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6 Powerful Quotes From John Green's New Book That Might Make You Feel Less Alone

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John Green recently released his newest young adult novel, “Turtles All the Way Down.” The book centers around 16-year-old Aza Holmes who attempts to solve the missing persons case of a billionaire on-the-run, while also attending high school and dealing with chronic anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Green, who has been outspoken about his struggles with anxiety and OCD, uses his experience to shed light on what it’s like to live in Aza’s mind as she struggles to understand and cope with mental illness. In an interview with Time, Green said, “One of the main things I wanted to do in the book was to get at how isolating it can be to live with mental illness and also how difficult it can be for the people who are around you because you’re so isolated.”

And there’s something to be said for that — it can be incredibly difficult to express what is going on in your mind and body when you’re struggling with any mental illness. Green even mentions in the same interview how challenging it is for him to talk about his obsessions, let alone write about them. But by writing about it, he said, he eventually felt empowered because, “I could look at it and I could talk about it directly rather than being scared of it.”

That’s why I wanted to share my favorite quotes from “Turtles All the Way Down.” If you haven’t quite found the words to express what it’s like to struggle with mental illness, these quotes might help you, too.  

1. “Since you’ve had enough cognitive behavioral therapy, you tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure what exactly that makes you.” 

When you’re struggling with mental illness, it can be easy to believe you and it are one in the same — especially on the days mental illness feels like it’s overpowering you. It can be easy to question things like, “Will I be like this forever?” “Who am I?” or “I just want to feel ‘normal.’”

Acceptance is often a quiet room. Maybe the answers to those questions won’t always be clear; maybe this is something you might struggle on and off with for the rest of your life. But maybe if we find just a small portion of acceptance, we can better prepare ourselves for when times get more challenging.

2. “I have these invasive thoughts that Dr. Karen Singh calls ‘intrusives,’ but the first time she said it, I heard ‘invasives,’ which I like better, because, like invasive weeds, these thoughts seem to arrive at my biosphere from some faraway land, and then they spread out of control.”

Throughout the book, Aza consistently questions whether or not she has control over her intrusive thoughts — and rightfully so. It’s hard not to question who you are when intrusive thoughts, or other symptoms, are “controlling” you. But maybe for some of us, part of life just means learning how to garden the weeds. Green even says, “Even though I may go for long periods of time where I don’t have control over my thoughts and that is scary and destabilizing for my sense of self, I do have some say in the story of my life.”

3. “I knew what it was like to be in a feeling, to be not just surrounded by it but also permeated by it, the way my grandmother talked about God being everywhere. When my thoughts spiraled, I was in the spiral, and of it.”

Maybe you’re in the spiral. Maybe you’re made of the spiral. Maybe you’re hanging onto the edge trying not to get sucked back in, or maybe you’ve escaped. In the moment, emotions and feelings can be all-consuming, but it’s important to remember they do come and go. So when you’re in moments of intense emotion, remember the spiral can be escaped.

4. “You lie there, not even thinking really, except to try to consider how to describe the hurt, as if finding the language for it might bring it up out of you. If you can make something real, if you can see it and smell it and touch it, then you can kill it. You think, it’s like a brain fire. Like a rodent gnawing at you from the inside. A knife in your gut. A spiral. Whirlpool. Black hole. The words used to describe it — despair, fear, anxiety, obsession — do so little to communicate it. Maybe we invented metaphor as a response to pain. Maybe we needed to give shape to the opaque, deep-down pain that evades both sense and senses.”

Metaphor is such a powerful tool that can help us make sense of reality between our “inside” world and the “outside” world. Aza uses the metaphor of a spiral most commonly to describe what her obsessive thoughts feel like, but maybe you have your own metaphor for your experience. Or maybe parts of your experience transcend language — you might use music or art or movement to express the pain you feel. Give shape to the feelings inside you in whatever way possible. And if that feels too hard, that is OK too.

5. “You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really — just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.”

Although there may be many commonalities between people struggling with their mental health, it’s crucial to remember everyone’s experience is their own. But that is precisely why it is so important to share our stories. When we share our stories of struggle and triumph, we are better able to say, “Yes, I totally understand,” or, “I haven’t been there, but I’m here for you anyways.” John Green mentioned wanting this book to help break stigma, which is exactly why this quote is so powerful, because it reminds us never to assume and to always be kind.

6. “It’s getting sucked into a whirlpool that shrinks and shrinks and shrinks your world until you’re just spinning without moving, stuck inside a prison cell that is exactly the size of you, until eventually you realize that you’re not actually in the prison cell. You are the prison cell.”

Sometimes, mental illness can feel like a “life sentence” — you might feel stuck in a prison with no escape in site. But John Green said that mental illness is actually not something he expects to defeat in his life — it’s not a battle he expects to “win.” Instead, he thinks mental illness is something he expects to live with and still have a fulfilling life. So as relatable as this quote is, remember that a fulfilled life is still possible.

Whether you relate to John Green’s words or not, it’s important to remember that sharing stories and finding ways to express what we’re going through is so important. Without spoiling the novel too much, Green says this isn’t a story about conquering mental illness or feeling victorious in the face of adversity, because “that hasn’t been [his] story with mental illness and [he] didn’t really want it to be Aza’s.”

Whatever your experience with mental illness, you deserve to be heard, to be understood and to get help if you need it.

Originally published: November 1, 2017
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