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May 26, 2010


Posted by Dana

In today's post, guest blogger and author Iris Gomez discusses why she chose to write about mental illness in her new book, TRY TO REMEMBER which is ultimately about resilience and hope.

trytoremember.jpgTurning Adversity into Resilience

My novel, TRY TO REMEMBER delves deeply into the difficult problem of mental illness in a Latino immigrant family – including the shame, confusion, cultural taboos, and external societal forces that can contribute to keeping a serious illness like schizophrenia hidden and untreated in certain communities.

One of my motivations in writing about this subject was to share what I’ve learned from my personal experiences with mental illness that might be of help to others. Like Gabi, the main character in my novel who must deal with a father losing his mind, I struggled with the fear and confusion that came from having a family member with a mental illness that caused delusions and irrational behavior. I also lost a sibling at a young age to suicide, and I believe that he was depressed too.

Writing this novel gave me an opportunity to share how scary and confusing mental illness can be, not only for the person directly affected but also for the people around him or her – especially children and teens. For example, there’s a scene in my novel in which Gabi and her brothers and three cousins compare hands to see if anyone has a tic like Gabi’s father and to uncover some objective evidence of mental illness that they might understand. But whose mind is stable and whose isn’t? That’s the tragic uncertainty that haunts Gabi as she resorts to trying to reign in her own thinking – by telling herself not to think excessively or for too long a time frame or in certain ways – in order to keep her mind “safe.” As the author, I wanted to readers to appreciate, however, that the very thing Gabi fears because of her father’s mental decline – her own thinking – is also the thing that becomes her ultimate strength. It is her thinking that makes her inquisitive, draws her to history, and to the ideas and connections that open a window to a future beyond her suffering.

Unfortunately, mental illness is an untold story in the Latino community. Less than 1 in 11 Latinos with mental disorders contact mental health specialists, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and Latina teens have some of the highest rates of depression. But Gabi’s story offers one example that a young Latina, even in a troubled family without many material resources, can turn adversity into resilience.

-- Iris Gomez, Author