Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We Need Diverse Books-- Anxiety

My tumblr dash is still full of amazing posts from the movement #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I love it. I love seeing so many people speaking out and contributing and I especially love the recognition that diversity isn't just about race. Its also about sexual orientation, body type, living situation, and mental and physical health. There are a lot of different measures of diversity and its true, every kid in the world needs a character to relate to. A character to look to and say: that's kind of like me. I relate to this main character.

I've read a lot of amazing posts about this both from people who feel underrepresented and people who want to read books about people different from them for a change. I've already done a post a little while back about the importance of racial diversity and challenging the perceived norm (Find it here ). But today I'm going to make a call for something I haven't seen a lot of. Something that is important to me. This is going to be a difficult post for me to write simply because I don't talk about this topic a lot.

Anxiety.

I have anxiety in more than one form. I have social anxiety that makes me uncomfortable every time I'm forced into a social situation I have not fully prepared for. When I have to call a stranger, I silently pray they won't pick up so I can just leave a message. And if I get a call from an unknown number? Forget it. I'm not picking up.

I also have anxiety around medical problems. I found out rather recently that if I read a list of symptoms and I seem to have even one of them, I get a little dizzy and start to black out. The idea of something going on inside my body that I can't see terrifies me to that point.

And then there are the anxiety attacks. I've been having them since eighth grade but I didn't even know what they were until about my sophomore year. They don't come often, but when they do, they come in full force. Often I spend the entire night awake and shaking like I have a fever, hovered over the toilet because I feel like I need to throw up (and I often do). For at least a day after I have these attacks I am left feeling drained and sick. The most miraculous thing about these panic attacks? They are often uncued. I don't know why I have them. They simply start and no amount of talking myself out of them can happen. The worst thing of all? I can't write when I'm having a panic attack. Writing makes it worse. And that is terrifying.

Anxiety is a growing problem in the US. According to the Anxiety and Depressing Association of America, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S, affecting 40 million adults in the US age 18 and older (18% of the population). A lot of people have anxiety. But its astounding how many times the 'anxious one' in a movie is portrayed as annoying or comedic.

Its not particularly funny.

Anxious people are seen as weak. People who can't stand on their own. But its not something that can be controlled. There have been many nights I lay awake asking myself 'What's wrong? Nothing bad is going on right now so why are you doing this?' But my body doesn't listen. It just keeps reacting. When I read books about heroes getting into dangerous situations, I often times think that if I was in the same situation, the second I got to safety I would be puking my guts out. After a big chase scene when someone says 'we'd better get some rest?' Ha! Yeah, I'll be over here in the corner, trying to get my heart beat to slow down for the next seven hours.

I want to see main characters who have anxiety and who struggle daily with fear. But here's the kicker: I want to see them fight to overcome it. Just a few days ago, I was at a friend's house sleeping over when I started to have an anxiety attack. I snuck out into the kitchen, not wanting to wake anyone up, because having people around makes my attacks worse without fail. I thought I was going to throw up. Which I really didn't want to do because I've been doing well. I've been trying to cut down the number of full on panic attacks to once every six months. It had only been three months since my last panic attack. And by God, I did NOT want to break that streak.

Somehow, I sat down in a chair and I forced myself to go to sleep. I woke up feeling like a badass. I did a double fist pump in the air when I opened my eyes and saw the sunlight streaming through the window.

I want to read about that. About heroes who kick ass even though their body is fighting them. About main characters who can collapse after a battle, heaving and panicking and not be ridiculed for it. I want to see strong characters with anxiety.

Because people with anxiety are not weak. They are arguably, some of the strongest people there are. I have it easy. My anxiety disorder is very minor and I can generally function normally without it getting too much in the way. There are others who have a much harder time than me. They need medication and therapy in order to keep their anxiety under control. Some people fight major panic attacks daily and I admire them for that.

Anxiety is not a joke. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a REAL obstacle like any other, and I'd like to see more characters face it, in any of its forms.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks so that the teenager curled up on her bathroom floor praying for sleep to make the pain stop doesn't have to feel alone.

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