Meet Erin Stewart

Article | Issue: Apr 2022

ERIN STEWART is the author of the YA novel Scars Like WingsGood Reading caught up with the author about the importance of discussing your mental health in her latest novel The Words We Keep, a moving story about mental health and the healing powers of friendship and art.

 

Your novel The Words We Keep explores various mental health issues and highlights the stigma surrounding them. What inspired it?

This story came from a very personal place for me. I have struggled with various forms of anxiety throughout my life, and the one that’s always been there is the perfectionism anxiety that tells me I’m not good enough. Intrusive, negative thoughts have been a background soundtrack to much of my life. As a teenager, we didn’t talk about anxiety like we do know, so I thought it was just a problem with me. But now, I understand that my mental health struggles are a part of me, but they don’t define me. I may not necessarily love that part of myself, but I also don’t have to let it fuel self-hatred. So I wanted to write a book that would resonate with teenagers like me, who don’t know where to turn but are feeling trapped by their own minds. I want them to know that they are worthy of being loved for exactly who they are. That their struggles don’t define them either, and they deserve help.

Through your character Lily, you explore how nuanced mental illness is and how it’s not always noticeable to others. Why was it important to you to highlight the spectrum of experiences?

It was so important to me to get the representation right. I drew on my own experience, but I was lucky to have several people with life experience and doctors talk with me to make sure I captured mental health in a respectful and accurate way. So often, these kinds of issues are thrown into a book to be sensational or to create two-dimensional, stereotyped characters.  I definitely did not want to do that! For me, tackling mental health was all about showing that yes, it’s a major issue that needs to be addressed, but these characters are so much more than that. They have dreams and desires and talents and a whole life beyond mental health.

Why is it critical to discuss your mental health?

Because we need each other! No one can go through anxiety or depression or any mental health issues alone. Too often we try to keep everything inside so we look perfect from the outside, but like Micah says, ‘Perfect is boring.’ The more we talk about the issues we are having, the more we realise that pretty much everyone else has them, too. I’ve had readers tell me this book made them feel seen, which is exactly what I hoped it would do. Knowing we are not alone makes the journey seem less dark and less daunting. It also helps us realize that we do not need to be fixed because we are not broken. We are simply human.

What do you hope reader’s will take away from your character Micah and his battle with depression?

I just love Micah. I hope that readers see in Micah that you still have a choice in how you live your life and who you are even if you’ve been through severe depression, suicidal ideation, or any other struggles. Micah has been to the darkest depths of depression, and yet he fights every day to be more than the ‘boy who almost jumped.’ He realises he has so much more worth and so much more to his story than his darkest moment. And even though he’s still struggling, he chooses to get up and fight for his life every day.

When Lily and Micah embark on a school project together, they both find solace in their writing and art. In what ways has writing helped you?

Art and writing can be so therapeutic! Writing this book was so difficult for me because I had to face a lot of the anxieties and issues that I’ve been living with but not really discussing for many years. But it was also cathartic and wonderful for me to look at who I am and to own my anxiety publicly. It feels freeing and empowering. Using art or writing to share your story is such a great way to process your trauma, but also to let others know they are not alone. So get your story out there – say something!

What advice would you give to your readers who might be struggling with their mental health?

Ask for help. You are worth it. You deserve it. You are loved.

Author: Erin Stewart

Category: Children's, teenage & educational

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's UK

ISBN: 9781471184512

RRP: $17.99

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