Please welcome Author Julia Ember to the blog today! I adore this post for two reasons: One, I can relate to it in more ways than I can count; and two, it gives me (and I hope all of you) hope that I too can overcome some of my fiercest self-doubt. 

TW: Self-harm

When Sophie and I called my parents to tell them that we were engaged, they sat in frozen, quiet shock. Later, they clarified that the reason for their surprise and silence was not in response to me marrying a woman (whom they had already met on numerous occasions), but to the idea that I wanted to get married at all.

As a teen, I had told them and myself over and over how vehemently against the idea I was. The only weddings I’d been to were those of my evangelical protestant family members – a religion I had already given up by the time I was a teen. I didn’t see that type of ceremony as for me, and I had limited familiarity with anything else.

But beyond that, I didn’t see myself as the kind of person who would ever find that kind of love. I was fat and at the time, undiagnosed bipolar disorder sent me through periods of spiraling depression followed by mania, a confusing pattern that pushed many of my friends away. I was a pretty serious teen, much more focused on getting out of the high school I hated and into college, than on cultivating lasting friendships. And when I did meet people who interested me sexually or romantically, low self-esteem convinced me that my interest would never be reciprocated. I feared failure — both in my academic life and in my relationships. The result was that on the relationship side, I convinced myself I didn’t want one, because admitting I might made me too vulnerable, it set me up to fail.

That same fear of failure followed me into my 20s, while on the flipside, my still undiagnosed, untreated bipolar disorder seemed to make that failure inevitable. The pattern of manic productivity and relative sociability followed by periods of deep depression continued. I was depressed for the first half of my senior year in college, barely able to get out of bed and to class, and so manic in the second semester that I wrote my entire 20,000 word history thesis in two days in the library, not sleeping between. By then, I had learned that my body was desirable to some and that sex was possible, but I continued to have trouble committing to partners because my anxiety told me that they would all eventually leave.

In 2013, I finally started seeking treatment for my mental health. But initial medical diagnosis as depression, followed by OCD meant that things got worse before they got better. The SSRIs I was put on made my moods even more erratic. I left my PhD program in 2014, after I started self-harming. I lost friends because I was too embarrassed to talk to them about how much I was suffering. I stopped going to social outings, couldn’t fulfill bridesmaid obligations I’d committed to for a friend, stopped caring. All I could think about was how badly I’d messed things up, but fear of rejection, and more failure, prevented me from taking steps to fix them.

Ironically, it was this low period and the harrowing querying process that finally allowed me to move past my fear of failure. Failure came rapid-fire in the form of dozens of one-line rejection letters. And every time, while it hurt, it reinforced the idea that nothing in my life really changed because I failed. I took the risk, and that mattered.

Getting a true diagnosis and coming off SSRIs in 2016 put me on a path to better mental health than I’ve had since I was a teen. I’ve learned to understand the phases of my illness, and with counselling and different medication, things have slowly gotten better.

Mental illness can make you put yourself a in box. You tell yourself, “This is what I am. This is what I can do.” Finally, in the last few years, I’ve crossed a bridge, and I know just because I’m mentally ill doesn’t mean that I will fail, or that I can’t have a full life. Instead of telling myself how failure is inevitable and avoiding situations, I’m slowly learning how to change my internal narrative and set myself up for success instead.

In two weeks, I’m getting married. I am doing a thing I thought I never could. And of course, the niggling doubt that it all could fail – that I could fail – remains, but it’s a leap I’m able to take.

About Julia Ember

Julia Ember lives with her wife and their menagerie of pets with literary names in Seattle. She is the author of The Seafarer's Kiss duology, a Norse-myth inspired YA retelling of The Little Mermaid, published by Interlude Press. Her upcoming standalone YA fantasy, Ruinsong, will be published by Macmillan (FSG) in November 2020. She can be found online at or on twitter as @jules_chronicle.

Book Links:



The Seafarer’s Kiss


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First, huge congratulations to Julia and Sophie!! Second, you must check out Julia’s booksI mean, you see how great her post is, imagine that with magic and mermaids and such! Third, do you have any risk-taking moments to share? Or have a risk you want to take? Let us chat!

Posted October 13, 2019 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in #ShatteringStigmas, Giveaway, Guest Post / 4 Comments

4 responses to “Taking Risks and Daring to Dream: A Guest Post by Julia Ember

  1. Okay, first of all, that graphic is completely gorgeous, oh my gosh.

    Secondly, Julia spoke so much truth here about feeling worthiness and desirability, it’s hard to feel those things when you don’t fit into the conventional beauty standards. Couple that with dealing with (undiagnosed or not) mental illness and it’s so hard! Throw in failure and there’s an awful cycle.

    Thirdly, congrats on the engagement to her, that’s so lovely! I really need to read her books.

    I’ll have to get back to you on the risk thing! ?

  2. Beth W

    OK, this was relatable for me as well, and I’m going to guess for many others, but DAMN how brave you are to send query letters at all, let alone during what sounds like a very low point. My self-harm came via sabotaging risk taking born of low self-esteem (as a fat girl growing up in southern CA who was far “too intense” and so believed she was a monster destined to fail). That’s an incredible strength, to allow vulnerability in that way. Clearly, your resilience from recognizing the things having an effect on your life, and then having to manage them in order to make things work, has given you a rejection-proof exoskeleton.

    I’m glad you finally got a complete diagnosis, so you can manage more effectively and not be fighting against your own self-awareness. This whole thing is incredibly inspiring, and CONGRATULATIONS on your wedding! (also, hello fellow Seattlite)

  3. Danielle Hammelef

    Thanks for sharing this! I am so happy for you and wish you many years of wedded bliss. It sounds like you have the tools and support in your life to keep strong through the lows.

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