Please welcome Sonia Patel to Rich in Color today. Her newest book, Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story, will be available next month. We really enjoyed Rani Patel in Full Effect, her debut last year, and are looking forward to this new release.
Keep it real or you might die. Sound extreme? Let me explain this short but profound sentence I often use to help struggling teens in my child and adolescent psychiatry practice. I’ll start by breaking it down into two parts.
Keep it real = Determine your true thoughts and feelings in the moment and speak up for yourself in all honesty.
Or you might die = If you stay quiet and believe the negative automatic thoughts, feelings, and risky impulses that your mind is tricking you with then you might be more likely to go through with the risky impulses (suicide attempts, accidental excessive drug/alcohol use, unprotected sex, etc.) because there doesn’t seem to be any other way out of the intolerable swirl of chaos in your mind.
Obvious? Not to everyone, especially not to vulnerable teens. These are the pained teens—from all walks of life—I have the honor of treating. These are the teens who have a genetic predisposition to an emotional illness (such as depression or anxiety), have lived through trauma, or have dysfunctional family systems—or all three. These teens are more likely to remain silent about the unwanted, false, automatic negative thoughts, feelings, and impulses that plague them. For different reasons, these teens aren’t taught to speak up about, tolerate, or cope with all the negativity. This silent suffering becomes their invisible “teacher” and they learn to act out on their self-destructive impulses. Soon the only way they know how to minimize emotional distress is to act out with dangerous behaviors. It may become hardwired into their brains.
I value meaningful talk therapy as the foundation of my psychiatric treatment to teens. It is my goal to educate them on positive ways to maneuver through life. Over the course of weeks, months, or years we work together to discover how they can become self-aware, how they can say exactly what’s on their mind in any given situation, and how they can ride out the extremes of their negative thoughts, feelings, and impulses.
How they can keep it real so the don’t die.
I strive to be their keep it real coach. There is no better reward than to watch these teens learn to find their voices and be assertive. They become keep it real experts.
I also aim to be a keep it real author. I want to bring this powerful message to as many teens as I can. That is why I write YA novels the way I do—boiled down and raw.
In my office, teens who confide in me don’t speak in perfect prose when they share their innermost thoughts, feelings, impulses, and secrets. They might stumble on their words. They might not be able to find the right words. They might get straight to the point. They might ramble. They might swear. They might cry. They might scream. They might do a combination of all of that. So why would I write their stories in a pretty, elegant way? This is not to say these teens are not intelligent. They are. Some of them read at college level, take A.P. classes, and study hard. They know many big, fancy, SAT words. Those that don’t pursue academics to their full potential are still smart. But what I’ve found is that in the privacy of my office most teens prefer to talk in an informal manner rather than with refined formality. They choose to speak with their broken hearts.
It is with all this in mind that I wrote Rani Patel In Full Effect and the forthcoming Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story. I am excited for the world to meet Jaya and Rasa. They are blends of real patients I’ve had the privilege of treating (I must confess that there are also bits and pieces of me in Jaya!).
The way I write how Jaya experiences things in his life—such as private school, wealth, elitism, modern day Native Hawaiian oppression, lack of acceptance of his gender by his Gujarati Indian parents, bullying by his classmates, depression, self-blame for his parents’ fights, low self-worth, and the unconscious recreation of his parents’ relationships with Rasa—is how many of my patients describe their similar experiences.
The way I write how Rasa maintains a happy front while likening herself to a strong black widow spider is part of her response to trauma. It’s how she’s managed to survive her challenging circumstances. She’s learned to equate her body and sex as power and control over men who are actually abusing her. Under her black widow exterior is a vulnerable girl who hasn’t been given the chance to develop her self-worth or identity apart from being an object for others. She hasn’t had the luxury of a safe life in which her basic needs are met.
Neither Jaya nor Rasa have been taught or encouraged to become self-aware or speak their minds concerning their true thoughts, feelings, and impulses. So they’ve both stayed in their heads trying to survive their respective hardships. Their patterns of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors become more and more ingrained as the years pass. That is, until they meet each other. The intense love that develops between them forces them to confront the flaws in their internalized ways of functioning in the world. They realize that they have to keep it real or they might die.
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