One of the things we love most about the YA community is the way so many authors share honest stories about difficult topics.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Kathleen Glasgow, author of the haunting and moving novel Girl in Pieces, shared this powerful personal story with us about her own struggle with anxiety and depression. She calls this essay, “Faulty Robot.”
by Kathleen Glasgow
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Washington, DC, for the National Book Festival. I was asked to give a talk, and the directions said to “Keep it casual!” and “Let your personality come through!”
“Let your personality come through.” That’s a tough one. What does that even mean? Should I be sunshiny and confident? That’s not really me. How about intense and direct? No, not so much that, either. Jaded? Rock-star droll? Lounge against the podium in my sunglasses and dark velvet jacket and let the audience think they are lucky to be in my presence and not the other way around?
My entire life, I’ve been trying to figure out not only who to be, but how to be. Part of this is because I grew up in difficult circumstances with complicated people, and a childhood of anxiety and depression has turned me into an adult with . . . anxiety and depression. For a long time, I thought this meant there was something wrong with me. That I wasn’t fit to be in the world. That my brokenness was somehow my fault. Everyone else seemed so perfect and confident. Their lives seemed sunshiny. They didn’t seem to have problems with the things that made me anxious and sad: speaking in class, standing up in front of people, making friends. It was like everyone got a memo on how to be in the world except me. So I shut down. I tried to make myself smaller and smaller and smaller through self-harm and drinking.
For the longest time, I thought I was wrong. For the longest time, I tried to die.
I didn’t. I came very, very, very close, but then I came back, and I wrote. And by writing, I met people. Like G.
I met G at the book festival. She was worried about school starting. She was worried about making friends. She pulled the sleeves of her sweater over her fingers and her eyes were sad. She said, “Is there anxiety in your book? Because I have a lot of anxiety.”
I would say looking at G was like looking at the me I used to be, only I’m still that person.
I took a deep breath and said, “Anxiety is not a flaw. Anxiety is a feeling. It’s okay to be anxious.” We talked, and I think she felt better, and later I sent her an email and wished her a good first day of school and said that it was okay to be nervous, and anxious, because it’s okay to feel.
Anxiety and depression are not flaws. They are not imperfections. Feeling these things doesn’t mean we are less than or wrong or not as good as other people. It just means we feel things intensely and sometimes we need extra help. Sometimes the problem is chemical. We don’t need anyone to tell us “Cheer up” or “Stop moping” or “Don’t be such a diva.” We need someone to listen to us talk when we feel like talking and we need someone to sit with us when we don’t feel like talking. Watch The Walking Dead with us. Make fun of pop songs. Eat one scoop too much of ice cream and not feel bad about it.
Like a robot, I’m a bit of a creature of habit. I know how to structure things so my day goes smoothly for the most part, but I also know that my system has some bugs and my wiring is a little wonky, so I have to accept that at any given time, I might short-circuit. That’s okay. I’m okay with being a faulty robot. And you should be, too. We’re part of a good club: There’s no judgment, and we have books. A lot of books, which is my way of telling you that sometimes reading can be an excellent way of discovering how your wiring works, and seeing that lots of other people have complicated operating systems, too.
And if we meet each other out in the world? Feel free to say “Beep” and I’ll answer with “Beep boop” and together we can clank our way to the coffee shop.
(PS. I skipped the sunglasses for my talk, but I wore the velvet jacket. This robot was having a rock-and-roll kind of day.)
If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or suicidal, please reach out for help. There is always someone to talk to. I promise.
That stuff: www.kathleenglasgowbooks.com