The Life Saving Slogan: You are Not Alone, a guest post by Shelley Sackier
The term “winter break” easily conjures the images of families rushing toward a round of winter skiing, a child-friendly cruise, or a palm-shaded beach. We see ourselves festooning the halls and holiday tables, and carefully honing those once a year meals. We picture a throng of college students dashing home toward the warm embrace of family, far removed from the windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied those first harrowing months of school.
But one year, winter break was anything but the above. For me, that is. And for my then freshman daughter too.
That year, I spent the time vigilant and restless. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure her struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.
Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. One lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.
Chronic stress is a disease college students are well-acquainted with. This unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.
A nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. We brace ourselves against the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.
Five within one year? All on one campus?
It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.
I wanted her home—where I could see her. But I forced a stay on that eager need, reminding myself she was attempting to build a new home. To redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.
We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But they were paltry, providing only an anemic balm. It’s impossible to obtain an accurate reading in such a situation, and a terrible tug of war is unleashed. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.
Your answer is not always their answer.
As YA authors, as librarians guiding our youth toward books that will speak to them, and as teachers in charge of creating and directing emotional curriculum as well as academic ones, we have a tremendous task we must address with urgency and gravity. We hunt for stories to explain what we personally cannot: who they are.
We try connecting children to others like them, to find solace, unity, and sureness. We introduce them to characters—whether fictional or real—who will communicate acceptance and normalcy. And the earlier we build this bridge for them, the more surefooted they can grow as they cross it, forging an identity with confidence.
If my daughter were asked to provide a profile form, defining herself, it’s likely she’d have said:
But also … imposter.
One does not see a checkbox for this identifier, but it rings true for many, and countless students feel unescorted claiming membership to this dismal club, having no idea just how many others have registered before them.
They feel they will be found out, singled out—that the mistake that brought them to this place they don’t belong, this class that is too hard, this group that is too prominent will raise a demoralizing red flag above them, and everyone will finally see what they suspected all along: that they are an outsider who accidentally slipped in.
As educators, if we miss the early crucial moments to illuminate thousands of voices within the digital or paper pages of books and do not unite our children with those who can elucidate their disorienting emotions, then we miss the fleeting opportunity to assure them that they can go on—despite their discomfort. We miss the chance to say that struggling and suffering does not mean one cannot make it through struggling and suffering.
As an author, my job is to create problems for my characters, to throw them into peril, and then to help them find clever ways out of that distress. As a parent, my wish is not for my children to experience catastrophe, but rather know what to do when trouble arises and where the path to safety is located.
Success may emerge with a book instead of a parental lecture. A wagging finger, foretelling danger, might not convey as effectively as an engaging narrative. Perched on my children’s beds, reassuring them that the questions they hold about themselves are typical of teens might not ring with enough resonance as reading about someone who they feel speaks their language, and who went through the thick of it, having made it through to the other side.
When my daughter was preparing to return to school, I helped her pack. Folding clothes on the floor, I glanced up, scanning the abundant bookshelves on either side of her bed.
She caught my wandering gaze. “Not everyone is given a happy ending, Mom.”
I looked at her firmly. “Maybe not,” I’d said. “But there’s nothing wrong with trying to insert as many chapters into one’s life as is possible. It’s my job. I show people a way through and a way out. My message is, you are not alone.”
As mentors, caregivers, and counselors, we face a daunting task. But we must seek every tool available to assist us with the process of grasping our teens and pulling them through to that “other side” where we stand. Losing our grip can mean losing a life.
Mental Health emergency links
SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools
SPRC – After a Suicide: A toolkit for Schools
SPTS The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-(TALK) 8255
Lifeline Social Media Toolkit (pdf resource and support for suicidal individuals on social and digital media)
SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
Meet Shelley Sackier
Shelley Sackier is the author of The Freemason’s Daughter (HarperCollins 2017), Dear Opl (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 2015), and the upcoming novel, The Antidote (HarperCollins 2019). She writes both middle grade and YA fiction. She visits schools to illuminate the merits of embracing failure just like NASA and to further her campaign to erect monuments to all librarians.
Bonus Content: The Antidote Playlist – Google Play or The Antidote Playlist – Spotify (both just music) and The Antidote Playlist Details (with spoilers!—song descriptions for where they fall within the book).
Facebook page: @ShelleySackierBooks
Goodreads: Shelley Sackier
About The Antidote
From the author of The Freemason’s Daughter comes a lush romantic fantasy perfect for fans of Everless!
In the world of healers, there is no room for magic.
Fee knows this, just as certainly as she knows that her magic must be kept secret.
But the crown prince Xavi, Fee’s best friend and only source of comfort, is sick. So sick, that Fee can barely contain the magic lying dormant inside her. She could use it, just a little, to heal him. But magic comes at a deadly cost—and attracts those who would seek to snuff it out forever.
A wisp of a spell later, Fee finds herself caught in a whirl of secret motivations and dark pasts, where no one is who—or what—they appear to be. And saving her best friend means delving deeper into the tempting and treacherous world whose call she’s long resisted—uncovering a secret that will change everything.
Laini Taylor meets Sara Holland in this lavish fantasy from lauded historical romance author Shelley Sackier!
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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