#MHYALit: Eating the Nuts, a guest post reflecting on depression by author Mackenzi Lee
Today we are honored to host author Mackenzi Lee as part of the #MHYALit Discussion. See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here.
When I was eleven years old, I discovered I was allergic to nuts.
This might be a thing you did not know about me, even if we know each other well.
I don’t bring it up often, because, as far as allergies go, it’s a pretty mild one. When I tell people I have a nut allergy, the typical follow up question from friends is, “Ohmygosh what happens if you eat nuts!?” And it’s a bit embarrassing to say, “Nothing you would notice.” I don’t have to go to the hospital or get an adrenaline shot to the heart, Pulp Fiction style. I don’t swell up like Violet Beauregard. My throat gets a little fuzzy, and it gets hard to swallow, but over all, it’s not a big deal—just moderately uncomfortable for me.
So usually, I don’t say anything. I don’t ask for special meals or inform my server I have a food allergy at restaurants. I don’t ask planes not serve the peanuts. I’m so desperate not to make a fuss that sometimes I find myself accidentally eating nuts, a fate that could have easily been avoided if I had just been up front about my moderate allergy.
But I don’t say anything, because a small voice in my head reminds me, “Some people have it so much worse than you.”
I do not have the most severe allergy in my family, or of the people I know. So I often feel guilty asking for help. Instead, I just suffer in silence, occasionally moderately uncomfortable.
I am also not the most mentally ill person in my family. Certainly not the most mentally ill person I know.
So two years ago, when I found myself in the middle of a bout of what were I a Victorian lady would have been termed melancholy, I didn’t say anything or do anything about it. I kept pushing through my life, even as minor tasks began to feel like trying to walk through a wall when you’re not an X-Man, frustrated and baffled and completely silent about my lack of energy. The shroud of despair. The long parade of bad days that were bad for no reason. I cancelled social engagements en masse, offering explanations that made me seem normal instead of admitting that I just couldn’t rally enough to get out of bed.
Maybe you’re depressed, I thought around month two of this stretch, immediately followed by, You’re not depressed.
I didn’t think I was depressed because I was still functional. I wasn’t thinking about killing myself. I wasn’t manic or self harming or needing hospitalization. I was eating. I was showering. I was not as bad off as a lot of people, so I didn’t feel I could ask for help.
Other people have real problems, I thought to myself. Don’t waste the time of a doctor or a therapist or your friends with your non-issues.
So I didn’t see a therapist. I didn’t get medication. I didn’t do anything to avoid or improve or try to be better. I just remained, for a long time, moderately uncomfortable.
I kept eating the nuts.
And then after six months of being moderately uncomfortable, I hit a tipping point. Anxiety was making it impossible for me to breathe right. Depression meant I couldn’t keep a conversation going. My attention span deteriorated until I couldn’t get anything done. I started feeling like I was standing outside my own body, watching myself talk and laugh and smile while I felt basically nothing. And still—still!—I had to really talk myself into feeling worthy of support.
Depression is a bully. It feeds you lies about not being worth help, whether that’s because you don’t feel sick enough or because you feel too far gone. I’ve learned now–after seeing a therapist, after getting on medication, after being better and now looking back and realizing how off kilter I was–that there is no bar. There is no “you must be this mentally ill to get help” sign post outside the doctor’s office. If I could go back in time and talk to past Mackenzi, I would tell her, “You are worth help. You deserve it. Your problems are not too small and you are not wasting anyone’s time in wanting to be better. Also, don’t forget to invent a time machine so I can come back and tell you this.”
2015 was an extraordinary year of extraordinary things that had all the joy strangled out of it by a toxic cocktail of untreated depression and anxiety because I didn’t think I deserved to be better. But I did, and I do. We all do. I wish I could say that to everyone who thinks they aren’t sick enough to get help. If your brain is getting in the way of your life–in any way, no matter how small–you deserve to be better, and oftentimes that involves asking for help. Everyone has different places they feel safe reaching out—friends, family, anonymous crisis hotlines. Find your safe space, and know that you deserve to be well, even if that wellness only means you’re no longer moderately uncomfortable.
A year after I started seeing a therapist and taking medication to manage my mental health, I told a friend about the struggles I’d had first admitting that my feelings–and my illness–were valid.
“I felt guilty,” I explained. “Because I wasn’t as depressed as other people.”
“That’s silly,” she replied. “Would you eat a bunch of nuts just because you’re not as allergic as other people?”
Meet Author Mackenzi Lee
Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and is the author of This Monstrous Thing, a steampunk reimagining of Frankenstein, and the forthcoming The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, both from HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. You can find her on Twitter @themackenzilee, where she curates a weekly storytime about badass ladies from history you probably didn’t know about but should.
About the forthcoming THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE
When lifelong friends Monty and Percy embark on their Grand Tour of 18th century Europe, they stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris’ glittering finery to the haunted, sinking islands of Venice–along the way fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other. (2017 by Katherine Tegen Books)
Filed under: #MHYALit
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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