I want to provide a brief warning, as some of the things I mention in the article can be triggering.
When I was very young, I wrote more than I read—it was easier for me for some reason. I really only read what was mandatory. I loved Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Outsiders. However, I would never have picked those books off the shelf as a teenager, unless I had been forced to. One of the first books I do remember picking up on my own was:
Speak (1999) by Laurie Halse Anderson
The story of a young girl’s struggle with ostracism and her journey to find her voice again.
It was the summer between eighth grade and freshman year, I was extremely depressed and had been having suicidal thoughts. I couldn’t figure out why. Maybe it’s because of things that happened to me when I was a little girl. Even so, I just assumed I was born wrong. I picked up Speak, read the back jacket and flipped through some random pages. That’s when everything changed. This was me. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone for the first time ever.
However, mental illness doesn’t care. Mental illness does not care how healthily you try to cope, it will find a way to seep through.
But I kept coping the best way I knew how, next I read:
Nineteen Minutes (2007) by Jodi Picoult
About a school shooting, and focuses on the events leading up to and following the incident.
I read this in about 2008, when I was a sophomore in high school. This book changed my writing forever. Before Nineteen Minutes, I was just writing silly books about troubled young girls. Jodi Picoult gave me the inspiration to write about crime. It was an even better escape for me. She gave meaning to my words. I could tell a story bigger than myself. I’m obsessed with her. I still read her books.
Exit Here (2007) by Jason Myers
An autobiographical portrait of drugs, lies, and abuse.
When I read this, I thought Jason was nuts for writing about stuff like this. I mean, I wrote like that but writing was just a hobby for me. My books would never be seen by the public. My books were grungy, inappropriate, raw, and dark. This time where I felt like it was okay to write the way I wrote. I didn’t want to kill myself anymore.I wanted to be like him. I wanted to be an author. This gave me purpose. (In his book, Blazed, there’s a punk black chick as one of the main love interests. Are you kidding? I was finally seen!)
However, I was still struggling. Reading all these books kept me from hurting myself, but only momentarily. Reading or writing them became my life’s blood. I developed an eating disorder during my senior year of high school, I dropped fifteen pounds almost overnight. Anorexia was hands-down the worst part of my life. I was suicidal, but I knew this disease was going to kill me first. Then I discovered,
Wintergirls (2009) by Laurie Halse Anderson
The story of a girl, Lia Overbrook, who suffers from anorexia and self harm. She struggles to fight her mental illness while balancing everything else in her life.
Everyone at my school was reading this book. The popular girls, the drama kids and the skinny girls. At first I picked this up only because I wanted to be the cool skinny girl reading about Anorexia, but it hit home, real quick. It scared me into recovery. Books always had the power to do that to me.
With my pattern, I always returned to the dark though. And this next book changed my life forever. I was eighteen, and had no idea what was wrong with me.
Girl Interrupted (1993) by Susanna Kaysen
A story about the author’s stay in a mental institution.
I was livid I didn’t read this memoir when I was eleven years old. After reading this, the same year, I went into therapy and got honest about my symptoms for the first time. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and I started the long, long, long, road to recovery. I can’t even think about what would have happened if I never held this book in my hands.
Society can be ruthless. Society seems built for the average adolescent to hate themselves. Add mental health issues on top of that, and survivors of suicide are miracles. Everyone thinks of me as the girl with problems and a story of a rough childhood. I was, in fact, given a very privileged life. I had the freedom to write whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I had support. I had love and friends. I had the beach.
I had novels like this.
So, I had hope.
My mind played the biggest tricks on me, and the only things I had to hold onto were the lives of these characters. I am forever grateful to these authors for saving my life over and over again and giving me purpose. Now, it’s my duty to try to do what they did for me. I want to pay it forward.
Hopefully, starting with Remember (October 8, 2019)—my debut novel. A psychological thriller that tells the story of a Portia Willows, a young girl who struggles with severe social anxiety disorder. After an accident takes the lives of her mother and sister, she’s forced to face her own memory—which may not be quite what it seems.