Tag Archives: mental health awareness

#HookedOnPoetry: Brian James Lewis Discusses Mental Health & Writing + Shares Three Original Poems @skullsnflames76 #poetry #mentalhealthawareness

Today is the start to another week of the #HookOnPoetry project. I want to introduce you to my friend Brian James Lewis today. He’s no stranger here as he was part of the project last year as well. Brian has something important to talk about today given that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. He talks about how writing has helped him through his depression and how it focuses him to look toward things like being successful with his writing even through disability. I’m really proud of Brian for what he overcomes. I hope you either relate or come to understanding through his essay, and then, enjoy three original poems he worked on for this project. I’m proud to publish them. Join us the rest of this week here, and at Kendall Reviews, for more poetry.

Erin Al-Mehairi

HookedOnPoetry

______________________________________

HAPPY MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH FROM BRIAN JAMES LEWIS aka DAMAGED SKULL WRITER!

Hello everyone! I hope you all are taking the voluntary quarantine due to the Covid-19 Pandemic as an opportunity to read things you didn’t have time for previously or even to spread your wings a bit and try something new! One suggestion that is totally contagion free is issue 49 of The Sirens Call e-Zine. Lots of really good writers, poets, and art in this totally free issue. Check it out!

Writing has become my “second life” after a major accident left me with severe spinal injuries and PTSD. I went from working multiple physical jobs and having physical hobbies, to not being able to do much of anything at all. Previously, I was a pleasant, happy-go-lucky kind of guy who liked to hang out with friends and family. After the accident and its aftermath, chronic pain was a constant problem. I became very depressed and suicidal. I shut out the world and focused on anger and rage about what happened. Things escalated until I was classified as a danger to myself and others. If I’d owned a gun during that time, I would not be here. Writing served as an escape and a place to harness all that negative energy into something better. In fact, my psychologist encouraged me to send work out and attempt to get published. Amazingly enough, I found some takers, got into doing book reviews and… totally lost my grip and fucked everything up. Not exactly the way to be a success. green man pic (2)

Depression took over my life and it brought some friends along. Nothing mattered, medications didn’t do much, and my doctor was about ready to move me into inpatient treatment before I killed myself or ended up homeless. Then a friend of mine committed a carefully planned and really messy suicide by cop. Oddly, that woke me up. Perhaps my friend found the peace he was looking for, but in myself I found that I didn’t really want to go down that road anymore. Overall, it’s been better chasing a dream than working on my own death. Since then, I’ve had to push myself, but things are gradually improving. Through regular mental health care and the right medications, my life is gradually getting better. But the main deal is I write something every day. A lot of those things are poems and a few of them are included here.

“Lunatic Twist” is brand new and a good introduction to dark poetry influenced heavily by depression and anxiety. “Nightmare Suite No. 38” is influenced by H.G. Lovecraft, who got many of his stories through the nightmares that made sleep nearly impossible for him. Last, but certainly not least, is “STOP.” Many of us plagued by mental health issues spend a lot of time thinking about suicide. Since our brains aren’t working right, ending our lives can look attractive. “You’ll finally be at peace and free” the demons whisper in our ears. But that’s a lie. If we stay alive, we’ve got options and the chance for life to improve. But if we take ourselves out, we’ll be trapped in a personal hell that lasts for all eternity.

In 2014 Trajectory Journal published my poem “Puppeteer” which mixes complicated emotions with fast cars, my love of big women, and fire. Most recently, I’ve appeared in Trajectory Issue 20, The Sirens Call e-Zine issue 49, Ghost, Spirits, and Specters, The Toilet Zone from HellBound Books, and Putrescent Poems Vol. 1, recently out from 42 Books. My work has also appeared in literary journals such as SLAB, Hickory Stump Magazine (w/video!), Third Wednesday, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and The Iconoclast. A lot of my writing over the years has been in reviews, which I’ve been doing since 2016 for Hellnotes, Aphotic Realm, Gallows Hill, and my own site, Damaged Skull Writer. I’m a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA).

I also enjoying bringing vintage typewriters back to life. It’s really a pleasure to be a part of the writing community. Everyone is so supportive and looking to lend a hand which is great! Thanks for reading my work! If you want to say Howdy, don’t be shy. Your best bet is to visit me on Twitter @skullnflames76 and Damaged Skull Writer on Facebook – he just doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing there! For news and reviews, please take a gander and also my website: http://damagedskullwriterandreviewer.com.

_________________________________

scary photo

LUNATIC TWIST
by Brian James Lewis

Nightmares of strange things
Brought on by songs from the past
Echo inside the plastic case
Of my transistor radio that plays

An endless loop of songs
that I once knew until the changes
Made the sound double over
on itself like an angry serpent

Sweet song melodies twisted
into a lunatic laugh track
That frightens my poor brain
Like the carnival fun house

Shaking uncontrollably
Eyes glowing in the dark
I huddle upon my sweaty bed
Wishing it would stop

______________________________________

snake

NIGHTMARE SUITE No. 38
by Brian James Lewis

 

Here

Not here

Dying

Decaying

Falling apart
Falling apart
Falling apart

We

Don’t have it together

Things

Slip

Away

Drift

Apart

Until it’s too late
and your life melts into the gloom
under the highway overpass
Forever

Trapped…trapped…trapped
in the flickering fluorescent lights
Like a ghost on a hot night
Undergoing sublimation

 

Leave me here in the place where I belong
Dark and deep
There is no wrong
Nor any rights

The creature slithers across the tiles

It smells my fear

And it smiles

Knowing that I’ll make a fine meal

I’m a crawling King snake, baby
In your room again
I’m a crawling king snake, baby
In your room again

Open up that door, little girl
and let me come inside
because I wanna boogie
Yeah, I wanna boogie

All night long

All night long

All night long

Until the break of dawn

When the light of dawn hits
everything returns to normal
But that’s a long time to wait
when you’re facing down a monster

Its skin rasps along the asphalt

As the creature moves closer

The drip of saliva is louder than a heartbeat

I try to think brave thoughts before the end

Hoping that the sacrifice of my too short life

Will save the citizens of a city I’ve grown to hate

As the decades slide by the corruption grows

Like cancer of the mountain-tearing it down

Ruining lives and releasing this thing that moves closer

Its greedy maw opens and closes like a hungry bird

Now is the time for me to burst into flame!

Spontaneous combustion has been trained

Into me by the masters, who see all

From their posts in the old subway stations

I’m sure they are watching me now

Whether they will assist me in my fight is unclear

Regardless of what they said at our last meeting

As a piece of Hell incarnate, I grab the fangs and swing

Inside that maw, fighting the devil with fire

Making the huge serpentine body whip

And venomous secretions attempt to drown my flames

We both hurt and I can feel myself bending

Bending

Bending to near breaking

“Mayday! Mayday! The ship is going DOWN!

That’s all I have, I’ve done my best and now…

FLASH! I’m growing into a giant with amazing powers?

The creature explodes as I stretch its body past all limits

With my multiple arms, tentacles, and teeth

It never had a chance against

This monster of the deep

Now I will return to my

Underwater cave and sleep

And return again

When I am needed

___________________________________

ws_Stop_1920x1200

STOP
by Brian James Lewis

Have you ever paced your room
Saying “I should shoot myself in the head?”
If not, good for you! You might just be alright.
But for the rest, who make up a larger number
than we’ll ever admit, I am with you
We are brothers and sisters at arms

Don’t think for a moment
that I’m condoning suicide or self-harm
What I’m saying is that I feel you
and live in the same world of pain
Frustrations, disappointments, loneliness
On that dark, crooked street called life

Sometimes I wonder if intelligence
makes life worse, not better
As was preached to us in grade school
Could ignorance really be bliss?
I watch people in my neighborhood
and they make it appear to be so

The pressure is off if you’re an idiot
or a person with a very set mentality
about what’s right and wrong
Just coasting easily through life
because you don’t care about others
You’re right, they’re wrong. That’s all

Sensitivity to others’ pain
makes us want to end it sometimes
Because there’s only so much a body
can take before it twists and sours
I’ve screamed into the city night
But the demons won’t let go

Though it may not feel like it
you’re not alone in the struggles
to keep sunny side up and hold on
For just one more day, hour, minute
If we kill or cut ourselves-They win
Which makes the demons even stronger

Life is simpler when we’re alone
That’s why many people run away
Unfortunately the pain follows
Like a Bloodhound on your trail
No matter how much you drink and dope
It’ll be waiting when you come down

What happens if you don’t?
Just overdose until it’s final
Trouble is that all your baggage
goes along for the ride with your soul
Once you’ve destroyed your body
There’s no getting free of the toxins

So if you’re pacing the floor
and thinking you should kill yourself
Stop, and remember how that door
will slam shut and leave you stuck
with everything you tried to escape
Except now it’s forever

_____________________________________________

Thanks so much for reading and please consider sharing. What can you do to spread the word about mental health awareness as well as learn to value, appreciate, and work with, as well as help, those who are struggling?

Stop by Kendall Reviews tomorrow for another feature in this poetry project.

pen poetry

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under poetry

Interview with Leave of Absence Author Tanya J. Peterson on her Life, Her Book, and Mental Health Awareness

Today I have a fabulous interview with Tanya J. Peterson, author of a contemporary fiction called Leave of Absence.  She had previously written a great guest post about finding time to write with a busy schedule and why she chose to write a book with mental health awareness themes. You can read that HERE if you missed it.

Enjoy the interview and she’ll be happy to answer any comments you leave as well!

Hi Tanya, welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We’ve featured your guest post, and I’ve done a review of your book, so I hope everyone is now as anxious (in a good way) as I am to hear your answers to some questions surrounding you and your work. How have you been?

Tanya: Hi Erin!  I’ve been busy, as I’m sure you and everyone reading this can relate.  Running after kids (sometimes literally as my son has decided to become a distance runner – I’m not a natural runner!), helping Leave of Absence along, speaking and writing on mental illness, and the endless daily tasks all keep me hopping.  Overall, though, things are going very well. What about you? 

Erin: As a mother and more, busy too, but it’s all good! And you won’t catch me literally running though. Good luck!!  Now, I’d love to be the one laying on the couch while you pick my brain, but today it will need to be the other way around. So put your feet up and let’s get started…

Tanya:  Let me settle in and let’s chat. Can it be a dentist’s chair instead of the traditional couch? I love those. I always wanted my therapists to have dentist chairs. Okay, getting serious now…

9781592998838 cov.inddQ: What purpose do you see in writing a book such as Leave of Absence? What experiences assisted you in formulating the idea?

A:  I wrote Leave of Absence for a very specific purpose.  I wanted to show the reality of mental illness, the human side.  The basis for the story is entirely fictional, of course, but I have indeed had life experiences that were quite helpful in “filling out” the story.  When I was just two years old… Just kidding!  No one here wants my life history.  I drew from many different things (including the “whys” and “what ifs” I constantly ask myself about situations and people), but the most impactful one for the creating of many of the scenes in Leave of Absence was the time I spent in a behavioral health center/hospital.  Much of Leave of Absence takes place in such a hospital, and while this place in the novel is entirely fictional, I drew on my own experiences to add depth and detail to the setting.  I did have a motivation for setting the story here:  there is quite a bit of mystery shrouding these places.  Because of incorrect portrayals in books and movies, often what comes to mind is an image of an “insane asylum,” with barred windows and screaming patients.  Sadly, people are often shunned by society after having been to a behavioral health hospital.  I wanted to provide people with an accurate portrayal of these places. 

Erin Comments: You can read my review of Leave of Absence HERE.

Q:  What is your background and how did that help you to write your book?

A: From my answer above, it’s probably evident that I have a personal background to draw on.  As mentioned, I’ve spent time in a behavioral health center.  I have bipolar I disorder and difficulties with anxiety, so I understand much of what Oliver and Penelope deal with.  In addition to this, though, I also have a professional background.  I have a Master’s Degree in counseling and am a Nationally Certified Counselor.  Both my personal and professional backgrounds helped me create a novel that, while fiction, is accurate and very realistic. 

Erin Comments: I think it is amazing that you can balance your illness enough to be able to continue on in your professional life. Quite a challenge and so amazing! Of course, that is great that you can help others through your experiences.

Q:  What do you hope that readers will “take away” or what feelings do you hope are invoked from Leave of Absence?

A:  I really hope that readers form an emotional connection to Oliver, Penelope, and William.  In fact, this emotional connection is the very reason I have chosen to illuminate aspects of mental illness through fiction rather than non-fiction.  Non-fiction can be very helpful, of course, and there are many great non-fiction works out there to educate and inform.  It’s hard, though, to make a true human connection through non-fiction.  It’s my hope that in reading Leave of Absence, readers will come to understand what it is that each character experiences.

Ideally, for example, people will understand schizophrenia through Penelope and PTSD and depression through Oliver.  However, I’d like readers to experience the issues more deeply than just understanding the “what” of them.  I’d like them to connect with the “who” behind the illnesses.  As a society, when we understand what mental illness really is (rather than the stereotyped version) and when we come to see the person behind the illness, we will develop greater empathy and compassion.  And maybe, just maybe, the stigma associated with mental illness will disappear. 

Erin Comments: The “who” is so important…..and empathy.

Q:  Where do you think the deep seeded desire to help others comes from (from yourself and then also in others)?

A:  To paraphrase Lady Gaga, I seem to have been born that way.  I remember being sensitive to others’ suffering even in grade school.  I was always baffled and angered by bullying and did what little I could to assist those who needed it.  Jump to adulthood.  I initially became a teacher, but it took all of about a week to realize that I’d much rather be a counselor, and, years later, when I was becoming a counselor, I realized that I wanted to use my education and experience on a larger scale to advocate for those who don’t always have a voice.  The desire to advocate came, in part, from a personal predisposition to stand up publicly for what I believe in. 

It also came from one of my favorite graduate school professors.  In class, she often spoke of the power and importance of advocacy, and she and I had numerous private discussions about it.  It was these conversations that planted the seed of my combining my love of writing with my desire to help people by increasing awareness and understanding. 

 Q:  What kind of thoughts went into developing your characters, especially Oliver and Penelope?

A:  Thoughts of affection!  I thought of them first, before I ever formulated a story line.  I developed stories about them – who they were, why they were suffering, how they were suffering, how they would come together, etc.  That merged into creating the storyline.  Then as I wrote the story, I always began my writing session by connecting with them and how they were feeling.  More often than not, when I was writing it was as if I were each of them rather than myself.  When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about them.  I bonded with them!  After all, if I wasn’t connected to them, how on Earth would readers ever connect with them? 

Q:  Do you feel your book is mainly serious fiction, due to the subject matter, or did you mean for a glint of humor to be allowed to shine through?

A:  My overall intent was for Leave of Absence to be serious.  However, mental illness and life struggles don’t mean constant and permanent despair.  Everyone can experience happiness, and people do heal.  I tried to instill a realistic sense of hope in the story without being a canned, Pollyanna-type of hope.  Therefore, I thought that a touch of humor would be appropriate.  This will seem strange, I know, but you know how in the previous question I stated that it was often as if the characters themselves were writing their stories?  That’s how the tiny bits of humor happened.  Yes, I knew that some humor was necessary, but I didn’t actually plan it out.  Putting a direction in my notes reading, “Comic relieve on page 107” just doesn’t work.  It happened through the characters themselves. 

Erin Comments: There was some humor to it, whether is should be or not. For some reason Eleanor yelling at Penelope to eat the crayons and her doing it was both sad and humorous to me at the same time. Not necessarily laughter at Penelope, but laughter at how our minds work sometimes (or don’t work).

Q:  Do you think their portrayal will help the general public understand the many facets of mental illness and the people who struggle with various forms of it?

A:  That’s my very hope.  Mental illnesses are very complex and individualized.  So the way Penelope and Oliver experience it won’t look exactly the same in others with the same disorders.  That said, there are general defining characteristics of the various mental illnesses that are common to those that experience them.  I did a great deal of research to ensure that Penelope’s and Oliver’s experiences were accurate.  I really hope that readers see what is happening to these characters and what their inner experiences are like – what’s going through their minds.    What Penelope and Oliver think and feel can be transferred to people in the real world. 

Q:  What else do you feel can be done, or needs to be done, in order to create more awareness for those with mental illness?

A:  Stereotypes in mainstream media need to be corrected!  When the news stations constantly jump to the conclusion that criminals are mentally ill (other than antisocial personality disorder, violence is not associated with mental illness) or when movies and television shows inaccurately portray people with mental illness, great harm is done.  Society assumes these things are accurate and thus forms negative stereotypes about people experiencing mental illness.   These prejudices create stigma.  All of this is hurtful.  It leads to discrimination, shame, isolation, and loneliness. 

Of course, there are other things as well, such as equal access to affordable mental health care.  Thankfully there are so many passionate people with different strengths to bring to the table to help create awareness and equality.  I’m not good at accomplishing things like access to health care, but I can work to correct stereotypes and increase empathy and understanding (at least I hope so, anyway, and will give it a try.)

Erin Comments: Keep up the great work, it’s worth it!

Q:  What other types of fiction do you like? Favorite books?

A:  I love character-driven stories!  I have a hard time getting into books that are all about plot and storyline, but I know that’s just me.  Others feel the opposite way.  If I can connect with a character, I don’t care what the plot or genre is.  Some of my favorite fiction books that I’ve read recently are The Promise of Stardust by Pricille Sibley, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey, and all of the books in the Will Trent series by Karin Slaughter (I love Will Trent!).    

Q: Do you have hopes to write other various types of fiction? If so, what other types do you want to try?

A:  I am definitely going to write more novels.  My plan for now is to stick with contemporary fiction and the theme of mental health.  When I was a history major in college, I did dream of writing historical fiction.  I’m honestly not sure if I can see myself writing anything other than contemporary fiction, but I suppose if I did venture into other things, I would try my hand at historical fiction. 

Q:  What has been your biggest challenge along your road to publishing? What has been your greatest success?

A:  One of my biggest challenges is the fact that I’m still unknown with a small budget.  Spreading the word about Leave of Absence often feels like an uphill battle.  I have a fantastic publicist who helps me with this, but still, given that I’m starting from nothing, it’s difficult.  Erin, what you’re doing for me is very helpful, by the way!  By inviting me onto your blog, you’re introducing me to all of your wonderful readers, and I appreciate that so much.  This is how an unknown author introduces her book to the world.

I think I’ve absolutely experienced success with Leave of Absence.  It’s too early to know if I’m selling copies.  But I don’t define success by sales, anyway.  I’ll be honest:  I need to sell books because I have living expenses that include two children, the oldest of whom is nearing college.  However, my motivation in writing is not to become wealthy.  I like to live simply.  My motivation is, as you know, to increase awareness and compassion in order to reduce stigma and help things be better for those who experience mental illness.  Happily, it seems so far that is happening! 

I’ve had great feedback from professional reviewers and “real” readers like you.  J  And I’ve had discussions on radio shows and have been invited to give presentations about mental illness and to give readings from Leave of Absence.  All this is really exciting.  I’ve only made a very small ripple, though, so I hope that this ripple will do what a ripple is supposed to do:  expand and grow.  Not knowing what’s going to happen is stressful and anxiety-provoking, but I’m going to keep working hard to help it happen. 

For all of your readers who have paid attention to my guest post, your review and this interview, I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to check out Leave of Absence and learn about me.  Thank you. 

Q:  Can you explain your publishing process? Do have thoughts regarding traditional publishing versus self-publishing?

A:  This sure is a hot topic right now!  When I was deciding how to publish Leave of Absence, I read a ton of information about publishing.  I attended workshops.  I talked to a traditionally published author I know, and I went to a conference just so I could talk to agents about the publishing process.  I compiled all of the information I gathered into a pros and cons chart, and I realized that for me right now, independent publishing was absolutely the way to go. 

Leave of Absence is published by Inkwater Press, which is actually more of a hybrid publisher, a cross between traditional and independent publishing.  I had to submit my manuscript for consideration as they don’t accept everyone.  Their standards are high, and I was honored to be accepted.  Inkwater Press provides a full range of services, but as an author who maintains the rights to her work, I have much more input into things than I would have had with a traditional publisher.  From what I have learned from the authors I know and the agents with whom I spoke, traditionally published authors have almost no control over what the publisher does, including the way the story is modified.  I’m very happy with my decision to independently publish with Inkwater Press. 

Q:  What advice do you have for busy moms who are aspiring authors or current authors? How do you fit it all in?

A:  It’s a balancing act, and I often trip.  Last summer, I did much of my writing very early in the morning.  That no longer works, so I’ve adjusted.  I work very hard when the kids are at school and my husband is at work so I can be with them in the evenings.  I do indeed work here and there on evenings and weekends, but I make sure to take time to focus on my family.  For me, the key is to prioritize.  I create a to-do list of sorts of the major things I need to accomplish in a week, and then I filter those tasks into days and times.  I constantly remind myself of my main priorities of the day, and I make sure that my family is on that list.  We’ll always be busy and have way too much to do.  Focusing on the big picture helps me when I get overwhelmed by the little details. 

Erin Comments: That’s true, we’ll never not be busy so we might as well adjust to it and prioritize. People need to stop feeling so guilty, you know?

Q:  Who are some of your favorite authors?

A:  Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Saul Bellow.  While I definitely haven’t read all works by these authors, I have enough exposure to them to put them on a list of my favorite authors.  I admire the depth and poignancy of their characters and themes. 

Q:  Color can tell a lot about a person, I think. What is your favorite color(s)?

A:  Green and purple!  And sometimes blue.  (What does it say about me that I can’t pick just one?)

Q: What are your biggest ways to relieve stress and balance your mind? What advice do you have for others?

A:  I experience quite a bit of anxiety, and stress definitely makes it worse.  When I experience stress and anxiety, I get agitated and full of an excess of energy.  I need an outlet for it to avoid becoming overwhelmed and irritable.  Physical activity works well for me for that.  I try to get up early in the morning and use the treadmill or the elliptical.  I like to hike, bike, or kayak on the weekends too.  I also need quiet meditation, too, but if I’m too agitated it doesn’t work. 

Regarding advice, I’d say that it’s important to honor yourself as an expert of your own existence.  Reading information about wellness, illness, etc. is very important and helpful, as is working with a counselor or therapist if or when you need to.  Ultimately, though, you know yourself. 

Experiment to find stress-relieving techniques that work best for you, and use those techniques when you can to help deal with stress.  As long as what you’re doing doesn’t harm yourself or others, there’s no “wrong” way to de-stress.  If meditation doesn’t work for you (sometimes it works for me and other times it doesn’t), don’t force yourself to do it just because everyone you know is raving about the new meditation center in town!  Honor yourself. 

Erin Comments: So eating chocolate would be appropriate, since chocolate never hurt anyone….*wink*

Q:  What is next for you?

A:  I have a new novel in the works!  I’ve done a bit of brainstorming and begun some preliminary research.  Of course I’m focusing primarily on the characters!  (My biggest challenge in this right now is letting go of Oliver, Penelope, and William.  I’m struggling with that at the moment.)

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A:  I love to connect with readers, so I hope people do!  My website is http://www.tanyajpeterson.com (I have a contact form there).  For those who like social media, my Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/tanyajpeterson and my Twitter handle is @tanyajpeterson1.  Oh, and I’m on Goodreads, too.  A search of Tanya J Peterson will lead people to me. 

Erin:  Thank you so much, Tanya, for coming by today for this interview, we’ve learned a lot and I’m so glad to be able to hear your thoughts on so many important subjects. I wish you much continued success into the future!

Tanya: Erin, this has been wonderful!  Thank you for asking me all of these great questions.  I love being able to chat about Leave of Absence so people know why I wrote it, and it’s fun to discuss lighter things as well.  I’ve enjoyed being a guest on your blog.  It was so kind of you interview me and to allow me to write a guest post.  And of course your review is amazing and gets right to the heart of Leave of Absence (and, by default, to my heart).  I sincerely appreciate you and all you have done.  I read in one of your recent posts that you coach a Little League team.  My son is in Little League.  I don’t coach, but I do of course go to all of the games.  Have fun on the field!! 

Erin Comments: You’re quite welcome, Tanya. Yes, we do coach several teams, both soccer and ball, and try to spend lots of time with the kiddos. Thank YOU so much for everything!

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.

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.

Her website is http://www.tanyajpeterson.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Q and A with Authors

Tanya J. Peterson Gives Us a Compassionate Look at Mental Health in Her Debut Fiction, Leave of Absence

9781592998838 cov.inddMay is Mental Health Awareness Month, but mental health awareness is still such a societal struggle–there is still a battle being waged to break down barriers–so when a book comes along such as Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson, I become hopeful that it can carry a message about mental illness beyond any certain month, but throughout the year, for many years to come!

After reading Leave of Absence, I believe that this book is so complete in its portrayal, so accurate and endearing, that it could possibly be a catalyst of modern literature that brings the true mental dilemma of human nature to light.  Peterson understands the mental illness in her characters. Instead of giving a dramatic portrayal of characters, such as what you sometimes see in the movies, Peterson shows the struggles and emotions her characters, especially co-protagonists Oliver and Penelope, go through in their minds. She paints a vivid and clear picture of their thoughts and desires. She showcases the internal angst that people like Penelope, who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, deal with just to keep facing the day, every day. She makes us aware of the fact that not only do they have to battle their unwanted internal struggles, but they also have to face the guilt they feel for what they think they do to their family and friends.

Leave of Absence was a book more centered on character development than plot, as we began to feel connected to Oliver, Penelope, and even William, Penelope’s fiance, which is what really needed to happen for us to be focused on the message Peterson was writing. I felt Peterson’s portrayal of William, with his steadfast, understanding, patient, and unconditional love for Penelope even when she felt she did not deserve it, was so compassionate and touching. I know many people with mental issues who have felt that they were, or are, a burden to their loved ones and I was happy to see Peterson take this angle.

Even though some parts of Penelope’s schizophrenia were humorous, such as Peterson’s portrayal of the voice in Penelope’s head as a dictating Eleanor Roosevelt (Mrs. Peterson–Eleanor was such a strong supporter of women’s rights and by the way, I’m related!! LOL), I felt that overall as a reader I grew to love her. Penelope’s creative and caring mind was so touching. Which I hope, overall, might be the message.

I suppose you can probably tell by now that I grew most connected to Penelope, even though it is Oliver we first encounter jumping off a building and going into the behavioral health unit. Oliver becomes a die-hard friend and support system to Penelope and I loved as their relationship unfolded. If it wasn’t for William, I would have loved to see Oliver and Penelope become a couple and for that to help Oliver overcome the loss of his wife. But instead it did show a wonderful platonic friendship, which are also so valuable in the healing process for so many with depression and mental illness.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes contemporary reads that shine light on the nuances of human nature, but I also recommend this book for caregivers, family and friends of those struggling with mental illness in hopes that it would help them to find more compassion and understanding. The book is also a wonderful piece for those studying sociology, social work, or psychology.

See the Video Trailer Here:

 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.

ISBN-13: 978-1-59299-883-8 | ISBN 10: 1-59299-883-6
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Inkwater Press
Retail Price: $17.95 (paperback); $2.99 (e-Book)
Available at: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Powells.com, iTunes Bookstore, Kobo.com, and Inkwater Books.

***********************************************************************************************************

You can read the guest post that Tanya J. Peterson did with me about why she wrote the novel and why women need to take time for their dreams, by clicking HERE! Stay tuned next week for our exclusive interview!

See more stops on her tour at:  http://tanyajpeterson.com/virtual-book-tour/

***********************************************************************************************************

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.

See Tanya’s great website at:  http://tanyajpeterson.com/

6 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews

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….

***********************************************************************************************************

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.

***********************************************************************************************************

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Guest Posts