Felicia Johnson knows about this subject matter well – not only is she a mental health advocate who works with the Highlands Institute (Atlanta, Georgia) and volunteers with Youth Villages Inner Harbour and Personality Disorder Awareness Network – she also is a child abuse survivor whose childhood best friend suffered from BPD.
Borderline personality disorder is a tough subject, and not something people always completely understand. What was your inspiration on writing a story with a protagonist who has BPD?
Mental health has always been a big part of my life. When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with major depression. And I had a best friend named Holly who had suffered from BPD. She was the inspiration for my book. After her death, I began to study more about mental health and psychology. I had used the journals that I had wrote about my experience growing up with depression and knowing Holly. It turned it into a fictional story about a girl who suffers from BPD and her struggle to understand her mental illness and become a survivor. I wanted to create a story of hope for not only people who suffer with BPD, but their friends and families as well.
What are some challenges that you faced when writing this book?
I found it challenging to write a very haunting character that’s in the book. His name is Mr. Sharp. He’s the imaginary friend of the main character Kristen. He is kind of a ghostly and dark figure that talks to Kristen through a butterfly pendant that she covets. He was pretty hard to write because his presence in the story is scary at times. I even had a few nightmares about him while I was writing the book.
Can you describe your writing process a little bit? Are you the type who likes to have everything planned ahead of time, or do you like the story to take you where it wants to go?
I do like to outline my stories before I begin writing. I’m not the type of writer who always sticks with my outline, but it’s nice to have a map to take me on the journey. Sometimes, my characters take on a life of their own, so to speak, and when I think that their life in the story will go one way, sometimes they help me see that another way could be better. Especially if changing course from the outline can provide more for the audience to gain something from the story.
What was the timeline from when you first started writing this book to when it was published? Were there any speed bumps along the way?
It’s kind of hard to answer that question because I feel like I started writing this story before I even knew I was writing it. I began writing the journals that inspired this story shortly after Holly’s death, when we were both 15 years old. They were journals that kept the memories of my friend and what it was like to know her. I began to write in the journals so that I wouldn’t forget her. As I grew up and learned more about mental health and Psychology, I decided to write this novel that was inspired by my journals and my studies. It was a challenge because I had to open up those journals and really dig deep inside to write in voice of someone who suffers with BPD.
As someone who suffers from both social anxiety disorder and clinical depression, I would have definitely benefited from reading books when I was a teen where the protagonists were living with the same challenges as myself. Do you think people with borderline personality disorder will find a story here that they can relate to?
I certainly hope so! It’s important to know that you have a voice. When I was a teenager, it encourage me to talk about my depression when someone else who was going through the same thing spoke up. I hope that “Her” can be an encouragement to those who are suffering. The stigma has to end and it starts with us talking about it.
If you could say one thing at all to someone like Kristen, what would it be?
I would encourage that person to talk to someone. It’s not easy because you can feel isolated and alone. The truth is, there are people out there who would rather you talk about it than hurt yourself. That’s why there are hotlines and organizations dedicated to helping anyone who is suffering. You can utilize the resources that are out there to get some help. You don’t have to suffer.
Which authors have inspired you the most in your own writing journey?
That’s a loaded question! hahaha To name a few authors who have inspired me in their writing from when I was kid to even now: Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Dr. Seuss, Anne Lamott, Charlotte Culin, Poe, and Neil Gaiman.
What are you currently reading?
The Butterfly Effect by James Swallow and Vein Fire by Lucia Adams
What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any upcoming projects you want to share with us?
Right now, we’re working on the movie adaptation of “Her”. I’ve been working with the amazing screenplay writer Tonina Kelly. We’re hoping that some producers will be interested in helping us bring our characters to life and to the big screen.
Mental health awareness has been getting better over the past few years, but there’s still a long way to go to remove all the stigma surrounding mental disorders. What do you think is the most important thing that people who don’t have a mental disorder understand to help loved ones who may be suffering like Kristen?
The reason why I wrote this book was to help those who are suffering as well as those who may know someone who is suffering. If you care about someone who is hurting themselves, certainly that causes you to suffer as well. You may not always know what to say or what to do, but you can let that person know that you’re there for them and you’d rather they talk to you than hurt themselves. The best encouragement I have for those who may know someone like Kristen is to become more educated about mental health and talk about it. Talk about it to the person that they care about and help raise awareness to others.