I decided to share a little bit about my current novel.
The project I’m working on right now is by far the most personal book I’ve written so far. It’s mostly inspired by my love for music (esp punk rock, classic rock, etc.) but it also delves deeply into my own struggles with mental illness.
Although this may make them “unlikeable,” my characters are not perfect, neurotypical heroes who are comfortable in their own skin. They are broken, flawed, and not always “logical.” They don't make the best decisions. One heavily suffers from anxiety/PTSD/depression and is in therapy as a result of a tragic family event. The other has similar problems but copes through far less healthy ways (drinking, etc.) I started writing this book because I was inspired by books, like THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, that presented mental illnesses in a raw, honest way. I was inspired by stories like this because they don’t “idealize” or make jokes about mental illness…they present it as a “norm.” And most importantly, books like this present the message of hope. My book, like THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, is a novel about survival. Like Charlie, my characters (spoiler alert) DO NOT kill themselves at the end of the book. They are struggling, LGBTQ teens that do relapse, yes, but they rediscover their love for life through their music, friends, families, etc. and in the end, choose to live.
I grew up in communities that mostly turned a blind eye to mental illness. There was the occasional talk about a girl slitting her wrists or a boy “acting out” or people “not coming to school” but mostly, mental illness was seen through a huge stigma and/or treated as a “shame” to the family. As a result, so many of my friends and loved ones suffered (still suffer) through mental illness in silence. Some only just recently realized the causes of their suffering. Many are still not aware, and for a few, it was too late. When I was a child, I lost my paternal grandmother to mental illness. More recently, I lost a friend. And I’m so afraid that I’ll lose more.
Just as much as we need diverse books with characters of different racial/sexual/ethnic/religious/etc backgrounds, we need more books out there that don’t present “neurotypicality” as the “norm.” Just like there needs to be more than WASP, heterosexual heroes in literature/movies/etc, there needs to be more representation of mental illness in fictional characters…especially in the books/movies/etc that our children read/watch while growing up.
So even though it’s sometimes hard for me to write such a deeply personal novel, I write because it’s my attempt of making a difference. Although it’s uncertain whether or not it’ll ever be published (I’m working on revisions with my agent right now), I keep trying because if it makes even one person feel less alone and brings him/her hope despite his/her struggles with mental illness, then everything will be worth it.
Happy #WorldMentalHealthDay, everyone. Remember you are loved. <3