Paper Towns and the Middle Aged Dilemma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I had initially read Paper Towns, I was in my early twenties. At the time, I was more moved by John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. But, as I near the middle aged years, I realize that perhaps Paper Towns is more relevant to me now.

Happy Now

I understand that many people dislike Margo, but the older I get, the stronger the connection gets between us. You see, I was more of a Q growing up. Driven, ambitious, and academically inclined, I barreled through life–furiously trying to prove my worth to an unforgiving crowd.

I tried to be good at my job. I pushed harder than ever to be present, to do my work, to not take breaks. Sometimes, I’d stay awake for days just to grade and reply to emails. The biggest surprise was my failure. Even when I check reviews of my teaching, years later, I see what very few people noticed: I was doing things for the wrong reasons. When my breakdown and subsequent hospitalization happened, I started to realize that I was in the wrong group. I was in the wrong field.

Odd Ducks

A couple of weekends ago, I had an obsessive episode, where I had to look up old classmates. Most of them were teaching in universities. A lot of them were friends on social media.

At first, I felt sorrow. But, then I realized that I had never made any connections with people. I was the weirdest teacher to ever grace a campus. First, it was because of my emotional nature. I cried about my failures all the time (there were many failures. No one talked about their struggles).

In retrospect, this reminds me of the idea of Paper Towns. This is the images we mark on maps for authenticity. Maybe adulthood and success were at different spots in maps. I am recognizing my own path. Like Margo, I get to redefine myself while others are locked in their paper towns and paper lives, paper relationships. And, I am careful not to say it in a judgmental way. Some people like being hamsters on a treadmill–an eyes on the prize mentality driving them.

I don’t.

“Isn’t there something that can make you happy now?”

Her Story to tell

And, I think this ties back to the Fault in Our Stars, and every John Green book I have ever loved (read: all of them). It’s about leaving a legacy. But it is not about making financial gains, or some sort of tangible effect on the world necessarily. I know so many ex-classmates who will do great things. On the other hand, I recognize that I have mental illness, and it sways my perception of the world quite a bit. My priorities are different. If I have carried myself with grace and kindness, if I was brave and creative, if I was sincere in my interactions and open about my insecurities, I am happy. I am happy if I am open with God and loving His creation. And, I know not everyone agrees with my faith. So, it’s part of my mission, too, to be inclusive and loving of people no matter how different we may be.

You know, I tried expressing my own freedom for social norms by doing all kinds of weird things.  Now, I am trying to quiet down, and listen up close to what truly speaks to me deeply. That is what Margo would do.

And Gus.

And Hazel.

Even Alaska would agree.

 

I have been wanting to discuss mental illness, and its complex nature, for a while
It's been a while since we have had a discussion. Have a seat. Let's talk
I posted this discussion regarding queer characters in some popular shows. My point is that

Mental Illness As a Person of Color

I have been wanting to discuss mental illness, and its complex nature, for a while now. So, I decided to give it a try. For this post, I’d like to take a look at mental illness from the perspective of a woman of color (like me).

History

Part of the issue that I faced early on in my illness was the lack of information. Essentially, there is no transparency when it comes to discussing these illnesses. No one talks about it at home. If anything, those who are mentally ill are presented as “scary” and “weird.”

So, I remember suppressing my depression, hiding my scars, and not sharing that I get manic episodes ever. In a way, I feel like mental illness is almost kept at arms’ length. Other people get mental illness. Not us.

Suppressing the Symptoms

I think part of the issue is that there is a lot of complications with the symptoms. You just don’t know what to look for, as a person, because there is no education in regards to these illnesses. No one at home talks about it, and no one at school talks about it. You undermine what’s going on.

Even worse is the suppressing of these symptoms. Like, I would go weeks eating normal, and then binge, then starve myself. And so on. Try as I may, I would keep trying to “grow up,” to be in control, to behave like a “normal” person. I’d be crying while manic, because I had no idea what was going on and how to stop it.

Entrapment

But it goes beyond this. In the middle east (In Egypt, at least), there is no school counselor. There is no doctor to refer you to a psychiatrist. You only go to a doctor when you’re sick. Even then, doctors are not trained to notice signs. Besides, patients are too scared to say anything. I never spoke about my issues to anyone while living in Egypt because I was afraid of what may be done to me. Because there is no dialogue regarding mental illness, the assumption is that the divergence in behavior simply results in exclusion.

Even if there is a psychiatrist, there is no bond of maintaining privacy. Basically, the more you talk about things with someone, the more likely you are to have a “scandal.” There is no such thing as health insurance there, so prices are way higher for psychiatrists and it is hard to maintain appointments.

To me, I felt trapped. I didn’t even know that therapy was an option until I was in grad school in California. That’s when my psychotic episodes would get me terrified to do the simplest things.

Privilege

Unfortunately, because there’s very little representation (if any) in the media of brown people going to therapy, people assume that it’s a very privileged thing to do. Same thing with yoga and meditation.

Often, I get these weird reminders of my counterparts in other countries and how they suffer. The implied message being, how dare you be unhappy or uncomfortable, or downright miserable when you are lucky and privileged? 

It often extends beyond this and even more into shaming, because, “you have so much help right now. Shouldn’t you get it together already?” 

Finally:

Five years of therapy and I still don’t know how to process this complicated nature of mental illness. But, I do think that we need to share dialogue: raw, honest, and open conversations regarding cultures other than the mainstream in relation to mental illness.

I don’t have any of the “answers.” In fact, I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer here.

 

                When I had initially read Paper Towns, I was
It's been a while since we have had a discussion. Have a seat. Let's talk
I posted this discussion regarding queer characters in some popular shows. My point is that

Discussion: Shame-Based Narratives and Mental Illness

It’s been a while since we have had a discussion. Have a seat. Let’s talk about the shame-based narrative that is prominent in discussions of mental illness.

The Assumption

Many people assume that if they “find out” about someone’s mental illness, they have the upper hand. I have encountered people shaming their significant others for coming from a family where mental illness is prominent.

I have also met people who shut down when I discuss my mental illnesses. Sharing how mental illness affects life, to me, is the most liberating form of expression, because mental illness drags you inwards. It makes it hard to communicate as fear of judgment collapses bridges.

It is this shaming that I want to discuss today. As people hear more about mental illness, the assumptions are that it’s a “snow flake” thing. Some people assume that is a weakness to be wired differently.

However, for the most part, the most damaging assumption I have noticed directed at people with mental illness is “get over it,” “you think you have it bad? Think of so and so,” or “you take pills, you have no excuse,” or straight up, “You have no excuse.”

Even worse, there is the assumption that mental illness means locking up the person in some psych ward for the rest of their lives. In saying things like this, the underlining message is that “normal lives” have no room for people with mental illness.

Doing this pushes people into seclusion, into staying mum about their mental illness, which simply allows the dialogue to be negative, and dishearteningly so.

But Maybe…

Maybe it’s time we view mental illness as a packaged deal. It’s not wholly negative, nor is it positive entirely. The thing to consider is that there’s nothing unequivocally good or bad. There’re elements of good and bad within every experience.

I was reading an article about a psychiatrist who was hopsitalized for six years due to her mental illness, and that this experience helped her become a more effective psychotherapist. But, the way patients talk about this past, it’s all about shame. “I know your secret.”

It’s as if having a mental illness delegitmatizes her status as a psychotherapist. But, the doctor shares that the hospitalization helped her with psychoanalysis. It helped her connect with patients.

Otherwise

The more we sweep mental illness under the rug, the more desperate people become to hide it. Suicide, self harm, secrecy, avoidance: these are just some of the coping mechanisms people will resort to.

No one wants to be dismissed as a professional person, as a romantic significant other, or as a friend, family member, because they’re mentally ill. And, yes, we can rephrase the word “mental illness” and say things like “Mood disorder,” sure. But, that does not remove the stigma and people haven’t stopped shaming others for being different.

Mental illness is not a death sentence. I remember way back in 2012, when I was told that I was very, very sick, I thought it’d be the end of my life. I was ashamed that I couldn’t have hidden my illnesses for much longer. Moreover, I was ashamed because I needed medication, and even with medication, things were really tough. I was ashamed of being admitted into a psych ward.

And, you know what? I think mental illness, and seeking out help, gives you a different perspective on life. To me, it’s made me more self aware and reflective. It’s the motivation for constant revamping and reshaping old habits into newer and healthier approaches to life.

                When I had initially read Paper Towns, I was
I have been wanting to discuss mental illness, and its complex nature, for a while
I posted this discussion regarding queer characters in some popular shows. My point is that

Vagueness in Including Queer Characters

I posted this discussion regarding queer characters in some popular shows. My point is that there is a certain kind of vagueness in the inclusion of queer characters in shows. I obviously don’t mean to use queer as a derogatory term. As an aro ace person, I identify as queer. It is a term I feel comfortable using. Let’s begin the discussion.

Projecting, but Never Canon

This is a common implied message I have noticed in many statements made by content creators. For instance, take a look at Andrew Scott responding to questions regarding Moriarty’s sexuality.

His reply is double sided. On the one hand, it is okay for people to project whichever identifiers they may have onto the character. However, and this is kind of implied, it will never be canon.

My frustration with this sentiment is in its favoring of “traditional” sexuality (“heterosexual.”). For example, in Sherlock, Sherlock/Irene and John/Mary are presented as canon. The rest is simply hinted at. The question is, why not include queer characters if you are going to claim to be inclusive?

Condescending and Mocking

I have noticed a lot of mocking from actors when faced with questions regarding their characters’ sexuality. For example, take a look at the Supernatural cast discussing Dean/Castiel’s relationship.  One actor says, “That is some weird sh**.”    And, “You don’t want any part of that.” Here is another video where another actor talks about the supposed growth in slash fanvideo and fanfiction in which he calls it, “fuc*ed up but it is nice.” 

It’s like shipping queer relationships is trouble or an inconvenience. I am not a fan of the show, but I can tell that it’s about angels and demons. If you are dealing with the supernatural, how on earth is it trouble to include queer characters? Is it really a stretch of the imagination for a main character to identify as queer?

Discomfort

It boils down to inherent phobic responses to queer relationships due to ignorance. For instance, the actors in the show Merlin tend to avoid the most common ship for the show, Merlin/Arthur.

In response to this ship, Katie McGrath calls it “genius,” and then drops a comment, “I am not sure Bradley and Colin feel the same way.” She continues to dismiss the romance. Again, it is like a homosexual relationship is an insult to the actors and characters.

Why It Matters

This ignorance and negative attitude towards playing queer characters makes it hard to find queer representation in the media. The vagueness in the inclusion of queer characters makes it harder to: 1) Identify as such in real life, 2) Create dialogue regarding prejudice in the LGBT+ community.

 

 

                When I had initially read Paper Towns, I was
I have been wanting to discuss mental illness, and its complex nature, for a while
It's been a while since we have had a discussion. Have a seat. Let's talk

Disc.: Disability and Representation

Before getting sick, I didn’t think much about disability. I assumed that all disabled people are easy to spot. I also thought they didn’t want attention; they have been disabled all their lives (this is very embarrassing. Keep reading).

Oh, the embarrassment of seeing a seizure for the first time and just standing there helpless and confused. Also: yes, the irony of me getting a seizure disorder later on, that hasn’t escaped me.

What Changed?

I got sick. At first, I was angry because I thought I was too smart to get sick in the head. Depression, anxiety, and psychotic episodes all within 5 years into my twenties.

Even then, years later, I started understanding the complexities of disability and its representations in media and literature. I realized that not every disabled person knows what they need. And, even if they do, there’s a tremendous pressure to act “normal.”

Representation

For whatever reason, the media reduces people to simple “visible” disabilities. “Oh, look, he needs a wheelchair. He’s got a ramp. Problem solved!” There is zero representation of people with disabilities as central characters. One enraging example is Quinn in Glee, who was paralyzed momentarily for texting and driving. It’s like disability is the worst thing that could happen to a person.

Another example is in Me Before You, where Will wants to kill himself for being disabled. I just want to see movies about disabled people living and functioning on their own terms.

Flaws in the Representation

There are so many flaws in how the media approaches us as a group of people.  For instance, why are we presented as these wholesome characters? Or, by the same token, we are vilified? Disability doesn’t make you inherently evil or wholesome. There’re shades of grey here, not just black or white.

It’s not a cause for personal development. We have other things in our lives besides our disabilities. There are disabled athletes, parents, speakers, entrepreneurs.

This reminds me of another point: not everyone has an accident that makes them disabled. It’s not a punishment from God for sinning or something. Sometimes, your body does weird things. It’s sometime genetics or circumstance.

Also: can we not assume that disabled people are infants? This goes back to the wholesome image idea. There are lots of high-functioning disabled people who can handle taking care of their own for the most part. Some disabled people can’t do that, but this doesn’t disqualify them as adults or humans overall. People act a certain way because there’s a logical explanation. I truly believe that. Don’t dismiss it as “craziness.”

Overall, we need more complexity in how disability is represented. Disabled folks aren’t disabled bodies only. Moreover, being disabled doesn’t make someone any less interesting or worthy of success, respect, or representation.

Why Representation Matters

Look, it matters. When I got sick initially, I thought I was going to get sent to a psych ward forever because that’s all the media had taught me. I thought of the mad woman in Jane Eyre. I thought of Lenny in Of Mice and Men. I thought of how much I’d stand out and how everyone would be ashamed of me for the rest of my life.  I thought of how I could be like David Foster Wallace, Virginia Woolf, Ned Vizzini, who couldn’t live a long happy life because of their mental illnesses.

In other words, I grew up thinking that I’d have to die, because I wasn’t “normal.” Normal people get regular jobs, move out, get married, have children.

I thought of how there’d be no story to tell about me, no legacy, because no one writes stories, good, exciting, and worthwhile stories about anyone with a disability. If/when they do, it’s all about their disability, and how they “conquer” it.

The truth is, you don’t need to defeat the disability. That’s like fighting your own skin and trying to get new skin instead. No, man, no. Don’t do that. And don’t expect anyone to change themselves, fake their life to fit into a box of able-ism.

For More:

–“Disability Critical Analysis”

–“Dis-Course: Disability Representation in the Media (Part 1)” 

                When I had initially read Paper Towns, I was
I have been wanting to discuss mental illness, and its complex nature, for a while
It's been a while since we have had a discussion. Have a seat. Let's talk

Disc.: Facebook, Social Media, and Mental Illness

Social media is rarely seen with a concentration on mental illness. It is fascinating to think of it under the mental health lens because of its prevalence. Those not on social media are often seen with judgment and concern. The norm is to be on the Internet. In other words, to be connected to strangers, family, friends and coworkers. The point of this post is not so much to chastise or condone the use of social media. After all, this is cross-posted all over social media. What I am suggesting is perhaps a change in how we use and regard it.

Comparisons and Competitions

What comes with an influx of information is comparisons and competitions. I have seen so many posts about self harm, and starvation, encouraging eating disorders and fostering mental illnesses, rather than suggesting help. There were so many times where I felt like I wasn’t “sick enough” to go to a doctor, and it wasn’t until family and friends sat me down and dispelled these ideas out of my head that I went to get professional assistance. It’s good that some websites are starting to suggest that there is help out there for those who need it, but this is only when certain keywords are used in a search bar. Unfortunately, there are too many keywords that can be used to find the disturbing material worsening a person’s illness.

Endless Scrolling

Availability of endless content can be helpful because it can lead to awareness but it can also be a distraction and deterrent of productivity. I know that when depression hits, it can be extra hard to stay focused on one task rather than aimlessly watching YouTube videos or reblogging images and quotes on Tumblr. It makes things much worse when you’re already feeling unproductive or unfocused.

Like for Like?

The way the Internet works is through constant approval: people want likes, shares, comments, and it is so hard to get accustomed to having no audience to your work. With that said, there is also the way people feel more honest when they’re not judged by their appearance. I have met like-minded people on the Internet because we shared interests or hobbies. But, there’s also the exposure to trolls on the Internet, who bully people mercilessly and brutally. Too many lives have been lost because people were incessantly mocked. It comes with the territory of being anonymous online.

Being compassionate, open minded, and accepting would help a lot on the Internet. Extending kindness to others is crucial as mental health is difficult as it is, and every bit of support helps tremendously.

For More:
While it is endearing,  My Big Fat Greek Wedding relies on stereotypes to communicate the difference
When I approached Since You've Been Gone, I slacked and hesitated. Then, one night, I
In order to minimize the effects of collision the ground, it is helpful to try