Thoughts on Turtles All the Way Down
//TLDR// This book’s greatest achievement is its ability to articulate the struggles and feeling of anxiety.
The following is spoiler free.
I dropped CBD oil under my tongue and I waited for my brain to let go of the endless stream of consciousness about dying industries in middle America. (Thoughts may start with middle America and will end in the end of the world – beautiful thoughts to lull myself to sleep. I know).
Does reading long articles about truckers and steel workers ever help me get back to sleep? No. But some how I end up reading those features. Like about ball bearing factory workers in Indiana. This is my insomnia hobby. It’s a terrible hobby.
Anywaaayysss this stream of thought brought me to think about John Green’s latest book. (It takes place in Indiana). My review is strongly focused from an anxiety perspective. I love this review on YouTube that I feel really explores the other REALLY AMAZING things about this book.
This is hands down my favorite John Green novel. After a 6 year wait for this book, I’m finally like duhhhh this is why it took so long to write! The fact that it is so easy to read and understand is a clear product of extreme thoughtfulness and a whole lot of hard work. And I’m sure much of that hard work was recovering from a relapse into mental illness which just goes to show how hard it is to live with a chronic illness. Not romanticizing mental illness is Turtles greatest strength. John Green’s struggle between The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles shows how incredibly difficult it is to overcome false beliefs that your condition might have some “benefits”, no matter how old you are. Such a belief like, “I work better under pressure”, “there is an advantage to letting myself obsess over this problem ” or “getting off my meds will help me suffer for my art and spark inspiration”. Of course I objectively know that anxiety is bad and it feels terrible and sucks so so much, but deep down I have these ingrained ideas that there is benefit to some amount of anxiety.
This book was difficult for me to read because the main character is so familiar to me. It was hard for me to get lost in the story. It is so rare for me to come across a portrait of someone who’s so realistic and relatable, whether it be fiction or non-fiction. It is a courageous undertaking of a book that could have only been written by an anxiety sufferer.
Mental illness manifests itself differently in everyone, so I find it difficult to read/watch other stories featured in the mainstream, because so often it becomes a singular template for all people of that condition. For me that’s the biggest problem with Netflix’s two recent pieces about adolescents and mental illness – it’s great that it keeps the conversation going, but it only represents one story. Also, when many of the problems are internal, you can’t convey the inner turmoil of a sufferer on screen because much of their inner thoughts are projections by you, as the viewer. You can’t see thoughts. You can’t see blackhole thought spirals.
However I knew Turtles would be different because 1. John Green’s writing 2. Book format 3. John Green’s personal experiences.
For me, having an anxiety disorder can be difficult because I can’t always trust my thoughts. The hardest thing to explain, let alone articulate, is thinking of yourself in plurality (me and anxious me) and then struggling to know who you “really are”. If I am not my thoughts, not this illness, then who the $*!# am I?! This is a big theme in the book. There aren’t any answers in Turtles, but that is beside the point, these themes are explored very well.
Additionally, there are so many things that I have in common with the main character that are so hard to explain to people that made reading this book such a profound read. Of course, there are differences like Aza, the main character, has OCD and I have GAD. However, the underlying feeling of loss of control and constant anxiety are the same. John Green elucidates and articulates so many of the feels and thoughts just right.
And finally I leave you with some snippets that stood out to me.
This I struggle with all the time:
…also there was something else I couldn’t quite identify, some way-down fear that taking a pill to become myself was wrong.
I too have felt completely detached from my physical self and missed life happening right in front of me moments because of this:
I was thinking about how part of your self can be in a place while at the same time the most important parts are in a different place, a place that can’t be accessed via your senses. Like, how I’d driven all the way to school without really being inside the car.
And this line is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from mental unwellness – that you can’t truly know someone else’s experiences:
Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really – just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.
Like when you describe a symptom or totally weird anxiety thing and they just say,
“That’s not uncomon”.
There are so many therapy moments in the book that I loved because I just want to reach out to Aza and be like, ‘haha me too Aza, I hate when they make you do therapisty things too’. Like when you describe a symptom or totally weird anxiety thing and they just say,
“That’s not uncomon”.
😒 < this emoji was made for those moments. It’s a fact.
And then there’s this conversation I’ve had so many times:
“You feeling scared?”
“It’s not like that. The sentence doesn’t have, like, an object. I’m just scared.”
And I love this snippet about the feeling of getting lost in a piece of art:
By some trick of the cured lines, my eyes got lost in the painting so that I kept having to refocus on tiny individual pieces it. It didn’t feel like something I was looking at so much as something I was part of. I felt, and then dismissed, an urge to grab the painting off the wall and run away with it.
Fun fact: Bloo puked twice while I wrote this 😀