Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Mental Illness in YA Month: Hannah of A Cup of Wonderland - The Books That Helped Me Come To Terms With My Mental Illnesses

Mental Illness in YA Month

Today, we have a absolutely incredible, unbelievably honest gust post from Hannah of A Cup of Wonderland, in which she talks about the YA books that helped her with regards to her mental illneses.

Trigger Warning: This guest post discusses attempted suicide. It also mentions Thirteen Reasons Why.

The Books That Helped Me Come To Terms With My Mental Illnesses

A wise man once told me that words and stories were one of the most powerful things in the world. He was definitely right, at least for me because stories helped me stay alive when really all I wanted to do was to die. When I was 13 or 14 - if I’m honest all those years are just a blur or completely lost in my mind - I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and OCD. Because my family didn’t feel comfortable with me taking medication, I was assigned to go to therapy. I attended for perhaps just over a year, and it helped, but that doesn’t mean I accepted I was ill.

I’m not going to lie, I was undoubtedly a typical teen in the sense that my phone and social media became my life - to the point that I forgot there was a world around me, but I also had a temper. I didn’t understand how I was feeling; I couldn’t understand how to process my emotions or even how to ensure I had an outlet, and I was unable to create a language to communicate how I was feeling. Which meant I would often lash out, not at people but with objects, which is how, one evening, my phone ended up propelling against the wall once or twice. But that meant I had to confront my world, and thus I threw myself back into the familiar: books. Maybe that was a sign that I was not ok, I had stopped reading, I had stopped exploring and entering worlds unlike my own, and going on adventures with so many characters, making new friends. Without access to the world I had online, perhaps it was natural for me to return to books and it’s a good thing I did because without them, maybe I wouldn’t be here.


Photo of the book Looking for Alaska by John Green, held up over a background of loose pages from book

Thinking back - my memory is terrible - I guess there must be around two or three years I can barely remember, but, with the help of Goodreads, I can recall the books that helped pull me out of the dark place I was in. Actually, the first book I remember picking up myself, I picked it up straight after the smashed phone incident: John Green’s Looking for Alaska. When reading, I was gripped, for the first time in years there was a book in my hand that I wanted - needed - to devour, and I did. Alaska herself is a volatile character, much like I was myself at the time, and that’s what made me realise how much I had been pounding on my own self-destructive button. Alaska was a brilliant and vibrant character who was quite out there, but I think her actions were just to hide how unhappy she was - how miserable I was. I think it was quite a shock for me because, although Alaska reflected a lot of my own behaviour, I saw how far away I would end up and what could happen. It was scary; scary enough that when I finished the book, I picked it up again and reread. Sometimes you need a shock to realise what you're doing to yourself, to stop and think - it made me feel enough to begin to open up to my therapist at least.

After Looking for Alaska came two other books - books with suicide in them. They perhaps aren’t the healthiest books to read when you're meant to be getting better and seeking help, but also not the best because they reminded me of what didn’t happen. These books were Thirteen Reasons Why* and By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters, two YA books in which the main characters end their lives, whether it be because of mental illness, physical illness or their environments. I saw myself reflected in them both but at first, instead of seeing hope - hope that I could get better and could live instead - at first I saw my own failure. Before I admitted I was ill and needed help, I had attempted to take my own life twice. I’d actually confided in a friend afterwards and his response, ‘You're that much of a failure, you couldn’t even end your own life properly.’ Naturally, I know now that he wasn’t a friend and that he was wrong, but it worked with my mind until I read those two books. I hadn’t just been playing with the self-destruct button, but I was at the point when I maybe would have hit it right. Those two books made me accept how ill I was, and that was the worst feeling in the world. It wasn’t just about opening myself up about what I felt if I was feeling anything at all, but it made me need to confront my own feelings, and learn my language and how I could work through my emotions. They made me confront what I had become and how I was not only just treating myself, but my parents, family and friends. Confronting the fact that if I ended my life, it would have an effect on them. I think my Mum was shocked when I came downstairs and hugged her after I finished the latter of the two. Yes I was ill, and it would be a long road ahead, but I wanted to live.

After those three books, I read many more along similar lines; books which dealt with mental health and suicide and death. It might not be the best way for some people, but for me, I think it enabled me to develop my own understanding of what was going on in my mind. Young adult literature gave me hope, it made me understand that I was ill, and it reminded me why I wanted to live - what I needed to live for. But it wasn’t just the books, it was the community I then found myself in, because young adult fiction allowed me to make new friends and become more myself. I was able to see hundreds of worlds and lives that slowly helped me piece myself back together, worlds I could retreat into when my own got too much, and allowed me some time to myself.

Like a wise man once said, words and stories are the most powerful magic in our world, and for me, that is especially true for the young adult novels that allowed me to live.


Thank you, Hannah, for such a fantastic post. I'm sure I speak for everyone reading as well as myself when I say your honesty is really appreciated it. And I'm so, so happy these books helped you, and that you are still here.

This post shows exactly why representation matters, exactly what it can mean to see someone like you, or someone who is experiencing similar things to you, in a book. From Hannah's post, it's obvious that books can save lives.

Do check out Hannah's book blog, A Cup of Wonderland, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.

*Please note that while I, Jo, know about the author allegedly sexual harrassing women, and do not wish to support this person in any way, for the purposes of this post, I think it's important for Hannah to talk about how a books helped her - as these books helped her in a big way - even if I loathe one of the authors. But I will no link to the book on Goodreads, and I am not recommending it.

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