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  • Writer's pictureFrancheskka Manansala

Creating At Home With Crazy

Mental health has always been a topic worth discussing. However, it’s only in recent years that it has been openly talked about on platforms that reach a much wider audience. Today, the stigma surrounding it still remains. 

Included in The Severino Reyes Medal’s 2024 Honor List for Best Young Adult Books, ‘At Home With Crazy’ fearlessly tackles issues on mental health head-on. The story follows high school freshman Cayt and her family as they move to Manila. Navigating a new place and school is twice as hard when you’re caring for someone sick. Cayt's responsibilities now pile up as her mother, Anna, suffers from a mental condition. 

Author Kat Martin and cover illustrator Angela Taguiang reveal their processes and approaches while creating At Home With Crazy.

Constructing the Narrative with Kat Martin

What pushed you to write a novel about the difficult topic of mental health?

Two events prompted me to write about the issue of mental illness from the perspective of a young protagonist and carer.

The first is the experience of having someone confide in me that they were vaguely contemplating suicide. I came away from that encounter very concerned and also at a loss as to how I could provide the support needed, especially because I suspected that I was the only one who knew. I felt a great sense of responsibility for that person, but I didn’t really have access to resources that would help me in such a situation. I couldn’t afford to go to therapy and I didn’t know if I even should at the time, since it was somebody else who was experiencing that problem. As time went on, this responsibility began to weigh more heavily on me, though I was still more concerned about getting treatment for the other person rather than myself. Not really knowing what to do, I decided to try to explore possibilities through writing, hoping that it would help me figure out what to do in real life.

A year after I wrote the first few chapters for a creative writing workshop, I picked it back up again for an MA workshop. Around that time, I had a random encounter with a young woman on a bus who was asking for financial support for her hospitalized mother. Having lived in Metro Manila my entire life, I was sadly accustomed to seeing children ask for alms. But for some reason, that encounter led me to question the ordinariness of children supporting their parents when, by law, it should be the other way around. 

And that’s how this story evolved into an exploration of what life might be like for an adolescent girl who helps care for her mother, who is coming to terms with the mental health challenges that not only her mother but basically everyone in her family, including herself, experiences—all while trying to navigate the ups and downs of life as a teenager.

How did you do the research for the novel?

A lot of Googling! When I started writing this, people around me weren’t as open as they are now about the mental health issues they or their loved ones experience so I had to supplement my own limited experiences by scouring through random blog or forum posts. I wanted to read through as many personal accounts as possible for me to really appreciate the emotions and long-term impacts that such individuals associated with their experiences. I attended art exhibits, read fiction and watched a ton of movies; anything that had to do with mental health, I devoured. 

Since I was also writing this for my thesis, I also pored over many journal articles on the subject of young carers, especially of parents with mental illness, specifically the type of care they would provide, how they felt about their responsibilities and how the caring role affected them in both positive and negative ways. 

In the latter stages of writing, I became friends with a psychologist and I consulted with her about parts of the novel. I also did a lot of inner work like journaling and seeing a counsellor, and these informed the writing, as well.

What and/or who influenced the characters in the story?

I started writing this taking on the point of view of Cayt, as I also felt that responsibility towards my own loved one in real life. But as I read more and more about these incredible young carers, they helped shape and give body to Cayt’s character.

The presence of the other characters in the story is informed by research on carers and their support systems, as well as just familiarity with the conventions of the young adult realist genre. But their roles in the story, their significance in Cayt’s life, were definitely inspired by my own family and friends.

For example, Cayt’s best friend, Jorgia, was inspired by my two best friends (Hi Ate Con and Jacqui!), who showed me that a person can be loved and accepted even with all their flaws, and that we can depend on other people for support in times of need.

For a few of the little character traits or quirks though, I did give them some of mine e.g. Cayt’s dad being a proud cheapskate is because I am one myself. I don’t know if this makes me a narcissist but I just thought it would be fun and would also make writing a bit easier because I would be doing so from experience.

What was the hardest thing to write about in the narrative?

I think it was quite difficult for me to write the fight between Cayt and Jorgia because I had been really building up that friendship. It was tough to imagine how badly Cayt would have to mess up to turn Jorgia away. Also, probably most of the scenes in the aftermath of the fights like the conversation with Mrs. Aguirre, with Cayt’s dad, and finally, with her mom. I knew it was important to resolve the major issues but I also wanted to emphasize that the process, the work they had to do, was just beginning. So I needed to balance the realism with hope and optimism.

Who is the character you relate to the most?

At first, I related more with Cayt and her dad but, as I wrote, I was also able to more fully connect with Cayt’s mom and began to understand why she struggled with her mental health. It’s not explicitly discussed in the story but as I read more, and as I was also writing this at a time when our country seemed to be taking a few steps back in terms of women’s rights, I just developed a greater appreciation for the social and systemic barriers that predispose women and mothers to mental illness more than their male counterparts.

What's one thing you want your readers to take away from the story?

That’s a tough one. My hope is that different people will take away different insights or emotions from this story, depending on what matters to them most at the time. 

But I also do hope that this text would prompt some readers to gain a deeper appreciation for the role of the self, support systems, and the larger community and society in promoting and preserving the wellbeing of individuals. 

Crafting the Cover with Angela Taguiang

How did you find the story of At Home With Crazy?

I thought it was heartwarming, charming, relatable, genuine. I could easily imagine being in Cayt's neighborhood, or hanging out at the places she liked to hang around in. It was easy to feel her pains and celebrate her wins.

How is mental health usually portrayed in visual works?

It's hard to pin this down to one answer since this is such a diverse topic, and each story can be so personal, therefore, each portrayal of the topic is different.

What was your process like while making the cover?

I wanted to emphasize the relationship between the main characters-- how similar yet very different they are; symmetry and asymmetry. Cayt’s side was lively and colorful, her Mom’s side was dark and lifeless. If you observe more carefully, the face is shaped like a house because I wanted to reinforce the idea of two different people having to share a home.

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