The Words We Keep is a moving story about mental health and the healing powers of friendship and art from author, ERIN STEWART.
As AKINA HANSEN writes, it’s an illuminating novel about the spectrum and stigma surrounding mental health.
Our mental health is critical to our emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Yet, the stigma surrounding it is one of the leading factors that prevent people from seeking help or discussing their struggles.
The Words We Keep is a moving and relatable exploration of mental illness and the power of art in helping us overcome our trauma.
The novel follows the character Lily as she deals with the aftermath of her sister Alice’s suicide attempt. From the outset, we quickly learn that Lily’s family aren’t communicating about Alice’s near-death experience, and instead are attempting to bury it. At school, Lily has kept the fact that her sister has been in a treatment facility a secret from her peers.
On top of this, she is plagued with academic and social pressures and, as a result, she is struggling with her own anxiety. When she meets the new student, Micah, the two are paired up for a school project which enables Lily to unpack her own trauma through writing and art.
Globally, depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders are among the leading causes of illness among teenagers – with one in seven 10- to 19-year-olds experiencing a mental health condition, and suicide being the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds.
Through her novel, Erin hopes that people can see that they’re not alone in their mental health journey. ‘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,’ Erin tells me.
Inspired by her own personal struggles with anxiety, author Erin Stewart wanted to write a novel that resonated with teenagers who are experiencing mental health conditions. ‘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,’ she says.
From adolescence Erin struggled with various forms of anxiety, but she specifically suffered from perfectionism anxiety like her character Lily, which resulted in a continuous stream of ‘intrusive [and] negative thoughts’.
Growing up, Erin noted that there wasn’t any open dialogue about mental health like there is today so, as a teenager, she felt like the problem lay within her. As an adult, she’s come to 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.’
Her novel illuminates the importance of discussing how you’re feeling, even if it’s through a different medium. When Micah and Lily embark on their school project together, they both find solace in their writing and art. Ultimately, Erin shares how writing this novel has similarly been a difficult, yet incredibly cathartic experience for her. She says that art and writing is ultimately ‘a great way to process your trauma, but also to let others know they are not alone.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erin Stewart is the author of SCARS LIKE WINGS, her debut novel. Erin is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and a BYU undergraduate who works as a freelance writer and editor, as well as a weekly columnist in Salt Lake City.
Erin lives in Utah with her husband and three children. S
· My personality type is a neurotic extravert. It’s a thing, I swear.
· I firmly believe Hot Tamales should be a recognized food group.
· I’m a heart failure survivor.
· I have zero sense of personal space.
· My mum thought I needed a therapist in kindergarten because everyone always exploded at the end of my stories.
Good news: My characters now have a slightly higher survival rate.
· I believe people are put in our path for a reason. Always.