How John Green Tackles Mental Illness in Turtles All the Way Down

I bought the new John Green book, Turtles All the Way Down, this week.

I actually had been planning on buying Green’s latest work for months before its release because I LOVE John Green.

Yeah, I started with The Fault in Our Stars like so many other people. But I loved Greene’s style of writing so much that I bought all the other books he has written. I bought them one at the time and read them each in a night, staying up alone and devouring them like the bars of good candy I hide from my kids and eat in their entirety while everyone else is asleep. Not that I have a chocolate problem. Ahem.

I didn’t know much about Green’s new book aside from its title. “Cool, turtles.” I thought, “I like turtles.”

Then I read the first chapter and almost put the book down. Because I didn’t know if I could go on. Because I just might burst into loud sobs and frighten my husband and children awake.

Because John Green was writing about me.

You see the main character of Turtles all the Way Down is a 16-year-old girl named Aza who suffers from severe anxiety and OCD. I wasn’t diagnosed with panic and anxiety until I was in my twenties and it was never quite as severe as Aza’s (especially the OCD). But when John Green began taking us into one of Aza’s anxiety induced thought spirals, it was if I was reading my own dark, tortuous past thoughts . . . except they were even worse.

Imagining anyone, real or fictional, suffering as much and even more than I have with panic and anxiety is enough to make me cry any day. Because no one wants to fall into that Upside Down place of darkness. No one wants to fight with that Demagorgon. No one.

But I kept reading. I followed along with Aza as she continued to wrestle with her demon of anxiety. I cheered when she momentarily won and cried (quietly) when she failed. I tried to will her to take her meds through the pages of the book because even though I used to HATE to take my anti-depressants and benzos too, 20 years later I understand that they really DO help.

I read and I read until I came to the end of the book. And then I couldn’t stop asking one question.

How in the world does anyone, even a genius like John Green write anxiety so unbelievably well?

A quick Google search yielded the answer.

John Green himself has fought the Demagorgon of panic, anxiety, and OCD, fought them in fact for many years.

Now I was crying for real.

I cried because I love John Green, and I hate that he has had to walk through the Upside Down again and again. I know how sad and lonely and scary that place is and I would never wish it upon anyone, much less one of my favorite authors.

And then I cried because John Green had seen the face of the same Demagorgon as me. Anxiety (really any mental illness) can be incredibly isolating. Sometimes you think that you are the only one who has such crazy thoughts. You are the only one who cannot control your own mind, emotions, and reactions. You are the only one who has been so shamefully, shamefully ill. And this belief scares you so much you keep it a deep, dark secret inside.

So when you realize that someone else has been just as ill as you, with the same kind of crazy thoughts and the same kind of irrational behavior, it is an incredible relief to know you are not the the only one. Don’t get me wrong, I would not wish this one anyone. But to know someone I admire as much as John Green has had thoughts as crazy and as uncontrollable as mine was an incredible comfort.

Yet, it is obvious that anxiety is only one chapter in this incredible author’s story. His struggle with anxiety and OCD has not prevented him from becoming a best selling young adult fiction author. It has not stopped him from producing an amazing and informative Vlog with his brother Hank. It has not stopped him from getting married and becoming a father.

Reading about John Green’s journey with anxiety and OCD reminded me about an important truth regarding my journey as well. Anxiety is only part of my story. Yes, it is always there with me in sometimes small and sometimes large ways. But it does not define me. I am more than my anxiety. 

With the help of medicine, good health habits, self care, and a bit of luck, I can have many extremely productive and meaningful days in my life. Days that make a difference. Days that make my the world a better place. Days that make my life a rich and wonderful existence.

And when the bad days come as they have and as they will, I know that I am not alone. That these days are only a part of my story.

If someone you know or love struggles with OCD and/or anxiety, I strongly encourage you to read Turtles All the Way Down. It will be painful, but it will help you understand their struggle from the inside out.

If you yourself struggle with anxiety and OCD and you feel strong enough, I encourage you to read this unprecedented book as well. For it will remind you that you are not alone, that there is hope, that it is okay to reach out for help.

To hear John Green talk about his OCD click on the link below.

As Green tells you, “there is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

2 thoughts on “How John Green Tackles Mental Illness in Turtles All the Way Down

  1. I seen where he had a new book out but I didn’t know what it was about. I love John Green and I could relate to this book I have suffered from anxiety and pain attacks for years. Thank you for writing this review I will definitely check this book out.

  2. This is an amazing post. Thank you for sharing your experiences so openly. You are right – we are more than whatever we are struggling with, whether it’s anxiety or another mental illness or trauma. We are so, so much more. I will have to check out this book. Thank you for posting this. Much love – speak766

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