By Grace Fell, The University of Arizona
From a young age, adults told me in a frustrated tone that I am too quiet. They told me I should speak up. I spoke quietly because I didn’t want to speak at all. I didn’t want to talk or look at anyone who I wasn’t absolutely comfortable with. Every day before school I cried because I dreaded the social environment of a classroom. My mother finally agreed to homeschool me to make me happier and more comfortable. Her friends and relatives judged her. They argued that I am just a little shy, that I should get over it. Though I hadn’t been diagnosed yet, I had crippling social anxiety. The lack of empathy from nearly everyone but my mother is depressing.
Veronica Roth also deals with social anxiety, which she says in an NPR interview makes the publicity part of her job that came with the success of the Divergent series so difficult. Roth took a personal risk by writing Carve the Mark because she knew people would read it. That awareness made it difficult for her to work. However, Roth doesn’t let her anxiety get in the way of her success.
After the success of the Divergent series, Roth sought help for her social anxiety. Her publicity demands became too much for her to handle on her own. Roth is a role model for adolescents who deal with anxiety or other issues. Instead of avoiding what makes her uncomfortable or fearful, she faces them head on and–most importantly–seeks help for her disorder.
Society is realizing that mental disorders, including anxiety, require thoughtful treatment and empahty. Whereas before adolescents and children with mental illness might be dismissed has having odd personalities, now their clinical disorders are acknowledged. Treatment is available. Kids feel that they can talk about what’s going on in their heads without being ridiculed. Most importantly, they feel that they can seek treatment for their mental health. However, kids need role models and encouragement to seek help and to realize that they are not alone. That’s why we need authors like Veronica Roth.
Akos, a character in Carve the Mark, is both a mirror and a window to anxiety. Akos is quiet, shy and frustrated with his own social anxiety. His behavior and internal thoughts shock me because they are identical to how I felt as a child with social anxiety. In this way, Akos is a mirror for me. I like the internal frustrations Akos deals with because it is relatable to someone like myself with social anxiety. Mental illness is not something we choose. It’s something we deal with the best way we can, but it often feels frustrating to want to act “normal” but feel “unreasonable” anxiety instead. I often don’t participate in social events because my anxiety will make me feel miserable. I can imagine that a young reader who also has social anxiety will feel relief that other people feel this way, too.
“Akos’s insides were a rope, twisting tight,” is a strong description of what people with anxiety feel when they are in a social situation that makes them uncomfortable. This gives readers a window through which they can see what anxiety is like. A reader can easily imagine what this anxiety feels like with the feeling of twisting insides. Even if a reader does not have anxiety, perhaps they can now empathize with their friends or classmates who do. That’s why this window to anxiety is so important.
Akos’s actions and thoughts are those of someone with social anxiety. Akos envies another character “for his loud, clear voice,” because Akos himself “talks too softly for most people to pay attention.” This is a common trait in those with social anxiety. These lines resonate with me because I felt this way when I was young. It’s possible that Roth is mirroring her own frustrations of her social anxiety in Akos’s thoughts.
Adolescents need to know that they should not feel shame for their mental illnesses. They should certainly not feel shame for seeking help for their disorders. As an aspiring writer who also deals with anxiety, I feel inspired by Roth to pursue a career in writing. My anxiety does not have to be a roadblock. Roth’s bravery in writing and the strength of her characters in Carve the Mark is why I’m excited for her to attend the Tucson Festival of Books this Year! A large public event must be intimidating for her, so her continued strength to overcome her social anxiety for this event just provides further encouragement for her fans.
Roth’s Carve the Mark creates empathy in those may not have mental disorders and helps those who do have it realize they are not alone. Veronica Roth will attend the Tucson Festival of Books in March 2018. We hope you will join us!
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