Mental Health

What bullying does to brilliance

There’s this teenager I know. She’s brilliant, way mature for her age. She reads books I read and discusses them with a level of intellect and understanding that never fails to amaze. Let’s call her Emily. Then, I received the news yesterday …

Due to suicide speak, cutting, and bulimia, Emily has been placed in a special care facility. She’s only thirteen. When asked what caused all this, Emily admits it was bullying.

Once upon a time, Emily dated the middle school star. He was an athlete and popular kid, whereas Emily was quiet, snarky, and smart. She only recently discovered her preference for girls. In fact, Emily broke up with Mr. Popularity to date a girl, but beware the delicate egos of teenage boys.

Emily’s ex-boyfriend built an Instagram account for the sole purpose of terrorizing her. Via that account, he sent message after message:

You’re ugly.

You’re fat.

You’re going to hell.

Sadly, Emily started to believe this boy’s vitriol, and although she probably had some simmering depression issues already (as do many girls going through puberty), this bullying pushed her into a deep, dark hole where suicide seemed the best recourse.

The eating disorder flourished, too. Emily began counting the amount of carrots she ate. She started watching her mother cook dinner, making sure she didn’t use too much butter. Even when she did eat, Emily soon disappeared to purge. She lost thirty pounds.

Eventually, the cruel Instagram account was discovered, and the middle school principal kindly asked Mr. Popularity to stop harassing Emily. The principal spoke to the boy’s parents but not Emily’s. Apparently, Emily wasn’t important enough to enter the discussion. I’m sure the principal assumed she would be fine. A little bit of bullying? No big deal.

Well, she’s not fine. Her parents can’t leave her alone for fear of what she might do. She spends her days at the care center on a strict diet, surrounded by 12-18-year-old kids like her. They attend support groups and talk through their problems. Emily hopes to return to normal school by the end of March.

But what awaits her then? More bullying? Will Mr. Popularity come back for more? Will the principal acknowledge the bullying? Will the principal care? Will anyone care?

A couple weeks ago, a local sixth grader committed suicide by slitting her wrists. This was not a passive attempt; this was violent dedication. I don’t know why she chose to end her life, but I do wonder how a sixth grader arrived in such a dark place.

It seems like a vague broad stroke to blame society or social media, but I don’t know where else to look. When I was in sixth grade, I didn’t know what suicide was. I was most concerned with my grades, not my mental health. Shit, I didn’t know what “mental health” was. Kids today do. They’ve become experts at being sad, confused, and sometimes cruel.

I’m scared for them. I want to hug all of them, especially Emily as they treat the sores in her throat from months of purging and keep her away from sharp objects. This little girl has so much promise—a truly amazing youth—and some dumb idiot bully robbed her joy and distorted her self-image.

I don’t have answers. I do think about that old CSNY song … “Teach your children well.” Mr. Popularity might have earned a little slap on the wrist, but I doubt he understands the full ramifications of his actions. I’m sure he doesn’t know the destruction he caused, but maybe if he did, he would stop bullying instead of moving on to the next victim.

Similarly, it appears discussing mental health needs to happen early. When I was in elementary school a hundred years ago, we never talked about depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Maybe we should, just so kids can understand that there is help if they’re sad. However, flip that coin, and educating them early might impart the knowledge to hurt themselves. How much do we want our kids to know anyway? How early are we willing to lose that innocence?

It’s all just a mess. I wish I knew what to do. I wish I could help Emily—and I do try, as best as I can, but it’s not enough. Cutting can be perceived as an addiction, and we all know addicts won’t get well unless they make that choice; other people can’t make it for them. Maybe that’s what Emily is going through now. She must decide to put the razor down and eat again, and I hope she will. The world is a much brighter place with her in it.

Please listen to your kids. Keep an eye on them, but don’t hover because that will undoubtedly push them away. Love them. Just love them.

We Still Live

WE STILL LIVE: This angsty MM romance will make you cry and sigh

“A very addictive read.”

“Make sure you have your box of tissues available.”

“So very emotional, yet so powerful.”

“Loved every freaking word.”

“This book just about killed me.”

“Stunning … Couldn’t put it down.”


To say I’ve been pleased with the We Still Live reviews would be a massive understatement. I knew this tragic story about the after-effects of a college shooting meant a lot to me; I had no idea it would mean so much to other people … and today, it’s available to all in both paperback and eBook.

ORDER YOUR COPY NOW:

About the book:

Running from a scandal that ruined his life, Isaac Twain accepts a teaching position at Hambden University where, three months prior, Professor John Conlon stopped a campus nightmare by stepping in front of an active shooter.

When John and Isaac become faculty advisors for the school’s literary magazine, their professional relationship evolves. Despite the strict code of conduct forbidding faculty fraternization, they delve into a secret affair—until Simon arrives.

Isaac’s violent ex threatens not only their careers, but also John’s life. His PTSD triggered, John must come to terms with that bloody day on College Green while Isaac must accept the heartbreak his secrets have wrought.

***WE STILL LIVE is a standalone M/M friends-to-lovers romance featuring detailed adult content, graphic violence, hurt/comfort, and mental illness.***


Some things of note:

  • If you’ve ever been to Athens, Ohio, the home of my alma mater, Ohio University, you’re going to recognize this setting.
  • If you’re familiar with young actor Timothee Chalamet, you’ll know the inspiration for John Conlon.
  • If you like music, you’re welcome to listen to the We Still Live theme song, “I Found” by Amber Run.
  • A lot of the mental health issues in this book are autobiographical, especially the anxiety. My symptoms increase with every new shooting in America. Despite this, like John, I’m doing my best to thrive with the help of the people I love.
  • There’s a lot of heavy stuff in this book, but there’s sexy-sex time between John and Isaac, too, so please do enjoy those scorching moments. I know I do (wink).

A quick excerpt!!

“You look like I feel.”

“And how do you feel?” Isaac asked.

“Like I want to bury my head in a hole. Or get messy drunk.” John lifted his glass in an unreciprocated toast and drank.

“This is going to sound really insensitive, but can I ask you a question?”

John shrugged.

“The shooting.”

John coughed once, quickly. A loud laugh from the hallway made him startle and look over his shoulder.

Isaac could have backpedaled—should have, based on the way his coworker now resembled a spooked deer—but in for a penny. “Do you mind me asking what happened?”

John stared at him for a long moment before his mouth curved into something like a smile. The intelligent scrutiny of his gaze disappeared in a haze of what Isaac assumed was memory. Then he said, “You don’t know,” with an abundance of relief.

“I know it’s very ignorant of me, and possibly callous, but no.”

John traced his pale finger along the edge of the bookcase. “It was on College Green last June. The College of Arts and Sciences award ceremony. One of our students started shooting, and he eventually shot himself.”

“You were there?”

John laughed, which seemed sorely out of place. “Yeah, I was there. All of us were there.” He leaned closer, so close Isaac smelled bourbon on his breath. “A word of advice: don’t ask anyone else about it unless you’re really good with tears.”

Isaac shifted from one foot to the other. “You’re not crying.”

“No.” He finished his glass and spun around. “I need more alcohol.” It felt like a brush-off, an escape.

“John. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t.” He tapped his palm on the doorframe and looked back. “You know, you don’t have to stay here hiding. It’s painful watching introverts try to acclimate in social situations.”

Isaac smirked. “How do you know I’m an introvert?”

“We recognize our own kind, man. Every day of my life, my mantra is ‘Don’t be awkward.’”

“How’s that working for you?”

“Not well.” John smiled, rows of white teeth on display, and Isaac felt like the sun shined on his face. “Nice meeting you, Isaac. Now, go the fuck home.”


ORDER YOUR PAPERBACK OR EBOOK COPY NOW:

Mental Health · Uncategorized

Successfully Mad: My new mental health blog

edited

I’ve been riding the crazy train since I was fourteen, ebbing and flowing on tides of happiness, depression, and anxiety. Many writers can probably say the same. Hell, engineers can say the same. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.

I didn’t talk openly about my mental health (or lack thereof) until Robin Williams committed suicide. I realized that if someone as “happy” as him could do such a thing, maybe there were other people struggling in silence, too. I first started writing about my personal demons; then, I gave a big speech at the University of Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

Yeah, I was terrified, but since then, I’ve spoken a lot IN PUBLIC (arrrgggguhh) about mental illness: its causes and its treatments. Last November, I had a pretty nasty relapse. My mental health was the worst it had been in years. The depression, anxiety, and overwhelming fear wouldn’t stop, negatively affecting my work, my sleep, and my relationships

Sorta scared of medication, I sought therapy instead, and my therapist suggested I start a mental health blog … so I did.

Successfully Mad: Accepting Yourself and Your Mental Illness is now up and running. There, I do my best to write honestly about what I’m going through in an attempt to exorcise my own demons and maybe help other people, too.

Mental illness is a solitary disease, but it’s important to realize you are not alone. I’m just as messed up as you, I promise. There are plenty of us out there going through similar battles with body image, self confidence, paranoia, and severe melancholy. Let’s remove the stigma and talk about it.

If you’re up for a journey, come visit me HERE at Successfully Mad and subscribe in the sidebar. (You can learn more about my mental health speech there, too, and learn a bit about my background.) I’m going to try to be brave, so be brave with me.

Whatever you’re going through, have a hug through the internet. You’re not alone, and we’re gonna get through all this nasty shit together.

Mental Health

When your mental health takes a nosedive

Photo by Chris Loomis.

The past month has been a special version of Hell. I seriously injured a rib while helping my neighbor move a heavy chair. I knew the moment it happened that I was in trouble. When you feel something inside you go *pop*, reassess all your life decisions.

The pain spread from my rib to my back to my neck. I no longer slept through the night. I woke up at 2 AM and cussed at my TV for hours. I wandered through my days like an angry zombie … but I didn’t eat human brains. I didn’t eat anything, because OH, HELLO DEPRESSION! I WAS WONDERING WHEN YOU’D SHOW UP AGAIN!

As most of you know, I’ve suffered from depression since I was fourteen. This is nothing new. It reached its climax … valley … I don’t know which metaphor to use … when I lived in Phoenix and took some pills and drank some vodka and, oops, emergency trip home to stay with my parents.

Ohio has been a revelation for my mental health, possibly because I’ve come to realize I actually dislike sunshine and love rain and snow. I also love the small town lifestyle. I signed my first book deal here for the Bite Somebody series, and I have  my family nearby. All these things put depression in the rearview mirror. But now, thanks to some unfortunate life circumstances and a rib injury, it’s back.

What do I do when my mental health takes a nosedive?
1. Hide in my house.
2. Drink gin.
3. Read Sherlock fan fiction.
4. Stop writing.
5. Stop eating.
6. Stop smiling.
7. Reconsider medication.

I haven’t been on antidepressants in over three years, and weaning off of them last time scared the bejeezus out of me. Am I at the point where it’s time to revisit medication? Well, that’s still up for debate, but as my friend put it last week, “At least you can acknowledge when you need help.” Many people with mental illness seem incapable of reaching out for help. They wander through life in a sort of denial haze telling themselves they’ll get better, they’ll get better, when they actually need support.

Photo by Chris Loomis.

Medication isn’t the only answer, of course. There’s therapy and exercise and dietary changes and getting rid of alcohol (a HUGE depressant). There are any number of treatments for mental illness, but so many people don’t even want to admit they have a problem in the first place.

It’s been a long time since I had a “problem,” but that doesn’t mean I’m depression free. Whenever I speak about depression, I make it damn clear that there is no cure. You don’t just get kicked in the head by a horse and feel all better. Depression is a lifelong battle with peaks and valleys (see, I can use metaphors). I’ve been lucky to be on a peak for a long time, but now, I’m visiting the valley … and that’s what this is, a visit. I won’t be building a house here anytime soon.

It has been a month since my unfortunate *popping* incident. Two weeks ago, I wanted to cut for the first time in years. I saw my doctor and promised not to cut myself and spent a week on Effexor before its side effects freaked me out. I went to the gym today for the first time since my injury. I stared at Benedict Cumberbatch giggle gifs on Tumblr and watched the entirety of Yuri On Ice all over again. I’ve been talking again, too, smiling again, and I’m working on eating. Oh, I’m even sleeping again, and nightmares notwithstanding, it’s good. It’s all good.

I’m climbing out of the valley, slowly, but this has been an important and eye-opening reminder that mental illness is indeed the monster under your bed. It waits and it waits, until it grabs you by the ankle one morning and says, “You didn’t think I’d gone, did you?”

We need to take care of ourselves, mental illness or not. We also need to admit when we need help. See doctors. See friends. See God. When your mental health takes a nosedive, know that you are not alone. We all have bad days, weeks, months … Please don’t fight the fight by yourself. When you’re depressed, find the thing that makes you happy and surround yourself with that thing, even if it’s a good book. Even if it’s the sound of rain. Even if it’s ice cream. I’m clawing my way out of the pit. So can you.

Charleston · Mental Health · Sara Dobie Bauer · Writing

Light and Scales: Freaky Friday Fiction

There are people out there who would have you believe love cures mental illness. Find the right guy or girl, and your depression will go away. Your monsters will go away. Fact is, no one can heal you but YOU. Be wary of thinking otherwise …

Light and Scales (Excerpt)
by Sara Dobie Bauer
Featured in Twisted Sister Magazine

You meet him your second day in Charleston. More so, perhaps, you meet his violin. He’s wearing a suit you imagine cost as much as a car. As he speaks to you, he’s still holding his violin: a red piece of wood with scratch marks and a faded veneer. You wonder at the abuse the instrument has taken but soon think these are not marks of abuse but marks of love—of devotion.

You’re in a place called the Charleston Grill. Waiters scurry like albino beetles in white shirts and dark slacks. The restaurant smells of butter and fish but mostly butter.

After the jazz quintet finishes their last set, you find out his name is Graydon Kelly and he would like to take you to dinner. At first, you think you should say no. He has that look about him: the thorn on the rose, the sugared rim of a poisoned glass.

When he shows up to your date, though, you reassess. He’s in a pastel linen button-down and torn jeans. He has on boat shoes, and his curly black hair is a mess. He smells like pine.

“Rosin,” he explains. Something to do with his violin.

He takes your hand and leads you to a table in the courtyard. His left hand is callused against yours. Outside, winding, wrestling fig vines grow up the exterior wall, illuminated by white twinkle lights that mimic the stars. He pulls out your chair and sighs into his seat.

He must notice you looking at him, because he smiles. “I look different when I’m not on stage.”

You fall into conversation, and it’s not the usual, polite, getting to know you babble. Graydon Kelly says odd, irresponsible things like, “You seem like you’re running from something” or “You have an amazing mouth” or the worst, “What do you think of me exactly?”

You only respond to the last comment: a terse, “I’m not sure.”

He walks you home in a rainstorm, leaving you both soaked on the crooked front porch of the yellow plantation house you rent. He smells like rain and marinara sauce with the lingering touch of pine. He tastes like tiramisu.

Later, in your bed, you find him conversational. He makes himself at home. He is comfortable with pillow talk, even with an almost stranger. Again, you doubt your assessments.

He seemed so dangerous in his dark suit at Charleston Grill but so playful in his boat shoes with his messy hair: almost innocent. His comfort in your bed, though, is his tell, his admission. He does this all the time. He makes love to women he doesn’t know because they ask him to, because of his violin and his face and the strange questions he spouts over champagne.

When you ask about a white scar on his rib cage, he tells you his father used to beat him. One day, his father broke his ribs. One poked through the skin. In Graydon’s words, the bone looked like “a stick dipped in marmalade.”

His honesty makes you awkward. You feel a need to share something, too, so you tell him you’ve been diagnosed schizophrenic. He doesn’t know what this means, not really, so you explain to him that you see things sometimes—children in white light on sidewalks; grown men covered in red scales. You tell him things have been better since the medication …

Read the rest today at Twisted Sister Literary Magazine.

Mental Health · Sara Dobie Bauer · Writing

The perils of writing a character with mental illness

Photo by Chris Loomis.
Photo by Chris Loomis.

A week ago, I finished writing my third novel of the year. “Hambden” (working title) was the most difficult novel I’ve ever written. It took me a little over two months to write, but the short birthing period says very little about the emotional toil it took for me to reach The End.

The plot evolved from watching news coverage of the Paris attacks last year. Then, the attacks didn’t stop. The shootings increased. Living in Chardon, Ohio–a small town that suffered its own school shooting in 2012–kept me surrounded by red, cardboard hearts, silently commanding all of us to “Remember.”

I suppose my husband is the only person who can speak from experience about my consistent emotional breakdowns whenever I heard about some other psycho with a gun. Although he perhaps didn’t understand my hysteria, people with anxiety disorder surely do. When you’re already afraid to leave your house just because, multiply that with the fear of getting murdered by some asshole teenager with “Killer” written on his cheap, white t-shirt.

Buried beneath my anxiety and depression, an idea bloomed. Instead of ignoring what was going on in the world, I would write about it–namely, I would write about a shooting at an Ohio college, only I would write about the aftermath of the tragedy instead of the tragedy itself. How does a community rebuild? How are individuals affected?

My “individuals” (we writers call ’em “characters”) soon echoed in my head like gunshots. Meet Isaac Twain: emergency English Department hire who’s new to Hambden University and knows very little about the shooting that stole six lives the prior June. Meet John Conlon: hero teacher who stopped the shooting and desperately tries to hide how fucked up he is by being charismatic, funny, and brave.

I’m not giving anything away when I tell you surviving the school shooting messed John up big time, and, as I wrote my novel, I found it alarmingly easy to slip into his shoes day after day as he battled depression, PTSD, anxiety, and night terrors. However, what surprised me was how hard it was to take those shoes off at the end of the day.

In my past and present, I’ve battled the same demons as John Conlon. No one’s ever put a gun in my face, but depression is in my genes. A hellish job shoved me into PTSD and anxiety. My colorful imagination makes me a writer by day and sufferer of vivid, bloody dreams at night. Immersing myself in “Hambden,” in John and Isaac’s world of broken pieces, was more destructive than I’d expected.

I would never suggest we only write about happy things. I would never suggest we stop writing about mental illness. I’ve found that sharing my own mental health problems has helped my readers be open about their own–and that’s important, having that open dialogue. The more we talk about mental illness, the better we can deal with it. The more likely we are to heal. And yet, writer beware. There must be a strict delineation between the fiction you create and the life you live.

Halfway through “Hambden,” I came to the realization that writing is my job. It’s not my life (no matter what the passionate cliches on Pinterest want you to think). It is necessary for all of us to keep our work and our lives separate. Once I came to terms with that–once I made an agreement with Isaac and John that they had my mornings and life had my afternoons–I stopped feeling so comfortable in John’s sad, cold shoes. I could escape and stop thinking about the book as soon as I hit “Save” every morning.

Due to editing deadlines for next year’s Bite Somebody Else, “Hambden” will not be touched again until December. Then, I will revisit that world of violence and tragedy. Yet, even in that world, there are laughs and there is love. Writing might not be life, but sometimes, it sure does imitate it.

The “Hambden” theme song: