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Shannon’s Soapbox: A Little Life

Associate Editor, Shannon Taylor


Over the weekend I read a novel that has been getting rave reviews lately, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Coming in at a whopping 816 pages I’d like to say it was a delight of a weekend, but this novel absolutely wrecked me. I’ve never read anything so sad in my entire life. And at it’s very center: trauma, abuse, mental health struggles.


I have had a child with mental health issues (bipolar, depression, anxiety), I have had other family members, friends and co-workers who have struggled, but no one talks about it—at least not enough. These are things that numerous people struggle with on a day-to-day basis—many almost their entire lives. And while the stigma has shown improvement in the last few years—we still have so many miles to cover.


And this is true. But people don’t tend to like “messy” do they? And mental illness can be “messy.” Messy loud, messy tears, messy anger, messy hair, messy hygiene, etc…etc…So people ignore it, people walk past it, people whisper about it, people laugh, etc…etc…Why? And the ones suffering do so silently. Alone.


I used to tell my son (23 now) when he was younger and balked at going to a psychiatrist, (at the time there was only 1 near Weakley County, in Obion County) and at taking any medicine for issues he was experiencing during his teenage years, that his brain was an organ just like any other in his body and he had to take care of it the same. “If you needed something for your heart or liver or kidneys you’d take it and you’d listen to your doctor,” I lectured him, “the brain should be no different.”


In A Little Life a character named Jude suffered from a life of trauma and abuse, He had numerous mental issues. The novel spanned from the time Jude was around 8 until he was in his 60’s. Jude’s life wasn’t an easy one—it was, at times, difficult to read—even though the language and prose of the novel was so eloquently and beautifully written. And I thought that people, in general, are at times, difficult to read. We never know what someone is going through and so I’ll leave you with a quote from this book:


“A sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad; he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it. Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”


Watch the people around you. Your friends, your family and your co-workers. Be kind. If someone looks like they need help: try to help them. “And so I try to be kind to everything I see, and in everything I see, I see him.” –Hanya Yanagihara A Little Life

Resources for mental health in Weakley County are:

Carey Counseling: 731-480-0011

MSHN Enterprises: 1-901-410-9010

Unity Psychiatric Care: 1-731-588-2830

(If anyone knows of other resources available—please email me).




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