Feb 15, 2010

A Question of Intense Interest

I was not sure if I was going to write or not today, considering my mind is still in query mush mode, but then I came across some tweets from yesterday that got my mind going and I felt the need to post.

I was going to apologize for sharing this personal information with you, but in all retrospect, I don't feel sorry about it. I can't help who I am, and I rather like who I've become as a result of it. Please note however that I am not looking for sympathy, I am just looking for an answer.

That being said...

Through a series of agent posts I noticed a couple (unnamed) agents saying they wish they would see more books about children/teens with mental illnesses and psychological disorders.

This struck me as odd.

As a person with a very serious (and unfortunately misdiagnosed through most of my life) mental illness myself, I don't understand the intrigue. Growing up with bipolar disorder was difficult and depressing, especially as it went untreated until I was 17, then mistreated until I was 26. I've lived a life of making poor and irrational decisions while on highs and lows. Decisions that have left me with a world of messes to clean up as an adult.

To make matters worse, this disease is genetic, leaving me feeling incredibly guilty about my 7 year old son who was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well. Watching him is heart breaking and a nightmare. It reminds me of things I felt when I was young and as a parent makes me feel terribly helpless.

So my question is, why would people want to read about any of this? What would be entertaining about reading the experiences of a child struggling with depression?

Do you understand the intrigue? Would it interest you to read a book of this nature?


Jonathon Arntson said...

Wow. I can totally relate. I have Bipolar II and didn't find out until I was 23. No wonder my family thought I was so weird. Well, now we share this struggle. Thanks for sharing.

In regards to your question, my best friend has cerebral palsy and grew up with one leg growing longer than the other. We have joked for years about writing a book titled THE PERKS OF BEING FRIENDS WITH THE HANDICAPPED, which would be from my POV. The best parking, unobstructed views at concerts, tones of attention at the grocery store. We have only joked because who would ever want to read this... She doesn't feel compelled to share her struggles and I've never felt compelled to share the struggles of being her friend, the ones related to her disorder, I mean. And there are some, I'm not going to hide that.

If this is what publishers want...well, Pulitzer here we come. Ha, not.

Okay, but to be more specific about your question, read IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY. It's a well-written YA and a movie version is coming out later in the year. I think you'll gain the perspective you're looking for.

T. Anne said...

Hmm. I think if anybody, you can write the book that best tells of this disorder. Perhaps your frustration will turn into a magnificent fuel. I worked for years in psych so I can relate only on that level. I would say you not only have a platform but a meaningful message to share with others. I'll be curious to see what you do with this. Thank you for sharing.

Scott said...

Knowledge is power. You have the insight that can only come from dealing with Bipolar disorder. Try as any other writer might, without true insight, sometimes the writing comes across as flat.

I'll give you the best example/portrayal of a diabetic having an insulin reaction: Julia Roberts character of Shelby in 'Steel Magnolias'. As a diabetic, I can tell you that the scene was dead-on accurate, and portrayed everything perfectly, from the descent into low blood sugar, the anger, the raw emotions, the rise to a normal blood sugar, and then, the raw emotions afterwards. Spot. On. The writer was able to portray this so well because he witnessed these events firsthand because his sister - the inspiration for Shelby - was diabetic and he watched these events unfold in his life. I've never, ever, seen diabetes portrayed so well or accurately.

So, you can write a story about bipolar disorder so much better, because you have lived it, and continue to live it. You can write the story of a mother dealing with a child - the guilt, the hope, the everything. Who better to write it then you??


Theresa said...

alright, lovey, let's look at this from a couple of different perspectives.....but before I delve into it, I'm not quite sure publishers wish to seek entertainment from your misfortunes or disorder. I'm more comfortable thinking that characters with this disorder, overcoming obstacles and becoming the hero of the story (so to speak) would be a source of encouragement for the reader. Or, quite possibly, finding a commonality with the character would be something of interest for the reader. The old saying, "Misery likes company," is a rather broad one and doesn't necessarily mean that only miserable people want to be surrounded with others like them. It does mean, in my opinion, that people enjoy surrounding themselves with others who tend to be like themselves. This would include fictional characters, as well.
There is also another way to look at their request. Your manuscript-in-progress....loosely based on facts......makes light of a certain subject that an enormous group of women can relate to. Being able to laugh in that situation is almost like going to therapy. People CRAVE therapy.
These are my thoughts.
Now, if you could just write a book on how to survive the tweens....I would SOOOOOOO buy that book!

ShadyB said...

Sometimes, there are extended family members/friends who look for this type of information from a "firsthand" POV in order to better understand what they are "dealing" with - in regards to understanding where their friend/relative (and the individuals immediate family) are coming from. They can't find any info in Laymans Terms, and they may not know who to ask about different aspects of the illness. This is where a book, in your own words, would come in so handy to them. They want to understand/help, but don't have a clue..... I watched this happen several years ago with my nephews Aspbergers Syndrome diagnosis. Half of the family rejected the diagnosis because they had never heard of the disease, and the other half couldn't find any info they could understand on how to "relate" to, or "deal with", the boy.....
You could be helping out a lot of people/teens/mothers/relatives by writing such a book. Even if it only helps 1 person - that alone makes it worth it.
Just a thought.....

laurel said...

Thank you for your amazing courage and honesty. This is a topic dear to my heart as the child of a biopolar and sister to another.

I agree that publishers aren't seeking entertainment value. They're seeking hope for those who know this very highly stigmatized problem intimately, who have been alone in the dark far too long. Shame is a soul killer. It turns one into Gollum, as Tolkien showed so ably.

If my family had been more open about Dad's illness, my brother would have gotten help sooner and not made several suicide attempts, one of which left him permanently disfigured.

Stories like the one you have to tell can save lives. They can remove some of the stink of stigma. They can give courage and hope to those of us on the sidelines trying to love well the hurting ones in our families. Even if there are no easy answers, camaraderie on this path is a HUGE help.

Natalie said...

I agree with all that's been said. And I think you are so brave to share your experience.

I think the reason publishers may be interested in stories about people with mental illness is that a lot of people have mental illness in real life. Everyone has someone in their life with depression, or anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Mental illness is something we can all relate to, whether it's first hand or through a family member or friend. I think stories about the human experience are interesting to most people.

Honestly, I think I'm like you. I read to be entertained. I want ESCAPE, and this isn't the sort of story that is entertaining. But it has a place, and there are a lot of people who read these kind of books. 13 Reasons Why was a bestseller.

If you feel like you have a story to tell, I think you should tell it.

Southern Princess said...

I too agree with those comments above on who would understand and write a real account better than someone who lives with it every day.

I think the Publishers are looking for that look on the tragic side of life. Take "My Sister's Keeper". Yes there is the heartwarming family growth, but the reality is that the sickness exist. How do we as readers - not fictional characters, deal with something that is real? The struggles that make us stronger, the decisions that alter our lives in ways we never imagined. There is a poignancy to this type of writing that many people love to read. Some just like to know that even though life is terrible for them they can make it through - because 'this family' did it with even more extenuating circumstances. There are those that gravitate to these issues. I also think that some people have a natural aversion to self help books when faced with these issues but will easily pick up a 'fiction' book and utilize its message by applying it to their life.

Like Natalie & you - I like to escape. To leave those struggles and just enter other worlds.

If you decide to explore it, I know it will be phenomenal. Your sense of humor is infectious and there is a light around you that shines in the simplest posts on your blog. If you have a story - tell it. No matter what just sharing this with us gets the conversations started...

word verification: ffaith
Quite an interesting choice, blogger... ;o)

Jonathon Arntson said...

I kind of feel bad about my comment now because I managed to make it all about me, by the time I got to the end, I my thoughts were all over the place. I also have ADHD. I know, I'm so cliche.

I am wondering if hearing that publishers want that kind of makes you feel like a freak. Do you feel the need to be outspoken, or maybe you've found an opportunity to expand people's understanding of Bipolar disorder. I have told very few people and my parents would kill me if they found out I typed that message above, but it's because they just don't really understand. Like you said, very few people do. Can we change that?

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Adolescence is a lonely time - more so if you suffer from some form of illness. Kids who suffer can feel less alone, less different or isolated when they can read about characters with similar experiences. I think those types of books/stories serve to build awareness, to inform family as well as strangers of what it's like to go through something like that, and to offer some comfort to those who suffer.

Marybeth Poppins said...

Jonathan, like you I was totally ashamed of the illness. I realized (after a few years) that I shouldn't be. I mean it's an illness, just like heart disease. Would you be embarrassed if your heart didn't work correctly?

So don't be embarrassed at all!

All these comments have definitely got my mind going. You are right, maybe it is time to bring awareness and help those out there struggling with these problems. Like Shannon said, adolescence is hard enough!

Oh and by the way, I'm with you on the ADHD thing too! Bipolar is awesome. It's like the buy 1 get 5 free illness!!!

"Get Bi-Polar and you'll get ADHD, SAD, ODD, OCD AAANNNDDD as a bonus disorder you'll get Anxiety for FREE!!!"

(Someday I'm going to trademark that saying!)

Foursons said...

I have a degree in Psychology because this kind of stuff intrigues me. Not the heartache and nosy part of watching the train wreck. The part of how incredible the human mind is.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Wow, Marybeth, I had never really looked them as a packaged deal before. That brings on a whole new perspective. Thanks so much!

The other day, someone said to me, "A lot of your texture issues remind me of autism." (this was because if my hands are wet and they touch dry paper, like printer paper or low quality then I have a five minute freak out and then everything is back to normal.) Do you have texture things too?

ajm said...

Wow, amazing -- you must handle it very well because I would never know it through your blog posts!

My guess as to why publishers would want to see the topic of mental illness? I think it's so common among all age groups (though probably still very misunderstood), and teens don't necessarily have the emotional maturity to know how to deal with mental health problems when they're just trying to get through being a teen. There's a lot of amazing opportunity there, as a writer, but also for a whole group of readers who could relate and also learn from someone who's been in the trenches. People appreciate writing that is true, whether it is fictional or not.

It's a topic that many people would be interested in reading as many people have been touched by mental illness themselves or in their families.

Jessica M. said...

I'll not repeat the many things that people have already said in encouragement, though I echo them all. But think about how comforting it would have felt to read a book about someone who has been there, who has felt the same things you have, to feel you're not alone. It might not "fix" but it certainly helps. It might sound crazy, but reading The Bell Jar in college actually helped me in some ways... A novel about a teenager dealing with bipolar, going misdiagnosed especially, would be great! Hey, think about all the experiences you could talk about from your own life. You have so much to pull from!! And it could be cathartic in some ways for you to deal with the past while writing "fiction".

That being said, I think that an honest, non-fiction book about your experience with bipolar, and especially about the journey you're now taking with your son, would be well received and worth the effort. There are people out there who want to read and would benefit from all the knowledge and experience you have to offer on the subject! :)

And because my brain is fried and I feel that I cannot write a complete sentence, I will end there :) Good luck dear!

mslasko said...

Marybeth - I am so in awe of your courage to address this very important topic. I have been asking myself practically the same question for the past several years, as I [barely] survived my stepson's bipolar disorder. I keep thinking there has to be some way to use my writing abilities to somehow salvage something positive out of the upheaval and insanity --literal and figurative -- that was my life for 10 years. I remember that while we (my husband and I, and the rest of our kids) were wading thru the maze of managed care/insurance [what a JOKE!] and incompetent counselors and doctors (we did end up finding some good ones) and trying countless medications and dealing with the horrible unceasing unpredictableness that damaged careers and relationships beyond recognition- well, I would have given practically ANYTHING for someone to truly understand what we were going thru. The docs could, of course, but no one in our families, the parents of our kids’ peers, staff at the school, etc. had any clue as to how to relate to us, let alone actually HELP us. I look forward to seeing what form your book on this topic would take, and I, for one, believe strongly that there IS a need for literature – fiction and non-fiction – to bring this disease to the larger consciousness and empathy of humankind. :)

Marybeth Poppins said...

Jonathan I have never had that problem, but it does seem like there is no end to the amount of symptoms associated with bipolar.

It is quite an interesting illness!

Elana Johnson said...

Hmm...to answer your questions first. I went to a panel over the weekend at a local writer's conference. It was about edgy YA vs. non-edgy. And basically, the panelists said that any writing that takes a topic and confronts it head-on with honesty, is edgy.

This is why I think agents are looking for the types of books you describe. They want a head-on, honest read about something sensitive.

People want that. They want to read something real, that doesn't gloss over the horrors of living with such a disease.

Now that I've said that, *hugs* for sharing.

Paul Greci said...

Such a rich array of comments above. I would say: Write the story if you are moved to write it.

I worked in a small school where many of the students were dealing with various levels of depression, bipolar, and other challenges. I also have a close relative who is bipolar and a dear friend.

I'll second Jonathan's book recommendation: It's kind of a funny story.

Also,Terry Trueman has some great books: his MC has Cerebral Palsy, if I remember right. Cool to see an MC who can't speak.

Anyway, my students loved reading books that spoke honestly to them about their challenges.

I think Elana said it well in her comment.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Like Paul, Elana's comment really hits it on the head. Honest and sensitive. Think about a lot of your favorite books. Were they cute? Were they safe? Or did you love them because they made a difference for you?

My word ver is arymeat..that could be so many things...
sorry, the disorders are feuding for attention.

Also I have severe kabourophobia. Look it up, you'll laugh.

Kimberly Job said...

I think it is rare for someone to not have some sort of mental illness affect their life in some form or other.

I think books on this subject make each of us feel that we aren't alone.

Shelli said...

i think its more about the journey of conquering these types of struggles that is appealing. It helps others.

Jessica said...

I'm sorry you had to go through so much before it went diagnosed! How horrible for you!
I read the other comments and I liked what others said about reading about others' struggles being helpful.
But I also think Elana was right about readers wanting to read "real" stuff.
Personally, I did like reading books with MCs different than me. One of my favorite books as a teen was I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. The heroine is schizophrenic.
It might be intrigue for me? I don't know, and I hope that doesn't offend you. I like seeing the world, and feeling it, through someone else's eyes.
(but not killers, which is why I don't read gory thrillers) *shudder*

Glynis said...

Thank you for sharing. My daughter is a psychologist, during uni she read so many of the type of books you are talking about. She passed them onto me to read. I found them good for me, I live beyond depression, I am 8yrs free of meds and have a good life now. Reading of the plight of others help me grow stronger as I stopped the feeling sorry for myself side of the illness, realising others were worse off or the same as me.
If you wrote your story, it would be in the form of a story as opposed to a medical book. This helps others learn more about life situations in a more relaxed way, and makes the world far more aware of certain disorders. Had I not read those books,I wonder where I would be now? :)

pauling said...

I love reading books where I glimpse into someone else's struggles. We all struggle, even if it's not with the same disease/problem. We can all relate to overcoming problems. Thanks for sharing. Hugs.