Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Mental Illness in YA Month Discussion: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman and How Your Mental Illness Affects Loved Ones

Mental Illness in YA Month

This discussion links to my discussion on The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X. R. Pan and Living With a Depressed Parent - I am the child of depressed parents. But I'm also my parents' daughter who has anxiety.

When reading Challenger Deep, something I really loved was how Caden's parents really care and try to get him the help he needs. When I read the following quote, it really struck a chord with me.
'And I suddenly realize something terrible about my parents. They are not poisoners. They are not the enemy . . . but they are helpless.
They want to
do something--anything--to help me. Anything to change my situation. But they are as powerless as I am. The two of them are in a lifeboat, together, but so alone. Miles from shore, yet miles from me. The boat leaks, and they must bail in tandem to keep themselves afloat. It must be exhausting.
The terrible truth of their helplessness is almost too much to bear. [...]
Right now it sucks to be me--but until now, it never occurred to me that it also sucks to be them.'
(p266)
This is something that I really identified with. What's "lucky" - for want of a better word - about my family is that we all have mental illnesses. I was the last in the family to be diagnosed, so by that time, even though my parents and my brother have depression and I have anxiety, there was an understanding about mental illness and how it can affect you, even though my mental illness is different to theirs. So when I thought something was wrong, before my diagnosis, I already knew that having a mental illness wasn't a death sentence, nor was it something to be ashamed of. I knew I could better, if not completely well again, because I'd seen my family do the same. I knew a mental illness is an illness, and that I wasn't a failure, or that I'd done something wrong somehow, or that it was something I had any control over to "fix". While thinking I had a mental illness and needed to get help was scary, it probably wasn't as scary as it may be for someone who has no experience of mental illness whatsoever.

However, I did feel like I'd let my family down. My parents and my brother had a mental illness, but I was the well one, the one they didn't have to worry about... until now. Now I had what I thought was - and had confirmed by a doctor - anxiety, and would cause my family to worry. I felt crappy about it for myself, but also for my family, because I know how it feels to have loved ones with a mental illness, and how you worry.

But my family were completely supportive. I told my Mum I didn't think I was ok, explained what I'd been experiencing, and that I think I needed to see a doctor. She listened and she was completely supportive, and she told my Dad and my brother. What I found really wonderful was my brother's reaction. My brother and I have quite a jokey relationship, and we take the Micky out of each other a lot. Not this time. My Mum told me my brother's reaction was "Well, if she thinks she needs help, she should definitely go to the doctor and get it sorted." No scoffing, no comments about me overreacting or being a drama queen. He was serious for once. He knows what it's like to have a mental illness, and was supportive. Concerned.

My anxiety is quite mild when compared to most people's, so for the most part, my family doesn't worry about me much, as my anxiety doesn't rear it's head too often. However, when it does, my Mum does worry, and seeing that worry is kind of upsetting. Because I know what she's feeling; she's witnessing someone she loves suffer, and knows there's nothing she can do to help me. She probably worries a little more about my anxiety than I do. I know what I need to do to keep myself as calm as possible, and how to get through it, even though it's scary. While, in the moment, my Mum reminds me of things I learnt in CBT, and tries to talk me through it. It's awesome that she's so supportive, but I know how to deal with it. I find it harder dealing with how worried she is, because I completely get it, but I don't want her to worry so much.

That's why the quote above really struck a chord with me. This is my Mum. This is how my mental illness affects her; watching me helplessly as I try to breathe and keep myself calm, knowing she can't take away my anxiety and my panic, but doing what she can.

Because mental illness doesn't just affect those who have it, but those who love the person with the mental illness. I've seen it from both sides; I worry about loved ones with mental illness, and I have loved ones who worry about me and my mental illness, and it's hard, no matter what side you're on. I just found it really awesome and really relatable to see Caden thinking about his parents and what they're going through, watching him struggle. It's hard on us all.

Over to you. How did you find this element of the story, being someone who's loved ones worry about you and your mental illness? How did you find Challenger Deep in general? Do you know of any other YA novels that show the worry of loved ones coping with seeing their loved ones struggle with mental illness and deal with it well? Let me know!

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