Characters Can Deal With Anxiety Too, a guest post by Alexandria Rose Rizik
I remember my first panic attack: I was in a movie theater. Suddenly I couldn’t catch my breath, my arm went numb, and the darkness of the theater along with the vibrations from the surround sound made me feel claustrophobic, like the walls were caving in on me. I ran to the bathroom and called my mom. I was only sixteen years old and had never experienced a panic attack like that before. So, to say the least, I didn’t know what was going on.
That was the first of many panic attacks I suffered from throughout my teen/young adult years. In a sense, when you’re dealing with anxiety, it can become your identity. I think that’s why it played such a prevalent role in my writing, specifically with this character Kendra. She reflected my sixteen-year-old self. The story was inspired by my first real relationship and the heartache that followed, so it only seemed fitting to include that element in the story. It was with this boyfriend that I had my first panic attack in the theater, which also seemed like a metaphor in a sense for the relationship.
I didn’t realize then that anxiety affects so many people—especially so many young people. Even more so, it’s on a rise. In fact, according to adda.org, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S,” and “Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old.” In my opinion, that’s a pretty large percentage.
The fact that anxiety plays such a big role in the lives of teens and young people encouraged me even more to make mental health the forefront of this character’s personality. I think so many people will be able to relate to Kendra’s character and what she goes through, how she tries to manage her angst.
At first, it was really difficult to write about her anxiety because it was so personal and I was still learning how to manage it myself. How could I help a character get through her anxiety if I didn’t even know how to deal with it myself? It was also something I didn’t discuss with outsiders. At that point, I didn’t want people to know what I was dealing with so I put on a happy face and whenever the anxiety tried to creep its way out, I’d be so afraid of having a full blown panic attack in front of people. How embarrassing, I would think. No one understands. But putting the feelings down on paper actually helped me with my own anxiety.
The truth is, a lot more people deal with anxiety and mental health issues than I realized. And just like me, they want to mask it with a happy face so no one around them will know. But as time has gone on, I’ve seen the way, especially through social media, people are more open about their mental health struggles. That’s really the core of who Kendra is in 21 Questions. She’s a teenage girl who has been through a lot of trauma that leaves her with this anxiety that she’s learned to somewhat manage, but she has her triggers—one being Brock Parker. When Brock enters her life and stimulates this side of her that arouses her panic attacks, she realizes she’s been putting a bandaid on her pain and never really dealt with it head on for the sake of protecting herself and what she believes makes her an outcast from the rest of her friends and acquaintances.
Brock has his own set of mental health struggles too. They might not be as transparent Kendra’s are. But at one point he even says the reason he does drugs is because he likes the way they make him feel and “they take away all of my worries and anxieties, so that I don’t feel them.” The difference between he and Kendra is that he numbs his anxieties before he gets a chance to feel them. Which is an interesting point to address, because a lot of the time mental health and addiction go hand-in-hand. The question becomes: what came first? The chicken or the egg? Do people abuse drugs to numb their mental health issues or does drug use bring out those issues?
Both of these characters are beautifully flawed. I wanted to write about two imperfect people who despite their trauma and issues, persevered. They aren’t perfect, but they never claimed to be. I think about some of my favorite characters in literature and film and why I connected to them and what made them so relatable. They are characters who make mistakes and fail, but those failures aren’t always what define them. In fact, they are what shape them and I think that is raw and real, which is something I strive for my characters to be.
As a writer, pulling from personal experiences can be so vulnerable but it’s what creates characters that people connect with, which is the whole goal. I just want my readers to say, “wow, I felt that…I’ve been there.” Covering heavy topics like anxiety and mental health was a challenge but something I believe should be discussed more in literature especially with the rise in numbers of young people dealing with it.
Meet the author
Alexandria Rizik is an award-winning filmmaker and the author of three books, the poetry collection Words Written in the Dark, a children’s book Chocolate Milk, and her recent release and debut novel 21 Questions.
She was born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she was brought up by a large Armenian family. She received her bachelor of arts in English literature from Arizona State University.
Alexandria’s love for writing began when she was a young child: her aunt bought her a journal and told her to write a story in it, and the rest is history. Her favorite part about writing is being able to write the happily every after that doesn’t always happen in real life.
Besides writing, Alexandria loves yoga, wine, and family time.
About 21 Questions
In Laguna Beach, California, sixteen-year-old Kendra Dimes is preparing for the 2010 USA Surfing Prime West. She’ll be competing this year in honor of her brother, who was a surfer too, but who died from a drug overdose. Kendra has suffered anxiety attacks ever since her brother’s death, and surfing is what’s been helping her heal.
Brock Parker is the new bad boy at school; he deals drugs to the high school clientele for his parents, who work for a Mexican drug lord. Though Brock and Kendra come from two different worlds, sparks fly when they meet at the homecoming dance—their attraction is magnetic. When they start a game of 21 Questions one night, they begin to learn more about each other—and, surprisingly, about themselves too. But some questions aren’t answered with the whole truth; after all, Brock can’t tell Kendra what his parents do for a living.
As Kendra and Brock experience all of life’s most exciting firsts, they prove that even when life throws you the perfect storm, you can make it through and come out stronger than before. 21 Questions is a coming-of-age journey packed with passion and heartbreak, risk and romance.
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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