Since eighth grade, 18-year-old, Julia Tannenbaum, of West Hartford, CT, has been writing. But a few years into high school, she found herself in a real dark place…struggling with mental illness.
“I had no way to articulate my thoughts and emotions,” she said. “My feelings felt repressed inside.”
In and out of school, in various treatment facilities both inpatient and outpatient, she often spent three to four hours a day writing poetry, journals, fiction to express herself.
However, once in long-term recovery, at age 17, she was visiting a friend in California where she used to live when she had an idea.
“I wanted to write a book in fiction about my experiences with mental illness,” she said.
The plot of the book, Changing Ways, is a 16-year-old girl spirals into mental illness travels the road to recovery with help from friends and family and people she meets along the way. One third of the book is Grace’s recovery.
She had read a lot of fiction and nonfiction about other’s experiences with mental illness and found it very triggering, stuck in the illness, and not relevant to her own struggles. So she decided to write the book as a work of autobiographical fiction to help decrease the stigma about getting help for mental illness and show recovery rather than focus all the time on illness.
“The misrepresentation of mental illness and the triggers of literature about these topics inspired me to write my book,” said Tannenbaum.
Changing Ways the novel, was born. She started writing in the middle of the story and wrote the beginning last.
“The beginning is the hardest part because you have to hook people,” she said.
Her battle with mental illness which included depression, anxiety and an eating disorder started in seventh grade when she felt insecure and had social anxiety. She got into self-harm. She was eventually taken out of school and placed in an Intensive Outpatient Treatment program. When discharged, it was a slow upward battle. High School brought more hospitalizations.
“My illness became my identity,” she said. “I eventually became sick of living half life. Writing was the only thing keeping me going.”
At 15-years-old, she committed to recovery, and today has three years of recovery from her mental illness.
“This book thing is incredible. In my bad moments, I take a minute to remind myself where I am now,” she said.
Several members of the local media have done stories on her novel and she has reached out to many local libraries to do book talks. Changing Ways has sold so far 250 copies since September 2 when the book came out. She gave her first book talk at Book Club Bookstore in South Windsor. She has one coming up on November 3 at the West Hartford Library main branch at 3p.m. Her teachers are both surprised and impressed she wrote a book and so are her peers.
Tannenbaum lives with her two moms an younger teenage brother.
“My moms are the reason I am alive today. They’re supportive and my biggest fans,” she said. “I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”
Despite being self-published and self-taught, Tannenbaum has found success with her first book. The first chapter reads conversationally and true to life. Tannenbaum proves she is a gifted author and plans to study writing in college. Her top choices are Emerson and Weslyan.
“I want this story to be told, to reach a lot of people,” she said.
“The book ends with room for more,” she said. That’s why she’s working on a sequel following Grace, the main character, as her recovery progresses.
Tannenbaum practices self-care by allowing herself certain times of the day to take a break and just relax. She has four cats, whom she calls her therapy pets. She likes puzzles and games and Netflix, and she does yoga. She loves listening to music too, 90s style and early 00s is her brand.
An Amazon link to Changing Ways is here. You can buy it in paperback or for Kindle. You can contact Julia on social: Twitter @julia_tann, Instagram @julia.tannenbaum, Facebook writerjuliatannenbaum. She even developed her own web site at www.wackywriter.com.