DiversifYA: Sara Gaines

SaraGainesSara Gaines is the author of the Halvarian Ruin series, a LGBTQ YA series from Harmony Ink. In the first book, Noble Falling, Duchess Aleana Melora is facing a loveless marriage to a man she hardly knows. When her convoy is attacked, Aleana discovers that her people have turned against her, believing her to be a traitor. If she can reach her future husband, Tallak, she might be able to survive, but she’ll need help to do so. That help comes from Kahira, a woman Aleana is drawn to despite the warnings of her guard. The second book, Noble Persuasion, continues their story as the world Aleana has known crumbles around her. For more information about Sara or the books, check out her website or her Twitter account!

1. How do you identify yourself?

Lesbian who sometimes forgets she has a pretty major case of bipolar disorder. More recently, I’ve been adding Southerner to that list and letting my accent come back one mispronounced vowel at a time.

2. What did it feel like growing up with bipolar disorder?

The worst part of bipolar disorder is that it often manifests in your late teens/early twenties. Or, as many people with bipolar disorder can tell you, pretty much the worst time possible since you’re likely trying to make it through college and figure out what you want to do with your life at the same time. For me, I started showing the first signs when I was around sixteen, but it didn’t become clear that I was dealing with bipolar disorder and not just normal mood swings until I was in college. Looking back, I should’ve known before I did, but it took being dragged to a couple therapists before it really clicked.

When I finally had a name for what I was going through, it was incredibly easy to see the parts of my life that had been impacted. Now know the signs of a mood swing or mixed state and can better manage them. That certainly wasn’t always the case. Back when I was first dealing with everything and trying to find medicine that would make my mental illness something I could live with, my mood swings often got the best of me. To make matters worse, I was also dealing with some pretty serious things in my life that would have been difficult to deal with in any state. I was passively suicidal and did many, many harmful things to myself in both depressive and manic episodes, my methods just looked different.

Things are much better for me now (sometimes I can’t believe how much better, actually.) I still have mood swings and I will for the rest of my life, but I can manage them so well now that they barely impact my life.

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

Thankfully, I don’t deal with the worst parts of bipolar disorder as much now. I still deal with my brain rushing so quickly from one point to another that I can’t get the words out fast enough so I end up being unable to speak coherently. I also still deal with feelings of hopelessness and being unworthy of every good thing in my life. The good news is that I at least know how to handle those things now and that’s about as bad as it gets.

I think the worst challenge now is dealing with the misconceptions about people with bipolar disorder. I always worry what will happen if I tell someone I have it, even if the person has known me for a long time. There are so many awful stereotypes about people with mental illness and it seems as though people assume having bipolar disorder means you’re horribly violent and could snap at any second.

As for quirks, well, it might be a small thing, but increased productivity is one thing that comes along with manic episodes. Unfortunately, even that “perk” can get out of hand if I’m not on medication. Productive can easily turn into “oh god I can’t sleep anymore and I forgot to eat anything for the past two days, but it seems like a great idea to keep doing something else.” Hey, there’s a reason I was able to write my first book in college on top of being a double major and playing varsity athletics.

In addition to the productivity, I can also be really fun to be around at the start of a manic phase. I’ll drag you out for an adventure, be in a great mood, do the whole life of the party thing, but that feeling can get cranked well past eleven and it’s too much for me to handle. Again, my medication keeps everything manageable for the most part, so I deal with fewer terrible symptoms now.

4. What do you wish people knew about having a mental illness?

It’s hard. It’s really, really hard to deal with sometimes. I can’t speak for everyone who has a mental illness because they all manifest differently, but even though I’m lucky enough to be able to manage my bipolar disorder well enough to make it through each day, it can be a struggle. I wish people understood the amount of effort it takes for some people to do what comes so easily for others. I recognize that I’m not like most people, but just because my brain works a little differently doesn’t mean I don’t have value.

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

Well, I’ve touched on this a little bit, but I have one story that sums up pretty much the worst things people think about individuals with mental illnesses. There was a girl who was planning to live with a couple of my friends and me during our senior year of college. I didn’t know her very well, but we started to hang out more before we even moved in together. One day we were sitting around with a mutual friend and I mentioned that I had bipolar disorder. I’ve never seen someone look so nervous. She spat out a “Wait, are you serious? You’re not going to stand over my bed in the middle of the night with a knife in your hand or anything, right?”

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

The best thing you can do when writing diverse characters is to not be afraid to write them in the first place. Throwing a diverse character into a story doesn’t cut it if that representation is bad representation though. When you write a diverse character, make sure you’re listening to that population. I don’t mean just one person either, listen to as many voices as you can and don’t only rely on representations you’ve already seen. As I said previously, my experience with bipolar disorder is not the same as everyone’s.

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