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Darlene P. Campos’ Latest Novel is a Love Letter to Everyone Suffering With Anxiety
 

BY GREGORY HEDGEPETH

 

Writers are notorious for having mental health issues, most likely because we’re always in our own heads, constantly obsessing over the worlds, characters and scenarios we have created. Here at Vital Narrative, we are no different as a number of us advocate for and suffer with our own mental health issues, myself included.

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As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, I felt it was important to share my experience reading Heaven Isn’t Me, the third novel from Darlene P. Campos. After completing my first read, I couldn’t deny how at ease I felt. There was such a calm in my spirit, because I felt seen and understood. In fact, it felt like she wrote it specifically for me. The story revolves around a 14-year-old girl named Elysian who discovers she is suffering with anxiety. The most poignant part of the narrative deals with the many stigmas surrounding mental health diseases in the form of Elysian’s family, who perceive it to be “all in her head.”

I started to read the anxiety pamphlets. They said the condition was common and it wasn’t anything to feel ashamed about at all. The typical symptoms were worrying, panic attacks, endless fears, trouble sleeping, and a lot more. t wasn’t me being weird. None of the emotions or attacks were my fault. It was anxiety. I had finally found the answer to what was wrong with me, and for some reason, knowing the answer made me feel normal.
— Elysian Lecaro, HEAVEN ISN'T ME

I was about 25 before I began to discuss my mental health issues openly, and since then, I’ve been a champion of others revealing theirs, because I see the impact and empowerment that comes with realizing you aren’t alone. These afflictions convince us that there’s no one else struggling with the same thing, even though we know it isn’t true. That’s why it’s important that we stay vigilant about treating these issues, but also help rid the world of the stigmas that come with them. 

Darlene’s novel is going to save a lot of lives. When you consider that even though anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment (according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report), it becomes clear that this novel could serve as the caveat that drives teenagers and adolescents to seek treatment and not fear that which ails them. Despite the fact that the dialogue about mental health is finally coming to the forefront of mainstream media, we must remain attentive and sympathetic to the needs of those currently dealing with these illnesses.

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When I asked Darlene about what led her to craft this novel, she said:

Around the time I started thinking of an idea for my third novel, I was having the worst panic attacks, depression, and anxiety episodes of my entire life. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was 19 or 20, but as a younger adult, I noticed I would worry about almost everything and I would catastrophize all the time like ‘If I don’t find a date to the dance, I’m going to die alone,’ etc. So, I knew I needed to write the book I needed when I was younger. HEAVEN ISN’T ME is fiction, but there are real-life scenes sprinkled throughout, especially Elysian’s anxiety attacks. Those are the same attacks I had when I was her age. My mission with this novel is to let young people know that it’s okay to seek professional help.
— Darlene P. Campos

If I had come across these words as an adolescent, life would’ve been so much easier to navigate and I wouldn’t have spent so many years trying to hide myself and my affliction. Words can’t express how grateful I am for Darlene and her novel, which I’m sure will help ease the minds of us who feel alone, different or flawed as we cope with anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD, substance abuse and the plethora of disorders stemming from mental health illnesses. I’m proud to say Heaven Isn’t Me will release through Vital Narrative Press later this year.

 

Take a sneak peek at part of the cover below.

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To my fellow mental health sufferers, continue to stay strong and seek help when you need to. If you are a young person in need of mental health resources, visit the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine.


Gregory Hedgepeth is the editor-in-chief of Vital Narrative Press. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Feel free to follow on all three. Or maybe just two. Yeah, two’s probably good — he’s not that interesting. Gregory Hedgepeth is also the author of MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SUNRISES, THE YEAR THAT ANSWERED and A COLLECTION OF ECHOES. BUY THAT SHIT.

How To Write A First Draft
 

BY GREGORY HEDGEPETH

 

When I was in the eighth grade, I fell hopelessly in love with a girl who sat two rows in front of me. She always spoke in a way that let me know she read books outside of school like I did. And because I knew how smart she was, I realized I couldn't approach her just any old way - I wanted to show my intelligence and poise as well. Or at the very least, I knew I needed to say hello without melting into my desk.

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So, I went over what I was going to say in my head for days. I knew I wanted to work in that I read a lot and had started writing my own stuff, but then I thought she might ask to read some of it and that terrified me. So I kicked that idea from my mental Rolodex and decided to start from scratch.

Days turned into weeks until I finally put my foot down. I told myself I was going to say hello and ask for her phone number. I arrived early for first period and to my surprise, she was sitting alone, digging for something inside her backpack. I didn't think it would leave a good first impression to startle her by appearing suddenly when she was sitting alone in a room (plus, I still needed another moment to gather my thoughts). I walked into the nearest bathroom to wash my hands and took a few deep breaths. I told myself I would just say hello and go from there. It had only been about two minutes, but I already felt a lot more relaxed going into the conversation the second time around. I left out of the bathroom and walked back in to see her surrounded by three of her friends, chatting happily about some television show I had never heard of. Feeling like I'd lost my chance, I decided not to interrupt and walked past towards my desk. There was plenty of time left in the day, so I still had time to ask.

Second period was gym, so after I dressed out, she walked into the gymnasium with a good friend of mine. They were laughing and having a great time, which wasn't a total surprise because my friend was just as witty and interesting as I was. But I didn't want to disturb their conversation, so I just settled in my mind that I'd just go up to her at lunch. It made the most sense - the gymnasium wasn't the best setting for an intimate conversation and people were more social during a meal anyway.

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But at lunch, she was nowhere to be found. I searched both exits and the courtyard to see if maybe she'd decided to eat outside, but still nothing. I didn't want to ask around and give off the suspicion that I was looking for her, but I wasn't sure what else to do. We had been near each other all morning and now that I was finally ready to ask for her number, she had disappeared. I decided to drown my sorrows in chocolate milk and a cardboard pepperoni pizza from the school cafeteria while I mulled over what to do next.

By the end of the day, every attempt at courting this young woman had been met with opposition and disappearances. Just 45 minutes remained in the day and I was determined to make them count. Time crawled by as the teacher lectured for the first twenty minutes, but then sped up as we were spread out into groups, inevitably setting me clear across the room from my muse. Before I knew it, there were just sixty seconds left in the day and it was now or never.

I told myself I could still catch her once the bell rang. At least if she said no, I could just run out of there and hop on the schoolbus.

The bell rang, I grabbed my bag and sprinted towards her desk, but an obstruction in a Yankees hat blocked the aisle and I couldn't fight my way though. Why did this keep happening?! By the time he moved out of the way, I checked her desk and she was already gone - I had lost her forever.

Or at least until tomorrow when I told myself I would arrive early again and make another attempt at attempting to ask.

But as you can probably guess, that didn't happen.

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And that's how most people write first drafts. They have all the best intentions and tell themselves that one day they're going to sit down and ask that girl for her phone number. Or ask that girl to the prom. Or ask that guy on a date, but they never muster up the courage to actually stand up and say what they have to say.

In order to write a first draft, you simply have to put the words on the page. Don't worry about making everything sound perfect - that's what editing is for. Don't obsess over trying to find two hours to write everyday. Or even writing everyday. Start with ten minutes every Friday during your last break at work. And then just go from there.

The conditions are never going to be perfect. You're never going to find the perfect notebook or the perfect pen. You don't need a brand new computer first. You don't have to wait until next year. Use what you have and do what you can.

If you want to write to a book, you have to write a first draft. And to write a first draft, all you have to do is write.


Gregory Hedgepeth is the editor-in-chief of Vital Narrative Press. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Feel free to follow on all three. Or maybe just two. Yeah, two’s probably good — he’s not that interesting. Gregory Hedgepeth is also the author of MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SUNRISES, THE YEAR THAT ANSWERED and A COLLECTION OF ECHOES. BUY THAT SHIT.