A Way Out: A Memoir of Conquering Depression and Social Anxiety by Michelle Balge was published yesterday. A Way Out, as the title suggests, is a memoir detailing Balge’s experience with depression and social anxiety. Since her teenage years Balge has dealt with these issues while growing up to become a sociology graduate, web design student, mental health advocate, and animal welfare activist. We were lucky enough to ask her a couple of questions.
What made you decide to write this memoir?
I wrote this memoir in the hopes that it can help those experiencing or who have experienced mental illness, as well as those who have loved ones with their own challenges. I truly want to be able to make a difference and have others understand that they’re not alone.
Who do you hope to reach with this book?
I hope to reach not only those that I mentioned in the previous question, but also those who are just interested in learning more about mental health and illness. There is such a stigma to this topic, that reading from the point of view of someone who experienced it firsthand can perhaps give better insight into what it’s like. I’ve made it as honest as I possibly can, to the point of sharing my most embarrassing stories and darkest thoughts. Although there is dark content, I’ve mixed humour into the book to provide some relief for those who worry it may be too intense.
Do you think this book will be helpful to those in middle of their own depression? Or would it be very triggering?
I think that everyone will be different, which is why at the beginning of the book there’s a content warning stating that there are parts that could be triggering for some people. I think it’s up to the individual person to tell if it’s something they’re in the right place for, or if it may be a bit too much to handle. It could very well be triggering for a person one day, but be the hope they were looking for the next.
What was your writing process like?
I wrote whenever I had the urge to, which meant my writing ranged from thousands of words a day, to only a couple hundred a week. When trying to force myself to write, the words didn’t come out the way I wanted them to. While writing the darkest parts of my memoir, I had to listen to certain songs on repeat that I would listen to while I was depressed. It would bring my mind back as close as I could to how it used to feel while depressed, but once the music stopped, I could return to the present time. For the hopeful parts of the book, I listened to upbeat music to put the inspiration I felt into the book.
Can you tell us more about being a Mental Health Advocate? What does that entail?
As a mental health advocate, I was the president of a mental health club at my previous university and co-organized many mental health events. For the last few years I’ve been giving talks to students, the community, and professionals, sharing my personal story. In the last few months I’ve had 3 talks, each one a different experience because of the audience. Also, just with everyday conversations, I do my best to talk openly about mental health and illness. I share what I know with friends, family, people online, and now with my book I can reach people around the world.
What do you have to say about the stigma surrounding therapy and medications?
I believe that therapy and medication can be so important for your mental health. If you have a mild or moderate illness it may be better to try therapy and other methods of help before medication, but everyone’s different. Therapy can range from one-on-one talks about your life, to group therapy learning about CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I personally found that group therapy with a focus on CBT for social anxiety was a huge help. Medication has also been a huge help for me. There’s nothing wrong with needing medication, therapy, or both. People need to know that it’s often a combination of things that will help their health improve.
Do you think you will write more books in the future?
I’m not sure if I’ll ever write another memoir, but I would love to write children’s books with a focus on mental health. One of my other big passions is animals, so all the characters would be animals to show people that they have feelings and can actually experience mental illnesses too.
So there you have it! If you want to learn more about what people dealing with these issues are dealing with, or if you want a little hope for yourself, I think this book will be very helpful for you. You can find it here on Goodreads or on Barnes and Noble. Michelle’s website is here.