Today we have a guest post from Nell Gavin, author of Hang On, where she talks about her protagonist, Holly, and some things they have in common.
In the 1970s you could read rock bands like horoscopes, or like one of Glamour Magazine’s personality profile quizzes. A person’s taste in music in the 1970s told you everything you needed to know about that person, and sometimes determined whether or not you dated someone or even became friends. It told you whether they were introspective or outgoing; prone to fistfights and trouble or a peace lover; cautious or a risk taker; wild or conservative, and if they were artistic and creative or a crowd-pleaser. You instantly knew how quickly someone would bore you, or whether or not they would retain your interest, and you theirs. You could guess within a very reasonable margin of error if people were straight-laced or boozers, or if they took drugs – and if they were into the hard stuff or hallucinogens. It was all there in the bands they listened to.
Did you like the band, Chicago? Crowd-pleaser, straight (whether gay or not) except for cocktails, maximum two because you had to work in the morning. You were responsible, employed, and probably financially stable, or were on your way to becoming that way.
Alice Cooper, however? You were a very likely a heterosexual male between the ages of 15 and 21, and you lived with your parents. You might have benefited from grooming tips. We would meet you years later on Wayne’s World.
My favorite rock bands revealed me to be dreamy and imaginative, a little too “bookish,” and never, ever in the popular crowd.
And here is where Holly Salvino comes in. She’s a young lady who is introspective, a little too bookish, and never ever in the popular crowd. I placed her into the world of Rock and Roll. Then I wrote a story about her and called it Hang On.
Holly is much like me, and her story has several parallels with mine. I found myself in that crazy world too. I had a boyfriend – an English one, who had the accent I had fallen in love with during the British Invasion of the 1960s – and he was a roadie for a famous English rock band, just like Holly’s boyfriend, Trevor.
The band Trevor works for, Torc, is much like Alice Cooper, with a fan base of teenaged males. Their music is not to her taste. But that isn’t really important – the band is only Trevor’s job. And love conquers all.
Holly’s limited appreciation for Torc’s music is only one of her challenges. When she was four years old her mentally ill mother committed suicide. Abandoned by her father, Holly went to live with her abusive grandmother, who ignored the blazing sign all four-year-old children wear: “Handle with care.” Years later, grown and on her own, Holly has some scars, as abused and traumatized children will. She has suffered an emotional fracture, and it shows.
Unfortunately, it is the 1970s. Holly’s mental illness will not be recognized as a condition until the 1980s, and there will be no effective treatment for it until the 1990s. This condition does not respond to medication, so her psychiatrist is of no real help to her. Nevertheless, she continues to see him, and continues to go hungry in order to pay him because she has bouts of very severe depression and thoughts of suicide, but has vowed to never kill herself, as her mother did. He is her only safety net.
Along with her severe depression, she suffers from extreme irritability and angry, inappropriate outbursts. Her anxiety manifests itself in frequent panic attacks. This makes it difficult for her to sustain friendships or relationships for very long.
Trevor is the man she is certain is the love of her life, and Holly is terrified that she’ll lose him because of her illness. She decides she has to cure herself now. Right now. Until she does, she has to hide her symptoms, which are only barely within her control.
I had Holly’s condition as well, when I was young. It is called Borderline Personality Disorder, and it covers a very wide spectrum of symptoms, with an equally wide spectrum of severity.
It’s an easy condition to misdiagnose because its symptoms can fall under other mental illnesses. Hence the name “Borderline:” its symptoms “border” those of several conditions, all at the same time. It most typically impacts people with a high emotional sensitivity score, who also suffer some kind of trauma, neglect or abuse in childhood. If the sensitivity level is high enough, it takes very little (or even no) trauma to trigger symptoms. If the sensitivity level is lower, it requires a more extreme level of trauma for a person to show signs of it. Sexual trauma in childhood is the worst, and those victims suffer the most (one more reason to do everything we possibly can to prevent child molestation).
So each sufferer falls somewhere on the spectrum, from highly functional to non-functional, depending on his or her own sensitivity score and the trauma he or she experiences. People at risk for Borderline Personality Disorder are also those who most easily succumb to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The factors in play are very similar, and in some ways so is the treatment.
The good news is that symptoms improve as you get older, particularly if you make an active effort to confront and overcome them. In my case they are completely gone, and I leave a breadcrumb trail in Hang On for how I did that.
I was highly functional, and so is Holly. She holds a job and pays her rent. However, she is very lonely because her symptoms make it difficult for her to interact with other people and sustain relationships for very long. She has one or two friends who overlook her mood swings, and she has Trevor. The world of Rock and Roll keeps her afloat. But her isolation is palpable and painful, and her fear of losing the little she has is very real.
Holly’s dreams are just within her reach. She wonders: Can she really grasp them and have a happy ending? The odds are against her, but she is determined that she will.