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  • Writer's pictureErika Nichols-Frazer

A Tether to this World: An Anthology of Mental Health Recovery Stories

The first book with only my name on it

About eight months ago, as the global shit was hitting the metaphorical fan, I was on a ski/snowboard vacation in Colorado with my husband. Snowboarding is pretty much my favorite thing to do (I occasionally ski, too, but I'm much more likely to grab my board). It's where I feel freest, like my best self. I feel strong and capable and the closest I've ever come to flying. The speed, deep carves in corduroy snow, swishing through powder make my heart race in the most thrilling way. And it's where my thoughts slow down and focus; it's where I do some of my best thinking, in the woods, light filtering through trees and glimmering on snow. Thoughts come clearly. And I can remember what trail we were riding down (the gondola lift trail) in Steamboat when an idea struck.

Over the previous year, I'd finally "come out" as bipolar. It started with including my diagnosis in my graduate lecture about mentally ill women in fiction at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Then, I published a piece about manic episodes in OC87 Recovery Diaries (a great resource for anyone living with mental illness or who knows/loves someone with mental illness). Then, I started writing about it here, on this blog, talking about it in the news, and writing my memoir that chronicles mental illness, an eating disorder, and alcohol addiction in the family. Talking/writing about mental illness began to come naturally. And it felt good. People were thanking me for sharing my experiences, telling me that it helped to hear someone else was going through it too. And I realized how isolating mental illness can be, particularly when we can't actually be with most people in our lives. People needed to hear the same thing I needed to hear: you're not alone.

As I carved in slow turns, toe-side-heel-side, leaning in a little, letting my body lead me, the thought occurred to me that people needed stories like mine, needed mental health to be destigmatized, discussed openly, normalized. After all, around 45-50 million Americans deal with mental illness and close to 50,000 Americans take their own lives each year. Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. are dealing with some form of mental illness, which means you definitely know someone who is. I was cruising down the trail and thinking of the power of a voice, the ability for it to comfort and heal, thinking how many millions of voices like mine were out there, waiting to be shared. I could put together an anthology of these stories, I thought, a collection of voices sharing experiences of mental illness, uplifting stories of healing and recovery, of hope. It was a bluebird day, sun shining, soft spring snow. Hope seemed real.

We flew back from Colorado March 13, just as it was becoming not-OK to do things like travel through international airports. On March 14, I did a little research on publishers open to anthologies, and pitched my idea to Main Street Rag. On March 15, they said yes.

We received 127 submissions - poems, essays, and short stories - about a wide spectrum of experiences with mental illness. Teachers who had to hide their struggles with depression and anxiety from their students, veterans with PTSD, new mothers with anxiety, victims of violence against Black people, eating disorder survivors and abuse and neglect survivors, families with mentally ill members, those fighting every day. The 38 voices in this anthology are bold, empathetic, moving. They tell stories of suicide attempts and hospitalizations and stigma, as well as stories of joy, a new child, finding peace in nature, finding communities online, finding hope in unexpected places.

In one of my calls for submissions, I wrote "write the story you wish you'd read in the worst of it." And they did. They wrote lifelines to strangers, real, honest portrayals of their experiences understanding mental health and what they'd learned about self-care. My hope is that these beautiful pieces offer a beacon to those who need it, destigmatize talking about mental health, and provide connection.

Author Hannah Howard writes, "The stories and poems in A Tether to This World are moving, beautiful and powerful anecdotes to loneliness. They don't shy away from despair; neither are they short on joy. They are a reminder that we can find connection and meaning through our honesty, creativity, vulnerability and courage."

As David Icnogle writes in "Panic Attack Protocol," the collection's opening poem:

Breathe in. This has happened before. You have done this before.

Breathe out. You will make it. You always do.

Pre-order your copy of A Tether to This World for only $10 (limited time)!

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