In my real life I rarely cry. I don't cry over movies and I often find myself struggling to have to the right reponse when someone else is crying. Basically, you crying is not going to make me sad or make me cry. I don't even cry at funerals or in other places where crying is commonly seen. In short- I'm not a person who cries. This week I discovered that I do cry at the Panera while reading. Can't Take that Away made me cry sad tears and happy tears, made me cry for the kid I used to be, and made me cry for all the kids who are still in the thick of it, but mostly it made me cry tears of hope (that's totally a thing, right?).
Now that we've gotten my crying issues out of the way, let's get to it.
Can't Take That Away by Steven Salvatore
Release Date: March 9, 2021
Why I love this book: We already talked about the crying situation. I promise it's a plus. You will feel better for having read this book and let out all the tears. Having a good cry doesn't even begin to touch all the great things about this book though. It's like the icing on a perfect cake.
And if the good cry is the icing, then the sheer volume of Mariah Carey content is like the sprinkles (I love sprinkles). As a 90's kid who grew up on Mariah Carey, who still can't help but think about 8th grade summer camp when Always Be My Baby comes on, I couldn't help but love Carey's love for all things Mariah.
What I appreciate the most about this book is that it shows EVERYTHING, the good and the bad, unflinching it how it holds up a mirror to what high school can be like. It's a hard time for a lot of people, and when you are different that can make you a target. What's beautiful here is that for every ounce of hate that Carey takes in, there are equal measures of love and support. That doesn't make it easy for them, but to be able to see a character that is in the thick of it, who is dealing with trauma and loss, who is also trying to figure out how to navigate love and friendship, AND who we see being confident and talented and fabulous, well, that is something that we don't get enough of. As a teacher I also fully appreciated that we got to see the good and bad there too- how some teachers can make everyone feel less then, feel like they don't belong, feel unsafe... but that there are other teachers who open their doors (literally) and create safe spaces for kids, who speak up for them when their voices aren't being heard, and who stand behind them when they need support. I try every day to be that second kind of teacher, because it's the kind of teacher I wish there were more of when I was a kid.
For me, when I think of this book and specifically about Carey, I think about one line from Walt Whitman's Poem Song of Myself. In that poem Whitman says "I am large. I contain multitudes". This book contains multitudes. Carey contains multitudes.
To sum up- go buy the book. If you are like me and have the ability to provide important books to kids, add this to your collection. Kids need to see that they contain multitudes too, and that sometimes you just have to slip on your ruby slippers and shine.
For reasons you will understand after you read the book- enjoy this picture of my Grandma Sophie, she was a roller skate dancer, raised kids and horses and dogs, started food fights at the dinner table, and taught us to not take shit from anyone (even family). She also haunted her house for years after she died much to our enjoyment. The sass survived even death. I hope I'm even half as cool as she is.
Well.... we are coming up on one year of Covid and to say life is different then the last March 12th we saw is a massive understatement. I could write probably a million words on all the ways things have changed, but I won't. That's not what this post is anyways. This post is about being open and honest about issues that we've seen come to the forefront during the last year- I've had a lot of time to think about a lot of stuff, and to decide how I want to move forward. For me that means when something comes up that I think I have something to say about, I will. If there's an audience, great, and if not, that's okay to. One thing I've learned is that the more we raise our voices about issues that effect us, the more people will be unafraid to raise their voices too.
So here we go, starting off strong with a topic that I will likely talk A LOT about because it effects me every day... and that's mental illness. In my life I'm acutely aquainted with the glorious trifecta of anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphia. It's a hell of a group to party with. I've had bad days, bad week, bad years... and I've had good ones too. The more I talk about it the more I have people come to me and say they've felt the same way or that they wish they knew that there were so many of us earlier. Especially my students. I don't hide my mental illness from them and in turn they know they can always talk to me about what they are dealing with.
At any rate- this post isn't meant to just talk generically. I have a bone to pick, with an image that's been floating around the internet and the responses I keep seeing to it. First, the image.
There is a lot to unpack here. A LOT. I'm going to start by saying that I've had multiple family members commit suicide. I've been right at the edge, when that decision doesn't seem so far fetched, when any port in a storm looks like a viable solution. I'm not here to debate how mental illness manifests differently for different people or how it effects the people either in it or around it, I'm not here to debate suicide at all. It is a thing that happens that shouldn't. Full stop. As a society we need to work on supports so that people don't feel that lost.
Here is what I am here to debate (today) and it's something that we see crop up whenever a post is made online that talks about these heavy, serious issues. And that's this idea that every post is meant for you to respond to, that it's either about you or against you and there's no inbetween. The thing is, the in between is where we learn. The in between is where we ask questions about something that is foreign to us. When we see a post and think, "that's not my experience" it doens't mean that the post is inherantly a bad take, or saying something engative about the people who don't feel that way, it's simply giving a perspective. We see this with the "not all men" responses, and I was shocked to see something similar here.
In several spaces people responded that 1. They care or 2. That mental nillness is hard on the caregivers too and why don't we talk about that.
My response to number 1 is simple.... great. I'm glad you care. People like me need people who care. People who are safe places for us to go when we are falling apart.
My response to number 2 is not so neat and clean. That response, the idea that it's hard for the caregiver too rubbed me the wrong way. It took me a bit to parse out why. Other people responded quickly, tempers flared as they often do online, and people expressed a disappointment in that kind of response. After sitting with it, what I felt most keenly was frustration. At the comments and at myself, which is really where we are going to get into the crux of this issue and why asking for and giving help with mental health struggles is so hard.
I'm going to share a response I gave to one person because I think I laid it out pretty well...
So I can’t speak to anyone’s experience but my own- however, I have been on both sides of this issue.
Taking care of and supporting someone with a mental illness is a heavy, heavy load to lift. It is mentally and physically exhausting. What the other person is doing often makes no logical sense and trying to get someone like that help is often a frustrating process. Sometimes it breaks you down as a caregiver and you have to decide if the cost is worth it... and saying that you have to stop in order to preserve your own health and safety is a heartbreaking, but sometimes necessary decision. You feel like you haven’t done enough, and that you are letting people down, but to continue without support of your own is also impossible.
To be the person with the mental illness is its own heavy load. In many cases you are scared and frustrated and confused... and you would give anything to not feel broken anymore, if you could only just get out of your own way. The logical part of your brain wants to change, but the disease puts up so many barriers that you can’t get through, you can't even get through to yourself. Trust me when I say that we know we are a burden to those around us, we know we are destructive, that we leave chaos behind us and when we have moments of calm, when our brains slow down enough for logical thoughts to catch up, well we hate those other things about ourselves and we promise ourselves and we promise you that we will change... until the next time we are in a bad spot and we hit that self-destruct button... even though we know you might get caught in the explosion.
Knowing all of that is why we are afraid to ask for help, why we are ashamed of who we are and all the ways we are broken. As a person with a mental illness, we want help, but don’t always feel safe to ask. As a caregiver we want to help, but it’s not always possible.
The responses like "I care!" or "What about the caregivers?" are 100% valid. Support systems need more support too. The whole system needs more support, more money and more voices. 1 in 4 struggle with mental illness, that means 1 in 4 family and friends are also struggling to help out. Which means we all need support. Of course. We know this. Support systems need support too. That’s just not what this image was about... so when we see someone co-opt a post or blow up the comments it reinforces all the reasons why we don’t ask for help. You can be 100% right in your point, but be making it at the wrong time, to the wrong audience. Both things can be true.
Mental health issues are a beast for everyone involved. This year it seems like more and more people are struggling to manage and it impacts everyone involved. My point here, as long winded as it is, is simply that when people are speaking about their truth and their lived experiences, take a step back, take a deep breath and consider what message you are sending with your response. Does it invalidate the experience of the people involved? Does it center you in a conversation that is not about you? If it does, maybe reconsider.
To reiterate... your point can be right, but you might be making it at the wrong time, to the wrong audience.
And to all mental health friends- it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to need to reach out for help. It's even okay if the people you hoped to rely on are unable to support you right now. There are other's who are willing to listen and lend support. You are never alone, no matter how alone you might feel.
I read two books over the last week that hit deep and left me with so many conflicting thoughts. Both books were beautiful and needed, and the conflicting thoughts weren't at all about the writing or the plot, but instead about why books like this, that hold a mirror up to society, are somehow neccessary, full of hope, and deeply saddening. These are both books that I wish I had when I was in Middle School and High School (and for one specific plot line... college) - when trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in was often an isolating adventure. Back then, when the internet was a baby, you were often bound to the community you lived in and that could be a scary prospect when it seemed like no one was quite like you. To be fair- I had a good childhood, access to activities (like community theater!) where no one cared if you were different, but at the end of the day I was a still living in a very small town, where people said they were accepting, but their words and actions were anything but. You could be yourself, so long as it didn't make waves, and the effect was, at least for me, that I swung wildly from keeping myself hidden and open defiance, neither a recipe for accepting oneself. At nearly 40 I'm still grappling with what that looks like for me, because years of programming and self-talk are hard to climb out from under.
These books though (and so many others) give me so much hope. Like insane amounts of it, not just for books, but for my students who get to read these books and see themselves and their stories.... the good and the bad.... reflected back at them. I know that you can find solace within the pages of a book, and even though we have so much farther to go, the diversity of stories that they have access to is lightyears from what I had and that makes me pause and remember that change may be slow, but that they'll be alright in ways that I wasn't.
So these books- I used to do proper reviews, but after awhile it felt cheap and repetative, and I'm loathe to go back to that because I don't think anyone benefits from book reviews that just check boxes. Instead I'll leave you with the things that I felt most deeply about each book and ask that you hit the library or bookstore and grab a copy, let yourself live with these characters for a bit, let them change you for the better. Happy Reading.
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Dever
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Why I love this book: This one is simple for me, the main character, Ben wormed his way into my heart from the word go. As a Non-binary kid who finds himself without a home and dealing with crippling anxiety I saw myself in them and the way that they wanted to just be accepted and not feel broken anymore. Anxiety can do that to you, make you feel broken in ways you can't explain, make you feel ashamed about things you can't control, and make you question if what you are doing it the right thing. Finding someone, the way Ben finds Nathan, who you desperately want to trust, but you don't know how, is so incredibly relatable that it hurt to read sometimes. Deaver's weaves this story to perfection, and even when it's hard to read, it remains a beautiful story about finding hope during the low points and creating the family you need when the one you were given let's you down.
The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg
Release Date: February 26, 2019
Why I love this book: Short answer is that I love an odd couple rom-com. Awkward encounters, little glances that lead to something more, two crazy kids learning about each other through wild adventures- I'm in for all of it. Sometimes, that's where the story ends, and that's fine, sometimes that's what you need, this book though, well... it digs so much deeper and the characters and the audience are so much better for it. Both main characters, Max and Jordan, are complex people who are dealing with some really traumatic issues. Konigsberg never treats them with disdain or pity, instead he just lets the reader walk with Max and Jordan as they figure out a way to deal with their issues while also learning that you don't have to do it alone. Life isn't perfect, for any of us, and Konigsberg lets us know that it's okay when things fall apart, that friendship can show up when you least expect it, and most importantly that there are people who will help keep you afloat when you can't find your way to the surface.
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