Chattanooga State student taps own experiences for novel about teen coping

Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy / Chattanooga State Community College student Hannah Lowe shows a copy of her book, "Losing Faith, Gaining Hope" on Thursday.

The cover of 19-year-old Hannah Lowe's self-published novel shows the silhouette of a young woman walking alone toward a red sunset.

Or perhaps she is walking toward a sunrise. It's hard to tell.

That's the thing about being a young adult dealing with anxiety and depression. Sometimes life feels like a new dawn, and sometimes it feels like your light is slipping away.

Lowe, an A-student at Chattanooga State Community College who works part time at the Kohl's department store on Gunbarrel Road, says her personal history of anxiety, depression and hospitalization is reflected in her book, "Losing Faith, Gaining Hope." (Amazon, $15)

She wrote the 190-page book in 2020 when she was 16- and 17-years-old and just emerging from a stay in an inpatient emotional and behavioral health care facility here. At the time, her life as a bubbly, happy adolescent had given way to deepening anxiety triggered by academic worries, Lowe said.

Lowe ultimately changed schools for her senior year of high school, moving from East Hamilton High School to Skyuka Hall, an independent school in Brainerd. (She remains appreciative to some of her East Hamilton teachers, she says.)

While spending time in inpatient treatment, Lowe remembers having moments of deep self-reflection.

"There were really hard days when I would wake up and think, 'Something is really wrong with me,'" Lowe said in an interview last week. "... That's a really sad thing to think that you are so dysfunctional that you can't live your life. (That) you have to pause your life and cope with all these things that are wrong with you."

But if her life in recent years has sometimes felt stormy, there were also flashes of insight that emerged through the darkness. For example, a few months after she completed her inpatient treatment, Lowe said she got the idea for a book. The title, "Losing Faith, Gaining Hope," contained a double meaning that described the book's narrative arc and also its hopeful message, she said.

"Faith and hope are these feelings and attributes you have, but they are also the names of characters in the book," Lowe explained.

In the book, 16-year-old protagonist Hope Camden is hospitalized with mental health difficulties after her older sister, Faith, takes her own life. What's more, Hope's backstory is bleak. Her father is an abusive alcoholic, and her biological mother abandoned the family when Hope was younger.

Lowe is quick to point out that her book is only partly autobiographical. In real life, she has a smart and supportive twin sister (Rachel), loving parents and fond childhood memories, she said. She wrote the dark plot line in the book to make her own problems seem less burdensome.

"It was a coping mechanism for me to tell this story, although (the story) wasn't exactly like mine," Lowe said. "It was being able to say what I wanted to say in a book."

Lowe said she drew on her experiences while hospitalized -- group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and treatment meetings, for example -- to provide context for chapters in the book.

She remembers feeling elated and proud when she wrote the last chapter, which ends with Hope pledging to live for her departed sister, Faith.

Asked if she has experienced her own "happy ending" yet, Lowe answered in a text: "I haven't had my full happy ending yet, because I'm still writing my own story and I still have a lot of life to live ... but I hope to get my happy ending some day."

"... The past few years have been rough and kind of depressing at times, but I've also made a lot of good memories," Lowe said in the interview. "And I'm ready to make more (memories) and see what else my life brings."

"Life Stories" publishes on Mondays. To suggest a human interest story contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.