DiversifYA: Michelle Smith

Michelle SmithToday, we welcome Michelle Smith to the blog! Michelle is a YA writer and nerdfighter, and author of the fabulous KINGDOM COME (May ’13), an apocalyptic YA with a fantastic cast of diverse characters and the forthcoming PLAY ON (Spencer Hill Contemporary, 2015). She’s represented by Lana Popovic at ZSH.

Once you’ve read her very insightful answers to our questions, you know you’ll want to follow Michelle on Twitter and her blog. You can also add KINGDOM COME to Goodreads here.

1. How do you identify yourself? 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone through a few different diagnoses. How I would label myself: A postpartum depression and self-harm survivor, who still copes with bouts of depression and anxiety. The difference between 2010 Michelle and 2013 Michelle is that I can sense when I’m going down the slippery-slope, and can *usually* head off the depression before it goes too far.

2. What did it feel like growing up dealing with depression in a small town?

I felt like I was broken. Around here, and where I grew up, you keep your problems to yourself. If something is wrong, you didn’t broadcast it. And if, heaven forbid, there’s “something wrong with your head,” you most certainly don’t tell anyone. You’re crazy. Psychotic. People should stay away from you. Of course all of this is ridiculous, but it’s how people with mental illnesses are often treated.

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

Braving the stigma and seeking help. Walking into that pharmacy with a prescription that the pharmacy technicians might giggle at behind your back. I know, because I was once one of those techs who rolled her eyes at “another crazy person RX” before typing it up and handing it off to the pharmacist. Then, I’d smile at the customer and send them on their way. At one time, I was no better than the others in my community. Life has a funny way of setting you straight, eh? (And yes, I’m ashamed to even admit that I once felt that way.)

I take offense to people calling me or anyone else with depression “crazy,” but I refer to myself as nuts all the time. Hypocritical? Maybe a little.

4. What do you wish people knew about depression?

The biggest thing that grinds my gears: People telling someone with depression to, “just smile and get over it.” Or, one of my favorites: “Other people have it way worse than you.” Pardon my language, but no shit. You know what? I have a fantastic life. I have a great husband who works hard, an incredibly easy and happy-go-lucky kid, and a dog who’s been by my side for 5 years. I also have severe depression. There’s a chemical imbalance in my brain that I have no control over. I can’t “turn off the crazy.” (See? I can call myself crazy. You can’t call me that, though. I’ll bite your head off.)

Depression hurts, physically and emotionally. Some days, I have to force myself out of bed. Some days, I watch my son frown because I just have no energy to do anything. Some days, I see the dog’s disappointment at getting no playtime because all I want to do is stare into space. Sometimes, simply existing is just HARD.

Many people with depression just exist – they don’t live. They’ve perfected the smiles for strangers, they have a laugh that sounds just a little too forced, they manage to get through each day without collapsing. The problem is that, while playing along with life, the depression builds. Sometimes, people learn to live amicably with the darkness. And sometimes…well, sometimes the darkness takes over. It took over my life for a long time.

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

That mental illness is contagious. That people dealing with mental illness are somehow less intelligent that “normal” people.

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

Don’t allow your characters to fall into the stereotypes/cliches that you’ve heard. Give your character life. Give him/her a mind of her own, goals, dreams, hopes. Make him/her a person, not just their illness. Depression doesn’t define a person.

6 Responses to DiversifYA: Michelle Smith

  1. SO nice to see a post about the struggle with mental illness. It’s mostly invisible and so many people refuse to treat it as a real illness. As a writer who’s battled panic disorder and depression on and off for years, I want to congratulate Michelle on her book and fighting though her illness! I hope to see more YA characters who confront this issue.

  2. The stigma around these ‘invisible’ disorders is so brutal. Demystifying, and owning them is a great way to get people to see that YES, they ARE very real, and NO, it isn’t something people can just suck up and move on from.

    Good on you for pushing through and writing!

  3. powerful post; I have a loved one who also suffers from the same. People don’t realize – its an illness, not a mindset. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Very powerful in its honesty! Thank you for sharing your experience…Education on mental illnesses is important to avoid the stereotypes and to ensure that those who need it can seek help.
    Sharing this experience is one way of education of others!

  5. I have a list that I keep on my blog – ongoing – of YA books which deal well with mental illness. I really could use any input for more than anyone finds, and I’m really glad to see mental illness being included as part of diversity – diversity’s definitely not all about spot-on-the-surface things all the time.

  6. thoughtful post, i just bought a book that features a bi racial girl with a mental impairment.Diversity seems to be an issue that goes beyond the black and white fight.I’m glad to have learned more about you and your feelings on the topic.Hope there will be many more