Shattering Stigma as Book Advocates [Guest Post at It Starts at Midnight]

Today, I’m honored to be over on my lovely friend Shannon’s blog, talking about the power of book advocates to break the stigma of mental illness.

ShatteringStigmas-2-e1472245713311It begins:

My young adult novel Truest, which came out last year with HarperCollins, features a teenager with a depersonalization disorder that makes her question whether real life is actually real—or if she is just dreaming it all. To me, it’s a compelling concept, sparking thoughts around philosophy, reality, and the nature of existence, not to mention mental illness and depression. Although I’m not a doctor or psychologist, I still felt qualified to write this story. Why? Because I dealt with solipsism syndrome myself.

To read the rest, click here! Thanks for taking the extra time to hop over and read my thoughts.



Schrödinger’s Book

neil gaiman maybe


I think this might be from a Neil Gaiman book.  In any case, it’s funny.  To me.

On the other hand, it would send my character Laurel (from Truest) into a manic spiral.  The many-worlds interpretation does not sit so well with her.

Semi-related posts:
Solipsism Syndrome, Anyone?
More Thoughts on Solipsism Syndrome

dream argument

I could have guessed the tiny Green Lake Library in City Hall wouldn’t have any Billy Collins books.  I asked Janice Boggs, the librarian, to request a few from another branch, then headed out to Legacy House, since Gordon Leimbach had a book collection to rival the library.

“Billy Collins, you say?” he asked.  “I know I have a few of his collections, over there on the middle shelf of the barrister—just go ahead and lift the knob.  The whole glass front panel swings out and tucks right back into the shelf.  See anything there?”

Through the glass fronts of the antique bookcase, I could see the whole thing was dedicated to poetry. Langston Hughes and John Keats.  Calvin Miller.  Robert Frost.  Dickinson and Whitman and Donne.  I saw a few books by Collins, took one off the shelf, then closed the barrister behind me and sat down on Gordon’s couch.  He sat in his rocker and started to pack his pipe.

“Gordon, why do you keep so many books around if you can’t see the pages anymore?”

“They’re just good company,” he said simply.  “Read something aloud, would you?”

I chose a poem called “The First Dream,” which ended with a woman puzzling over her original experience of the phenomenon.  I could hear my voice listing with her as I read:

except that the curve of her young shoulders
and the tilt of her downcast head
would make her appear to be terribly alone,
and if you were there to notice this,

you might have gone down as the first person
to ever fall in love with the sadness of another.

“Brilliant,” said Gordon, pipe now between his teeth, dark glasses on, looking for all the world like some jazz hepcat.  “Mmm.  Brilliant.  Yes?”

“Yes,” I agreed.

“Makes me think of the week on August Arms all about dreams.  Back in, oh, maybe January or February, remember?”

“I do.”  It had been a fascinating week in which I had learned that the faces we see in dreams are all ones we have seen in real life and that those who have gone blind after birth can still dream in images.  Gordon had told me then that his late wife Mavis was the one face that had never faded from his memory after he’d lost his sight.

But Gordon was thinking of a different episode.  “René Descartes’s dream argument,” he said.  “I can’t remember if we discussed it.”

“Briefly,” I said.  “I’m not much of a philosopher.”

Gordon smiled.  “I just find think it’s fascinating, the way people can sort these massive existential topics into numbered statements.  One, if I have experiences in waking life similar to the ones I have in dream life, and two, there is nothing to help me distinguish between the two, then three, it is possible I am dreaming now.”

“Oh, that,” I said, his words prompting a distant recollection.  “I sort of remember that episode.  I guess I never understood why he thought it was so important to go there—you know, to take it that far.”

“Well,” said Gordon, now in his professorial element, “he was trying to establish doubt.  Universal doubt.  You know his famous statement, ‘I think; therefore, I am’?”


“It was all en route to arriving at that point, which we call the Cogito.  If you strip things down and start with the Cogito, then your philosophy—however you re-build it—is not connected to tradition.”

“But is that a good thing?” I asked, doubtfully.  “I’m not so sure.”

Gordon grinned with pride.  “And you say you’re not a philosopher.”

more thoughts on solipsism syndrome

Solipsism syndrome is a psychological state wherein a person feels that the world is not “real.”  It is only marginally related to the philosophical idea of solipsism (only knowing that you yourself exist and having no way to know with certainty that anyone else does).

All of this intrigues me because I myself went through a period of time where I was very detached from real life.  In fact, for a time, I honestly wondered if people were really demons who wanted to somehow trick me into hell.  There was a part of me that knew it was completely ludicrous.  But I couldn’t let go of the idea that I was somehow stuck in my own personal Truman Show hell.  I was withdrawn from everyone, living in fear and distrust, sadness and loneliness.

In my completely unprofessional and completely personal opinion, solipsism syndrome has a large connection to Pure O OCD.  I am writing a story about a young lady with solipsism syndrome, and to me, it just SCREAMS, “Pure O!” over and over.

To me, the key to putting both OCD and solipsism syndrome under one’s foot is learning to embrace uncertainty. 

It sounds so simple, but it’s incredibly hard to do.  Cognitive-behavioral therapy was the tool in my life that helped me to do this.

Introducing my new novel!

Soooo … did you know that I am working on my second novel?  This time around it is young adult literature.  I’ve read a lot of YA lit, but this is my first real attempt at writing it.  I thought I’d introduce you to my story and see what you think.  Any and all feedback is welcome!


Once a month, my dad takes holy communion to the members of our church who aren’t able to make it to Sunday services.  Most are older folks from Legacy House, the assisted living home in town, but some are those whose wings have been temporarily clipped by bronchitis or a broken hip.  Dad, Pastor Kerry Beck of Green Lake Community Church, reads from the Bible before he shares communion with them.  A striking number of them manage to spill their tiny little plastic cups—miniature shot glasses, really—of grape juice on their shirts, and when they take the tab of bread, they seem to chew it and chew it as if it were a steak.

This particular day, the second Sunday in June, I tagged along on his communion route.  What else was there to do?  The day before I’d waved goodbye to my best friend Trudy, who was abandoning me our last summer before senior year for a counselor-in-training position at a Wisconsin adventure camp.  She drove east toward the Saturday morning sun and the land of the cheeseheads while I sat dejected on my front porch, a stack of already-stamped postcards addressed to Trudy Kirkwood, in care of Camp Summit, resting on my knees.  Without her, I’d been bored within an hour.

And besides, a few concentrated hours with my father was like accidentally finding a diamond in your cereal box.  Pastor, city council member, and coach of my brother’s summer t-ball team—I barely saw him unless he was behind the pulpit or yelling “stay on second!” to third-graders with poor athletic judgment.

At Legacy House, Dad and I first visited Betty Thorman, who uses a walker around her apartment—the kind with the tennis balls on the back legs for easier gliding, and also Marcheline Von Wald, who has dementia and sometimes thinks I’m her daughter, which always creeps me out a little bit, to be honest.  But it’s worth it, because I know the next stop is always Gordon’s apartment.

Gordon Leimbach is blind and closing in on ninety but still sharp as a tack from his days as a university professor.  He sits in his rocking chair and listens to audio books most of the day.  He even smokes a pipe, which absolutely delights me.  I picture him as a sightless Oxford don.

When Gordon answered his door, he knew who’d come to visit.  “Welcome, welcome!  Hello Pastor Beck.  Is that Westie-girl with you today?”

“I’m here, Gordon,” I said.

“Come on in,” he said.  He walked confidently—if not a little hunched—back into his living room and sat down in his rocker.  Gordon knew the layout of his apartment perfectly well, so long as no one moved anything.  “Westie, what did you think of Wednesday’s broadcast?”

My dad rolled his eyes good-naturedly at the companionship between me and Gordon, who shared a love for a weeknight radio talk show called August Arms, a half-hour story collection.  “Was that the one about the stuntman from Canada?” I asked.

“No, no, that was Thursday.  Wednesday was the story on the hummingbird.  Pastor Beck, did West here tell you that hummingbirds are the only birds who can fly backward?”  Gordon wore dark black glasses and kept his silver hair short.

“She did not,” said my dad, who was always amused by Gordon.

I tossed my two-cents in.  “And their wings move in the pattern of the infinity circle.  And on really cold nights, they go into this weird temporary hibernation.”

“Yep,” agreed Gordon, “and some people think seeing a hummingbird means someone you know is going to die soon.”

I drew a line across my neck, making the characteristic noise of a cut throat, and hung out my tongue as if to demonstrate.  Gordon laughed.  “I can picture the face you’re making!” he said.

“Yeah, it’s lovely,” my dad deadpanned as he smiled.  “So, what have you been up to, Gordon?”

“Always learning, Pastor Beck.  Always learning.  Just started teaching myself Spanish through the YouTube.  And listening to The Chronicles of Narnia on compact disc and dreaming about heaven and seeing Mavis again.  El señor, prisa el día.

The YouTube.  Compact disc.  You had to love Gordon.

“Westie, will I see you much this summer?” Gordon asked me.  “I mean, of course, figuratively.”

I laughed.  “I’ll be around.”

“Car detailing again?”

“I guess,” I said.

“She’s bummed because the Tru part of TruWest Detailing is spending the summer in Wisconsin,” my dad explained.

“Trudy’s at an adventure camp,” I disparaged.  “She left me friendless and without a business partner.”

“Haven’t you learned anything from August Arms and all your reading, Westie?”  I waited.  “With a set-up like that—static in the air—lightning is bound to strike.”


I thought we’d head home after the Legacy House, but Dad said there was one more stop.

“Oh,” I said.  “Where at?”

“Some new folks in town,” he said.  “The Harts.  Just moved into the old Griggs house over in Heaton Ridge.”

“All right.”

The town of Green Lake, Minnesota, is shaped like a right-handed mitten—our church and house, as well as downtown, is within the palm, and the more residential area is where the fingers would be.  The long thumb is called Heaton Ridge, the pricey part of town, and the actual lake for which the town is named is nestled in the crook of the thumb like webbing.  Green River flows out of Green Lake and cuts across like a thumb-ring, so that anyone going into or out of Heaton Ridge has to take a bridge.  It’s like their own version of a gated community.

The old Griggs house—or rather, the new Hart house—was nice in comparison to most of the other houses in Green Lake, even amongst those in Heaton Ridge.  Mr. Griggs had invented some sort of clamp that was used in the farming community, and the royalties from that alone were more than the Griggs family needed to live on.  But when Mrs. Griggs’s lupus got out of control, the family moved to Arizona for the warmer weather, and the house had sat empty for the last year and a half.  No one in town could afford it.

It was a relatively new home—about 15-20 years old—and nice but not ludicrous.  It dwarfed the other homes in the neighborhood and was rumored to have a rooftop patio with a custom masonry fire pit worth twelve thousand dollars.  So maybe mildly ludicrous.

We rang the doorbell and waited.  Inside, I could hear a voice yell, “Got it!” and footsteps approaching.  The huge oak door opened, and there stood the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen in my life.  A perfect jawline, incredible lips, and a thick, dark mop of hair that made him look like some kind of 21st century teenage Beatle.  His cheerful eyes looked at us as if we’d come a-caroling.

“Hey there.  You must be Silas!” my dad said.  “Kerry Beck.  This is my daughter West.”

Hi,” I said, wide-eyed.  “I’m West.”

Silas laughed at my redudancy.  “So I’ve heard!  Come on in.  Mom!  Dad!”  He was tall—maybe six-foot-two or  -three—and he wore a well-worn t-shirt that said “PRACTICE SAFE LUNCH: Use a Condiment,” which seemed a little out of place in this house but made me giggle.  “Sunroom is this way.”

Silas led me and Dad into the “sunroom”—which was the humble word for what was actually an extravagant conservatory: glass-paned walls and ceiling, vaulted and with white beams.  There was the palest bamboo floor, a white rug made of something suspiciously like polar bear fur, and perfect white wicker furniture.  Sitting on the couch was a princess.

I blinked.  The girl was young—about my age—and she offered a faint smile to me and my dad.  Her hair was the color of golden honey, and with the afternoon sun shining down through the conservatory ceiling panels, she was glowing like an angel.  She had perfect peach lips, high cheekbones, dramatic eyebrows, and a pale oval face.  I was so thrown by her stunning presence that it took me several moments to realize that this princess was wearing sweat pants.

“Hi Pastor Beck,” said Mr. Hart, stepping into the sunroom with his wife.  He nodded toward his daughter.  “This is—”

“Laurel,” she said, and she held out her hand to shake my father’s hand, although she didn’t stand up.  I wondered if she was paralyzed or something.  Then she turned toward me.  “Hi,” she said, still that slight smile on her face.  Her eyes looked deep into mine for a moment, but then they looked sad, almost hollow, and she looked away.

“I’m West,” I muttered.  “Nice to meet you.”

Everything felt surreal, as if I’d entered some dreamlike fairytale upon entering the sunroom—but then Mrs. Hart put a hand on my shoulder.  “West, good to meet you, sweetie,” she said.  “It was good of you and your father to come.  Silas, why don’t you and West go have fun, and Dad and I will stay here with Laurel and Pastor Beck?”  Go have fun—it reminded me of what my mom would say to me and my sister Libby when we were little.  Go outside.  Play nice.  Mrs. West noticed Silas’s t-shirt, rolled her eyes, and said, “You couldn’t have changed?”

Silas laughed.  “Come on,” he said to me.  “Let’s go upstairs.”

Gosh, he didn’t have to tell me twice.

“So, how long have you guys been in Green Lake?” I asked, following him back toward the front door and up the stairs that ran along the right wall.  The carpet was so thick that I felt like I was wading.

“Just moved a couple weeks ago.  From Fairbanks.”

Alaska?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Yeah, we’ve lived there for the last three years.  This is my room.”

He opened a door, the second one on the left.  I wasn’t sure what I’d expected to see inside, but it was the room of a teenaged boy.  It was messy—some shirts and jeans lying on the floor, and a pair of boxers, from which I quickly looked away.  There was a small TV in the corner of the room and beside it, a pizza box with one old slice and some pieces of crust.  His nightstand seemed to have a mix of Sports Illustrated magazines and comic books.  Beside his closet was a huge bookcase, double-lined with books.  “Sorry about the mess,” he said.  “I’d like to say that it’s because of the move, but well … I’m just a slob.  Want to see the roof?”

But I was in his room already, the bookcase drawing me in like a tractor beam.  “You like to read,” I said.  Then, realizing it was the second obvious thing I’d said in the last ten minutes, I blushed.

But Silas laughed—clear, buoyant—and sat down on his bed, watching me peruse his titles.  “I do like to read, This-is-West-my-name-is-West.”

I rolled my eyes, but it was all good natured.  “How did you get so many books?”

“Growing up in the Hart family, you got books instead of toys.  I guess it stuck.”

“What’s your favorite?”

“Mmmm,” he said.  “Billy Collins.  Heard of him?”

I nodded.  “He’s a poet, right?”  I narrowed my eyes at Silas skeptically.  “Really?”  I didn’t know any teenagers who read poetry—I didn’t even read poetry, and I read more than anyone I knew.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” he promised, still grinning where he sat on the bed.  Behind Silas’s head, hanging on the wall over his bed, were posters.  One said, “NOTICE” in official-looking red letters across the top, and beneath it ran the words, “Thank you for noticing this notice.  Your noting it has been noted.”  Beside it was poster of an orange (yes, the fruit) looking in horror at a glass of orange juice and saying, “Mom??”  In the corner of the room was a full-sized cardboard cutout of Darth Vader.

“Does Vader like to watch you sleep?” I teased, nodding toward the cutout.

“Nah,” said Silas, “but he joins me in bed and puts his head on my chest.  We both fall asleep to the sound his ventilated breathing.  It’s very soothing.”

I laughed.

Looking back at the shelves, I noticed a wide range—from Louis Sachar to John Steinbeck.  And Donovan Trick.  “What did you think of Collier?” I asked.

“It was good.  Actually, if it’s on that bookcase, it got my thumbs up.  I sell everything else on eBay.  I can’t stand to have crap lying around in my room.”

I gestured to the mess on his floor.  “I don’t quite believe you.”

Silas laughed and shrugged.  “You got me,” he said.  “So, are you a reader or do you write too?”

“Just a reader.”

“You’re lucky,” he said.  When I raised my eyebrows, he said, “Readers can just enjoy.  Writers enjoy a great sentence for about a minute, then we’re so envious we either want the incredible writer to die or we want to kill ourselves because we figure we’ll never write a sentence as good.  Or maybe that’s just me.”

“Do you listen to August Arms?” I asked.

“Huh?  Is that a band?”

“It’s a radio show.  It comes from Collier—you know that part where he says, ‘Stories are our most august arms against the darkness’?  The show is cool, just full of interesting stories.  You’d like it.  You know, or want to kill yourself.”  We both laughed.

I sat down on the edge of his bed.  “So what’s with Laurel?” I asked.  “Can she walk?”

He scowled.  He had a tiny freckle on his left cheek.  “Yes.  She’s fine.”

“Oh,” I retreated.  “Sorry.  We just—sorry.”

Silas shrugged and seemed to soften.  “It’s fine,” he said.  “I’m just protective; Laurel’s my twin sister.  It was really good of your dad to bring over communion.  Body and the Blood.  Good stuff.”

I was used to my dad using church phrases like that—but no one my own age talked that way.  “How old are you?” I asked him, suspiciously.

“Seventeen.  You?”


I was looking hard at Silas Hart.  His cheekbones were high like Laurel’s, his eyebrows rapacious, and his eyes a dark, dark brown that looked just as alive as Laurel’s had looked hollow.  “What?” he asked, but this time his voice was cheerful again, almost teasing.

“West!” I heard my dad shout up the stairs.  “Ready to go?”

Silas and I walked down the stairs.  I glanced back down the hall in the direction of the sunroom, hoping to see Laurel again, as if she were an oddity, but the couch was empty.

“Silas, good to meet you today.  I hope we’ll see you at church next week too?” my dad asked.

“With bells on, sir,” Silas promised.

“Glad you got to meet Westlin,” Dad said.  “Maybe she can show you what’s fun in Green Lake, introduce you to some of her friends.”

“Maybe she can show me where to find a decent summer job,” he said to my dad, but glanced at me with a smile.  “That’s my first priority.”

“West here makes pretty good money doing car detailing in the summer, and she’s short a business partner and needing some help.”

Both Dad and Silas looked at me.  “You interested?” I squeaked out.


“We start tomorrow morning at nine in my driveway.  We’re in the parsonage by the community church.  Wear junky clothes.”

Silas pointed to his condiments t-shirt with a smirk.  “I’ll be there at five to.”


Dear Tru,

I met twins today—secrecy and spirit, dark and light.

Love, West

This is how I picture Silas Hart.

solipsism syndrome, anyone?

Solipsism syndrome is a condition where a person believes that everything she is experiencing is a dream, is inside her head.  She believes that reality is not real.  She believes that others either don’t exist or that their existence can never be proven.

I have been doing a lot of research on SS lately (for a story I am writing, not because I have been feeling this way), and it is fascinating.

In my wildest OCD days, this idea would sometimes come to me in one variation or another.  Some days I would wonder if everything I had “experienced” up until that point was actually a very intricate dream– and when I finally woke up, I would only be a toddler.

I would imagine that everyone who truly entertains ideas like these must either be Pure O or an astronaut.  But what do I know?

Solipsism syndrome is hard to argue with– the solipsist will always win any debate, because in the end, she can simply dismiss you– since, of course, you don’t really exist.  People affected by this obviously become very withdrawn and experience incredible loneliness.  Some people probably think of this idea and can easily dismiss it (it doesn’t feel like I’m living a dream, so I’m just not going to worry about it), but obsessive-compulsives don’t work like that.  We hold on.  We strangle thoughts.  Or let them strangle us.

So, blogging community, here are my questions for you:
* Have you ever experienced anything like this?  What was it like for you?
* What helped you to feel less alone?
* Care to share some experiences?

Because SS is not recognized as a psychiatric disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, I am relying on human experiences for much of my research!