Dear Patient Readers: Personal Growth Corner

Dear Patient Readers,

On February 24, I expressed that I would be taking a week off from writing any posts to deal with the imbalanced, brain chemicals that were interfering from my actual living. It’s now March 14, nineteen days after I said that. I’m acutely aware that this is more than a week.

Besides the Mt. Olympia Low that I suffered, I got sick and guess how I got sick? Yup. By not taking care of myself. To summarize two weeks of misery: fever, no appetite, smoker’s cough, and saturnine. And to no surprise, I had another Low because lying in bed for four days and watching even more Gilmore Girls (my wheelhouse) is a 100% guarantee that you will feel like shit and declare that you’re just meat expiring.

Something interesting did happen while I was recovering. I was accepted into the English graduate program in Western Washington University, the fat bold lettering of CONGRATULATIONS louder than the thrumming of blood and pent up bodily fluids in my head.

I got in. Me. Erica Brown. I never actually believed I would. I’m not being humble or self-deprecating. These are feelings I carry with me to keep my hopes contained. I’ve been rejected before. I mean, if you haven’t, then you’re not a person. You’re an alien inhabiting your own planet (but, hey, let’s be friends!) But let me clarify: I’m not going to Western Washington University. I’m not enrolling into their English Graduate program. I’ve decided not to go.

Before everyone gasps and thinks I wasted a great deal of energy and time on this, I don’t think so. I did something scary. I went after something with a very high chance of being rejected. The last time I did that was never. I’ve avoided programs because of this fear. I bowed out of going to an Ivy League school because of the pass or fail admission process. I changed majors to avoid the pass or fail exit portfolio (but turns out, this worked in my favor because I’m actually a better writer than an artist.) I’ve lived under this stiffening pressure of the exclusive need to succeed because failure was like the roof and floor collapsing all at once. I’d have to start over. Rethink all my choices. Rebuild that stupid roof and floor to have a place to stand again. I’ve always been perceived as this person with their shit together, an adult who says what’s on her mind, calm, abnormally impassive, but generally knew what she wanted out of life. Psh, please. I’m 27, folks. I’m talented, artsy, dog lover, and an amazing baker, but I seriously am not some kind of prophet of my own life. I’m figuring stuff out too. While I love the idea of going to English grad school—that’s about it. My support team (who I want to thank because they had to listen to me for the last week flip flop on this decision) has insisted that I’m smart, which I am, and how well I would do in grad school, the people I would meet, and the things I would get to study, but there are so many things I want to do that aren’t contingent on earning a degree, which, by the way, has a scary paucity of academic jobs for anyone interested in being a Professor. I’ve spent most of my life admittedly sheltered. The summer I graduated high school, I went to community college and then to the university. I worked two part-time jobs during school and in the summer. I made just enough to pay for gas and groceries. I had no life except school, and, frankly, to throw myself back into that doesn’t align with what I feel now. I still think education is important, but I was cocooning myself in it and preventing myself from experiences. I don’t have the passion or fortitude for the academics and that’s okay. I’ve got stamina for other things. Writing and reading are my great loves and having an M.A. isn’t some kind of icing to me, but, if it were, it would be worth $60,000, plus interest. It’s just padding for something I really don’t feel I need. I’ve learned more outside in the ‘real’ world than I’ve learned in school.

When I finally realized this, everything in me snapped back into place. My gut was happy again—eh, sort of. Did I mention that I was sick during this whole deliberation? McDonalds. Wendys. I waited another several days to make sure it was the upset stomach talking.

Thank you for your patience dear readers and for putting up with some of my narcissism. Now I’ll get back to writing that post because this has definitely left me red in the cheeks, chagrined from the late revelation. After all, I am a book blogger. Yay books!!


Your Local Resident Book Hermit




Mental Health Hiatus: Winter IS the Worst


Greetings Everyone,

I’m not a fan of winter. It’s cold. It’s terrible driving weather. And while snow is charming, in its pure white form, when it melts, it’s ugly, and then you have mud and rocks and leftover ice that looks like broken teeth. Winter and I only get along when I’m indoors buried under a mountain of blankets and wrapped snuggly on top of my bed binge watching for the 10th time Gilmore Girls, which isn’t the smartest counter measure or strategy when suffering a Low.

As I’ve mentioned before in my previous posts, I suffer from Clinical Depression. For the last month or so, during this fine winter we’re having, I’ve been hit with some major Lows so strong it’s completely thrown off my emotional circuitry, i.e., I’ve been struggling to feel anything. I’ve felt like an eyeball most days. While I mentioned lying in bed, I happen to be one of those “well-functioning” Depressed people, who can still pay their bills, clean their house, and cook their meals—but working out, reading books, and even writing are obstacles for me at the moment. Whenever I try to write anything, it feels forced or someone else’s voice is hijacking my words. This has made writing reviews difficult and, yes, reading.

Here’s some good news: I am still reading at a walking pace. I am writing, evident from this short piece.

And here’s the bad news: I have no book review or book related topic for you guys today. Besides my limited emotional capacity that I just described, All The Bright Places was way, way, way, WAY, too close to home for me and brought up all these bags of feelings stuffed with tears, guilt, stupidity, remorse, and regret; yet, I feel awake again and feel closer to my old self.

To make a long story short, I’m taking some time for my mental health this week. I didn’t want to post nothing like I did two week ago. I will be back next week with a review hopefully on Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, which, despite my emotional response to it, is really a book I think everyone should read at least once (but I’m biased.)

Stay frosty and thank you guys for your patience!


Your Local Resident Book Hermit

The Funny Thing About Depression and Reading

photographing-landscapes-6eAfter I’ve read a sentence six times and fail to retain anything I’ve read within the last five minutes, I think I know what’s wrong. I’ll tell myself that I’m tired. The book isn’t interesting. I’ll pick it up another time. Just keep reading. You just don’t feel like reading. Just wait. It’ll get better!

These reading dry spells can last for weeks and sometimes even months for me. Most readers have run into this at least once or twice, but with Depression, it can potentially annihilate all your interests and love for books.

The thing is most professionals will suggest reading books. It’s one of the many, many, MANY methods in countering the effects of Depression. I haven’t tried them all, but I know from experience, reading and depression do not mix. It’s like breeding a porcupine with a sheep and creating this seemingly soft but prickly thing. There’s never been a time when a book pulled me out of one of my Lows. Reading brings comfort and lets my mind actively engage with something. As long as I can concentrate, can feel something, and can stay in the present long enough to visualize the story anyway. Depression is a vacuum that mercilessly cleans you out. It removes the parts that make you who you are, so it makes sense why it can be hard for me.

It can be frustrating to people looking at someone with Depression from the outside. It might be tempting to say ‘cheer up’ or even advise that person take some Advil (oh how I wish I were kidding about that last part.) It’s more complicated than that and having to explain the reasons can turn into a cornucopia of pervasiveness and sound like half-ass excuses for laziness. As much attention as the mental disorder has received lately, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about mental illnesses, except that there’s no cure, just methods on how to manage it. Reading just sadly isn’t one of them for me. How I wish a stack of books could be my anti-depressants when it’s a source of uplifting energy for others. Interestingly enough, books contain some of the most heartbreaking, dispiriting material imaginable.

Goodreads has a list dedicated to the most depressing books of all time starting with The Diary of a Young Girl. They’re not wrong though, with characters such as Jay Gatsby and Edna Pontellier as the poster models of repressed adults. A copious amount of books are saturated with brooding and volatile themes along with dismaying and tragic content. It’s almost impossible to find a book that doesn’t expose us to at least some traumatic experience involving sexual abuse, rape, alcohol/drug addiction, molestation, murder, disability, cancer, bigotry, racism, suicide, etc. So why do we continue to read these books if they’re only filled with joyless and heartbreaking moments? Because they’re good for us.

Books, mainly literary fiction, evoke tangible responses and affects how we emphasize with our other fellow human beings. We’re able to discern another person’s pain, internalize it, and grow as people. It’s the contradictory and hopeless, tragic stories that have engendered timeless classics that are profound and memorable. Maybe not the most pleasant of truths (when is it ever), but all of us have suffered at one point and are able to relate to another because of our pain. Books are bulky, accessible, jacket wearing doses of good-for-you humanity.

As I learned especially after being diagnosed with Depression, there are steps that I can do to avoid triggering a Low. This involves reading regularly and maintaining a routine. I realize how contradicting this may sound, but it’s actually not. Reading does not trigger Lows; it clearly does the opposite. I’m doing something I enjoy. Reading is a form of self-care for me.

When I was in college earning my English degree, I used to have to read an average of six to eight books a week and then have to write a mature, critical argumentative paper praying that I wouldn’t accidentally mix up one miserable guy encumbered by his gynophobia from another (a summation of American Literature). What I remember most about this time was not the late night papers or the books I read but the overwhelming, global mental breakdowns. I really thought the only way to survive college was to suck it up and keep going because everyone else seemed well-adjusted. If they could do it, so could I. The crippling Lows and panic attacks were just something I thought would go away on their own. I thought I would grow out of them. Classic self-denial-twenty-three-year-old me.

Looking back, I was missing balance and neglecting myself. It’s important to take time for yourself—just don’t go crazy and realize you just spent the entire day binging on that new TV show or shopping for all the pretty clothes you want to buy (I’m frugal.) Workaholics like me are terrible at taking breaks. We wear ourselves down like a pair of shoes. And, I admit, I still struggle in taking time for myself, as I sometimes interpret not working as ‘wasting time,’ when it’s not.  While doing something consistently keeps me in a check, and yes, happy, it’s still good to unwind with something else.

Before when I was Depressed and suffering Lows, I wouldn’t do anything. I’d wait for the Low to pass like a Cold. I would try and just read when, in actuality, I was just sitting in my room with the curtains shut and becoming a paperweight. A change in environment and activity ends up being the best thing for me to do, even though, I admit, forcing myself outside and interacting with other people feels like the total opposite of what you want to do with every bone in your body pretending like they’re crystallizing.

The brain is funny like that, and as I grow older and “wiser,” I’m coming to terms with mine and the things I have to do to be mentally healthy. If I want to do things I love, such as reading, I have to put the book aside once and while, go out, not be a hermit, socialize, interact with people, say more than two sentences, play with my dog (it’s an activity!), smile at someone, hold open the door, maybe eat a salad, walk or run, take a hot bath, write, write more, and sleep because the best part of books is that they’ll wait for you until you’re ready.

NoteI’m not a doctor, a therapist, or any kind of expert. You’ll find no prestigious degree noted in my fancy bio. If you or someone else you know is suffering with Depression, Anxiety, trauma and mental illness, please seek professional help. They know what they’re doing and can help make your life suck significantly less. I waited longer than I should have, and as a result, suffered to the point where my issues turned critical. Don’t do that to yourself. Talk with medical professionals in your area and learn what your options are. And I realize that therapy can be stupidly expensive, so find options that work with you. Some clinics offer sliding scale fees making therapy affordable and less likely to trigger financial stress. Make sure to find someone you’re comfortable with, and if you’re on medication, find the right balance, which may not happen right away. This may take some experimenting, but it’s worth it. Your first time with a therapist might be scary and new, but you will definitely reap the benefits as long as you take it seriously. This is about you and your health. Your pain is just as real as any physical one. Okay. I’m done with the public service announcement.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Ned Vizzini

Funny_Story_frontNed Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story hits home with many people suffering from Depression, suicide ideation, and the stigmatization of mental illness. It’s a relatable story and an eye-opener to the misinformed mass of people unbeknownst of the real, medically debilitating issues incurred through the disease. For Craig Gilner, he just wanted to get into the best school, go to the best college, get the best job, find the perfect wife, and have kids. Simple. In spite of its difficult subject, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is funny and poignant. It’s one of the more honest novels I’ve read on teenagers with mental illness.

Craig Gilner knows exactly what he wants from life: success. When he’s accepted into the Executive Pre-Professional High School, he’s beyond elated and can’t wait to start and begin on the path to a good life; his year of intense studying has paid off. At his new school, however, he’s struggling academically. The pressure to succeed overwhelms him so much that he can’t eat or sleep anymore. After a while, he decides he’s going to kill himself, which eventually leads him to checking himself into a psychiatric ward.  He’s then required to stay at the hospital for five days meeting an eclectic group of people. During his time there, Craig is able to confront the source of his Depression and Anxiety and discovers more than he expected.

Story is didactic and delightful for its plot structure. It forgoes chronology for the first half and instead plunges the reader in the middle of Craig’s hardship. Eventually the story resumes a linear order, but the story telling is truly one of the more interesting aspects; Vizzini’s treatment of the narrative ties to the novel’s strongest image, the brain map. The first half filled with flashbacks reverting back to the present is a pleasure to read with the symbols of the images bolstering the story’s meanings.

A tangible and sympathetic story, Vizzini’s novel is also kind of funny. There’s a mix of humor in the book peppered with hilarity and uncomfortable not-so-funny moments. Gilner’s suicide attempt is the last thing to joke about, the least funny bit of Story; yet, I can’t help but snicker when Gilner is calling the Suicide Hotline and is flooded with other callers, so he’s transferred to the hotline to pacify his anxiety until the Suicide Hotline is available. And it’s sort of funny when Gilner is conversing with the soldier voice in his head and has to explain with great care and difficulty that he’s not hearing voices—just this one soldier guy that’s him but isn’t him. Without the deadpan humor and eccentricities of the novel, Story would end up taking itself too seriously.

But Gilner is an austere protagonist. Reading about his struggles is like watching someone tunnel his way out of a prison with a teaspoon. He takes everything he does too seriously. Gilner’s view on life is simple and circumscribed, possibly causing what he sees as “tentacles.” When things are less stressful, more stabilized, he refers to them as “anchors.” We see Vizzini discussing emotional and difficult issues through powerful images and things the narrator Gilner identities with. These literary images are quite palpable and make me appreciate the novel and its characters more.

The other characters, albeit interesting, we never really know. This book is unquestionably about Gilner’s mental health and his recovery, so the other characters don’t receive the same amount of attention, thus, are not as fleshed out. What’s significant though is the commonality between these supporting characters that is antithetical to Gilner’s life. Most of them don’t have a support network, or they’re estranged from their family and friends. The severity of Gilner’s condition is offset by his propitious, loving environment of his family. While Gilner has experienced things that the majority of us may never be exposed to, he is still in a way sheltered from the worst.

I found Story scrupulous and almost methodical in its writing and language. Vizzini proportionately writes about the decline and recovery of Gilner’s mental health in an innocent, winsome voice that is easy to follow but exceptionally mature. What I’m mostly impressed with, as I’ve already praised repeatedly in this review and just have to gush about some more, is the images and symbolism deployed in the novel. Plot and characters are not the only pillars in this story. Without the use of the brain map, this story would be dangling—and a different cover.

And then there’s the conclusion of Story that cannot be summarized in one word or a sentence. It takes a page of constant, breathless prose to finish the novel, and it fills us with renewed purpose and perspective. It’s not the meaning of life, but it’s the thing we forget so easily. Somehow we go through the motions and forget that we are supposed to be living instead of being lead. It’s kind of funny how that happens.