Quote of the Week – Oct. 26

Parent-Teacher Associations are the biggest advocacy groups in regards to child health and education. If you haven’t joined your local PTA or PTO, I encourage you to do so. (If you are in Texas, you can join any PTA in Texas at www.joinpta.com.)

I’m passionate about people. I’ve spent my life in advocacy. People matter – whether or not we agree on the issue, people matter. ~ Ann Marie Buerkle

The dangers of loving your character too much

Parents want what is best for their children. As writers, our characters are often like our children. We created them. We want them to succeed, to be happy. We hate when they are upset.

In our heads they may be able to do no wrong. They could have all the courage or charm we wish we possessed. And when they are good at something, we want everyone to know how brilliant/nice/brave/good looking/(insert desired character trait) our character is.

And when I talk about characters – this could be any (or all) of your characters – minor, sidekicks, heroes, love interests and antagonists. There is something about all of them that we love. But the problem with loving your character is often, you don’t want anything bad to happen to them. You don’t want to injury, handicap or even kill them.

And sometimes in loving them too much, we tend to make them too perfect. We don’t give them serious flaws or allow them to make mistakes and struggle. Others may follow them without hesitation. But our characters need obstacles – real obstacles. They need to go up against a well-developed antagonist and not one who is merely there to oppose them. We need to know that the hero may not always win.

While we may hate to see our characters struggle, that is what they need to do. They need to struggle because that struggle IS the story. It compels the characters to act. We need some sort of conflict whether internal or external to happen to our characters.

No one wants to read a story about a man who loves his job, comes home to his loving family and goofy dog and is living a completely fulfilled life. That is boring. There is no opportunity for drama, character growth, or even to impart a message besides just “Don’t you wish your life was this good?”

So give your characters hardships and challenges. Bend them until a normal person might break. And as much as you love them – you need to be willing to let them be hurt or possibly die. Killing off a character you love is never easy. And it probably won’t be easy for your readers either. But sometimes you have to do it – no matter how great or how much you love your character.

World Mental Health Day & dealing with my daughter’s mental health

Today is World Mental Health Day – an international day for mental health education, awareness and advocacy against the social stigma of our mental health. For too long these topics have been hushed up, as if people are embarrassed to admit they have problems or need help. And while there is more focus today on our mental health, discussions about anxiety, depression, suicide, and mental illness are still lacking.

Even before the strain of COVID and changes in lifestyles and school, the public schools in my school district have been focused on Social and Emotional Learning – those social skills to handle the stress and pressure we all face in life. But as we return to normal from quarantine and masks, there are many kids who still struggle with these changes. Not to mention these kids are still developing mentally and emotionally and have the normal stresses of academics, athletics, social circles or just even their home life.

I remember being anxious as teen. I remember the insecurities and the feeling of not belonging, but this was a time when you were supposed to “suck it up” and just keep going. I don’t recall talks on suicide or how to deal with my emotions. Of course, I got through it and while I am somewhat anxious about certain social interactions now, it isn’t debilitating.

When Jase started kindergarten, one little girl that we walked to school with had a lot of anxiety. She missed a lot of school. Her mother also dealt with many of those issues so she was able to get her medication at the age of 5 that helped her handle her anxiety. Today she is in high school and competes nationally in dance competitions. 

My daughter Lexie has had her own mental health issues. As early as 5th grade she has had thoughts of self-doubt, anxiety and of cutting herself. She blamed a lot of her feeling on the ADHD medication she was on. We originally tried lowering the dose and then finally got rid of the meds all together. But even in middle school and without the meds, she continued to have those same feeling. It was bad enough that she asked to speak to a professional.

So last December she started seeing a therapist virtually who diagnosed her with anxiety and mild depression. About three months later, the therapist thought Lexie should see a psychiatrist about medication for her anxiety. The demand for both psychiatrists and psychologists is high right now. It took us three months to get into see a psychiatrist. And another four months to get in for neuropsychological testing so we can have a definitive answer on her ADHD, anxiety, and depression.

As her parent, I am working on understanding how she is feeling and what she is going through. It is sometimes hard not to tell her that this is normal and she will get through it. I have no experience in my past that will let me know how to talk to her about these issues even though I too experienced some of them. She worries that something is wrong with her and for awhile she worried that she would be put in a mental hospital. We assured her that wouldn’t happen.

She finished the last of her neuropsychological testing last week, and next week I will get the results. And we will figure out where to go from there. We will learn what needs to be done for her to feel better and learn to cope with her feelings. And there should be no stigma about getting that help.

If you are feeling suicidal or need help, and are in the United States, you can call 988 to access mental health services. And please, never be afraid to ask for help. If you want to find out more about mental illness, go to the National Alliance of Mental Illness website.