagihara released her second novel, A Little Life, in 2015. Fewer of you know how much that novel means to me, but that’s what this blog post will explain.

I should probably have included A Little Life in my post on Books That Helped Me Through Depression, because it definitely did. The reason I didn’t is somewhat complicated. While it is true that A Little Life gives an uncompromising view of mental illness that our society needs more of. I have seen too many teenagers on Tumblr romanticizing mental illness.  But A Little Life is also a book that toes the line of melodrama and edges towards too much.

That’s not a bad thing, at least for me. Depression is too much. Depression is melodramatic. The problem with A Little Life is that some of its content is explicit enough to trigger people. Now, I really don’t think we should be putting trigger warnings on novels and neither does Yanagihara. I think we should be putting trigger warnings on pretty much everything else, but in a novel the reader agrees to let the writer pull them into their world. This can and should involve challenging the reader’s world view. If you’re easily triggered by the topic of self-harm, you should probably stay away from this book. That doesn’t mean the author has to.

 

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. What, you ask, is this book about? Why is it so incredibly great that you can’t shut up about it, Julia? A Little Life starts out as the coming-of-age of four close college friends in New York attempting to make something of themselves. But all is not as it seems. Although the book initially has a rich ensemble of characters, focus gradually shifts towards Jude, who, it turns out, has had an incredibly traumatic childhood. His three closest friends try to help him battle his demons. We, as readers, try to uncover the mysteries of his past, even as we shudder to think what they might be. Continue reading

How I Recovered From Depression

It’s Mental Health Week over on Frenzied Fangirl. I’m raising money for suicide prevention because it is a cause very important to me. Please give if you can.

This piece was originally written for the amazing non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms, inspired by this blog post by Jamie Tworkowski: You Should Write. October 20th will be a new National Day On Writing, and you will hear more on the subject then. For now, let me fight stigma by writing openly about my experience of mental illness.

A lot has been written about the experience of depression. “Depression is the flaw in love,” says Andrew Solomon. Emily Dickinson describes depression by saying: “I felt a funeral in my brain.” David Foster Wallace wrote: “When the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.” I myself have often said that depression is like carrying a dead soul inside a body that refuses to die. We know that depression is terrible, and that words, no matter how carefully selected, can never quite describe its horrors.

However, there is something else I want to talk to you about, today. This is something that, while vitally important to the conversation about mental health, doesn’t get half as much attention as the actual illness. I want to talk to you about recovery. Continue reading

Why You Should Shut Up About Suicide

It’s Mental Health Week over on Frenzied Fangirl. I’m raising money for suicide prevention because it is a cause very important to me. Please give if you can.

TRIGGER WARNING: In-depth discussion of suicide.

Recent studies show that there is an element of contagion to suicide. Those exposed to the suicide of people in their immediate surroundings are much more likely to take their own lives. Because of this, I feel strongly that the media should stop mentioning suicide as a cause of death.

Humans are pack animals. We take comfort in numbers and let ourselves be influenced by the actions of our idols. In modern times, our idols are often celebrities. Sometimes celebreties kill themselves, and unfortunately this brings about a ripple effect of copycat suicides.

I, personally, find it easy to explain copycat suicides. If you’re trying to decide whether to get vanilla or strawberry ice cream and you see the person queuing in front of you get strawberry, what do you choose? Probably strawberry, as well. There must have been some reason the person ahead of you chose it. Besides, they seem to be enjoying it well enough, so there you go.

Of course I understand that the press has a responsibility to inform the public. I also understand that it is becoming increasingly difficult to control information in the digital age. However, I think most people would agree with me that there is a gray area. Not reporting on a terrorist attack is bad journalism. Reporting on the exact way the attack was executed and what procedure was used to put together the explosives, is also bad journalism. We don’t want our newspaper to publish a how-to guide on explosives, because if “how to blow up an airport” was common knowledge it would most likely endanger a lot of people.

And here’s the thing: informing people about someone else’s suicide endangers them. Continue reading

“I am, I am, I am” Books That Helped Me Through Depression

In the winter of 2014 and the year 2015, I experienced depression. There’s no nice way of putting it: I met the evil inside myself. I felt my soul die inside a body that refused to quit. I felt the world turn to ashes around me, the oxygen turn toxic in my lungs, and the people everywhere just kept on living. The closest I can come to describing the experience is that I am Squidward in the sequence of scenes below. No kidding. A depressed person is misery and despair made flesh, and they carry that burden with them whatever they do and wherever they go.

depression squidward.gif

Although I failed to see it at the time, there is always a spark of light in the darkness. There is the whole history of human experiences of suffering to assure you of that one, incomprehensible fact: You are not alone. As each person is unique, so is each depression, but there is a certain comfort to be found in the fact that someone out there is experiencing something similar to your sadness, even when that sadness seems unparalleled in the history of the world.

So how do we get in touch with these other unfortunate individuals? The answer, of course, is simple. We connect to other as we always have; through words, albeit written on paper, to thoughts made tangible on a page. Even as my mind was shattering into a million pieces, emotion and concentration both equally unreachable, I attempted to read as a drowning man attempts to swim. Continue reading