Shattering Stigmas: A Guest Post From Rachel M. Wilson

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.
Here's a young Rachel!
Here’s a young Rachel!

And here she is now, with all the places you can find her!

About Rachel M. Wilson

Rachel M. Wilson studied theater at Northwestern and received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut novel Don't Touch, about a girl with obsessive compulsive disorder, came out from HarperTeen last September. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books called it "A vulnerable, moving, and often witty story about the terrible price of self-protection." Also look for “The Game of Boys and Monsters,” an eerie standalone short from HarperTeen Impulse. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Rachel now writes, acts, and teaches in Chicago, Illinois.

About the book:

My review can be found here!

Shattering Stigmas: A Guest Post From Rachel M. Wilson Don't Touch by Rachel M. Wilson
Published by HarperTeen on September 2nd 2014
Pages: 415

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.

I certainly know this feeling. Those “helpful” people who claim psychiatry to be a sham, that talk about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps… do they mean malice? Likely, no. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Have you ever encountered a situation like this? Have you, on the other end, encountered a good friend who you could pour it all out too? Or maybe you are that friend, and if so, thank you! 

And a huge thanks to Rachel for sharing this lovely story with us today, I am so happy I could pass it along to you all!

Posted August 11, 2015 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in #ShatteringStigmas, Guest Post, Mental Health / 15 Comments


15 responses to “Shattering Stigmas: A Guest Post From Rachel M. Wilson

  1. Ooh, French. I used to speak it but now I’m squinting at my screen and trying desperately to recall stuff from class. Anyhow. This is a really common misconception, with its close cousin the “can’t it be fixed by medication?”. I have to admit that I held either of these at various points of time, but now I’m trying to reverse my preconceptions. And your book. The premise is THE MOST GLORIOUS (Shakespeare aaaaah), and if I liked romance I would totally eat a thousand copies. The trailer is wonderful too.

    • I took like, two semesters of French, and used to just confuse it with Spanish 😉 The good news is, it is usually close enough to Spanish for me to at least read the basics!

      And yes, I agree, it IS a very, very common misconception, like “just pop a pill and be happy again”! but sadly, it doesn’t work (and believe me, I wish it did!), though meds DO help a lot of people.

      Seriously- READ THIS BOOK. I am telling you, it is phenomenal, mental health or not! Let me know what you think after you do 🙂

  2. People make me SO MAD. Even though I get it–it’s easier to pretend scary things don’t exist, and if those things haven’t affected you personally, you can even pretend that you’re not pretending. When my husband was really in a bad place last spring, and I was struggling to support him, support our high-needs kids, and keep the job that we all depend on, he asked his mom if she could help me out a little. Her response? “Why don’t you step up and do more?” It had taken him so much courage to ask her, and she flat-out didn’t get that he WAS NOT CAPABLE of doing more than he was doing. If he could have just snapped out of it, he would have already done so. Grr.

    Done ranting. Your piece here is lovely and I will certainly seek out your book. That’s, uh, quite a cheer you had.

    • I agree with you completely. It is so maddening, I have no words. I also really kind of want to shake your mother-in-law. Who does that to her own child!? Well… I do kind of get it I guess, because my mom, no matter how hard she WANTS to get it, simply does not. She does often gripe about my “laziness”…. which isn’t being LAZY, it’s such a damn struggle just to get through the day.

      And I so, so highly recommend Don’t Touch, it is one of my all-time favorite books! I hope your husband is doing better, big hugs to your whole family! (Well, maybe not his mom 😉 ) <3 <3

  3. Wait, people actually think psychiatry isn’t helpful/necessary? That’s such crap. I think it’s 50/50 between ‘pulling up your bootstraps’ AND getting help. One won’t work without the other. Everyone needs help and some people need it so much more than others. It’s wrong to act like people who can’t cope alone are somehow inferior or lazy. Utter silliness and naivety!

    • YEP. I have had several close friends even say it to me, like not remembering at that moment that I go through such things. I agree with you- it IS silly and naive. No one says to a cancer patient “DUDE, you are seeing an ONCOLOGIST? You’re such a wimp, just yank out that tumor and move on!”

  4. I’m loving this event. It’s so, so hard to talk about these things with someone, so it makes it infinitely worse when someone reacts in a bad way. Educating people about it is a huge part of making reactions like those of the guy you were talking about less common, so I’m really glad that there are people who open up and share, and people who organize events like this one.

  5. I hate the stigmas behind mental illness, and I love that books, movies, and media in general is trying to break these stigmas down. Mental illness is no joke and should be treated with the same severity and seriousness we have with other types of illnesses. Lovely post, Rachel

  6. Such an important story to tell and share, and such a great event, especially since we’re getting more breaking-the-stigma books, and that’s the first step, especially with younger people who might not even understand what is happening to them, and it’s just about getting things out there. I (luckily) haven’t been in a position for somebody to react that way with me, because I don’t really talk about it as much as I should, I mean, I do with some of my family. But I honestly can’t deal with people who do think that, that, right there, is why we have stigma around mental health. It’s not something you can control without help, and it’s not something you can just switch off without help either, and when you’re afraid to get that help, to speak out, to do something, to get better, it’s a vicious cycle.

    I don’t think what I’m trying to say is coming across clear but just wanted to say thanks for the event, Shannon! 🙂

    • Aw thank yoU! I understand completely what you are saying- the person seeking the help isn’t going to WANT to speak up because of the stigma, and the stigma exists because no one talks about it. And it only takes ONE person, one comment to level the confidence of someone who is trying to seek out help. It can be so, so debilitating.

  7. Ugh – the people that say “you just need to choose to not be depressed/anxious/obsessive” really bother me. I believe in making positive and optimistic choices, but I couldn’t do that if I were off the medication that gives me the ability to think that way.

    I really love this post! In the end the people that accept you – and the medication you need to take – are the people you want to keep around anyway. Anyone who gets freaky just isn’t worth the time in the long run, even if it hurts so much when you cut them out.

  8. This is such an amazing post. I think that there are so many people in the world who believe this – that mental illness isn’t really a “thing” and that treating it is just a placebo effect. Posts like these will make people more aware of what their negative reactions can truly do to someone who is sick. Thanks for posting it!

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