Changing Ways the novel Shows More of the Recovery from Mental Illness and Less of the Illness, Written by a Teen with Lived Experience

 

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.

Schizophrenic Man’s Journey Out of Homelessness

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Photo of Laura and Ed Noe, courtesy of Laura Noe

When Angel Salinas immigrated to Connecticut from Ecuador, he opened Johanna’s, a small restaurant for breakfast and lunch, in downtown New Milford. One day a disheveled, smelly homeless man showed up at his back door. It was Ed Noe. This began a friendship where Salinas fed Ed breakfast and lunch for nine years.

A little strange, but nothings really wrong

Ed’s older sister Laura Noe remembers talking to one of Ed’s childhood friends who said that there was something different about Ed back in grade school. He would hear voices but everyone thought it was a childish thing.

“He was just my quirky, cool little brother,” said Laura.

Ed struggled in high school and was sent to the Thomas Moore School where he graduated in 1986. He went onto graduate the University of Maine in Orono with an Associates Degree in Forestry. Ed loved trees and the outdoors.

Laura began to notice Ed’s bizarre behavior in college but made nothing of it until their mother died of brain cancer in 1990. Their family dealt with the pain by keeping it hidden and not talking, which Laura believes were contributing factors to sending Ed over the edge into mental illness.

Around this time, Ed hitchhiked on foot across the United States from Connecticut to Alaska. He worked in a salmon cannery for awhile, then hitchhiked back to Connecticut.

“I just thought of him as a modern day hippie,” said Laura. “He played guitar and was a gentle soul. I thought of him as nomadic because he was never in one place—never homeless.”

The seeds of illness

Laura describes a trip to Boston where she bumped into Ed with her son standing in a hotel lobby. She would not see him again for nine years. “He came in and out of your life—showing up on doorsteps,” she said.

Ed eventually centered his life in New Milford where he transitioned from nomadic to homeless.

After their dad died of cancer in January of 2015, Laura felt the urge to reconnect with her brother and let him know about his father. Through social media searching, she learned Ed lived on the New Milford green and wore a brown coat. She drove from Branford to New Milford and spotted Ed in his brown coat. He looked up and recognized her but would not get in her car. She told him their bad news and left. But she decided to go back each week with a bagged lunch and a note inside for him.

Peg Molina from New Milford social services said people in the communtiy reached out to buy him clothes.

Laura wanted to help Ed more but was told by a New Milford police officer that as long as he wasn’t hurting himself or others, Ed gets to do what he wants to do.

“Without Ed’s consent we were nowhere,” she said.

Ed was clear that he did not want help. “He prided himself on his independence,” said Laura.

People in New Milford became concerned about Ed’s physical health. He had a gash on his leg that needed treatment. He also looked like he had type 2 diabetes. The people in town put together an intervention team on October 5, 2015. Amazingly, Ed agreed to go to Danbury Hospital to have his leg looked at.

He started saying Yes to help

After cleaning up his leg, they gave Ed a psych evaluation and formally diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Since he couldn’t care for himself, they had a probate hearing and Laura became co-conservator of Ed. Ed remained at Danbury Hospital psych unit until a bed opened up for him at Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) in January of 2016.

Laura and her son brought him things to CVH like a big bag of leaves to remind him of the outdoors he so loved. They took him out on day passes to Wadsworth Falls.

Ed kept saying yes to his own recovery. He tried things like yoga. And slowly got better. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) found him transitional housing in a group home in Danbury.

A year later on the journey to recovery

Ed reconnected with his family. He bought himself a bicycle to get around town. He even got his first passport to visit Laura’s son, his nephew, at college in Canada.

Ed’s transitional housing had its funding cut by the state, so he has to move. However, he feels ready to live on his own. His conservator found an efficiency in the New Milford area and they are looking for a part-time job for him.