BR: Colin Fischer

Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz wrote Colin Fischer, a book I found lonesome at the library. In it, they tell the story of a boy called, surprise, Colin Fischer. The story is supposed to be a mystery where Collin tries to unfold who dropped a gun in the middle of some room in the school.

Wait a Minute:

The story made me feel very uncomfortable, because Colin’s mental illness (autism) was alienating for him. I didn’t know much about autism, but there’s a part of me that is unsure of how the book presents the illness.

Spock and Data as role models for Colin. This is the second time I see this so-called “connection” in a book about a disabled character. Is this the only bit of representation out there, though? Why can’t characters relate to other people? Other heroes?

Colin is presented as a detective, but, I feel like this is an escape route rather than showing a life with disability. He is not shown to have any interests, or any friends, or any relationships that extend beyond care-giving. Supposedly, he “thinks a lot,” but the authors do not present any examples of what these thoughts may be. No motivations are associated with him either. All he is focused on is solving this so-called mystery, and it feels disrespectful.

Just a quick Google search shows many accomplished people exist, and they happen to have autism. They do more than float or obsess over the stories of others. And, the fact that this is a young adult or middle grade book makes this portrayal even more damaging.

 

 

Ill-Prepared Schools

 

One of the aspects of the story that rang a disturbing note for me was the school Colin attended. He is bullied and mistreated by teachers, who somehow do not foster a comfortable environment. I am not sure what school allows students to let their phones ring. And, I am also not so sure any teen would drop hundreds of dollars to make a disabled student uncomfortable.

Even more strange was the head-mistress who just…tells Colin he won’t get special treatment for his disability, which is bizarre. I recall having papers telling teachers what I’d need to cope in the classroom as a disabled student (and this was college, I can’t even imagine it being any different in high school).

Furthermore, from what I know, educators are exposed to various information regarding students and how to help them integrate into high school. When I was a tutor, we had day-long seminars and training sessions to, you know, be aware.

Family Dynamics

Sure, maybe his school was not well prepared for disabled students, but it baffles me that his little brother calls him the r word repeatedly. This intense hatred is never further developed or resolved.  Reading this kind of relationships feels isolating to me as a disabled woman. Should my family see me as a burden because my brain is wired differently? Would I not be able to have satisfying relationships with others? While I think it is fine to show that some characters feel this way, I wish the authors somehow challenged the notion through Colin, through his insight and intelligence.

 

Overall

Kind of a cringe worthy experience with this book. I think this is an example of representation not being fulfilling at all. While it is okay to show the problems a disabled person faces, I think its still crucial to show that they are problems. Rather than just facts.

Your Turn:

What is an inaccurate portrayal of a disability that you have encountered? Why and how was it inaccurate? Share your thoughts in comments.

 

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BR: Every Last Word

The book Every Last Word gets recommended often as a story about obsessive compulsive disorder. I struggled to get into it at first, because Every Last Word is not focused just on OCD. It does more. It made me uncomfortable as I identified with the character, Sam, deeply as the story continued.

Mental Illness as Fluid

One of the enjoyable aspects of the novel is its complex portrayal of mental illness. I have had OCD all my life, and, unlike Sam, I hadn’t been diagnosed as a young teen. In fact, it was not until I was in my mid to late twenties that my therapist diagnosed it.

The author shows some typical OCD habits in Sam’s behavior. From the counting of threes and the obsessive researching, it seems like a classic case of OCD, but then, another disorder is introduced by the final quarter of the book, and it made me so ecstatic.

You see, the book presents Sam as a person, not an illness. When presented with difficult realities, coping mechanisms kick in. On a personal level, I relate to this very much as someone who experiences various psychotic episodes frequently. Not only that, but the book also suggests that disability is not just clear cut boxes to check. There’s more to it than what people normally expect. It’s frustrating and oddly comforting.

Identity

Another fantastic aspect of the novel is its exploration of identity’s relationship with disability. Sam focuses her energy on being “normal,” which speaks volumes about the role society plays into a disabled person’s life. There is a lot of pressure and suppression of feelings because Sam wants to appear “normal.” By extension, being “normal” implies that she is worthy of having friends, having hobbies, having interests, having relationships.

It is very powerful to see this struggle in a book because I thought no one else feels this way. Most disabled people I have met are rather accepting of their life. Not me. I always longed to fit into the mold of normalcy.

As the novel unfolds, Sam learns that her identity is beyond her illnesses. While they are a part of her life, they don’t necessarily hinder her ability to live a fulfilling life.

Disability as Different, but Not Inferior

Her therapist Shrinky Sue tells her of another patient who could see sounds. She talks of how full his life is rather than unpleasant. Sure, it is isolating to be different, but it can also help empower a person.

Sam doesn’t have a full-circle of accepting her disability completely and I found that rather satisfying, because I don’t know if anyone should be “cured” to have growth.

That’s the thing about disability, there’s no end result for recovery. It’s an ongoing process. Sometimes, you’ll fall back into the pit.

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Anl: Trauma and Psychosis in Harry Potter

I love the Harry Potter books. From Goblet of Fire onward, I read each book as it was published. Part of the charm of reading relies on revisiting stories from new perspectives. When I started reading the Harry Potter books, I was not diagnosed with my mental illnesses. Teenage me was unaware of disability. I didn’t notice the underlying messages regarding trauma and mental illness in Harry Potter. Here, I will only be focusing on Harry and Ginny for the most part.

 

Trauma and Harry

Harry is singled out by trauma. The Boy Who Lived. He was literally marked by a visible scar to note his trauma. Living with the Dursleys, an abusive family, he often struggles to find his own worth. For example, he questions Molly for her affection. He rejects his friends’ offers to hep often. And, he doesn’t see much hope for his future.

As the series progresses, Harry loses people repeatedly. From his parents to Cedric. The list grows longer. Hedwig, his companion–the literal connection he had to his friends and the magic world, is axed.

However, it is not simply “loss” that marks Harry.

He is haunted by crippling anxiety as he is pressured into a fight he never chose. Voldemort chose him as his equal, and as such, tries eliminate him. Moreover, the pressure of being the Chosen One is rather debilitating. Harry doesn’t perform well in school. He doesn’t make a lot of friends. By Half-Blood Prince, he doesn’t have much ambition for his future. It takes Professor McGonagall to remind him that he can still become an auror by taking Slughorn’s class.

 

Mental Control (Lack thereof)

Another aspect of trauma is control. I think this is the scariest idea presented in the text. Harry has very little control over his own mind (literally). For example, Voldemort and Harry’s minds are linked. They can tap into each others’ visions. Harry loses Sirius through Voldemort’s manipulation of his mind.

This idea of losing touch with one’s reality reminds me of psychosis. As someone who experiences psychotic episodes and schizophrenia, this bit of representation matters to me. I always connected to Professor Trelawney, the Divination instructor. The prophecy comes through her. She is a bit of an outcast, but still. The story would not exist without Sybil Trelawney.

What about Ginny? She loses her ability to reason in Chamber of Secrets as Tom Riddle controls her body. Terrified, she runs, but it is too late. She is trapped in a dark place because of her mind.

Again, the fact that Rowling gives these psychosis-based experiences is hopeful.

Finally, Neville’s parents are traumatized by torturous spells so much that they are in a hospital. It is shown that they have no recollection of their family. This is some sort of representation. But, the question is, does Rowling do much with it?

 

Reflection on Trauma and Psychosis

In a way, Rowling reflects on trauma through Harry Potter. No one chooses to be mentally ill. Harry never chose to be against Voldemort. He never chose to be prey for Death Eaters and dementors.  And, this is a positive idea to choose. However, it is not just about mentioning ideas. It is about what you do with them as an author.

It is not just Harry dealing with trauma that is interesting. I think of Cho Chang’s example often. Faced with the death of a boyfriend or classmate (Cedric), she is left into a state of depression. She cries a lot. She cries when Harry kisses her, in fact.

And, Harry, fellow trauma-survivor, doesn’t seem to sympathize. What truly hurt is that Rowling could have used Cho as a character who has depression resulting from trauma. Would it not be neat to see Cho be a central character? Instead, she is dismissed and replaced with Ginny.

Now, granted, Ginny survived the abuse of being in touch with Tom Riddle. It sounds like psychosis a bit. She doesn’t know her own reality or her own strength. But, she is literally rescued by Harry. And Harry in turn is helped by a phoenix. Rowling never revisits this trauma again for Ginny.

By the end of the stories, “all is well” and Harry’s scar doesn’t hurt anymore. None of this aligned with my own experiences as a person with PTSD. Ginny is somehow presented as a “cool” person. She is a Quidditch star, wife, mother. The world is all possible as she thinks  “Everything is possible if you have the nerve.” But, she is never faced with her trauma anymore. It just disappears.

That’s not good representation. It’s two dimensional and diminishes the complexity of mental illness and trauma.

Your Turn:

What are your thoughts on Harry Potter and the representation of mental illness? Share your thoughts in comments to get the discussion going. Don’t forget to check out posts by the rest of the Disability Diaries crew.

For More:

 

Potter and PTSD 

 

What Harry Potter Taught Me About Trauma 

 

 

When watching Poldark, most people feel passionate about Ross and his story, but I am
I knew I would love Swiss Army Man from the moment I saw the trailer. Granted, I
I read Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close a few years ago and it moved me tremendously. So,

Introduction Disability Diaries

Welcome to my first Disability Diaries entry for 2017. Over the next week, I will be dedicating my blog to discussions regarding disability (more than usual)). I am joining awesome hosts: Ely (who created this whole thing!), Angel, Cee Arr, Lara Liz, and Jolien.

 

Context

I was always a crier. Frequently suffering from intense mood swings and daily dose of manic episodes. Unable to maintain friendships, I relied on stories to find acceptance. And, unfortunately, it was very hard to find my place in a grander narrative. So, I existed with the pressure of trying to mask all the “weirdness.”

Never did I think that there were others like me. As educated as I thought I was, I was never aware of my family’s history with mental illness.

But, by January of 2012, I was crying all the time. Constantly. Things were going “well,” too. I had a steady job and two college degrees under my belt. There were very few reasons for my sadness. I felt so guilty for being unwell. Days would go by and I would be unable to get out of bed.

Even though I had just gotten a car, I was also starting to see things that confused me on the road. I would hear whispers about how much I sucked at driving. My heart was always beating too fast and loud for me to breathe properly.

Process

One day, my mom sat me down and encouraged me to look into therapy. So I did. I remember my second appointment being on Valentine’s Day. Then, by June, I was writing about my journey angrily on my blog.  You may be wondering why you can’t see posts from my early days on the blog-o-sphere. Well, I was very angry and frustrated. When I shared my experiences, I was quick to delete them out of fear and shame.

Represent

While I am trying to gear this blog toward books and more tangible things, I am also hoping for representation of disabled people like myself. It is hard to find good examples of people who are disabled in literature, I find. And, if the portrayal is accurate or convincing, sometimes the illness takes over the narrative. This is one of the reasons why even five years into treatment, I still struggle to be my own hero in my life.

My hope is to get a dialogue going to help other disabled people voice their experiences too. In doing so, we can challenge the idea of us being “abnormal” or objects to be controlled and manipulated. Part of it is confronting the shaming and overall erasure of our existence and, by extension, our value.

Hope you’re ready for Disability Diaries. I look forward to check out your posts and get the dialogue going!

I spend a lot of time online. Perhaps I'm not alone in this, but it
          Welcome back to another Top Ten Tuesday. This week, the
As you may have read in previous blog entries, I will be participating in Emojiathon

BT: The Sandwich Tag

I am sleepless and excited, so I thought I’d participate in a tag. Ely, from Tea and Titles, shared her responses in a video. Introducing the Sandwich Tag!

Alright, so the Sandwich Tag has a few questions regarding books in relation to sandwiches.

Questions:

1. Peanut Butter & Jelly- A work that serves as a great introduction to a particular topic.

I am going rogue here and saying The Hobbit by Tolkien. It introduced a whole genre for me, because up until this book, I had not encountered fantasy in literature. I assumed that people have to read the classics and that anything else doesn’t exist.

2. Ham & Cheese- A working class work.

White Cat and the rest of the trilogy by Holly Black. Most of the novels I have are about people who are within the working class, I think, but I reckon this is different. This is about being in the outskirts of society. It is about crime and power. I love it. I read these books while in the hospital. So, they’re extra close.

3. Grilled Cheese- A great experimental writer.

I was a huge fan of T.S Eliot. Haven’t read his work since college, but I was rather attached to his The Waste Land. As a gesture, I passed it on to my younger sister when she graduated from high school.

4. Italian- A bestseller you feel people need to check out.

Princess Bride. I read the book before ever seeing the movie. It’s really good.

 

5. Turkey- A writer you cannot go wrong with.

Tahereh Mafi is probably my favorite writer. I love her and John Green the most.

6. Steak- A work that is subject to intense arguments.

English majors argue over all works. I remember my first paper being on Pride and Prejudice. So, I will go with that one.

7. Chicken Parm- The most fascinating topic you saw turn into a book.

Paradise Lost was probably my favorite retelling of a story I grew up with. The Sun is Also a Star was another really neat story about love, identity, and illegal immigration.

8. Tuna- A work you had low expectations about, but turned out being impressed by.

The Raven Boys. I am working my way through the series and I am just in awe. It is fantastically written. I resisted the Harry Potter series in high school and judged it intensely. I ended up writing my graduate thesis, a whole book on it.

9. BLT- A morning read.

Morning, what’s that? Seriously, though, probably Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines by John Green would make really good morning reads.

10. S’mores- A work you would read while camping.

I’d worry about the book getting dirty, to be honest.

11. Hero- An anthology filled with all-star writers.

I had some anthologies for college. But,  I was torn between dark romanticism and transcendentalism.

12. Dagwood- The largest, most intimidating book you read.

Moby Dick was a book I had to read over a couple of weeks. It was such a daunting experience and yet it became one of my favorites. I am not sure where my copy went, but I was so enamored with Ahab and the crew. I don’t even like ships. I get seasick.

13. Favorite- What’s your favorite sandwich?

I like veggie burritos. Does that count? I also like avocado sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly. I am not an amazing cook, so I like simple things.

14. Platter- Who do you tag?

Annemieke, Shannon, and Cee Arr.  And, anyone who wants to do this, obviously!

It's been a while since I have done a book tag, so I thought now
  I saw this lovely tag on Of Wonderland, so I thought I'd share it
  Hello! I watched this book tag on Julie's channel (Pages and Pens). It's called