Akemi Dawn Bowman on the importance of mental health in YA
"I want the beautiful and the ugly and all the in-betweens."
The Ways Our Stories Can Heal
by Akemi Dawn Bowman
I’ve struggled with my mental health for most of my life. Some days have been darker than others, but finding a way to live that’s gentler on my mind is something I work at constantly.
When I was a teen, I didn’t know what that meant. I was overwhelmed by feelings and thoughts that felt completely out of my own control. It often felt like nobody could ever possibly understand what I was feeling. Sometimes it even felt like I was the loneliest person in the world.
I’ve spent time in therapy since then, working through my mental health and coming up with ways to cope that were specific to me. But I think the biggest change in my own life came when I realised there were other people out in the world who were going through the same thing as me.
There is a certain kind of superpower that comes with feeling like you aren’t alone. It’s a validation that feels like letting out a deep breath and going, “Okay, I still feel a weight on my shoulders, but I’m not the only one carrying it. There are other people who live like this, too.” But not all of us have a safe space where we can talk or people we can confide in. Some of us are alone because we don’t know where else to go.
That’s why books are so important. They have the power to be doors to another world, or windows into someone else’s life. But they also have the power to be mirrors that reflect our own experiences and help us make sense of what we’re feeling. They have the power to heal.
So when I write, I think of the version of myself that existed all those years ago, who needed a friend and didn’t know where to find one. I think of what it would’ve meant for childhood me to pick up a book and see everything I was feeling laid out on the pages. I think of how much it would’ve helped to know that I wasn’t alone.
My experiences with mental health won’t be universal. We all live different lives that shape our views and reactions to the world. Mental illness will never be a one-size fits all, because it’s not a size—it’s a lived experience, and it isn’t black and white. It’s made up of a thousand different shades that blend together in a thousand different ways.
It is impossible for a single book to reflect every human experience, which is why a wide variety of mental illness representation is so incredibly necessary. Because every reader should get that chance to see themselves reflected in a story, and nobody should have to feel like they’re struggling with their mental health all on their own.
I want books to exist that reflect all the messy, frustrating, hopeful, and terrifying aspects of mental illness. I want the beautiful and the ugly and all the in-betweens. I want books that reflect real life.
I hope those of you who are struggling with your mental health are able to find the books that help you heal. And most importantly, please know that you are not alone.
Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of William C. Morris Award Finalist Starfish and most recently, Summer Bird Blue, with her next book, Harley in the Sky, releasing in 2020. She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She currently lives in Scotland with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix.