Degrassi for Teens

All right, so I’m going to stick with blogging just once a week. Twice a week is arguably a bit much considering that sometimes when I get home from work, I want to do mindless activities–namely, watching television. I might work a five hour shift that day, but sometimes I’ll start early to either work on client programs, train clients, or even shadow a class for a fitness instructor who may want me to sub for them in the future. Since Thursdays are my off days, I’ll blog on this day.

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Since I write for teens, I thought it totally relevant to talk about one of my favorite television shows, Degrassi, a Canadian drama for teens (though not overdramatic like soap operas).

I began watching this show when it was Degrassi: The Next GenerationI watched it through middle school, high school, and a little bit through college before taking a long break from it, mostly because I began to float away from cable television and watch more television online. I only recently picked it back up because I saw that Next Class was on Netflix, and I was curious to see how this little gem had progressed.

I was not disappointed. I caught up on all four seasons and can’t wait for season five.

First, let me start off by talking about what’s so amazing about this series. If you saw 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, you’re likely aware of the controversy surrounding it. I enjoyed this miniseries and didn’t think it glorified suicide at all (I think I’ll write a separate post on this), but I do have to admit that it was an intense drama that seemed like it was trying to capture more of an adult audience.

Degrassi is entirely for teens with issues that are relevant for its time. There is no dramatizing issues for entertainment value. There is simply an exploration of issues to help teens understand themselves and feel less alone.

For example, Ellie Nash, one of the characters in this series, introduced the issue of self-injury, a coping mechanism she sought to use based on her tumultuous home life. While self-injury most certainly wasn’t and isn’t a new thing, addressing it as a problem was relevant during my time, as Next Generation is my generation’s Degrassi while Next Class is today’s teens’ Degrassi.

I can remember being a fourteen-year-old going through issues of her own and watching that scene and how sick I felt. Now as an adult (fully 27, far removed from being a teen) I don’t look at that same scene with as much horror because of my more objective perspective.

Don’t get me wrong. Self-injury is no minor matter, but it’s not this big, scary thing that it used to be now that we better understand its use as a coping mechanism. And Next Class masterfully handles this new perspective on self-injury when Zoe Rivas begins harming herself by digging her nails into her skin (Ellie cut).

Grace Cardinal discovers these moon-shaped marks on Zoe’s thigh and doesn’t immediately freak out and run to the counselor–as is what happened with Ellie when Paige found her. She addresses the problem right then and there since self-injury is not the hidden issue it used to be when I was a teen. There was no shame surrounding it, and as a result, we did not see any further incidences of self-harm among Zoe. Now this didn’t happen with Ellie, but there was more embarrassment surrounding her discovery than there was for Zoe.

Next Class addresses a lot of relevant topics. From the Syrian refugee crisis to dealing with post-abortion guilt (or lack thereof) to racism and micro-agressions, to the concept of stereotype threat, and how it’s not cool to be racist or homophobic anymore, it’s a show I can’t recommend enough for teens and parents of teens and writers of teen fiction.

I also love that the actors and actresses are fairly close in age to the characters they portray and not wildly a decade older than their fourteen-year-old character. Perhaps Canadian television is just different form American television in this aspect.

The beauty of Degrassi lies in its timelessness. There was totally a reunion episode in Next Class that brought back some of the character’s of my generation’s Degrassi. It was a joy to see some of these characters and how they progressed–and an even greater joy to reflect on these characters as as an adult.

I certainly watch Degrassi with a different set of lenses, ones that are more objective and filled with the knowledge that these characters’ struggles can be overcome. I find myself rooting for them and also wanting to tell them that their struggles are not endless. I especially related strongly to Maya Matlin, whose depression, suicidal ideation, and ultimately suicide attempt made me cheer for her the most.

As a teen, I would have agreed with her that the depression is unending. Even in my early twenties I would have greed with her! As an older adult with more perspective, I rejoice in her recovery with the knowledge that depression isn’t this horrible monster but another illness that needs treatment like any other one.

I could talk about this show forever, but I think as a writer, it keeps me on top of issues that are important for teens. Young adult fiction itself is a great vehicle for this, but I also have to remind myself that it’s largely written by adults. Degrassi, on the other hand, is most likely influenced by its young actors and actresses; thus, there is no purely adult perspective dominating the direction of this show.

Overall, this show, I think, is a staple in the canon of relevant teen shows. I honestly don’t think teens have enough quality options like that that don’t portray them as attitude-filled party animals.

 

The Psychological Damage of Victim Blaming

I used to get into arguments a lot on my Facebook page that ranged from a myriad of topics, until I finally got rid of these people. The first person I got rid of was one who believed victims of sexual assault should take some responsibility for what happened to them. He said they (primarily women) should take particular care in how they dress, act, where they go, how they interact with men, and so on and so forth. This kind of thinking is damaging because it says men are uncontrollable monsters. This kind of thinking is also damaging because it suggests women shouldn’t have interactions with men period–and that is how I took it. If I even say hello to a guy and decide to interact with him and I am wearing a cute outfit and he decides to take me out and decides to assault me after the date, I suppose I was asking for it because I dared give someone a chance at being a possible partner in my life. (I am engaged, by the way.) 

It isn’t just the court systems that victim blame. It can be people you love and trust who will blame you, even though they will admit that your assailant was wrong for what they did. However, they still blame you because they think you were leading your assailant on in some way, while trying to reconcile within themselves why it happened and also, funny enough, wanting you to not act that way anymore so that doesn’t happen again. They consider it a lesson learned, when it isn’t a lesson that never should have been learned from the start, no matter what you were doing. I don’t care if you were sending nude pictures to your assailant. Once your assailant lays their hands on you and you say no and they won’t stop, you are the victim, no matter what you did before.

Your assailant is often a person you trust, someone you think you feel safe around, someone who is your friend or someone who you are flirting with or someone who may even be your significant other. Heck, your assailant could be someone cheating on their partner, even though you are in no way encouraging the infidelity but are trying to discourage it in your own way; however, you are too afraid to be direct because of the assailant’s history. Someone may be telling you not to tell because of that history of this person while warning you to keep away from your assailant–who won’t stay away, even if you say no. And even if you never say no, silence does not mean ‘yes.’ You may be too scared to say ‘no.’

Victim blaming is arguably just as damaging as the assault itself. While you can tell yourself it wasn’t your fault, those who blame you will shoot darts at everything you did that led up to the assault so that way you are constantly thinking about what exactly happened during the assault and what you could have done. You can have flashbacks, panic attacks, crying spells, and even have suicidal thoughts and plans. If there was already insurmountable stress in your life, like a mental illness episode you’re going through, things are going to be quadrupled in how worse everything is for you. The assault is going to make you more depressed, anxious, and suicidal. The victim blaming is going to intensify your illness to the point where you’re screaming and crying and telling others you want to kill yourself–and they don’t seem to want to take it seriously because they don’t understand. Some will try to protect you, but you know those people can’t always be around to keep you safe from yourself. Sometimes you’re stuck in silence. Oftentimes you have to pretend nothing happened. Others will tell you they hate victim mentalities, but that is another way to blame the victim because there is no set time period in which you should be over what happened to you. The important thing is that you try to let yourself heal from the incident. Yet, if you’re dealing with a mental illness, that’s hard. Really hard. Your mental illness is already deluding you from the beginning, and some people develop mental illnesses after the incident.

Others tell you that you should have fought and should have been angry, but people react to assaults in so many different ways, especially if it’s a person they forgive time and time again and still continue to like. These are the kinds of assaults that don’t hit you until even after a day or two when it happened. Then you realize what happened, it hits you all at once, and you are so overwhelmed that you start having flashbacks as to what occurred. Bits and pieces of your memory are missing. Only the worst things are ingrained in your memory. You’re pretty sure a few other things happened while you were trying to avoid the person trying to force themselves on you, but you can’t remember those things.

Also, sexual assault doesn’t have to be rape or leave marks. Sexual assault is simply someone forcing themselves upon you without your consent, thinking that you wanted it and in fact enjoyed it. Sometimes these victims pretend they don’t care–but they’re still scared. Other times they’ll fight. Yet, each victim will react differently depending on the circumstances and history of the assailant they’re dealing with. Regardless of whether it was rape or there was no violence, assault is assault and is still damaging. Your body was being invaded. You were being manipulated the entire time that led up to the assault. And you were scared.

There are so many stories about victim blaming that have been written already, but I thought I would finally contribute to the discussion since my blog is one that I have made a point to touch upon topics such as this.


Amber Skye Forbes,  Author of When Stars Die, a YA Paranormal 

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Writing While Struggling With Depression

magical girl
Or fight like a magical girl or boy to overcome your struggles. You don’t want to make a contract with that little guy. He’ll eventually bring you nothing but despair until you reach a point where you’ll want to die.

I might be blogging every day. Since this blog is about mental illness and the GSM community, I figure all of my posts will fit with mental illness.

I don’t have the heart to work on content edits for The Stars Are Infinite. I don’t know why. The only reason I was able to even finish TSAI during a depressive episode last year is because geography was the most boring class I’ve ever taken, and I would have rather been doing anything else than stewing in my depressive thoughts. But TSAI just doesn’t resonate with what I’m feeling right now. Yes it’s a dark book. Yes one of the characters does struggle with an undiagnosed mental illness. However, that character is not my POV character. My POV character doesn’t struggle with mental illness. She fights against dark thoughts. She’s a fighter in general with a strong sense of justice. I can’t relate to that right now.

I can’t feel bad about not doing content edits. After all, Libba Bray often misses deadlines because of her depression, yet she still has her literary agent and still gets published. She struggles with writing because of her depression. She can’t seem to get things right because of her depression. I just hope that those who have read When Stars Die know these things about me. I hope they’ll forgive me for the publication of the sequel having to be delayed. I feel like the best thing for me to do is to start revisions on The Glorious In-Between, as a lot of the content in the book resonates with me. I feel like I’ll be able to do well with the revisions due to my current feelings.

Even so, it sucks that I feel like I have this inability to work on TSAI. I wanted the book to come out at the end of this year, but I have no clue how possible that is. I can’t say it’s impossible to work on TSAI; it’s just hard. Maybe I can try tomorrow. Maybe all I need is encouragement from someone, from somewhere. Maybe all I need is someone to tell me that I can do it. I have all the edits I need to make before me, all the comments to guide me in making this book better. I just have to do them. That’s all.

It’s so, so, so difficult though, when all I want to do is stay in the comfort of my bed and do things that require nothing from my mind.

Robin Williams’ death allowed me to write the ending to The Glorious In-Between. I desperately needed those feelings in order to understand how my character is supposed to feel at the end–as it pertains to who she is, of course. Even though I’ve struggled with depression on and off for two years, it’s not always easy to grab on to those feelings during stable moments.

Writing in this blog is comforting for me. I have people on Tumblr encouraging me to get well. I’m still writing posts that will help them. I’m still writing promotional posts on Tumblr every so often. I’m building my Twitter platform by finding the right people. I’m still trying to build my e-mail list. Those things don’t take as much energy as writing does, even though for many authors it does.

I want to work on The Glorious In-Between. My depressive feelings are right for it. I hope Mariah Wilson reads this so that way I know what I should do. I don’t know what the right thing to do is as far as my writing concerns. TSAI is supposed to be my priority. I know this. I’m on page 167 out of 365, and all of that occurred within 3.5 days. Perhaps I should get back to it, but the last five chapters really took brain power to edit. I have a feeling content edits are going to get more difficult.

Is there anyone who can guide me in the right direction?

The Forsaken Snowflake

forsaken snowflake
Google. Transparent. Edited with Ipiccy.

She’s onstage, dancing with the corp de ballet in Waltz of the Snowflakes, a beautiful scene in The Nutcracker. She stands out so much. She should blend with the rest of the body, as dancers in a group are supposed to do. Yet, for everyone else, they cannot see otherwise. She is a snowflake, like any other. Unlike snowflakes, she is not unique. Only to me she is. For me, I can see her because I can see her in myself.

I don’t know her name. I have a booklet with the names of all the performers. She could be Sarah Vines, Maria Walkden, Beverly Walker, or even Eliza McKinney.

I’ll give her my name then: Amber.

Amber dances beautifully on stage. Her movements are fluid and in time with the rest of the dancers. When I look at her face, though, I see the same face I look at every morning in the mirror: face pale with mental mistreatment, eyes filled with scraps and pieces of herself she once loved but cannot salvage, and lips that smile but die away like ash in the wind.

She’s too much like me, and I can’t bear to look at her anymore.

I know how she feels, and I’m tired of feeling that way myself. I can dance, certainly not as well as her, but I dance nonetheless. I dance because I love it. It’s a momentary escape from what I feel, this inexplicable, nonsensical thing that starts in the core of my mind and radiates outward, until I withdraw from even myself.

I’m tired of people asking me what’s wrong. I’m tired of people asking me if I’m mad at them due to my apathetic sadness, which makes no sense. I’m so goddamned tired of it all. I feel like I’m too young to be feeling this way, but this disease, this damn mental cancer I wish would sometimes kill me, doesn’t discriminate against even toddlers.

I want to withdraw in my dancing, where nothing is wrong, where no one thinks there is anything wrong with me, where I don’t even have to fake how I’m feeling. For that moment, I feel nothing but fleeting joy.

Don’t ask me how I’m feeling. Don’t assume it has anything to do with you.

Just leave me alone. Please. I’d feel much better if you didn’t talk to me at all about my feelings; I don’t want to talk about them.

Why the hell would I?

Hypomania and How I’m Trying to Deal With It

I was really worried that I was getting depressed again, because I started exhibiting some symptoms that started the week before last. At the same time, depression didn’t make sense because I wasn’t feeling the usual symptoms: hopelessness, apathy, loss of appetite, lack of desire to get out of bed, and suicidal ideation (which is an unfortunate symptom for me when I am depressed). I was/am just intensely irritable, snappish, have irrational reactions to thinks I shouldn’t get frustrated about, foul mouthed, and just overall feel guilty and depressed over my reactions–but it’s not depression.

I began exhibiting these intense reactions when I realized I wasn’t getting full commission at my job. I went out into the living room, screaming my head off and cursing, thinking someone had screwed me over. My much-loved boss brought me down from this and made me feel so much better when we figured out what it was: a hole in the week. I also had a panic attack trying to figure out Excel, crying like someone had died, and I knew the reaction was super irrational, but I couldn’t control it. I feel so ashamed, too, for my explosive reaction on Facebook over this frustration with Excel. My dad had to bring me down, and he even admitted there was something wrong with my reactions. I just didn’t know what was wrong. I thought maybe it was because the Klonopin hadn’t kicked in yet, but the moodiness kept continuing. It wouldn’t go away. I was still snappish, still irritable, but I was doing my best to keep it under control. But increasingly I wanted to stay away from people.

For example, at work lately, whenever somebody made a smart remark about the car, I started cursing them beneath my breath. That isn’t who I am. The good thing, though, is that I never lashed out. I was also extremely, extremely ticked off that someone at work had lost my paperwork, which meant I lost appointments that could have been potential commissions. I couldn’t let this go, even at work. And when I saw the numbers from Monday, I wanted to cry Tuesday because I left with zero, even though I was really putting myself out there to get something.

Then I began Access, and I stopped at number four. I wanted to ram my head through my computer and scream. I just eventually broke down crying because I couldn’t figure out number 4. Then I just had to talk myself down from the freak out, as I knew my dad would help me, no matter what. So I just stopped the Access and got back to my novel, which has been soothing for me as of late. I just keep thinking about that one publisher that follows me on Tumblr, and the fact they love my posts so much they constantly re-blog my stuff. And I know my book would be a good fit for them, so I keep that in mind whenever I go into this book.

At my Wednesday meeting, I was acting out, not in the sense that I was being disruptive, but that I was talking about all the things that were currently making me angry. I talked about how leaving with 0 appointments made me so angry that I wanted to do this and this and this. I also talked about how mad I was that, in my words, “some idiot took my appointments and left them in an office that clearly does not deal with appointments. What moron would take my appointments out of the mail box and think to not stick them on my boss’s desk? I had appointments that were supposed to go out on Tuesday, and all because of that idiot, they’ll have to be re-scheduled, and clients rarely re-schedule. And my boss was searching all day for my appointments. Freaking idiot.” I just kept going on and on about this person. As I’m writing this that anger is flushing through me again. My co-workers knew there was something up, so I had to explain to them what was going on, then had to talk myself down from it.

This was something I did on the fifth day of my stay at Summit Ridge, when I had no idea why my mood suddenly changed. I was so excited to go home, then I stopped caring about going home because I was turning into this burgeoning ball of rage. When my parents and fiance visited, all I could talk about was why I hated that place. Then on the last day, I was absolutely irritated, loudly voicing why I hated Summit Ridge to everyone in my group–when the counselor wasn’t in there. My Summit Ridge buddies knew there was something up, and they had figured I’d been misdiagnosed, but I didn’t understand at the time. I just thought depression was creeping in, but it was actually hypomania.

So Wednesday I saw my pdoc this week, told her I thought I was going into a depressive episode, then gave her the list of symptoms. She actually told me it was hypomania, which stunned me–and made a lot more sense and a little relieved, because depression is awful, and I’d rather be hypomanic because it’s much easier to treat. But Lamictal is a really good medication to stabilize you. Not to mention my Klonopin should have been tempering the anxiety and all of that that accompanies the nasty side of hypomania. She thinks it’s likely the fact that I started with 100 mg of Seroquel and brought it down to 25 mg. It could be that. Seroquel is an antipsychotic, after all, used to treat mania. But I also think something triggered it. I just can’t pinpoint what.

But I’ve e-mailed my therapist to see about setting up an appointment with her, if she gets back to me, so I can figure out what to do to not trigger an episode. Even with medications, manic episodes can still trigger. For now, these are the steps I’m taking to keep my hypomania from taking control of me:

  • Whenever I feel like I’m about to panic because I can’t do something, I step away from that thing and have an internal dialogue with myself. Even though Dad had helped me figure out number four yesterday, I still felt that intense reaction wanting to come. So I left and asked Dad for help. Then Dad would periodically check on me, which kept me calm throughout the assignment. Well, calm for the most part, even though I still felt that ball of anxiety knitting a lovely scarf for me.
  • People, people, people. They can aggravate me for no reason at all. I called my fiance yesterday to give him a status report on my ankle (which I’ll talk about in a later post, depending on the results of the MRI), and I started getting very irritated with talking to him because I felt like he just wanted to go on and on and on. I stopped the conversation right there and told him I needed to go inside and practice some things before the start of dance class, before my tone escalated to convey my irritability. When I stepped into that studio, it’s like I wasn’t even hypomanic anymore. When I’m at a ballet studio, all I can think about is ballet in that moment, and nothing else matters. It calms people with bipolar disorder down, gets rid of that energy building up inside of us, whether it’s anxious/irritable energy, or hyped-up energy that makes you think you’ve drank a bunch of Red Bulls (which I’ve never had, as I’m not fond of energy drinks). So when I came home, the irritability was pretty much gone. However, an issue with any kind of mania is that you don’t want to go to sleep. It’s not always an inability to sleep, but a lack of desire to sleep, and I didn’t want to sleep. I just kept wanting to do things that weren’t exactly productive. Even so, I knew that if I didn’t, I could have launched myself into a full-blow manic episode. It happened one day when I was released from Summit Ridge with my misdiagnosis. I was hypomanic for about the first week, I think, and then I never went to bed one night and launched myself into a full-blown manic episode. The energy was so insane that I walked out into the freezing cold, without only a jacket, a light shirt, a skirt, and a pair of stockings along with running shoes, and ran around the entire block. The energy still wasn’t gone.
  • Self-talk. As I’ve mentioned above, I’ve been having internal dialogues with myself, trying to be cognizant that my behavior, my reactions, are a result of hypomania. Once you know this, you can start taking care of the problem. It’s difficult, but it’s like ballet. Once you know what you’re doing wrong in class, even if it’s difficult to fix, you’re still on the right path. So being aware that I’m hypomanic means I can be more cognizant of what sets me off so I can talk myself down from it.