As my close bookish friends know, I recommend Rachel’s book to everyone, everywhere. Don’t Touch was a book that absolutely changed my life- I had never before read my thoughts in a character’s head. It scared the hell out of me for a few minutes, and then I regained my composure and fell in love with the book. It has been my go-to book to recommend when people ask for any of the categories it can be included in: mental health, family and friendships, romance, performing arts, and just contemporary in general.
So imagine how giddy I was when Rachel was interested in participating in our event! I am so, so excited to share her lovely story with you, so without further ado, let’s just let Rachel take over!
I am on a darkened bus, on my way home from the Alabama French Convention. Our très chouette (super cool) team has spent the last two days showing off our accents, our extemporaneous speaking prowess, and our trivial knowledge of Francophone countries and the Hundred Years’ War. We’ve dined on crudités and éclairs chocolats, raised the roof with Alabama’s entire population of teen Francophiles, and swept the bulk of the awards. It’s been a French Convention par excellence.
I’m a year ahead in French, and most of my friends—or the people I sit with at lunch anyway—are from that class. I’ve never asked them over, rarely hung out with them outside of school, beyond the occasional basketball game where we chant our aggressively nerdy cheers: “Demosthenes, Demosthenes, the Peloponnesian War, x-squared, y-squared, H2SO4!” It goes on.
This is all to say that I don’t go to school with your average teenagers. I go to school with a bunch of nerds, mostly kind nerds. And even though, as a group, they’re probably more understanding than average, I have no intention of talking to any of them about what goes on in my brain.
Around this time, I would stay awake for what seemed like hours before sleep each night, trying to stave off calamity by reciting compulsive prayers in my head. I wasn’t praying to God so much as to fate or to chaos: Don’t let bad things happen, pleasepleaseplease. I obsessed over every social interaction, over homework, over fears that the people I loved most were on the brink of freak accidents thanks to my lack of vigilance. I had few close friends and zero confidants, certain that anything I shared would be received as weird or worse.
And this one night on a darkened bus, heartened by our succès fou (crazy awesome success) and camaraderie (you know that one), I find myself in an intense tête-a-tête with a guy in my grade. I’ve met him, joked around with him. I think maybe he likes me, like like-likes me. But we’re not friends. We don’t know each other well—not yet. Our bench seat on the bus is a private bubble. Voices murmur all around, enough to drown out our words for others, but not so loud that we can’t hear, and did I mention it’s dark? He tells me a story, which is personal and scary and doesn’t show him in a 100% squeaky-clean light, and he asks me for a story in return.
And I tell him … everything.
I want to talk about stigma, the super-scary and very real possibility that another person will judge or make assumptions about you if you talk about your mental health.
It happens. A year or two later, I’d be in another darkened space, a room in a town house in France, a big room with bunk beds and a different guy, a good friend, let’s call him Greg, curled up in a blanket on the floor so as not to miss the late-night confessionals. I told Greg and the others about OCD. We were living together—I wanted them to know what the medicine was that I took everyday. And Greg said, “I don’t believe in mental illness.” Or maybe it was that he didn’t believe in the medicine. “It’s all in your head … a placebo effect.” He said it with great certainty and not a little contempt, the way people talk about celebrity scandals or political snafus, distant topics that don’t actually affect them but which they have all the answers about.
I knew what he said wasn’t true because the first medicine I tried didn’t work. It only made me sleepy, so much so that I’d prop my head up on books in the halls, briefly becoming that one girl who sleeps all the time. And the next pill, the one that worked, flipped off the worst of my symptoms like a light switch. But these words from a friend—from someone whose opinion mattered—were enough to make me doubt, to make me feel ashamed of the medicine for months after that, maybe years.
Telling someone was like gambling. It would bring you closer or threaten to split you apart. For years, I couldn’t talk about it at all without sobbing. My friend on the bus—after that one conversation, he was a friend for life—his shirt became my mop. And he handled that well. He accepted everything I said. He understood.
My life turned on that one conversation. The medicine fixed the symptoms, but I’d been through a years-long trauma, and I needed that understanding to feel right again, to heal. That conversation and many more like it made the risk of sharing worth it until it didn’t feel so much like risk anymore, until that understanding and acceptance became my own.
With time, I’ve come to appreciate the ones who understand and to have compassion for the ones who don’t. It often happens that the ones who don’t are suffering themselves, denying a problem that eventually bubbles up and boils over until it can’t be ignored. And I’m a great person to come to when that happens because I get it. Je comprend que tros bien.
And here she is now, with all the places you can find her!
About the book:
My review can be found here!
Step on a crack, break your mother's back,Touch another person's skin, and Dad's gone for good . . .Caddie has a history of magical thinking—of playing games in her head to cope with her surroundings—but it's never been this bad before.When her parents split up, Don't touch becomes Caddie's mantra. Maybe if she keeps from touching another person's skin, Dad will come home. She knows it doesn't make sense, but her games have never been logical. Soon, despite Alabama's humidity, she's covering every inch of her skin and wearing evening gloves to school.And that's where things get tricky. Even though Caddie's the new girl, it's hard to pass off her compulsions as artistic quirks. Friends notice things. Her drama class is all about interacting with her scene partners, especially Peter, who's auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Caddie desperately wants to play Ophelia, but if she does, she'll have to touch Peter . . . and kiss him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter—but the other part isn't sure she's brave enough to let herself fall.From rising star Rachel M. Wilson comes a powerful, moving debut novel of the friendship and love that are there for us, if only we'll let them in.