Book talk: Saving me from myself. Why I read YA.

Today I'm going to be talking about a subject that most bloggers have been defending over the last couple of months: Young Adult fiction.

My post though, or my story if you will, is probably not a unique one, but the feelings experienced are certainly real enough - so I hope you bear with me as I try to find the words to express just what it is that I'm feeling and just how it ties in with my post about YA literature.

Many of you may have noticed that I've been taking frequent breaks from blogging. 

My blogging pattern has, in the past few months, become decidedly irregular - with me posting anywhere between 1 - 5 posts per month, whereas in the past, I easily use to manage at least 15 posts per month.

The reason for this slow down is quite simple really. I'm suffering from depression.

Now for those of you who are in the same boat, or know someone that is, you'll know that depression is about more than just feeling sad.

It's more than just crying out of the blue for no apparent reason and it's about more than just lying in foetal position whole day, struggling to muster the will to get up.
It's a label that is so universal, yet each one experiences it very differently.

My experience?

So far, it's mostly been hell in a black pit for me. It's hell because I feel like I've lost my voice (my blogging voice included), it's agony because when I cry, I can't get the words that need to be said out of my system, and it's pure emotional torture because, on the days that I'm not crying, I'm filled with a seeping black void of numbness that renders me devoid of any feeling.
And because I feel so voiceless and devoid of joy, I often simply resort to going into automaton mode; going through the daily motions of everyday life and trying to keep it together, while inside, it feels like my soul is being ripped and shredded to parts.

Want to know what's worse? It's not necessarily those very, very bad days that makes everything feel so impossibly out of reach.

It's on the good days, when I have something akin to the feeling of hope,  that I convince myself I'm happy and feeling completely normal. And when I convince myself that nothing's wrong, well, my next crash is always worse than the previous one.

And then... then I'm back to where I started. Trapped in a never-ending cycle of self-loathing, hurt, self-pity and morbidity.

I have all these good intentions, but I just can't seem to follow through. I want to review, but can't bring myself to think beyond what I'm stretching myself to think in this bad space I'm in.

And I want to update, read and visit other blogs, but I don't seem to have all the energy for that lately.

In short, I can't bring myself to do anything beyond sleeping, getting up, going to work and coming home to curl up and read (the one thing that's kept me from completely going over the edge) and sleep.

But, believe it or not, my story is not one that is completely hopeless, because, besides getting professional help (gosh, I feel so shy admitting I'm on anti-depressants and seeing a psychiatrist), this is where YA fiction comes in.

Now as most of you know, over the past couple of months, there's been a plethora of raging debates surrounding teen fiction.

It seems that according to the "experts" (and as a young, online South African journalist, I use that word very loosely), fiction targeted for the youth is either too dark too depraved, too sexual or is guilty of romanticising domestic violence.

Any dark and negative connotation you can think of, it's probably been used to label and describe Young Adult fiction.

And for me, as a journalist who is an ardent supporter of YA fiction, it saddens me that people are so quick to criticise what they don't really understand.

I know I'm going to me making myself guilty of assumption, but I often get the feeling that the people who criticise this genre, have probably not read all that many teen reads. 

You know why? Because if they had, they wouldn't even begin to question the value that it has brought to so many young teens.

I may not be a teen, but without YA, I would have surely resorted to harming myself. Yes, I was suicidal for a long time, and yes, to many it seems impossible that a teen read has the power to save a life, but in truth, that's what it did for me.

For me, I've always seen the voices in YA novels as being incredibly brave.

Many of them have given me the opportunity to become the girl I've always wanted to be in my teen years. Strong, brave and courageous.

To be those things, you'd certainly have to go through your share of hell to build up that sort of character right?  And what many of these characters go through, are more than an echo of what's going on outside in the real world.

It's real and it's happening outside in the lives of teens and young adults alike. Which is why I can't understand all the condemnation around it. 

If the teens are experiencing this and you have people criticising this genre so severely, then how can you even hope to help the teen who so desperately needs saving?

Why do you think they're resorting to these wonderful reads?

These reads that offer them voices.

These reads that (and this applies to me as well) allow them to feel.

And mostly, these reads offer them hope and understanding in a world dominated by people who constantly criticise them and don't see that beyond many young boys and girls' reckless behaviour, there's a desperate plea for help.

On days when I couldn't even bring myself to speak, it was this genre that grounded me. It was this genre that brought out a tentative smile and it was this genre, that against all odds, brought out the bubble of laughter, that I had thought was long forgotten.

A dear blog friend of mine has said often said that people don't choose books, but that books have a way of finding and choosing you.

In my darkest times, the books that have always found me, is the Young Adult fiction genre.

Before you pass judgement on books that take on tough subjects like drugs, teen pregnancy, suicide, abuse and the big forbidden topic of all, teen sex (criticising the nature of the books won't change the fact that these things are happening), consider for a moment how many young girls and boys have started reading again.

It's not just for the romance, although there's plenty of that deliciousness to be found.

It's for the voices that offer hope and a sense of belonging; it's for the voices that don't offer judgement, and it's for the voices that above all else, relate to them and are an echo of their own souls.

There've been many of these reads that have saved my life and in the next few weeks, I'll share a few of them with you. For now, I thought I'd share my story with you in the hopes that someone finds hope in this in some way.

Because that #YAsaves hash tag on Twitter?  It's not just a hash tag.

I, as an almost 27 year old online journalist (with the heart and soul of a newly reborn 16-year old), can testify to this.

And you know what? After this post, I think I'm finally ready to start getting back into gear with my blogging again. You can expect lots of reviews and bookish ramblings a little more often now. 

To all the readers who are still reading this blog, I know that I've got a lot of catching up to do. I'm sorry I haven't been around, but now you know why. I'll be doing tons of catching up during the course of the week, so will probably post by the weekend again.

It feels good to be back.
Until next time,

 P.S. I know this post was long, rambly and not perfectly written, but to be quite honest, perfection wasn't what I was aiming for.


Unknown said…
Tammy, words fail me after reading this post. I must admit that I can't even begin to imagine suffering from real depression, so all I can say is that I missed you and am so glad that you are lucky enough to be getting help.

Your post is the second post (in two days) that I have found stating that YA is saving you from memories from you real teen years (as it does for me too!). I never used to read YA but in the last months, I have read more and more and it is certainly a wonderful escape for me.

I am much older and don't have any children but I haven't read anything that I would consider harmful to teens yet. I must agree that the people that have such strong negative feelings about YA have certainly not read many of them!

Welcome back to blogging and please take all the time you need.
Jan von Harz said…
Tammy, like Chrizette said I have no words to express how profoundly your post has affected me. Your honesty is amazing and my heart goes out to you.

Defending YA is important because I agree that it offers not only young adults options and examples of how to deal with important issues they face, but a way to legitimately escape the problems in their lives. Those who bash it doubtfully have enough experience with the genre.

I am glad to know that you are getting help and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. From someone who has experience depression first hand it does get better.
Jenny said…
Wow Tammy. What an amazing testimonial to the power of the written word and it's ability to shape, change, and influence lives. I'm so sorry you've been going through such a rough time in your life, but I'm indescribably glad you had something like YA fiction to help you work your way through it and come out in a better place.

I think so many people go through experiences like yours, and it's vital that books that deal with the darker parts of life are out there so those that have that darkness in their lives can latch onto someone, even if it's a fictional character, who's going through the same thing.

And definitely don't apologize for not being present in the blogosphere, life is always more important and we'll all still be here whenever you pick up again:)
brandileigh2003 said…
Thank you for the honesty and wonderfully expressed post.
Shelagh said…
You've shown an amazing amount of courage writing this post Tammy.

I have bipolar type II and was diagnosed when I was 24 (30 now). I tend towards depression and the feeling of not being in control of how and what you think was one of the scariest things for me about it. I'd like to offer you two pieces of advice: 1) talk to your doctors, they need feedback on what is happening with you and your medication 2) find some time every day to do something that makes you smile - blow bubbles, have a bath, dance to your favourite song in your pyjamas, read a book.

I'm really glad that YA books have had the ability to give you hope and something to look forward to. I'm a relatively recent YA reader (from Feb), but I have been amazed at the depth and scope of the stories that are coming out in the genre. I also agree that any critics have probably not read many YA books, or haven't stopped to think about the world that kids/teens live in these days.

You take care Tammy and just give me a shout if you need a chat. Seriously.

The Word Fiend
Leanna Elle said…
This is such a courageous post, Tammy. I'm sorry to hear that you are suffering from depression, but you've done the right thing by getting help. All too often depression is not talked about at all, and that's not good. I'm also so glad that YA is helping you! I feel the same way about people who diss YA - I reckon they probably haven't read a whole lot of it!

I hope you keep on getting the help you need. xox