Tag Archives: Mental Illness

Love is Not a Cure: a Guest Post by Jude Sierra

Today on the site I’m pleased to welcome Jude Sierra, author of A Tiny Piece of Something Greater, to talk about a common but harmful trope in literature: love as a cure for mental illness. Before we get to the post, here’s the info on the book:

37830506Reid Watsford has a lot of secrets and a past he can’t quite escape. While staying at his grandmother’s condo in Key Largo, he signs up for introductory dive classes, where he meets Joaquim Oliveira, a Brazilian dive instructor with wanderlust. Driven by an instant, magnetic pull, what could have been just a hookup quickly deepens. As their relationship evolves, they must learn to navigate the challenges of Reid’s mental illness on their own and with each other.

And here’s the post!

***

There’s a popular trope I see in media. Movies, books, and television shows often depict falling in love or starting a relationship as a catalyst for fixing or curing someone with mental illness. The burdens or struggles of a character’s illness cease in the light of love. This is a dangerously misleading and painful narrative to perpetuate for many reasons, including the implication that there’s “fixing” to be done. It implies that someone with mental illness cannot be loved as they are, setting up false and damaging expectations. It requires an alteration to an aspect of who we are to be worthy of love. As someone with mental illness who sought out stories with mentally ill characters for years, this trope really drove home several key ideas. Love never “fixed” or “cured” me. Even in love and loved, nothing went away. I constantly searched for myself in stories and walked away feeling more hopeless and broken. Love hadn’t changed what couldn’t be changed.

I was nineteen when I met my husband. It was my sophomore year of college and while I knew I was struggling, there was nothing about that struggle that felt unusual. I’d been low before. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed. In my entire, perfectionist, over-achieving life, I actually came close to failing classes. I called in “sick” to work so often I almost lost my job.

But I’d been worse. I wasn’t self-harming. I wasn’t in an abusive relationship anymore.

On our one year anniversary, I remember turning to him and saying, “This has been the best year of my life.” It had; perhaps because feeling bad felt so normal that my bar for “bad” was set at a different level than that of others. What I remembered most that year was the way I was loved, the kindness and care, the sweetness we shared. Being loved like that was a completely new experience for me.

But when I said that, he cried. He tried to explain, but it was something I never really understood until years later, once I’d begun to understand the scope of my mental illness, and once I began working on recovery. That year was a test for him in a way I wasn’t able to appreciate; watching my depression, watching me navigate a strained relationship with my parents, watching me struggle with absolutely no self-esteem and very little self-worth.

We’ve been together for almost 17 years now, and in that time, we’ve seen and been through a lot. We were together for years before I confessed that I self-harmed, before I ever confessed to having suicidal ideations, and before I ever articulated what my highs and lows felt like. He loved me unconditionally through years when I suffered in silence; I never doubted that love, and it never altered basic truths about who I am. There was no way that any amount of love between us or from him that could have prevented the eventual mental breakdown I had in the wake of a serious postpartum depression.

In many ways, Reid’s story in A Tiny Piece of Something Greater is my own. While I was in long term psychiatric care I worked with a team of professionals in order to find a diagnosis, cyclothemia, a rare mental illness that can be very hard to articulate and see. I learned skills and how to fight, actively, for my own wellness. After I came home my husband and I had to learn to reorient and rework every aspect of our relationship.

There were many lessons and takeaways I can mine from these experiences, one which is very, very important to me. Love is not a cure.

When I first imagined Reid’s story I committed to writing a book about what it is like to live with mental illness, to work recovery, to relearn living, and also, to fall in love, I knew that writing about falling in love would be the fun part. But personally, one of the biggest draws to this story was the idea of exploring what it means to stay in love in these circumstances. In my own experience, navigating a mood disorder such a cyclothemia involves being attuned to subtle cues that my moods are going to swing or are unstable. As someone who works their wellness and recovery the way that I do (constant practice, willingness and strength) it can be chafing or irritating when others try to tell me what they’re seeing or perceiving. It feel like they don’t trust me to know what’s best. But the truth is that sometimes I cannot see the forest for the trees, and the tension these situations cause are very real.

These are moments I wanted to highlight for Reid and Joaquim. The reality of being in love in these situations is that there will be tensions and struggle, and that finding the right person—even the perfect person—for you won’t make those things go away. On the flip side, writing characters who cared for each other so much, for whom falling in love was so beautiful, that writing them learning and struggling to communicate was its own joy. A Tiny Piece of Something Greater was a balancing act: I tried my hardest to represent as accurately as possible the experience of everyday mental illness, but also, the realistic power of love.

A Tiny Piece of Something Greater is a love story, true, but it’s also a story about a boy learning to thrive and manage a new life and recovery. Falling in love with Joaquim enriches Reid’s life just as much as falling for Reid enriches Joaquim’s life. Their love story is just beginning. What A Tiny Piece of Something Greater tries to achieve is a depiction of the first steps of many that people in a loving relationship must take.

Seventeen years into my own relationship, I can look back at this life my husband and I have made made and understand that what we have is a love story and a relationship I am proud of. When I look back at my own life, what I see is a story about surviving my mental illness and right now, absolutely thriving. And that thriving? Our love is a part of that narrative, but isn’t responsible for it. It is not what my wellness hinges on. The most important factor in my wellness is me. In this book, it’s Reid. I can’t say enough about how wonderful it was to write Reid and Joaquim’s love story; but separately, how much it means to me to have written this story that reflects an honest truth. Love doesn’t cure or fix; it supports. It supplements. It enriches.

***

IMG_3575Jude Sierra is a Latinx poet, author, academic and mother working toward her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric, looking at the intersections of Queer, Feminist and Pop Culture Studies. She also works as an LGBTQAI+ book reviewer for From Top to Bottom Reviews. Her novels include HushWhat it Takes, and Idlewild, a contemporary LGBT romance set in Detroit’s renaissance, which was named a Best Book of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. Her most recent novel, A Tiny Piece of Something Greater was released in May of 2018.

Advertisements

Backlist Book of the Month: Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

One request I get with some frequency is for great queer books that also have great mental health rep, and to that, when appropriate, Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley is one I always recommend. This isn’t a book where sexuality takes center stage, or even second stage, really, but the MC, Solomon, is gay all the same. However, it’s his agoraphobia that’s really defined his life of late, and this story is about making human connections, however flawed, until you find your place in the world that’s overwhelmed you. It’s a personal favorite, and if you haven’t picked it up yet, I hope you love it as much as I did!

Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But is ambition alone enough to get her in?

Enter Lisa.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound * Book Depository

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Blood-Bound by Kaelan Rhywiol

Well I can certainly think of some underrepresented readers who are gonna be psyched at today’s cover reveal! Check out the details on what you’ll find in Blood-Bound, the new paranormal romance coming from Kaelan Rhywiol via Ninestar Press on June 11th:

Pairings: Cis M/Genderfluid AMAB, Cis M/Non-Binary AFAB

Orientations: Bisexual, pansexual, gray asexual, gray aromantic,

Representation: (Own) pansexuality, non-binary AFAB, gray asexuality, gray aromanticism, touch aversion, autism, kink, mental illness, polyamory, mixed-race rep. (Non-own) Cis M, bisexual M & AMAB, Genderfluid AMAB

And here’s the blurb!

Blood-Bound-f

 

Rhian is a pwca. A Welsh shapeshifter bound as an assassin to the Dark God Arawn.

She’s content in her life, so when he assigns her as ambassador to oversee Ontario for him, it’s a shock. Her new job? To find out who murdered her predecessor and bring them to justice, oversee the otherkin and clean up their messes before the humans find them.

All to preserve the illusion that magic and supernatural creatures do not exist.

The problem? One of the otherkin she’s supposed to oversee is her estranged husband, Kai. Kai was a Spanish-Moorish singer, thief, and whore when they met three hundred years ago. He made his living on the streets and taught her what love really was. They didn’t part well.

Now he’s a centuries old vampire and she’s his boss.

Kai is the only person Rhian has never regretted having sex with, and the only one she can’t forgive. Rhian’s vow to her god forbids her from splitting her loyalty, but being around Kai makes her realize it’s been split all along.

A vow to a dark god, or the love of her life and the only sex she’s never regretted having?

Being demisexual can be a bitch.

Preorder Blood-Bound at Nine Star Press!

Aaaaand here’s the cover, designed by the inimitable Natasha Snow!

Kaelan author photoKaelan Rhywiol was born and raised in the Adirondack mountains of Upstate NY, US. Xie currently lives in Southern Ontario, Canada with xyr husband of 19 years, their two kids, three cats and a grumpy chinchilla. Xie is not currently represented by an agent, and while not actively searching for one, if the right one offered would consider it. Xie is published through Multifarious Press, a small, independent press devoted to diversity. Xie has a paranormal romance upcoming from NineStar Press on May 21st, 2018 featuring own voices demisexuality, non-binary, mixed-race rep, touch aversion, gray aromanticism, kink, and bi/pansexuality.

Xie is the author of YAHUI’S SUSPENSION, SERVING THE DRAKON, NERA’S NEED, ANNA’S CHOICE, A DANCER’S HOPE, A HARSHER KISS, MOTHMEN, ILAVANI vol 1-5. As well as the upcoming title BLOODBOUND from NineStar Press.

Xie works as a freelance editor for small, independent presses and private clients. Xie does inexpensive cover art for independent authors and is an authenticity reader for autism, rape survival, mixed-race rep, polyamory, kink, chronic pain, and mental illness (anxiety, depression).

Exclusive Cover Reveal: A Tiny Piece of Something Greater by Jude Sierra!

Today on the site, we’ve got a brand-new cover reveal! A Tiny Piece of Something Greater is Sierra’s newest gay contemporary romance, which releases from Interlude Press on May 17, 2018, involving scuba diving, mental illness, and a secret past. Check out the official description:

Reid Watsford has a lot of secrets and a past he can’t quite escape. While staying at his grandmother’s condo in Key Largo, he signs up for introductory dive classes, where he meets Joaquim Oliveira, a Brazilian dive instructor with wanderlust. Driven by an instant, magnetic pull, what could have been just a hookup quickly deepens. As their relationship evolves, they must learn to navigate the challenges of Reid’s mental illness—on their own and with each other.

And now, check out the cover, designed by C.B. Messer!

Here’s where you can buy the book:

Interlude Press: store.interludepress.com

Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781945053603

Jude Sierra is a Latinx poet, author, academic and mother working toward her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric, looking at the intersections of Queer, Feminist and Pop Culture Studies. She also works as an LGBTQAI+ book reviewer for From Top to Bottom Reviews. Her novels include Hush, What it Takes, and Idlewild, a contemporary LGBT romance set in Detroit’s renaissance, which was named a Best Book of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews.

judesierra.com, @judesierra

Channeling My Inner Kurt Cobain – Writing and Depression: A Guest Post By Ellyn Oaksmith

Please welcome Ellyn Oaksmith to LGBTQReads today to discuss her new book, Chasing Nirvana (which happens to center my favorite band of all time) and depression. (TW: suicide mentions.)

51ndlN7YseLA girl, a band, a dream.

Fran Worthy is just another girl trying to make it through senior year in Aberdeen, Washington. But it’s 1993 and Fran is gay. Her comfortably off the radar life turns vividly public when a student nominates Fran for prom queen. When confronted by angry parents, Fran refuses to back down, promising to deliver her hometown heroes in hopes of winning prom queen votes.

Fran heads out on a 24-hour road trip to Daly City California with four friends, including her crush, who may or may not be gay. Their plan? To sneak backstage and ask Kurt Cobain and Nirvana to come home and play prom.

 No problem, unless something goes wrong.

Chasing Nirvana is out now! Buy a copy at Amazon and check out the book trailer on YouTube

***

Deep into the writing of Chasing Nirvana, a book about a young gay girl who tries to get Nirvana to play at her prom, my more than slightly puzzled mom asked me a question. How I could write about a gay girl from the poverty stricken flats of Aberdeen, Washington? A girl who is bullied, despised and harassed for being gay. Unlike Fran Worthy, my main character, I come from a loving, tight knit family that is very progressive. My 80-year-old parents march in protests and have socialized for decades with openly gay friends. Perhaps the underlying questions was how could I, a woman given abundant love and support all my life, channel the inner emotional life of someone given so little?

At the time I brushed off the question. “I’m a writer, it’s what I do. I live other lives.” And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered. What was driving me to write this story? What was the shared emotional core? In the first draft the story was told entirely from the main character’s point of view. The problem was that for much of the story, she’s concussed, which made the story too bleak. Fran’s concussion made her feel isolated, confused, tired and overwrought. That’s when it hit me. I had unwittingly written about my own struggles with depression. Sure, it’s deeply buried in a fast moving plot with a road trip quest to meet Nirvana but the more I thought about it, the more I uncovered my own links to my main character and her savior: Kurt Cobain.

On the surface the comparison is laughable: a suburban mother of two comparing herself to the rock god Kurt Cobain. (Insert eye rolls from my two teens.) But everyone consists of layers of all the different lives we’ve led. At one point I was a screenwriter in Hollywood. I’d visit studios, pitching stories to neurotic, narcissistic, over-privileged producers and their sycophantic assistants, struggling through the entire ordeal under the shadow of depression. Writing stories is what kept me sane. If I could create, I could live in an alternate world. A world with happily ever afters. Where people grow and learn from their adventures and mistakes. The imaginary world upon which I built my career didn’t include a sink hole of blackness that followed me like a monster, waiting to swallow me whole. What does a depressed person write? Comedies. Naturally.

Kurt Cobain was about 13 when he saw a body hanging from a tree outside the Aberdeen grade school. He and a classmate stared at the corpse for a half hour before school officials sent them packing. Several members of his family killed themselves and at 14, Cobain told a school friend that he would become a rich and famous rock star then kill himself in a blaze of glory like Jimi Hendrix. Neither kid realized that Hendrix’ death wasn’t suicide.

It’s hard to say when exactly Kurt became depressed. Aberdeen wasn’t an easy place for a sensitive young man fixated on art instead of sports or more manly pursuits. Kurt developed a taste for booze, finding a morbidly obese man to buy him and his friends malt liquor in exchange for pushing the man’s wheelchair to the store. In high school Kurt began writing songs that would become the basis for Nirvana’s first albums. Kurt channeled his anger, frustration, sadness and disillusionment into lyrics that were filled with longing, alienation and irony. My experience with depression and writing has been that writing, like depression, has a cyclical rhythm. When a great idea hits, life is a blast of high octane sunshine fueling manic energy and productivity.  When the story (or song) is written, consumed by the public and the world moves on, it feels like the end of a passionate relationship. I want to wallow in sadness. Wear pajamas all day, eat ice cream, drink bourbon and eat potato chips for dinner. Kurt had far worse predilections.

Heroin isn’t a subject in my book. The Kurt I wanted to capture was funny, charming, quirky and quite possibly, in 1993, burnt out by fame. But not so badly that he couldn’t spend a few moments with a fan and recognize a fellow artist. Someone who, like him, was just trying to make it day by day by channeling the pain of living into something beautiful: creation. A song that’s never been sung. A book that’s never been written and in my main characters case: a photograph that captures a seminal moment in rock history.

Chasing NirvanaEllyn Oaksmith is the USA Today bestselling author of four books including the Kindle bestseller Chasing Nirvana. She lives in Seattle with her family. ​ Luckily, she’s waterproof.

Website * Goodreads * Twitter * Facebook 

Mental Illness and Happily Ever After: a Guest Post by Taylor Brooke

My name is Taylor Brooke and I have Dissociative Dysthymia.

I sound like I’m standing in front of an empty chair at a narcotics anonymous meeting and I’m about to share my story. Granted, I’ve done that before, too. But this is much different and there isn’t really another way to begin. I’m a twenty-six-year-old Queer girl living in Central Oregon. I write books about magic and heartache, blurred lines and wanting. Recently, I wrote a book about all these things stirred up like cake batter, sprinkled with parts of me that I hadn’t fully realized until the story finished baking, was topped with icing and ready to eat.

Fortitude Smashed is a contemporary romance. It’s a little bit science fiction, and a little bit literary. Underneath the contemporary romance, science fiction and literary, there’s a quiet, selfish sub-plot that showed itself after I piled a piece onto a plate. I didn’t realize that the sprinkles of me that I’d tossed into the book would present themselves as brightly as they did.

I have Dissociative Dysthymia, and so does the main character, Aiden Maar.

But this is Contemporary Romance. Queer, mentally ill main characters don’t get to fall in love, and if they do, they don’t get to keep it.

Except they do. We do.

After years of exposure to eerily distinct, boxed-in narratives describing mentally ill, Queer characters as problems to be solved, riddles to be answered, and ugly wounds to be healed, I anticipated that this book would never be published. It wasn’t neat. Aiden wasn’t miraculously healed after he fell in love, his anxiety didn’t vanish, his depression wasn’t erased, but he was loved. He got to love back, too.

It was inconceivable. A character, like me, that I had written into a book about soulmates, was given a messy, deserved, heartfelt happy ending. He was given a chance.

Fortitude Smashed 900px FRONTBecause we deserve to be given a chance. I hadn’t written Fortitude Smashed as a how-to or a fantasy, because it’s neither. It’s a contemporary romance – realistic, raw, a little bruised. It’s the happy ever after most Queer, mentally ill folks don’t get to see in their favorite romance books.

Aiden doesn’t get better, because there isn’t anything wrong with him.

Honestly, coming to that realization after I finished my first read through of the book was jarring to say the least. I didn’t set out to dismantle my own thought process, but I did, somehow. It’s easy to discredit ourselves, to say we don’t deserve this or that when it comes to dating, love, friendship and so on. But we do.

Happy ever after doesn’t equal the eradication of mental illness, it simply involves the communication, patience and understanding that comes with loving a mentally ill person.

We deserve love. We deserve soulmate tropes and coffee shop meet-cutes, college fling storylines and fake dating clichés. There’s room for mentally ill characters to be front and center, and to be given the same beautiful, funny, heart wrenching, warm love stories that neurotypical characters are repeatedly gifted.

Fortitude Smashed did get picked up by an amazing publisher, even though I thought it wouldn’t. No one asked me to change Aiden. He got to be himself, flawed, wonderful, manic, wanted and scarred. He got to fall in love and keep it.

We all do. We just have to be brave enough to know it, or strong enough to allow ourselves the chance to believe in it. Fate, soulmates, romance, cute dates and lifelong friendship – we get it all. Even us.

Especially us.

Buy Fortitude Smashed at:

Barnes & Noble * Interlude PressAmazon * Book Depository

Add it on Goodreads

After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup artist, Taylor Brooke turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she’s traveling, hiking or reading. She writes Queer books for teens and adults. Her debut, Fortitude Smashed, will be published by Interlude Press in September 2017. Follow her on Twitter at @taysalion.