Coatesville teenager's book giving hope and direction to young people01/04/2022 03:23PM ● By Richard Gaw
Courtesy photo Coatesville High School senior Ariel Abbott is the author of Phoebe’s Mental Health Journey, a 32-page comic book that addresses the issue of how young people can confront their fears and anxieties in healthy ways.
By Richard L. Gaw
To review the regular itinerary of Ariel Abbott, a senior at Coatesville High School, is to acknowledge a 17-year-old as a fully-functioning teenager who flips interests and obligations like a juggler in a circus tent.
When she’s not attending school, Abbott is an ambassador for Troop 468 of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania. She also plays the violin, arranges music, draws, writes stories, is involved with extracurricular activities at school, plays video games and hangs out with her friends. After high school, she would like to pursue graphic design and illustration in college, and with precious months remaining in her high school career, she has narrowed her college choices down to a handful – all in Pennsylvania.
While Abbott’s busy high school life is a journey quite similar to many 17-year-olds -- who walk down the hallways of their respective high schools and see them as corridors of opportunity. But to many students like Abbott, they are also catacombs of fear, where loneliness, isolation and unchained emotions reverberate against the walls.
Throughout the first part of Abbott’s time at Coatesville High School, the echoing walls shook, and her anxieties worsened. Often, she felt that she was the only person in the entire school living through the absolute rawness of depression.
“I was struggling a lot with depression and anxiety that manifested as social problems in school and were exacerbated by issues that were going on at home,” Abbott said. “I felt really isolated at school, and the family situation made my condition worse over time.”
“But then over time, I learned how to cope with my mental health and from there, I began to build new friendships that have enabled me to strengthen my self-confidence and open up pathways that I had previously blocked off to others, that have enabled me to speak about myself, rather than place my emotions aside.”
Using her talents as a writer and illustrator earlier this year, Abbott channeled her experiences into a story in comic book form that transfers the course of her journey to fictional form.
Phoebe’s Mental Health Journey, self-published in late July, is a 32-page illustrated book that takes its readers into Phoebe’s depression and anxiety. With the help of her close friend Krista, Phoebe begins to find solutions to face her fears.
Abbott said that the intention of Phoebe's Mental Health Journey is to encourage tweens and teens who face depression and anxiety to seek sources of understanding and to share their story with others.
‘Seeing the visualization of the story’
“I wanted to write a book for my peers and show them that they are not alone in their struggle, and that they can find the help they need,” said Abbott, who received assistance from several of her friends on the book. “I chose the comic genre because I think you’re not just reading a novel, but seeing the visualization of the story – sharing an important message to readers through not only a story line but with illustrations.”
In the book, the main character’s fears and anxieties take shape in the form of a blue monster that represents depression and a red monster that represents anxiety. When melded together, they form a purple monster, one that only Phoebe can see.
“Most people perceive monsters as bad, as they do with the emotions related to mental health, anxiety and depression, and if you leave these emotions as they are, then you will have a negative outlook overall,” Abbott said. “But if you begin to combat these thoughts, you realize that it’s all about confronting your fears, and you begin to rearrange those emotions in order to begin to think more optimistically.”
Throughout Abbott’s road to recovery, she began to establish friendships with those with whom she shared a common interest – music and art, for instance – as well as made connections with mentors who helped guide her through the creation of her book. Jan Michener, the founder and executive director of Arts Holding Hands and Hearts, Inc., assisted Abbott in fundraising efforts to pay for the book’s printing. Through her association with Chester County Futures, Abbott was paired with Nicky Westhead, a global executive leadership and team coach and business advisor.
‘Resilience, grit, perseverance and passion’
“Ariel has such a great inner strength about her,” said Westhead, who began working with Abbott earlier this year, mostly through virtual communication. “She has what is called in coaching leadership a ‘Growth Mindset,’ demonstrating that she is curious, wants to learn, to expand her experiences and she is very open-minded about stepping into those experiences.
“Ariel was hungry for learning how to develop her graphic design and writing skills. Using software and programs, she learned about the tools and resources needed to create her vision for the book. She also led a project team with her friends who worked virtually and remotely through the drafting and story boards – a process similar to that used by advertising and marketing firms in doing their work.
“Ariel has resilience, grit, perseverance and passion, and has demonstrated the ability to face challenges along the way and to figure it out, seek support, bring in people, and navigate around, over or through those challenges. Ariel is an outstanding example of a growing and emerging creative professional leader. I am so proud to be one of her mentors.”
Abbott also received encouragement from her mother Fida, herself a self-published author.
“At first, I was so surprised when Ariel told me that she was going to write a book,” Fida said. “I told her that she had never experienced creating a comic, and I know that self- publishing a book is never easy. I didn’t want her to have to go through the pressure of doing something like that. Over the next few days, however, I said to myself, ‘This is not my project. This is Ariel’s project.’ I began to understand her desire to create the book, and I began to support her in that desire.
“Someone once told me after I began publishing, ‘Your daughter will follow your path.’ Since she was a child, Ariel had talent as a writer, but I never believed that it would begin to manifest itself when she was 17 years old.”
On Oct. 13, the comic book received the bronze award from Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in the category of “The First Book by Youth Author” under 18. The life of Phoebe’s Mental Health Journey hasn’t ended with accolades, however; Abbott wants to donate her books to libraries, youth organizations/programs, and mental health centers in the Chester County area, and is currently looking for funding to print additional copies. In between, she hopes to conduct reading sessions at area libraries, in order to raise awareness of the book, but to also bring the issue of teenage mental health into a sharper focus.
After she earns her college degree in graphic design, Abbott plans to expand Phoebe’s Mental Health Journey from a 32-page comic book to a full graphic novel or even a series of books that reaches not only young people throughout Pennsylvania, but internationally as well.
“I haven’t closed the door on Phoebe yet,” she said. “I have many more ideas for her.”
To learn more about Phoebe’s Mental Health Journey, visit https://melodicsymphony1.wixsite.com/pmhj or visit @pmhj.comic on Instagram and Phoebe’s Mental Health Journey on Facebook.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].