One of the challenges with pain – physical or psychic is that we can really only approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented the way a table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language.
I’ve been wanting to review a book on this blog since I started it and I’ve finally managed to finish one. This book is fantastic to start my journey into book reviews because of its focus on mental health, since that’s is one of the main focuses of this blog.
John Green’s Turtles All The Way Down is a testament to what it means to be alive and how some of us have to struggle every day just to make sense of ourselves and the world.
Mental health is difficult because it’s not obvious to understand like a broken bone or an open wound. There’s no easy or clear fixes, and there’s no way to truly comprehend how another person experiences things. It’s like an opinion, everyone’s is slightly different or very different, and it’s hard to pinpoint what that means.
Aza Holmes is a typical teenage girl, except her anxiety is real and raw and out of her control. Her struggle reminded me of my own struggles with anxiety and depression. My fears are nowhere near as intense as hers, but I understood her. I understood how isolated she felt and how difficult it was for to stop her intrusive thoughts. It can be absolutely crippling.
I know because I’ve been in her shoes and it’s terrifying.
Her friends and family want to understand and want to help her, but they find it frustrating when nothing can fix it. When there’s no way to verbalize what you need, communication can break down and make everything worse. It can make you feel guilty and it can make you doubt yourself. It can even make you feel like you’ll never have any semblance of a normal life, but you can.
It takes time and effort, and self-awareness. The road gets bumpy and there are hard bad days, but that doesn’t mean it won’t smooth out again. The trick is just learning how to handle those bumps and what kinds of triggers cause them. Then you can begin to heal, to recover. Even if it’s something you deal with with the rest of your life, that doesn’t mean it has to be all-consuming.
That’s the heart of this book, watching Aza go through her illness and deal with the symptoms. There are many times she loses control completely and does things to herself that she knows are wrong and quite frankly, ridiculous. But it’s not her, it’s not who she is, it’s her illness; the voice in her head that she can’t control.
We rationalize in our heads that our meds don’t work, so we don’t like taking them, and that it doesn’t matter if we treat our illness because it’s always going to be there. While these thoughts aren’t rational, they’re normal. And learning to cope with them is hard work and changing the way you think doesn’t happen in a day.
We see some of Aza’s future and she has a full life, but her illness is always present. It doesn’t prevent her from getting married or having kids. It doesn’t mean she can’t travel or have hobbies.
It just means taking it one day at a time, making sure to take your meds and know your limits. Find a routine that makes you feel stable. It won’t make every single day perfect, but it will improve most days. And at the end of the day, just making it through the day is a success story for some of us. There’s nothing wrong with that.
John Green wrote a fantastic book that I loved and there’s a great story in there separate from Aza’s mental health, but that’s the whole point. Your mental health doesn’t control you, even when it feels like it does. It’s only a small part of a bigger picture, omnipresent but not the main subject.
And that’s what makes it beautiful.