Interview: Julie Halpern
Current Mood: awake
Current Song: Come On Get Higher by Matt Nathanson
Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern is a novel, but it was inspired by the author's real experiences. I'll let her tell you more about it in her own words.
I began struggling with major depression during my junior year of high school. At the time, I didn't know I was having panic attacks, but the fact that I couldn't leave the house or sit in my classrooms was very disturbing. I saw a therapist (who was Freudian and ineffective - she never once recognized my problem as panic attacks, so I thought I was just a freak), and I eventually had to be put on "homebound" schooling, where I worked mostly at home but took tests with a tutor back at my school.
At the beginning of my senior year, I was still having severe panic attacks. The therapist convinced my parents that the best thing for me would be hospitalization, and because I had changed so much for the worse, my parents agreed. My hospitalization has stayed with me, mainly because of all of the kooky and wonderful teens that shared my time. It was as though the adults were Charlie Brown adults - wah wah wah. My inmates were really who helped me get back to normal, ironically. Some of their stories were so strange, and my experiences remained vivid. I always knew I wanted to write a book about it.
I'm more of an expert on having depression that on what to do if you're depressed, but I do have some advice. The most important thing anyone with depression can do is to find something out there that makes you happy. Obviously, that something shouldn't be anything harmful, like drugs or alcohol or self-mutilation, but guilty pleasures have helped me through the worst of situations. As a teenager, I found music to be my savior. Without the angsty music to connect to, I don't know what I would have done.
These days, I have found that (don't laugh) QVC (one of the home shopping channels) helps me when I'm in a funk. I don't actually buy stuff, but people are so gracious to each other when they call in, even if it's fake, and it makes me happy to know that there are people out there shopping at all hours. Weird, I know.
It is also important for teens to know they aren't alone. I know it can feel that way, but there are always people out there who can help you or at least listen to you. Maybe someone in your family or a friend or a teacher or librarian - even if they aren't mental health professionals, talking to someone about how crappy you're feeling is important. And hopefully it will help you get through those really dark times and into much brighter ones.
What if it isn't her, but someone she knows?
The hardest part when dealing with someone with depression is that they may not always be easy to approach. I know I can be horrid when I'm depressed, lashing out or just a complete downer to be around. If you can help this person by staying positive and finding things to do together that take the other person's mind off their depression, then you will be a great help. Of course, if the depressed person is talking about harming themselves or others, it's time to turn to a trustworthy adult. Nobody should feel like it's up to them to save someone.
Do you recommend any fiction or non-fiction books which address depression?
I should have a good answer for this since I am a librarian, but I'm drawing a blank. I need my library in front of me so I can scan the shelves. In all honesty, I have a hard time reading books about depression. I find them to either be too close to home, or too annoying. I think there is a fine line between sharing emotion and just asking for pity. I know there are plenty of wonderful books out there covering the topic of depression, but I am not familiar enough with them to recommend titles.
Now if you're looking for titles to make teens depressed, I can always find those. Teens love a good weepy. I also can recommend titles to help you out of a funk. I'm a huge fan of the Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison for that reason.
Ooh - You will regret asking that question. I can talk about Degrassi for days. In the original, I always loved the trio of boys - Joey, Snake and Wheels. They always remained such good friends, but not always in an obnoxious, surface boy way. I think Wheels really got the raw deal, with his parents being killed by a drunk driver. Tragic. I liked the twins, Erica and Heather, and I liked Caitlin and her activist ways. I liked Spike, but I hated her friend, Liz (I have a theory she was a Nazi). Back in the day, I had the hots for Clutch. He wasn't one of the main characters, but I had a thing for boys with long hair. It was the time of grunge.
On The Next Generation, I really like Spinner. I think he makes a lot of mistakes, but has a good heart. I loved JT when he was younger. I think they made him the Joey of the current show. Emma was cute at the beginning, but now she's just self-righteous. I like Manny; she's foolish, but I like how positive she can be. I like Paige for her nerve, and I like Jay because he's such a charming jack***.
I first learned about epilepsy from Degrassi, and diabetes from The Baby-Sitters Club. Why do you think kids and teens sometimes get more out of dramatizations - books, plays, films, or TV shows - than real stories - the news, lectures, biographies, or "talks?"
I think the main reason is that so many of these subjects are so abstract that we just need to see it (or read about it) in a setting we enjoy in order to understand it. Many lectures or essays, textbooks or news shows, are telling us instead of showing us. We have no investment in the "characters" and "settings," so the information doesn't sink in. Particularly with teens, it's often hard to think past their own lives. Because the names and faces in fictional works about real topics come to life, they can see how these issues may actually affect them.
You loved the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the children's book The Phantom Tollbooth as much as I did. What did you think of Normal Again, the episode in which Buffy finds herself in a psychiatric hospital?
I just re-watched the episode. I was struck by the fact that Buffy was hospitalized when she originally found out she was the slayer - her parents just couldn't deal with it. Sounds familiar . . . I don't love the episode. I hate to think that the Buffyverse is just taking place in some crazy girl's head.
The way Toby and the Snowflakes came about was that I wanted something that Matt and I could work on together. Matt and I met through writing - you can read the whole story here - but we had never written anything together. This was all before we were married. I was working as a school librarian, surrounded by picture books, and thought how fun it would be for us to have a project that I wrote and he illustrated. I wrote Toby, and an entire year went by before Matt explored working on it. He was a fine artist, in galleries and such, and this was the first time he considered the idea of working as a book illustrator. And it turned out he was wonderful at it! It has been great for both of us because we can do school or library talks together, plus it kick-started our publishing careers. Matt has two more picture books coming out this fall and two more on the way, and of course Get Well Soon is my first YA novel. I would love for us to work together again someday.
How long have you been writing zines?
I started writing zines after I graduated from college and was looking for something to motivate me to write now that I was done with creative writing classes. I wrote my own zines for about five years, but now with my book writing, blog and webpage (plus a full-time job), I don't write zines anymore. However, I do zine projects every year with my middle schoolers, and they always turn out hilarious and creative. I'm happy to pass on the zine-making trade to teens.
Any current zine or other writing projects?
I am now working on my second novel for Feiwel and Friends. It's YA, and deals with how sometimes friends aren't that good for you and how the coolest people aren't necessary the nicest people. I'm about a quarter or a third of the way through. My description of the book should solidify more as I see what happens in the story. The writing process if fun that way, although sometimes a tad stressful. I'm definitely not having a lazy, relaxing summer vacation.
What are your ten favorite books?
Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
My Perfect Life by Lynda Barry
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Get Well Soon will be released on October 2nd, 2007.
Take a peek inside Julie's messenger bag at www.juliehalpern.com