Hi. My name is dSavannah and I suffer from mental illness. Specifically, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD tendencies.
I’ve talked about my issues before, but I felt compelled to address them again in a specific blog post, because I just finished reading Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a member of the Amazon Vine program, which means I get to pick out books (and other items) to review. And Challenger Deep was available.
BUT… I almost didn’t order it, based on the description: “A captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force.” Reason being, I fight with my own demons, and I find it difficult to read things that contribute to … reminding me. And adding to the pain I experience. (Hence all the “trigger warnings” you see places.)
But, then I saw the book on a list of the best YA of 2015, and another of the books listed was Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles, which I absolutely loved. Since Deep was still available through Vine, I ordered it. And I read it over two days. And I’m glad I did, even tho it made me cry. Sort of a relief cry, I guess. Someone gets it. Someone understands. Someone put into words how I feel far too often.
The book features art created by the author’s son, Brendan, and the story is based on Brendan’s descent into mental illness. And I applaud Neal for writing this book, for creating a matter-of-fact, unapologetic, incredibly real look at mental illness. I think it was incredibly brave of him to write this book.
Now, the events experienced by Caden, the main character in the novel, are not ones I’ve experienced: I’ve never been hospitalized, I don’t hear voices (other than my own), I’m not schizophrenic or paranoid, I’ve never tried to commit suicide (though I know what the desire to have the pain end feels like).
But otherwise, the book absolutely captures how mental illness feels for me: the conflicting emotions. The descent into the deep, and the fear you’ll never escape it. And the depression that tells you: you never will. The fighting with beasts (or, as I like to call them, demons). The inability to stop or control or even really explain how I feel and what is going on with me. Which is beyond frustrating. I’m an intelligent person, so why can’t I “snap out of it” or just “exercise” or “smile” or those other hundred-and-one pithy comments people who don’t get it say, and think they’re helping. (They’re not.)
The book is a story within a story: Caden is on a ship, and he doesn’t know why he’s there. Sometimes the sea is calm, but sometimes it’s stormy. He doesn’t know who to trust. He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He has a mysterious mission to fulfill, but he doesn’t know if he can. Or if he should.
It’s also the story of “real life”: Caden is in school. He starts seeing patterns everywhere. He can’t concentrate. He scares his friends with his weirdness. He tells his parents he’s joining the track team, and then doesn’t, but walks everywhere. A lot. Because he’s compelled to: if he doesn’t, something horrible will happen. And then his parents hospitalize him to get him the help he needs.
Is he on the ship? Is he in a hospital? Really, it’s both.
Some of the great quotes from the book, which are so, so true:
“Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.”
“The scariest thing of all is never knowing what you’re suddenly going to believe.”
“The only thing you have for measuring what’s real is your mind . . . so what happens when your mind becomes a pathological liar?”
And these, which wrench my heart:
And you know the darkness beyond despair, just as intimately as you know the soaring heights. Because in this and all universes, there is balance. You can’t have the one without facing the other. And sometimes you think you can take it because the joy is worth the despair, and sometimes you know you can’t take it and how did you ever think you could?
You come to know the pattern of your particular chemical bombardment. The numbness, the lack of focus, the artificial sense of peace when the meds first hit your system. The growing paranoia and anxiety as they wane. The worse you feel, the more you can get into the treacherous waters of your own thoughts. The greater the threat from the inside, the more you long for those waters, as if you’ve grown accustomed to the terrible tentacles that seek to draw you into their crushing embrace.
Because they are true. These words are unfortunately true.
I don’t know if can I recommend that those struggling with mental illness read this book – because it hurts. It’s so real, and it hurts to be reminded of the mental pain we suffer. But, I also think maybe those who can handle it should read it, to be reminded they are not alone on this lifeboat, that they are not the only ones who fight the enemy of their own mind.
If you don’t have mental illness, I absolutely recommend that you read it. Especially if there is someone in your life who suffers. It will lead you to a greater understanding of the struggle. And perhaps how you can help. And that there is, sadly, no magic bullet to fix mental illness.
I myself am going through a switch of my medication, because the old one stopped working. It’s frustrating. It’s scary. I just want to feel somewhat normal again. And this happens regularly. Our bodies change, our brain chemistry changes, the medication stops working. But I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna deal with the side effects and ineffective treatments until I find what will work for me. And I hope you will too.
And I hope whoever reads this comes away with a better understanding and sympathy for the struggle. It’s real. And if you can help someone out of the deep, do so. That’s all we want: Love. Acceptance. Our bit of sky.