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.

 

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Suicide is Not Freedom

hotlinesI’ve written about suicide plenty of times before; however, there is no such thing as writing too much about suicide, especially because it is a topic that constantly needs attention–along with mental illness.

Robin Williams’ death was absolutely tragic to me. Like me, he suffered with bipolar disorder, which has a 20% suicide rate. He also suffered with substance abuse and was more likely on the depressive spectrum of bipolar disorder. It was like the death of Ned Vizzini all over again. Why was it this way? Robin Williams was one of my favorite actors because of the humor and humanity he brought into all of his acting roles. He may have been an actor–a mere actor, some would say–but clearly his death has hurt thousands of people. For days after his death, my social media was flooded with people upset and shocked. I have never seen such mass sadness over the death of a celebrity before. I didn’t see it with Michael Jackson, and I have certainly never seen it with any other celebrity. I didn’t even see it with Ned Vizzini, even though I was mourning his death.

Suicide, I think, is the most tragic way to die. When people attempt or commit suicide, they’re experiencing intense feelings that they cannot help. If there is no one to intervene, to talk to the person about his/her suicidal feelings, more likely than not that person is going to attempt and/or commit suicide. And this is the thing about suicide people do not understand: Mental illness can be fatal. I’ve seen plenty of articles mention that it is not the suicide that kills you. It is the mental illness itself, and this is something I strongly believe in. Suicidal ideation is often a symptom of a mental illness. I’ve suffered with suicidal ideation. If it weren’t for the strong support group that I have, I most likely would have made an attempt. I’ve thought about attempting plenty of times, too, whenever I came across something so unbearable during a depressive episode that made me think things were never going to get better.

When you’re suicidal, you’re delusional. Imagine being on Ambien. A dangerous side effect from Ambien is that you can do stuff while asleep on this drug. For example, there have been stories of people who have driven while on this drug. I also had one man tell me he made some sandwiches while he was on this drug.

Suicide is like being on Ambien. You have no idea what you’re doing. You’re not thinking through things logically. It is IMPOSSIBLE to think logically while you are suicidal. Feeling suicidal is not a decision or a choice. Committing suicide is not a decision or a choice. You’re basically intoxicated on your own mental illness, and as we all know, people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol can’t exactly make reasonable choices. This is the same thing with suicide.

This is what suicide is not:

  • Cowardly
  • Brave
  • Selfish
  • Romantic
  • Liberation
  • Stupid

I want to touch upon the liberation part. There is a meme going around the internet as a tribute to Robin Williams. It is a picture of Genie from Aladdin. It says, ‘Genie, you’re free.’ While well-meaning, it is a dangerous message to send to people who struggle with mental illness and struggle with suicidal ideation as a symptom of that mental illness. Suicide is not freedom. Suicide is tragic. The idea that suicide is somehow liberation romanticizes suicide AND mental illness, neither of which need this. I am also tired of people saying that Robin Williams is in a better place. HERE ON EARTH needs to be that better place, and that starts with removing the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness.

Too many people are afraid to talk about their suicidal feelings because many out there think it is stupid and selfish–and this is what they often tell people who are suicidal. This, in fact, makes the suicidal feelings worse because telling suicidal people this does not make them feel any better or get rid of their suicidal feelings. People also need to stop saying that if such and such person had just gotten help the suicide would not have happened.

PEOPLE DO NOT UNDERSTAND THAT TRYING TO FIND THE RIGHT MEDICATION FOR A MENTAL ILLNESS IS HARD.

It took me an entire year to find a medication that would give me long-term stabilization for my bipolar disorder. I was also seeing a therapist. During that year, I cut, I temporarily retreated to alcohol as a way to get rid of my feelings until it soon began to make me feel worse (this is something I have NEVER told people), and I idealized suicide…a lot. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness with lifelong medication adjustments. Even when I found that stabilization, I’ve still had to have my medications adjusted. I had to go up a little bit on Seroquel to get me out of a hypomanic episode I was going through for two weeks. I had to start taking a second Klonopin to help with my irritability and anxiety, as my body became immune to the current dosage.

I am not naive enough to believe I will never suffer from some sort of bipolar episode ever again.

People always say it gets better. Well, when you have a lifelong mental illness, it does…then it doesn’t. Chronic mental illness doesn’t get better; it only gets treated. It’s like Hazel having to use Phalanxifor to keep her stage IV thyroid cancer from exploding out of control. Her cancer didn’t go away. It didn’t get better. It’s only being treated to prevent the tumors from growing. Granted Hazel probably has a higher probability of dying much sooner than someone with a mental illness–or maybe not–but the point is that you feel better, but your mental illness is not gone. It’s still with you, waiting to act up again if your current dosage stops working or your medication stops working period. This is when you are most vulnerable to suicidal thoughts is during that period where you have to have your dosage bumped or have to go through the merry-go-round of finding another medication that will give you long-term stability.

When I was hospitalized a second time, I met a woman who had been hospitalized eight times because her medications would stop working. During that time, she either had a severe episode (bipolar type I) that warranted hospitalization, or she attempted suicide. I met another who suffered with severe depression and had attempted suicide multiple times in spite of being on medication. Sometimes people get off their medications once they feel better, as they mistakenly believe their illnesses have been cured. And then sometimes medications make you feel worse before they make you feel better.

There are a myriad of factors surrounding suicide that don’t always involve this person not seeking help.

Mental illness is not something you can get over. Mental illness does not discriminate, no matter your lot in life. Mental illness is a cancer of the mind. Suicide does not discriminate, either. Last, suicide is no one’s fault.

Mental Illness Questionnaire, Critique, and Line Edits

*Note: Anyone who contributes will be going in the acknowledgements of this book.

I am nearing the end of His Vanity and very much want to rally my Stars on board to help me with the line edits of this thing once I get around to them. I don’t have an official blurb for the novel, but here’s one I threw together: Gene White is a suicidal teen rescued by a puppeteer and doll maker who wants to protect him from a man in a gold suit. But this proves difficult when this man in a gold suit torments Gene’s own mind in an attempt to make him his. Feel free to critique the blurb. It is something I just threw together but would love comments on. I did mention in one post what I wanted to accomplish with this novel, so I’ll list those again.

  1. To get across that mental illness is serious and real and should be treated as any other illness.
  2. Mental illness is chronic. For many, it’s forever, and sometimes medication and therapy aren’t enough, especially if the illnesses are resisting medication.
  3. Illnesses that aren’t being effectively treated are pretty much terminal. Especially those who suffer from suicidal ideation, mental illness can be a cancer of the mind.
  4. Some pain doesn’t get better, or it gets better, but only for a short amount of time. But that doesn’t mean one should just quit fighting.
  5. Let’s be honest: Mental Illness sucks. It really sucks. There is nothing heroic or beautiful about being mentally ill and being able to live IN SPITE of it. You’re simply living with a sucky illness that can make your mind turn on you at any moment. And then you’re left helpless, and even if you do overcome it, you’ve sustained some trauma just from your own mind betraying you.
  6. It doesn’t matter why someone is mentally ill. What matters is that they are ill at all and need help, whatever help can be given.

If there is anything profound you’d like to mention about mental illness, particularly suicide or depression, feel free to add to the above list because I would like to make HIS VANITY a contemporary fantasy with literary elements that says something about the universal human condition of coping with pain and why we fear pain so much. Okay, now that I’ve listed what I’d like to accomplish with the book, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. In list form, again.

  1. Some of Gene’s idols, ironically, include people who have ended their lives by suicide. He doesn’t idolize their suicide but idolizes them for what they did in life. They include Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sylvia Plath. Would you be interested in Gene including some of their quotes at pertinent points in the book, quotes that relate to suicide or mental illness in some form?
  2. Just how much do you want Gene to delve into depression and suicide? In my current draft, he delves into the nitty gritty of it and is as real as a teen can be about it. A note: I don’t want to sugar coat these intense topics.
  3. Gene develops a crush on a girl who looks his age but is in fact a few decades older than him. Obviously no relationship is going to develop between them but Gene holds on to the crush because it feels good to him. Do you want it to stay just a cute little crush, or do you want me to really delve into Gene’s sexuality to show that in spite of his depression, he is still capable of feeling and feeling deeply? He doesn’t want to deny himself any good feeling he can latch on to because he doesn’t experience good feelings that often.
  4. Claude is the puppeteer and doll maker who rescued Gene. He is about tough love–mostly getting Gene to do what he should be doing, like taking care of himself. However, Claude does have some natural fatherly feelings toward Gene. Claude has his own POV chapters. How deep would you like me to delve into these fatherly feelings?
  5. Why do you think life is valuable?
  6. If you had to live the rest of your life in pain (serious pain), what reasons would you have to keep going?
  7. I want the title to be literary in nature. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars came from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Knowing what you know about Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Edgar Allen Poe (especially Poe) and applying the universal human condition of pain, throw some title ideas out there for me.

I would appreciate all answers in the comments below!

My Whiny Exhausted Self and Some Updates

This week has been draining because it’s been raining like crazy and bad weather usually equals fatigue for me. Sometimes pain. But mostly fatigue. So I’m feeling disconnected from everything. I feel stuck in a rut, plain and simple. Everything’s been so routine that I’m tempted to jump out of an airplane and land splat on a landing strip (by the way, WordPress brings up some not so pleasant pictures when you type in ‘landing strip’). While writing is nice, it’s still routine. Revise this chapter. You have notes for how to revise this chapter, so you know what you’re going to do when you revise. Oh, this isn’t working, let’s re-do that. Darn it. You stupid girl, you didn’t add that one important character, so now you have to re-do it. Oh, you’ve got more ideas. Save those for line edits so you can get through this revision.

And of course my part-time job has sucked lately because all I work is the dang mall, which has sucked, and I’m getting tired of it because, well, it’s the summer and people are on vacation, so getting appointments has been a bunch of root canals, so I’ve been so negative at work lately. Coupled with the fact that I’m probably the only one not getting sells because I only work the mall, and you’ve got a nasty stew of inferiority. Luckily I’ve got a client’s manuscript for some extra money, but it’s not like I can take on a bunch of these. At least ballet has been going well, but we’re off next week, so that’s sucktastic.

I’m crabby today, if you can’t tell. I feel exhausted…for no reason. And just stale. Flat out stale. I suppose I’m just tired of this bad weather…and routine. I’ll change it somehow. Extra money means being able to go out and spend said extra money.

I honestly don’t even want to do this blog post I feel so bad, but I like to keep you guys updated on my writing life…and my life and me and all that yummy stuff.

But the good news is that my crummy mood did not interfere with my productivity and practical writerly responsibilities. I am 37,000 words into His Vanity (which was previously Stolentime). This is about halfway through. When I finished the draft, I ended it at 57,000 words, but obviously since it’s a fantasy, it’s going to need more fat on it since I’m a bare bones writer when it comes to rough drafts. But I’ve got ideas to flesh out one character’s chapters in the line edits and my chapters are longer than they were in the draft (10 pages per chapter on average). Revisions are going very smoothly and I do have ideas for when line edits come about. Hopefully I don’t have some sort of existential crisis with my writerly life  and find myself rocking back and forth while my cat just watches and licks her paw.

I’m also realizing that John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is really influencing the way I write about depression and suicidal ideation, and that’s not a bad thing at all considering I read TFIOS for the purpose of helping me with Gene’s contemporary voice and making certain I make Gene a realistic character–let’s be honest, depression and suicidal ideation suck. He’s not going to be a bright, sunshiny character. He’s going to be morose at times. How could you not be? But this kid’s a fighter, even if he just wants to give up at times. So I’m really thinking that a good marketing line for His Vanity can be something like ‘A clash between John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Jake Bonsignore’s Empyreal Illusions.’ Sounds good to me.

As for When Stars Die, my contract manager is halfway through. It will have a gorgeous new cover, and I’m actually thinking about using my own old cover for swag and what not, while also using the new, not-yet-approved cover. Hey, I’ve got the money. Why not? I’ve even been contemplating about making a When Stars Die t-shirt (text, maybe a design. Not certain).

But, other than being in a mood, at least I have nothing tomorrow and I can just revise. Maybe I’ll try to fit in two chapters, if this blasted weather doesn’t wear my poor body out.

On the Edge of Silence

WARNING: This post does have the possibility of being triggering. Stars, this comes from the rawest parts of me, but I assure you I’m a fighter and I will keep fighting. Don’t be afraid.

Suicide has the largest stigma among any other mental health problem out there. It’s because suicide involves death, a permanent state where you cease to exist, where there is no more you, where there will never be another you. It’s sad, it’s terrifying, but people need to be able to talk about it without being silenced just because someone is uncomfortable.

I considered this method at one point, but it’s a rather painful and ghastly way to go.

People who feel suicidal should not be ashamed of feeling suicidal. It is a feeling. Feelings cannot be helped. The important thing is that people who feel suicidal do not act on these feelings. Never tell a suicidal person who they will be making sad should they decide to follow through with their plan. I understand some people do this to make the person seriously consider said actions, but it’s not about you or anyone else: It is about the person in crisis. You only instill guilt in that person–and I can guarantee you the person feels guilty enough for feeling that way because he or she knows the suicide would have an impact on loved ones. But suicidal people are already in pain. They’re in so much pain they believe their loved ones will get over their suicide and that they’d be better of dead because they’re in so much pain and they don’t want to continue living that way for the sake of everybody else. They may even think they’re a burden. I know I sometimes feel this way.

Suicide is tragic, but it is a feeling that needs to be accepted in order to be dealt with. Do not feel ashamed for feeling suicidal and do not shame others for feeling suicidal. Suicide does not feel selfish to the person in pain and no one needs to make it out like it is. You will only make things worse because then the suicidal person will think, “See? I don’t deserve to exist because I am so selfish.”

Let the suicidal person know that he/she is loved and how valuable his/her life is. Life doesn’t feel precious when you’re suicidal, but suicidal feelings are easier to deal with when you’re not alone and with someone supporting you and encouraging you to cope.

Because I am still depressed, I idealize suicide from time to time. Suicidal ideation is when you idealize a specific way to go. For me, it’d be drowning at the rock quarry at my favorite trails. Sometimes I feel so sad I think I’m never going to get better, and because I feel I am never going to get better, I often think I’d be better off dead. And my fibromyalgia pain can especially make me feel this way.

For me, idealizing drowning is almost a comfort. It’s if life gets too complicated, there is an escape. Sometimes I feel so suicidal that I want to cut myself to concentrate on a different pain, but I haven’t cut in two months and have amazing coping mechanisms now.

I still feel that way. I feel that way a little right now. But guess what? Feeling suicidal doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and do anything. Suicidal ideation is not healthy, but I don’t feel so impulsive that I’m going to act on the feelings. When the thoughts start to get too bad, I get out of bed and distract myself and the feeling goes away. It always does. It’ll probably come back, but because I know it’ll go away again, I find ways to make myself feel better.

There are people out there, right now, that have felt suicidal for years and haven’t done anything because they’re holding on for whatever reason. I am no different. I am holding on because of my family, my writing life, ballet, the hope that things will get better and my suicidal ideation will be treated. Suicidal ideation is, after all, a diagnosis in itself. It was the reason I was hospitalized the first time–that and self-harm.

I am not going to keep silent about being, I guess you could say, a suicidal. I want to be able to talk about this, to make people understand suicide more so it is feared less. There might be less suicides if we could learn to take more sensitive action instead of being afraid of the concept and chastising the person for feeling the way that person does.

I am here. I am breathing. I am alive. I will make a difference. I will get better. But right now I’m not feeling so great, and it’s okay. That’s just who I am for now. And you want more comfort? About 90% of suicide attempts fail. And a good majority of those who attempted are glad the attempts failed.

 

Stay tuned later today for guest blogger Mary Cote-Walkden who will talk about small press publishing houses!