There’s a book coming out TODAY, written by Mandi Castle (sexy beast extraordinaire and also, author (her official title)), and I think you should definitely read it.
It’s called ‘Dear Stephanie’ (yaknow, I might even have mentioned it once. Or twice. Or a million times: here, and here, and here, and here) and it’s the story of a woman (Paige) who lives a life in extremely rich and sumptuous circumstances. Like literally – she’s richer than you could possibly imagine, and embodies ‘how the other half live’. She’s augmented, enhanced, painfully fashionable, incredibly smart, and entirely more beautiful than people get to be in Real Life. And she’s absolutely the mistress of her own sexuality and has steamy affairs with impossibly scrumptious men (in rather gorgeous detail (MMMMmmmmm thanks, Mandi)) and actually is living the dream.
Except she’s not.
Because she has severe mental health problems – ones she’s embarrassed and ashamed about, and tries to keep hidden. She doesn’t trust. She can’t bring herself to love. She uses people disdainfully, watching them do her bidding even as she recognises that she’s only building her barriers higher, and that no-one can breach them. Almost everyone is kept at arm’s length, and she lives in constant, suffocating fear.
Fear of them finding out.
Fear that she’ll stop coping.
Fear that she’ll kill herself, and at the same time, a desperate desire for that final release from anguish.
She’s smart enough to have analysed the content of her own character and her own mind to an extent that no therapist has yet been able to keep up with, and as such is a prisoner of her own intellect, for she refuses to let them help her, instead manipulating them and play-acting along with their (to her mind) inept attempts at fixing her.
In spite of her beauty, brains and privilege, she is the definition of a tortured soul, and at first Mandi keeps us outraged with her, even as we marvel at her audacity. She’s an absolute shocker, and the story feels a little like a racy tabloid, but then as time goes by and we learn more about Paige, her thought processes, and the things which have shaped her, we find that there are deep, resonating threads between her world and our own:
We all know people who struggle.
We all know people who hurt.
Some of us know people for whom the world is such a precarious, lonely place, that they’re not sure they can make it to the end of the day still living, because existence is endless agony, and as much as there are those it might hurt, they still believe that their loved ones would be better off without them.
In the end, closer acquaintance with Paige brings us to a point of compassion and empathy, and Mandi is skilful in writing a character whose excesses and outbursts are utterly re-framed by understanding, and it dawns on us that we’ve begun to care for her.
We cheer her on in her struggles.
We ache when she hurts.
And when she yearns to die, and laments life, and makes plans to end it all…we’re left beating our palms fruitlessly against the windows of this tale, wishing we could step in and swat the pills from her hands, and hold her, and somehow make it alright again.
She’s the kind of person whose mask is very firmly in place, but who desperately needs people. We might know this kind of person in Real Life. We might know them without knowing it, because the mask is so embedded, but nonetheless, this type of person needs us.
And that’s key, both in this story (which is utterly compelling and deeply moving) and in real life – it’s easy to take people at face value and assume that their behaviour is just ‘how they are’ and if it’s obnoxious or precocious, to just steer clear and take the easy path – why would we want to try to get close to someone who is evidently so resistant to engaging? Why would we support someone when our every effort seems to slide off them like raindrops on armour? Why would we bother taking the time to listen to them or make efforts to understand their history and properly contextualise their present? Why not just let them go?
Well, we need them, too. But why do we need these unloveables?
We need them because they often recognise brokenness in other people, and respond deeply and genuinely to it. We need them because they often bring intense beauty into the world in efforts to redeem it. We need them because from practice, they find it easier to share their demons with those who are also haunted, and let them know that they’re not alone.
We need them to remind us that beyond the business of survival, the most treacherous place to be embattled is within the confines of your own mind.
And we need them because they matter – whatever they look like – every ‘Paige’ counts.
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Thanks for the reminder, Mandi, and the gorgeous book, and HAPPY RELEASE DAY.
BUY ‘Dear Stephanie’ RIGHTNOW. I mean it – I’m watching 😉