#ShatteringStigmas (2)

I am super excited to welcome author Jackie Lea Sommers to the blog today!! I absolutely adored Jackie’s debut novel Truest, and today she brings us a post about her own experience with mental health, and the impact it had on Truest. Plus, some lessons we all could use when jumping to bookish conclusions. Here’s Jackie’s story! 

Jackie’s Post

Shattering Stigma as Book Advocates

My young adult novel Truest, which came out last year with HarperCollins, features a teenager with a depersonalization disorder that makes her question whether real life is actually real—or if she is just dreaming it all. To me, it’s a compelling concept, sparking thoughts around philosophy, reality, and the nature of existence, not to mention mental illness and depression. Although I’m not a doctor or psychologist, I still felt qualified to write this story. Why? Because I dealt with solipsism syndrome myself.

It was an unbelievably painful, heartbreaking time of my life. I was a year out of undergrad, and undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder was a millstone around my neck as I plunged into the ocean of post-college life. On the outside, I looked fine: I’d graduated summa cum laude, settled quickly into a career, and daily entertained my new coworkers with my stories and jokes.

But then I’d go home, shut myself into my room, crawl into the corner of my bed, and battle paranoia: Were my friends really my friends? Was my view of reality the right one? Was everything I perceived to be happening just a very vivid dream? It was horrifying and lonely, purposely locking myself away from interaction with people so that they wouldn’t be given an opportunity to fool me. I remember having dinner with my best friend and her mom (who is like a second mother to me) and thinking, “I can’t let them know that I’ve caught on.”

Thankfully, these experiences were followed by life-giving advice from my favorite writing mentor, and I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, fifteen years after my earliest symptoms. This lead to five years of searching for the right medication and the right treatment, which for OCD is exposure and response prevention therapy or ERP. During that long slog, I discovered the term “solipsism syndrome,” which so perfectly described my bout of paranoia. I slipped the term into my pocket, knowing that I would write about it someday.

And so I did.

While reviews were overwhelmingly sweet and generous, I would sometimes run into reviews that said things like “Laurel is suffering from some weird disorder that I don’t even think is real” or “This is a romance novel trying to add emotional weight by including an obscure mental illness.” While from a writer-perspective, this is 110% fine for people to have their own opinions of my novel, from my advocacy-perspective, it hurt. In cases like the first, it was hard to think that the reader couldn’t take ten seconds to google it. In the second, it was hurtful to think the reader thought I was being manipulative. Statements like these just reinforced to me that we have so, so far to go to eliminate stigma around mental disorders.

I remember the first time I read Kissing Doorknobs, a novel about a girl with OCD. Even reading this children’s book as an adult impacted me deeply and I wished so hard that my elementary-aged self could have read that book. To find myself in the pages of a beloved book would have changed the trajectory of my life. I want that to be true for my novel too, and yet it is sometimes teachers and school libraries who are discounting the disorder in my novel. The very people I want to partner with to get these books into the hands of young readers are sometimes the same people who have a wall of stigma built up too high for me to vault. And that breaks my heart too.

I am not ashamed of my OCD, nor of my experiences with solipsism syndrome. But I do remember clearly the desperate loneliness of it all, and I hope my novel finds its way to the right hands and hearts. In this way, people who are book advocates (book bloggers, librarians, English teachers, etc.) have such a tremendous opportunity to shatter stigma. I so appreciate Shannon for hosting this series and for inviting me to share my story.

About Jackie Lea Sommers

Jackie Lea Sommers is a young adult author who lives in Minnesota, where the people are nice and the Os are long. She is the 2013 winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. Her first novel Truest will be published by HarperCollins in September 2015.

Jackie grew up on a hobby farm but has made the Twin Cities her home for nearly 15 years after moving there to study creative writing at the University of Northwestern. She hates OCD, horcruxes, and Minnesota winters. She loves Jesus, Augustus Waters, and Minnesota springs.

Find Jackie’s Books:



FireShot Capture 6 - Goodreads I Salt Nov_ - https___www.goodreads.com_book_show_31279438-salt-novelFireShot Capture 5 - Goodreads I Yes Novel_ - https___www.goodreads.com_book_show_27865181-yes-novel


thegiv (1)

See welcome post for all the details; terms and conditions are in the Rafflecopter!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

What do you do when you come across a disorder you haven’t heard of in books? And really, aren’t books just the best way ever to learn about other people’s experiences, things we may have never, ever heard about before?

And a huge, huge thank you to Jackie for sharing her story. Leave her tons of love! ♥

Posted August 27, 2016 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in #ShatteringStigmas, Giveaway, Guest Post, Mental Health / 14 Comments


14 responses to “#ShatteringStigmas as Book Advocates

  1. Oh oh I actually really like learning about disorders I’ve never heard of before through books! I LEARN SO MUCH. I have not ever heard of solipsism syndrome until this moment and I 100% want to read Truest and find out more! I’m also reading a book that deals with Munchausen Syndrome which I’d never heard of until today. It definitely makes me google and learn more…and I think it’s really unfair when reviewers assume that an author doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I see that a lot actually and it’s frustrating.?
    Such an excellent post!!

  2. I’ve learned more about health (both physical and mental) from books than I did from health classes in school. That’s why YA stories about illnesses are so important. Books really can change the course of a person’s life. I’ve never heard of solipsism syndrome, but I’m interested in reading Truest now.

  3. I actually linked up Truest in my recent post about mental health BECAUSE I hadn’t heard of it. Reading Jackie’s book opened my eyes to an issue I didn’t know existed, and I found myself enriched because of it. It seems really odd that people would just claim that this condition isn’t real. I’ve had conversations with Jackie and I think she is so amazing for illuminating an issue that adversely affected her life. I hope people will do their research before they make judgments and I recommend this book to EVERYONE!

    • Nicole, you are such a lovely encourager of mine! It means so much to me to have you in my court. You and Shannon both posted meaningful reviews for me in moments when I needed them most, so they have always been extra-special to me. xoxoxoxo

  4. Wow! I really want to read Truest now. I didn’t know that condition had a name, but I can personally relate to solipsism syndrome since I have battled thoughts closer to depersonaliation syndrome all my life, (i am now comfortable with my narcissistic spin on it; i may be in an alternate reality, but it is all about ME here so i own it).

    I am so fascinated by how chemicals in the brain can make a break a personality. That may be what drove me to pursue Psychology as my first career path. I didn’t stick to it unfortunately, but nursing allows me to work with a lot of people and I like taking care of and not just studying people.

    BTW, Solipsism syndrome is not currently recognized as a psychiatric disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. It doesn’t have a DSM mention or an (of so important) ICD-10 number (which allows the insurance community to know what they are paying for when professionals give treatment), so it would be easy for some to say it is not real. It is really close to Depersonalization disorder so it will not be long before the mental health community will hopefully give Solipsism syndrome a criteria for diagnosis and a real treatment plan.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Hi Karen! Yes, you’re exactly right– I think its omission from the DSM-5 stinks. That said, OCD was absolutely the root of my solipsism syndrome, so maybe there are always other issues at play? Hard to say. I see a strong connection between OCD and SS, both in me and in the many people I’ve talked to who also suffer. They both are rooted in an intolerance for uncertainty. I found that when I treated my OCD with exposure therapy, it also treated the SS. I have not had to deal with SS since 2008, when I did exposure therapy. Even though exposure therapy isn’t specifically mentioned in my book, it’s expressed similarly to how you said it: “(i am now comfortable with my narcissistic spin on it; i may be in an alternate reality, but it is all about ME here so i own it).” I love that.

      Thanks for your thoughts!!

  5. I hadn’t ever heard of this syndrome before, and parts of it would sound like something everyone suffers from. But then you get the part about wondering if things are a dream or reality, and that sounds like a really scary thing to be thinking. Thanks for sharing this with us, I’ll definitely be looking into this book!

    • Hi Lisa! Thanks for your sweet comment. I agree: most people at some point or another have thoughts like these; luckily, for most, the brain is an open system– thoughts can come in and go out. But for those with OCD (and most likely SS; I am not a psychiatrist, but I see strong connections, in my own life and in others’ lives too!), the brain has faulty wiring and is a closed system– thoughts enter but can’t seem to exit, causing extreme anxiety and distress. Thankfully, there is an incredible treatment for OCD. I found that when I did exposure therapy for OCD, it also treated my solipsism syndrome.

      Ha, that was probably more info than you ever wanted on it. 🙂 I hope you enjoy the book! Blessings!

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