The irony was not lost on me that I was writing a kids’ book about self-esteem but had very little of my own. In fact, I had convinced myself that it was the writing of the Marvin’s Monster book itself that was plummeting my self-confidence.
It was 2021, and I was in a slump. It could have stemmed from the psychological effects of a global pandemic, years of mental burnout, quarter-life directionlessness, or simply biological factors. The slump, I would later realize, was depression, but at the time I just couldn’t understand why I was struggling so mightily to get my behind in a chair and write.
Instead of prose and ideas, the inside of my head was filled with the meanest, most critical bully: myself. Wow, that’s the best idea you’ve got? How cliché. That’s so boring. That’s a bummer. This idea won’t go anywhere. No one will want to read that.
My self-esteem was suffering, yet I needed to help Marvin boost his. Imposter syndrome is one thing—but this felt like hypocrisy.
When Dr. Raun Melmed first invited me to co-author the series he created, Marvin’s Monster Diaries, I excitedly accepted -- then immediately wondered why he asked me. I wasn't diagnosed with ADHD; I wasn’t a therapist, or even a teacher or parent. What did I know? Why should I help write this series?
I still wrestle with that question, but I have learned so much since Dr. Raun first invited me aboard in 2018. I leaned on his expertise to give accuracy and credibility to Marvin’s experiences, since Dr. Raun meets with children every day who experience similar challenges and triumphs to Marvin. But I have also immersed myself into the topic of ADHD and mindfulness myself, and I contribute the storytelling expertise. Plus, I can no longer ignore that my own recent mental health struggles have given me firsthand experience with something that many ADHDers deal with: depression.
When asked, I tell folks that the stories I write do draw on my own life -- but mostly in fragments. For example, I never faced severe bullying, but I did have bullies. I never had explosive, uncontrollable anger like Marvin’s friend Lyssa, but a friend of mine did, and I thought of her often as I wrote Lyssa (who, incidentally, has become one of my favorite characters).
ADHD Self-Esteem Blues is the Marvin book in which I most truly see myself and my experiences. This book represents a lot of personal anxiety and self-doubt, but it also represents a lot of healing. I do still worry about whether it will speak to readers, but I also appreciate the book perhaps more than any of my other titles -- because writing Marvin out of a self-critical, avoidant slump helped me realize that I, too, was in a slump, and needed help.
This is the beautiful, wonderful thing about writing fiction: The act of looking into a character’s inner self, analyzing their motivations and goals, identifying their strengths and flaws, humanizing and empathizing with them, and helping them conquer their demons can reflect if not parallel our own inner lives. Fiction writers live in fear of their characters being labeled “self-inserts” (as in, clearly this author wrote themselves into this character to fulfill some hero fantasy!). However, I submit that if we do not insert ourselves a little into our stories or our characters, our writing can be lifeless and insincere.
Writing sincere stories is especially important when you write in the social-emotional learning sphere. My fear has always been that the Marvin books would come off as preachy or saccharine—but that is why Dr. Raun and I do our best to create entertaining, believable, and emotionally sincere stories, to deliver our messages about mindfulness and emotional regulation. Few kids would want to read a self help book. They don’t need yet another adult voice telling them what to do. But they can follow a story of a regular kid (or regular fuzzy monster) encounter scenarios and challenges that will likely be familiar and relatable.
I hope to give neurodivergent kids a mirror to see themselves in—that they can say, Hey, Marvin is just like me! I’m not alone!—and then see Marvin ultimately succeed. I love how Marvin, Harriet, and Timmy creatively solve their own problems, with only a little guidance (and a lot of love) from adult influences. The adults listen attentively, offer love and maybe a story, and encourage the young monsters on their own mindfulness journey.
And ultimately, it is Marvin and his friends who invent the tools that help them through.
I’m happy to report that now, two years after Dr. Raun and I started writing ADHD Self-Esteem Blues, and one month after the book’s launch, I’m finally beginning to take my life back from depression and crippling self-doubt—many thanks to medication, therapy, supportive family and friends, and mindfulness and self-compassion practice.
My journey is not over, and self-esteem is likely something I will continue to grapple with. But I can’t help feeling grateful that my latest little 'Marvin the Monster' story helped me recognize my own struggle, learn ways to cope, and ultimately begin to heal. I hope it does the same for young readers.
Caroline Bliss Larsen is an author, editor, and web accessibility specialist. She is a coauthor
in the Monster Diary/ST 4 Mindfulness Books for Kids series, and she couldn’t be more
Originally an East Coast girl, Caroline lives in Utah with her game-designer husband. To clear her head of words from time to time, she likes to Irish dance, play games,
go for a walk or run, or play with her nieces, nephews, husband, or delightfully clingy cat.
Find Caroline online at carolineblisslarsen.com.