If you’re feeling a little crazy, you’re not alone.
If you don’t already know John Corey Whaley, you should; he’s a smart, funny, sharp YA author with a background in education and a deft way around words. He and I also have a lot in common — we grew up in small towns, and we’re out about mental illness — so I was excited when I had the chance to interview him for Yes! Magazine in advance of the release of his latest book, Highly Illogical Behavior. The book follows Solomon, a boy with intense agoraphobia who hasn’t left his house in years, and Lisa, the girl who’s determined to cure him, who learns that actually, mental illness isn’t that neat or simple.
John was even good natured about the fact that I showed up for our interview 15 minutes late because my calendar reminder didn’t go off, which just goes to show you that he’s a classy guy.
You may be familiar with Whaley’s work from Where Things Come Back, which is about growing up in a small town and slowly having reality peeled away so you see the dark and ugly parts of life. (See what I mean about having similar backgrounds?) Or maybe you read Noggin, which is just plain weird but also delightful and a kind of glimpse of what happens when you’re thrown into a world you completely didn’t expect (something that Whaley told me reflects his experiences as an author).
Highly Illogical Behavior is a book about two things that are important to me — mental illness and the way we relate to it in pop culture and interpersonally, and more specifically, mental illness in men and boys. In a culture of very narrowly-defined limits of masculinity, mental illness in men is extremely taboo and it’s something you Do Not Talk About. It’s one of the reasons Whaley’s outspoken discussion of anxiety is so great, because he’s just stating a fact: Some men get anxiety.
It’s also something that a lot of young guys among his fans need to hear. They aren’t weird, they aren’t freaks, they aren’t the only guys who feel this way. It’s actually not at all unusual to have symptoms of mental illness, and the problem with being mentally ill isn’t being crazy, it’s being unable to get treatment. Books like this one help to break down the stereotypes and barriers that make people feel like they can’t reach out for help.
I have experienced pretty major panic attacks—I know how irrational, unpredictable, and tricky anxiety is. But I never read work that really spoke to how confusing and easy to misunderstand anxiety can be. — John Corey Whaley
Check out my interview at Yes! for more quotes and comments from Whaley, as well as my own thoughts and commentary on mental health in YA. I’m pretty confident that if you haven’t been reading his work before, you’ll want to get on it now, and if not, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
And hey, my friends, if you’re struggling with a mental health condition or think you might be, it’s okay to ask for help. If you’re not getting the help you need, you’re allowed to fire your therapist, or ask for a different treatment modality, or discuss options for different medications. Your health care and your body are yours to control, and other people don’t get to dictate the kind of care you need. Here’s a useful starting resource for locating therapists in your area.