DiversifYA: Mark O’Brien

MarkEveryone! I’m very excited to have Mark O’Brien here today, for his very first DiversifYA interview! Mark is a writer of *amazing* YA and a contributor at Bookalicious. And if you’ve followed Mark on Twitter–or on his blog–you’ll know he has been quite outspoken about dealing with mental illnesses, which is something I appreciate so much! Of course, I had to ask him to come here to! Today’s will be the first of two interviews Mark did for us, and both of them equally awesome!

1. How do you identify yourself?

So I’ve been diagnosed with a few things by a few different people, but usually I tell people I have: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and psychotic tendencies.

2. What did it feel like growing up mentally ill?

I was unhappy for the duration of my childhood. That’s not to say I didn’t experience happiness—I did, just in short bursts in an otherwise unhappy life. The sadness was overarching. I looked in the mirror and saw the most hideous person in the world. I had maybe two friends. I didn’t know what I was experiencing was (presumably) depression, or that I could be helped.

One day when I was maybe twelve, I told my mom. She said she’d take me to the pediatrician, and I freaked out. Because what if I was wrong? What if this was what life was like? What if I was just a normal, sane crybaby who wanted attention, and I was just freaking everyone out for no reason? I told her to forget I said anything.

My first hallucination was a guitar chord, one clean pluck across the strings. We had a guitar in the living room. No one was in the living room. I started hearing my name, usually several times a day. It’d be in the voice of someone I knew, but when I turned around, they wouldn’t be looking at me—or, worse, they wouldn’t be in the room.

So I got diagnosed—first as psychotic, then with depression and GAD—and put on a million medications and slowly, I felt better. I felt normal. I started doing things like going out with friends and trying to find a hobby (which turned out to be writing, which became my passion. Oops) and being a healthy, functional human being.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t have a choice, though, because I have school and homework and chores and responsibilities, and there’s only so many sick days I can take inconspicuously. So occasionally I’ll go into school with puffy eyes and red cheeks, despite having scrubbed my face with cold water.

The only real perk I can think of is kind of hard to explain. It’s like: I’ve used up so much hate toward the human race in my life. I’ve had so many days when I wanted to leave this town, state, country—whatever—forever. I have cried so much and stared up at the ceiling when I should’ve been sleeping, wishing for an act of God to just end it all, that I figure I’m due for some happiness. The way I see it, happiness and sadness are on opposite ends of a pendulum. If you pull the weight back so far into sadness that it almost breaks and you finally let it go, that weight’s going to rocket back into happiness, and probably stay there for a while. tl;dr—I’m due for some happiness.

4. What do you wish people knew about being mentally ill?

Depression: even when I was struggling pretty badly—and losing—with depression, I smiled. I laughed. Sometimes I even meant it. Depression does not mean you never experience happiness.

Anxiety: the best thing you can do for me when I’m freaking out over something is not to force me to do/not do it. It is not to try to “motivate” me to do something that will give me a panic attack. It is to take me aside and say, “Okay, I can see you’re struggling. What can I do to help?”

Psychosis: I hallucinated a lot before I was put on medication. At no point was I violent. At no point did I transform into a red fourteen-foot-tall gorilla. You really never know when someone hallucinates unless they either A) tell you or B) say “Hey, does anyone else see that red fourteen-foot-tall gorilla?”

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

The notion that every mentally ill person is homicidal and violent or suicidal and crazy. Yes, some of us are—but these are the more extreme cases.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Please do your research. Talk to people—you can talk to me if you want; I’ll answer your questions! Every time you write a mentally ill person as more than their illness, an angel gains its wings.

2 Responses to DiversifYA: Mark O’Brien

  1. Hi Mark,
    I’ve seen you around on twitter here and there. I never would have known what you’ve been through by just seeing that. It really reinforces the truth that we really don’t know people when all we see is the exterior. take care,
    Lisa C

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