Lit Squad: How teen's journey of self acceptance can help others with anxiety
A 15-year-old with pretty severe anxiety disorder posts something online that makes her mom worried about her mental health.
As a result, the teen is sent to Florida to live with her father, who she hasn’t seen in years, on his internet-free houseboat.
That’s the story of Brynn, the main character in the young adult novel "The Immeasurable Depth of You."
As part of the ongoing series Lit Squad, The Show is talking to the authors of middle grade and young adult fiction.
Maria Ingrande Mora is a writer and content designer who lives in Florida. She talked about how she writes about something like anxiety — which some number of her readers likely also deal with — while keeping it authentic.
MARIA INGRANDE MORA: That's a great question and one that plagued me throughout the creation of this book because I have a severe anxiety. I've been treated for it for over 20 years, but that's my experience. And I didn't want to get too focused in on the lens of my own personal experience and then alienate who experience anxiety in a different way. So I talked to a lot of teens, I talked to a lot of peers, I had a lot of early readers who kind of helped to give me feedback at times and the depictions of Brynn. And I think the hardest thing of all is that folks who experience this, myself included, it's a lot of negative self talk and I didn't want to shy away from that, but I also didn't want to overly focus on it. So it was a tough balance to strike and it, and it definitely took a lot of revision.
MARK BRODIE: It's interesting that even though this is something that you have personal experience with, you were cognizant of the fact that like your experience was just, that was your experience and not necessarily the experience of anybody else.
MORA: Absolutely. And I think, you know, myself as a white person assigned female at birth, middle class, I had access to help, you know, in my 20s and 30s when I reached out, you know, and said to the therapist, here's what's going on. I had a lot of privilege in that way and I actually sort of projected that onto Brynn's life and started her on that trajectory at an earlier age. And so it was a big shift to have Brynn as this character have already shared with her parents and other adults in her life, "Hey, this is what I'm going through." And Brynn, similarly to myself then has access to care and, you know, I want to be really cognizant of the fact that not all teens feel safe letting the adults in their life know what they're going through and not all teens have access to treatment.
BRODIE: One of the things that Brynn's mom does in this story is takes away her phone. Brynn is somebody who, as you write, has more friends online than in, in real life. I wonder what kind of impact you think that technology and the fact that so many teens have phones now and access to other devices and social media and everything that goes along with it. What kind of impact do do you think that has on their mental health?
MORA: I think that's a really complicated question because there's a lot of research starting to come out that the access to information. And so I don't want to say triggers but just things that, that make you feel things kids are experiencing this at such a high volume and so quickly that they're not really having time to process something that they saw something that they felt. And so that is a negative I think to what kids are going through with this hyper exposure to social media. But the flip side to me and one that I really tried to dial into with this story is that especially for neurodivergent kids, especially for queer young people, the internet can help them find community in a way that they may not have access to in their local schools and their peer groups. And so there's this ability to find folks who you can connect with, to learn from them and it kind of circumvent adults, which, even though I'm a parent of teens, I'm all about peer to peer education with young people. And so I think it's wonderful that they have this access and they can find support and learn from one another.
BRODIE: Well, it's interesting because as you write in the story, Brynn has her phone taken away and, you know, that was sort of her community, but then she goes to Florida to live sort of off the grid with her dad and find somebody that she really, really connects with. So I wonder if there's maybe a relationship between the way teens, at least in your experience are using their technology, but maybe using that to affect their real world relationships as well.
MORA: That's a really good question. And I think that, you know, the moral of the story was certainly not meant to be get off the internet and you're going to go, you know, and find a better friend. But what happened is that we get stuck as adults as teens, we get stuck in these ruts of things that feel safe to us and we may stop taking risks at all. And for someone with anxiety, a risk is not jumping off a high dive. It's literally saying hello to someone that you've never talked to in class. And so this circumstance forced Brynn to talk to someone who at first glance, if she had seen Skyler in the cafeteria, she would have had so many snap judgments about her and how she looked and what she perceived her to be that she never would have tried to make that friend. And so there is something to be said, I think for circumstances in life that push us out of our comfort zones.
BRODIE: When you are writing a book like this, how much are you thinking about how your readers are going to maybe see themselves in the characters or in the story that you're writing?
MORA: I think about it every single second. Writing for young people is such a privilege. And it's also something that really weighs on me because, you know, to me, when an adult picks up a book, I'm like, you're a grown up. OK, whatever you go through, you go through God speed. But when I'm writing for teens, this is me as an adult having access to a young person's life and thoughts and I have to take extreme care with that. And I do and I take it very, very seriously. And for me, what I was really dialing into was the sense of loneliness and isolation that you can feel when you are struggling with severe anxiety, especially as a young person. And one negative self talk kind of thread that happens is no one has ever felt like this. I'm the only person in the world who feels this bad.
MORA: It was really important to me for teens to be able to see themselves in brand and that's the feedback I've gotten, which is wonderful. I've never read anything that described the way that I feel in my head this much. And I can't think of a, a better goal to me because that is community. Even if it's just between the teen and the story, you have then created something that is anti-isolation. It's hopefully providing some kind of comfort. If not, there's not a solution, it's just comfort.
BRODIE: Well, I wonder if maybe part of the the goal here also is just to get readers to accept. OK, this is who I am. These are some of the challenges I have to deal with and you know, that's OK.
MORA: You're absolutely right. And I think one of the harder things in the trajectory of living with an anxiety disorder is the eventually reckoning with the fact that it's probably not going away. You're not going to wake up one day and say, oh good, I'm better. I don't have an anxiety disorder anymore. And so self acceptance then becomes your most powerful weapon. And Brynn's journey in this summer is absolutely a journey of self acceptance and self love in a way and compassion. We have as humans, a really hard time showing compassion to ourselves. And I hope that readers in showing compassion for Brynn can turn that mirror around and show compassion for themselves.
BRODIE: Well, Maria, thank you so much for the conversation. I really appreciate it.
MORA: You too. Have a great day,
Maria in Grande Mora is a writer and content designer living in Saint Petersburg, Florida, and author of the young adult novel, "The Immeasurable Depth of You."
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