It’s been over three months since the third and final novel in my trilogy The Changing Ways Series came out yet it often still feels surreal that it’s over; that this project I’ve poured myself into for the past four years of my life is behind me once and for all.
Back in 2018—which seems forever ago now—I published my debut novel Changing Ways. It told the story of sixteen-year-old Grace Edwards who, overwhelmed by pressure and insecurity, turned to restriction to cope. This quickly spiraled into a full-blown eating disorder to the point where she needed to be hospitalized to save her life. In the hospital, Grace realized that the only way she’d get better and move past her disorder is if she committed to recovery.
I started writing Changing Ways when I was seventeen, one year older than Grace and just two years removed from the same experiences with anorexia and depression she goes through in the book. In fact, much of Grace’s story throughout the series is heavily based on my personal struggles with mental illness, as well as my successes in recovery.
I give writing a lot of credit for helping me get through that dark and scary time in my life when I was completely entrenched in my eating disorder. Initially, writing gave me a voice when I had none, then it was an outlet for my repressed thoughts and emotions, and ultimately it became my motivator by providing me with hope for my future and an identity that wasn’t dependent upon my disorder.
Putting my experiences into a seventy-five-thousand-word novel wasn’t an easy feat; it was time-consuming, emotional, stressful, and exhausting. But it was also liberating, exciting, hopeful, and inspiring. I wanted so badly to get it right; to write a book that truly encapsulated what mental illness was about while also not being harmful to a potentially vulnerable audience. When I published Changing Ways, I felt scared, as I’m sure anyone putting themselves out there for the first time would feel. I didn’t know what the response would be and how it would impact my recovery.
The reaction, however, was incredible and completely exceeded my expectations. It’s wonderful to know that this hobby—this coping skill—that basically saved my life is now helping other people. Furthermore, Changing Ways helped me. The more positive feedback I received, the more fulfilled and motivated I felt. (Obviously, there was some negative feedback too, which stung initially but has ultimately made me stronger and more resilient.) I started seeking out opportunities to share my story of how I went from an insecure teenager in the clutches of anorexia to an independent published young adult proudly living her truth.
In July of 2019, I published the sequel Breaking Free, which is a continuation of Grace’s journey that focuses primarily on her learning how to navigate life outside of a treatment facility, just as I’ve been doing for the past five years. Breaking Free came out a month before I started college in Boston, where my own recovery was put to the test as I came dangerously close to relapsing. Fortunately, I was able to overcome that difficult situation thanks to my incredible treatment team, my support system at home, and, of course, writing.
This past November, I published my third novel Choosing Life, which wrapped up the series in the best way I knew how: realistically yet hopefully. At the end of the novel (without spoiling anything) Grace is in the best place she’s been at since the start of the series—and that’s very much true of myself too. I was technically in recovery when I wrote Changing Ways, yet there was still a large part of me that clung to anorexia and wasn’t ready to let go. Today, that part is almost entirely gone. I’m no longer stubbornly straddling that fine line between relapse and recovery. I’ve chosen a side. I’ve chosen life.
Julia Tannenbaum is the author of the Changing Ways trilogy. She’s an advocate for mental health awareness and often incorporates her personal struggles into her fictional work. Tannenbaum is currently pursuing a Creative Writing and English B.A. at Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut with her family.