Guest Post: Author Tanya Peterson Discusses Mental Health Awareness and Making Time to Write

Today we have a guest post by author Tanya J. Peterson, who is on book tour for her just published novel, Leave of Absence.  Her fiction novel encompasses the issues of mental illness and she hopes to create awareness and break down barriers with her work. In the guest post, Tanya tells us why she wrote the book and then gives us insight and advice into how to make time for ourselves for things like pursuing our dreams, without feeling guilty……writing included!

You can view a synopsis of the book and her information at the end of the post. Stop back by the next two Fridays here to see a review of the book and then an exclusive interview. Take it away, Tanya….

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Time for a Mission
Guest Post by Tanya J. Peterson, Author of Leave of Absence

Tanya PetersonI have a mission in life:  to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.  Doing this involves correcting the negative stereotypes that are perpetuated by mainstream media and helping people understand what various mental illnesses are really like.  Doing this will increase understanding, and with understanding comes compassion. 

I’m joining lots of others in this mission, of course, and we all have unique things to offer.  I’m drawing on my background, my life experience, and my love of writing, and I’ve rolled them all together to create Leave of Absence.  In the novel, Penelope Baker wrestles with schizophrenia and depression and the devastating impact these illnesses have had on her life.  Oliver Graham experiences post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and complicated mourning in the wake of the traumatic loss of his wife and son.  (I won’t say more so I don’t infringe upon Erin’s review or inadvertently create a spoiler!)

I drew on my background and experience to make these characters realistic.  One of my goals is to correct the misconceptions and stereotypes that are out there, so I figured that I’d better be accurate.  The background and experience to which I’ve referred is this:  I’ve experienced mental illness from the perspective of a counselor and the perspective of a patient.  I have a degree in counseling and am a Nationally Certified Counselor, and I’ve worked with people to help them help themselves.  I’m also a patient.  I have Bipolar I disorder.  I’ve even been in a behavioral health hospital on several occasions in the past.  That was extremely helpful in depicting Airhaven, the behavioral health center that is the setting for much of Leave of Absence. Airhaven and the characters there are definitely fictitious, but I drew on the reality of my own experience to paint a picture of life in a behavioral health hospital.

I’m really happy that I finally took a chance and dove headfirst into my passions.  I’ve wanted to write for a very long time, but until recently I pushed my dream aside.  Real life and its responsibilities kept getting in the way.  To be sure, much of that was by choice.  I wanted to have a family, and I have two wonderful children with my husband.  Kids, marriage, and a career are time-consuming.  Originally, I was a high school teacher; later, I was an at-home mom who volunteered in schools, led a Cub Scout den, and did ordinary mothering tasks. During this time, I did write a novel (It’s a YA novel entitled Losing Elizabeth, which I published last year using CreateSpace.  I like its message about an emotionally abusive relationship, but I don’t consider myself a strong YA author.  I did learn a lot about publishing from that experience.)  I really, really enjoyed writing that novel, but it required a lot of my time, and I felt guilty devoting so much of my energy to it rather than to my family.  At the time, I saw it as an either-or type of thing:  either I was a writer or a mother, but certainly not both at the same time. 

Then, I suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, entered graduate school for counseling, was diagnosed (in the hospital I mentioned above) with Bipolar I disorder (not caused by the injury), graduated, worked and volunteered as a counselor, moved across the country, and worked at a school for runaway and homeless adolescents (my official title was teacher, but only two of us worked in a school of approximately 45 students who attended when they could, and I played dual role of teacher and counselor).  During this time, as I experienced the consequences of stigma and helped others who also faced this stigma, my passion to change things grew.  And my love of writing and desire to write novels also grew. 

Yet I was still a busy mother.  Certainly I should continue to put my own desires on hold.  I found it increasingly difficult, though, to ignore the desire to write novels and create characters to whom people could connect.  I wanted to use my characters to show what mental illness and its stigma are really like.  Then I had an epiphany.  As a mother, I could do a tremendous service to my kids by modeling the fact that women, mothers can indeed follow their dreams.  As important as it is for me to provide this service to my children, even more important is the fact that I’m honoring myself by doing something that makes me happy. 

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “If Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  In my household, that’s very true!  I’m happy when I write.  I’m happy that I’m modeling healthy behavior for my kids.  And I’m happy that I’m pursuing a greater mission:  to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness through character-driven novels like Leave of Absence.

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Leave of Absence Synopsis~

9781592998838 cov.indd“Oliver knew deep in his heart that he would never, ever be better.” In this insightful and evocative novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiancé William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those grappling with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia, as well as anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.

Here’s a link to the video trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-8nJd0jng4

Author Tanya J. Peterson, Biography~

Tanya PetersonTanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor.  She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities.  She draws on her life experience as well as her education to write stories about the emotional aspect of the human condition.  She has published Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship, Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children.

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2 Comments

Filed under Guest Posts

2 responses to “Guest Post: Author Tanya Peterson Discusses Mental Health Awareness and Making Time to Write

  1. Pingback: Tanya J. Peterson Gives Us a Compassionate Look at Mental Health in Her Debut Fiction, Leave of Absence | Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK!

  2. Pingback: Interview with Leave of Absence Author Tanya J. Peterson on her Life, Her Book, and Mental Health Awareness | Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK!

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