Monday, December 17, 2012


People are talking about mental health in this country. That is something I, for better and much worse, know a lot about. Get Well Soon, my first novel, was about a teenage girl hospitalized for depression. My newest novel, Have a Nice Day, follows that girl back to high school when she gets released. Get Well Soon is closely based on my own experience with depression and hospitalization in high school. The book was one of the recipients of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ken Book Award in 2008. I was flown to New York City to accept the award in front of mental health professionals and the other award winners, all of whom were best-selling, award-winning, high falutin' scholars. I felt like an out of place child at the ceremony, not to mention the fact that I was eight weeks pregnant and could barely keep any food down. At the time, I didn't understand why my little YA novel would receive such a prestigious award. After years of receiving letters from teenagers about their own struggles with depression, or their friends' or siblings', I am starting to understand.

Mental healthcare in this country is complicated, expensive, and abstract. My stay in a mental hospital in high school cost $25,000 from my parents insurance plan. For some reason, all of the teenagers in the ward were aware of their parents' insurance plans. Most covered a standard $25,000 for inpatient help. That amounted to approximately three weeks, twenty-one days. Somehow "helping" me cost over one thousand dollars per day. There was a joke with the kids that one guy, the "lifer," had million dollar coverage. Ha? As an adult, I was occasionally told by those in the know that I made the mistake of using my health insurance to pay for my mental health care (anti-depressants, trips to my therapist or psychiatrist). I eventually found out that it was a mistake. When I left my job as a teacher, with comfy group health insurance, my family had to apply for individual care. I was grilled over the phone for hours by Blue Cross Blue Shield, the same company who covered me while I was employed for ten years, and emotionally stripped naked by some asshole who asked me question after question about my physical and mental history. I was told that withholding information would lead to automatic disqualification for insurance. What I was not told was that ANY admission of mental healthcare-- I'm talking your weekly chat with your social worker about how your boss is annoying-- was an automatic insurance red flag. No one would give us insurance because of it. We finally found United Healthcare, a very high deductible plan, to cover us, but with the clause that we could not use it for mental health care. We are grateful for the insurance.  But what happens if down the road, someone in my family needs more? Needs to go somewhere that costs $25,000? And that was twenty years ago. Who knows what the cost is now?

Good mental healthcare is important. I have received both good and bad care, met with quacks and idiots, those who wanted to help and those who wanted to bill me $200 for ten minutes and a slip of paper. It is hard finding trustworthy, talented, responsible mental healthcare workers. I am probably more cynical on that front than most; it's hard not to be when you've seen the number of incompetents I have in my life. It's just a damn shame that so many people can't or won't get help when they need it. A huge part of the problem is financial. Now, my family pays out of pocket when we want to talk to someone to keep stability in our home. If I am in a place where I need more, I visit my general practitioner or my OB/Gyne, both whom I trust immensely, to give me my prescriptions. I have yet to find a psychiatrist who fits that bill. My last one typed the entire time I spoke with him and still had important details of my life incorrect. I am glad to know friends and family that have found ones they can trust.

But this is all coming from a person who has gone through her life under the eyes of therapists, from parents who accepted mental healthcare as a necessity. Annoyingly, I still sometimes need a lot of help. And it's a shitty kind of help to have to ask for. Why would I want anyone to know the horrid places my brain goes to when it's not working right? If I'm scaring myself, what impact would that have on someone who loves me? It is even harder now that I have a child; every sick, selfish, deathly thought is reflected back at me through her innocence. Several years ago, a colleague of mine killed herself. After our staff met about the suicide, a teacher friend of mine came up to me, ripping with anger. "I can't believe she did that to her sons," she seethed. I didn't say anything. I knew how she could. I knew what she was thinking: that her kids, the world, would be better off without her. Moments later, one of the feelier teachers came up to me, hugged me, and thanked me for keeping going (referring to the depression I've dealt with in my life). It was touching and terrifying, so much to live up to.

I have unfortunate mental health genes; my family, both sides, is filled with bi-polar disorder, anxiety, depression, and suicides. I grew up in a complicated house, one that was at times very scary, and often unpredictable. Mental healthcare, when used wisely, changed that. Everyone needs help sometimes, whether it's a antibiotic or an anti-psychotic. If we don't admit that as a society, there will continue to be people walking around, bubbling inside with confusion, self-loathing, and fear, looking for some way to release it. I don't know what the answers are. But it doesn't sound good when someone who wants help, who has asked for it, has a red flag. Those who may need it even more don't stand a chance.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gift Time

Last week, my family visited the in-laws in South Carolina for early Christmas. Therefore, we celebrated Christmas, are currently celebrating Hanukkah, and when that ends, less than ten days later comes real Christmas. TOO MUCH CRAP. Romy doesn't think so, of course. I actually had to rack my brain for things I wanted this year on my wish lists. It's not that I don't want things, but I can't really remember what it is I want when it comes time to tell someone else.  And it seems lame to be like, "I could use some more of my bath gel." I managed to ask for- and receive- some excellent presents while in South Carolina, though. Here's a sampling of my bounty (and a look inside my dorky, gift-asking brain):

Oh, man, I love this shirt. Many of my gifts were Battlestar Galactica themed. I think I often choose one theme and run with it. I laugh every time I look at the shirt.

The new Ke$ha book! I love Ke$ha. Truly. I also received her new CD. Fabulous to the maxx.

This game is cray-cray. As an RPG player, I am used to very long, complicated game playing. The rules and contents of this box require mass amounts of studying before I will ever be able to play this game. And then I have to find at least two people to play it with me. Volunteers?

Hilariously, I asked for the DVD last year. Now I have both the DVD and blu-ray. That's how much I love this movie.

Okay, this wasn't for me. But I bet I would have loved this as a kid. I was a fan of going to the dentist. Because I was that cool.

I hope everyone is getting what they want for the holidays! Remember, if you want a signed book plate for any of my books, just send me an email with the name and address of where to send it. You can have a personally autographed book to give a friend or loved one! Now go get your teeth cleaned.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Happy Holiday Bookplates!

Thank goodness today will be in the 40s here in Chicagoland. It really freaks me out when it's the wrong weather. Two days ago we were int he upper 60s. Freakish. Last winter sucked with almost no snow. What's the point of being a kid with a pair of snow pants and a sled if it doesn't snow? I'm crossing my fingers it happens sometime this month. Speaking of this month, the holidays are coming fast! Hanukkah starts this weekend, and Christmas is less than three weeks away. Who's giving books for presents? I hope lots of you are. You know a way to make a book gift even more exciting? Have it personally autographed by the author! So here's my deal:
1) Send me (email a copy of a receipt (or forward an electronic receipt) for any of my books that you purchase for a holiday gift (There are four to choose from: GET WELL SOON, INTO THE WILD NERD YONDER, DON'T STOP NOW, and HAVE A NICE DAY. Personally, I think pairing GET WELL SOON with its new sequel, HAVE A NICE DAY would make a great gift. Don't you?)
2) Send me the name of whoever (whomever? Those darn Whos down in Whoville) you'd like me to sign the book plate(s) for (That was a horribly un-gramatical sentence).
3) Send me the address where you'd like me to mail the bookplate(s).

It's that easy! I can only mail bookplates within the US, since I can't guarantee that I can get to a post office during business hours. I just mailed my new manuscript to my editor, and, what do you know, she read it and already has my editorial letter. I have to bust ass on this one and get it back in less than two weeks. I think that may have been the reason I couldn't sleep last night. Happy holidays to me?

Now get shopping!