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Turtles All the Way Down > Question #2: Writing About Mental Health

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited May 07, 2018 02:01PM) (new)

Did you know that the author of Turtles All the Way Down, John Green, suffers from the same mental illness(es) as his main character, Aza Holmes?
Why do you think he would make the choice to show his illness through the eyes of a 16 year-old?


message 2: by Jaime (new)

Jaime Grover (jaimborainbow) | 23 comments Mod
I did know this! John is quite open about his mental health on social media and his vlogs (to an appropriate extent--he obviously doesn't share everything but tries to share things that others may find helpful). The vlogbrothers video What OCD Is Like (for Me) (shared on the main Oakville Reads page under Videos) provides such excellent insight into OCD, but also in how mental health issues and experiences vary from person to person.

I love that John wrote about his own illness from the perspective of a 16-year-old. I'm sure this decision was at least in part due to his usual writing style and genre--YA fiction. Why change now, right? It's also effective to write mental health from a teenager's POV because this is a period of time in one's life when things are beginning to rapidly change and important life decisions start to get made. The stress of these changes can absolutely amplify whatever mental illness is already present.

Turtles All the Way Down does an excellent job of showing what it's like to live with mental illness. There are a lot of young people who could use this kind of support or just to have a book or character to relate to, even a little bit.

Alternatively, I think this book can be a helpful tool for those who perhaps don't suffer themselves, but who do have a loved one who is suffering from some form of mental illness. It provides an honest look at the pain and ugliness of mental illness, so maybe instead of calling that teen or millennial (or whoever) a "snowflake" for getting triggered by something, or having a panic attack, or a depressive episode (etc.), we can learn to be more empathetic and figure out how we can help, instead of being judgmental about something we don't understand.

Coming from both camps (minor mental health issues myself, and have many people I love who suffer), Turtles All the Way Down really struck me as an important and touching read.


message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan (susanopl) | 472 comments Mod
Like Jaime, I knew that John Green suffers from OCD. I think it's wonderful that he wrote this book for teens, who might feel like they're the only ones who have a condition like Green's. It gives them hope to know there is help, and that things will get better. I also liked that Aza was seeing a psychiatrist throughout the book, seeking help and not just ignoring her condition.

His descriptions of Aza's spiralling thoughts made it clear to me what it feels like to suffer from OCD.


message 4: by Dana (new)

Dana (dkmckelvey) | 51 comments I didn't know anything about John Green so this is interesting! It gives such an interesting perspective that people without OCD know little about. I'm finding the audiobook good for really expressing her emotions when she has issues with the bandaid, etc.

I'm glad that mental health is talked about so much more these days - specifically for teenagers. Such a hard time anyway. Some other ones that come to mind are Perks of Being a Wallflower and All the Bright Places. It's nice that young people can read these and feel less alone.

I recently read The Woman in the Window, which dealt with mental illness, specifically agoraphobia. I thought it was well researched as well.


message 5: by Natalie (new)

Natalie I already knew about John's OCD and I was very excited when I heard he would be writing a book about it. Representation is so important. Relating to a book character, however small it may seem, can have a huge impact.
I learned a lot about what it's like to live with OCD, and I realize that it's so much more than perfectionism. When people make jokes about "being OCD" when they're just organized or perfectionist, it really minimizes what obsessive compulsive people actually experience. John's vlogs have also done a lot to show this.
I agree with Jaime, hopefully this book will help people be more sympathetic towards teenagers with mental illness instead of dismissing it. And it's fantastic that Aza got better with the help of her medication and therapy, because that's what really will help. It's important that people see the reality of mental illness, instead of the many romanticized portrayals that we see in mainstream media.


message 6: by Jaime (new)

Jaime Grover (jaimborainbow) | 23 comments Mod
Natalie wrote: "I already knew about John's OCD and I was very excited when I heard he would be writing a book about it. Representation is so important. Relating to a book character, however small it may seem, can..."

I loooove your point about people making jokes about being "OCD" particularly regarding cleanliness or perfectionism. It's something I can recall hearing countless times growing up, and wouldn't have given it a second thought then. Thankfully, I hear it a lot less now, hopefully due to more people becoming aware of the seriousness of mental illness--because you're absolutely right that making jokes minimizes the actual symptoms and effects of the illness.

I'm glad that there are more and more pieces of art (books, tv shows/films, plays, etc.) like Turtles All the Way Down that portray the reality of living with mental illness. I completely agree with you and Susan that it's wonderful that Aza actively seeks the help that she needs.

Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts throughout the month, Natalie!


message 7: by Kelsey (new)

Kelsey (mustyunderwood) | 2 comments Natalie wrote: "I already knew about John's OCD and I was very excited when I heard he would be writing a book about it. Representation is so important. Relating to a book character, however small it may seem, can..."

I agree that representation is super important! It's so uncommon to see mental illness portrayed realistically. There's so much stigma surrounding mental illness and many misconceptions about what it's like to live with it. OCD, in particular, is often portrayed pretty negatively and inaccurately in media.

It's so great to see that more public figures like John Green are speaking out about their challenges with mental illness.


message 8: by Deanna (new)

Deanna | 3 comments Mod
I agree, Natalie and Jaime, that when people make jokes about "being OCD" it really does minimize the actual experience of living with that disorder and it is really much more than being a perfectionist! I definitely think that by reading about Aza's experience with OCD, it opened up my eyes to what people go through living with this mental illness. Even though everyone's experience will be different, the book certainly provides insight into what it is like living with this disorder and I really liked that it was told from a teenager's perspective. I guess in knowing the general audience that reads John Green’s books, it would make sense for him to create a character that experienced mental illness in the same age group as the readers. Even though, all ages could pick up and enjoy Green’s books, I think having a young adult, suffering from this illness, could really speak to young adults. Like Jaime and others mentioned, there are a lot of changes and life decisions being made in the teenage years, and I think the character of Aza, and this story in general can provide comfort and support in knowing that there’s someone out there that might be experiencing a similar situation.


message 9: by Rocio (new)

Rocio (rociofarrell) | 64 comments I read the book without knowing that Greens suffers from mental health conditions and I was fascinated by the way he brought me into the character Aza to experience and understand this condition. I agree with what most of you have said about being important to find representation of those conditions in the mainstream characters. It is such a good way to support people living with these conditions and to introduce more people to the understanding o mental health.
About the other subject you are talking about making jokes about OCD or referring to it lightly, I for one used to do that until a couple of years ago when I read an article by a person suffering from real OCD and I realized how insensitive it was to do that.
I am glad to see more authors facing these subjects of mental health and I admire Greens for having the courage to share his personal experience this way.


message 10: by Olivia (new)

Olivia | 13 comments Mod
Rocio wrote: "I read the book without knowing that Greens suffers from mental health conditions and I was fascinated by the way he brought me into the character Aza to experience and understand this condition. I..."

I also didn't know about Green's personal experiences with OCD, but I completely agree with your phrasing Rocio. I think I'd also use the word "fascinated" to describe my emotions while reading this book. Green does a great job of bringing readers into Aza's thought process and represents the condition very well.

I think a lot of people are guilty of making light of mental health issues, but when we acknowledge the behaviour as wrong we're making great steps towards reducing stigma. I know I've definitely been responsible for minimizing OCD's symptoms and impact by using the term incorrectly in the past. That's why I love forums like this where we can talk about these issues and spread awareness so that slowly the world becomes a more accepting place!


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