Hello and welcome to recommendation nineteen of Blogmas 2020 with I’m NOT Disordered!
Today, I’ll be talking about the importance of books and reading for your mental health, as well as recommending a few of my absolute favourite books, with the help of Waterstones!
So, I’ve picked six books which I think illustrate six of the benefits reading can have on your mental health (these are in no particular order):
“I’ve chosen my side.”
I think that all of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts books and films have hugely had this component to them and that a lot of people who have read and watched the series have also felt that doing so, provided them with a huge opportunity to escape their reality.
Something I especially love about this series is that everything around magic is written in a believable, trustworthy way. Like, it had me thinking ‘that could actually happen!’ It’s a brilliant way to encourage the reader to let their imagination really run wild and to envision a whole alternate world. And doing that, means your head isn’t in this world and experiencing the difficulties and hardship you might be going through.
In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) you’re taught to use distraction and mindfulness as a method to cope when you’re struggling with your mental health. The distraction part is pretty obvious, but mindfulness in regard to distraction is all about putting all your energy and focus into doing this one alternative activity. And it’s about bringing your mind back to the activity if it starts to ‘wander.’ You will most likely use these skills in reading in general, but I think it’s especially easy to use them in reading this book in particular.
I was over the moon to hear that distraction was a recommended coping skill because I thought I did it all the time; but the therapist showed me that I’d actually crossed the line between distraction and avoidance. She taught me to use it as a way to manage your upset until you’re ready and able to put attention on it and safely cope with it when you did. Which is why you’d often find me reading while I was in hospital (both medical and psychiatric ones) because I was doing it while I waited for the point when I knew I could manage and cope with the reality of me being in hospital without running, self-harming, or refusing to co-operate with staff.
Another quality of this book that I really like is that it’s actually not about relating to any of the content – there are so many books (I’ll be talking about one of them later!) where you can do this and where it is beneficial – and it’s sort of a welcome break from the intensity of experiencing an overwhelming emotion like empathy. The inability to relate to much of this book is probably another big factor in influencing you to experience escapism.
“Sometimes you just have to sit with a person, validate what they are feeling and not be afraid of their pain and grief.”
I actually worked with Kerry on a piece earlier in the year when she kindly agreed to do a little Q&A whilst I reviewed the book and we finished up with a competition to win a signed copy of the book! I was so proud of that collaboration because I really enjoyed reading this book and so it felt quite surreal to actually work with its Author!
A huge reason why I enjoyed this book was that it gave me insight into an aspect of mental health that I’m really interested in, Forensic Psychology. I mean, if I was academic enough, I would definitely want to do something like that at University and as a career. So, reading this book and seeing exactly what that job entails – getting insight into the type of experiences you might have, was really interesting and beneficial. Gaining that insight, I discovered
I’m a strong believer that a huge contributing factor to the stigma and discrimination around mental health is a lack education and understanding. I think that when you don’t have personal insight into something, it can become a very scary and frightening thing to consider and that fear often leads to people ‘lashing out’ in some way, or at least fumbling around the issue. And being full of uncertainty can leave you feeling vulnerable and that can cause someone to put up defence mechanisms which can often come across as coldness when in fact, the person is just removing themselves from the situation.
I think that as a survivor of child sexual abuse, I’ve maybe got a bit of judgement towards people who have committed crimes, because I can’t understand their motivation to do it and I always consider how the ‘victims’ of their crime (where applicable) must feel. Also, as someone who – thirteen years later – still hasn’t gotten justice for that abuse, I have great empathy for the intensive and upsetting process those ‘victims’ would have gone through to get justice for what had been done to them.
Reading Kerry’s book, though, I gained some insight into the motivation and the causes for the person to have committed their crime. It helped me to see that it’s not just me; something can happen in any person’s life and it can completely change them. It can make them into something – or someone – they may not have been or that they may not have become.
“Now, I know that it might sound a bit off to ‘relapse’ before I’d actually got better.”
When I first met Dave at a mental health event a few years ago, I was given the opportunity to interview him and whilst I had the sense that we had some big similarities (particularly that we both use humour as a coping mechanism), I also found myself believing/realizing that maybe I could learn a lot from him and his experiences…
But it was sort of in a bad way because I’d had a best friend who had Anorexia (Dave’s diagnosis) and she ended up committing suicide so learning about the Eating Disorder almost made me feel like it was ‘too little too late.’ It made me wonder whether if I’d known more about it, could I have helped and supported her in a more beneficial way. Could I have been that little thing she needed to give her some hope or been helpful enough to even give her just a tiny reason to stay alive?
With that in mind, through reading Dave’s book, I eventually had the realization that I could learn more about Anorexia in a way that might actually make her proud. A way where she might think ‘at least I’ve inspired her to do that.’ And a way where she might feel somewhat comforted and reassured that me knowing more about the Disorder would enable me to better support someone else and potentially avoid losing another person to suicide.
I also found Weight Expectations helpful for myself! And it’s something I don’t often talk about but when I was younger, I was really underweight, and ended up having to see an Eating Disorder specialist. She determined that because I was still having periods, I didn’t meet the diagnostic criteria, but I had all of the other criteria aspects! And not having the diagnosis meant I was unable to access appropriate help and support and, in the end, the only way I came through it was by gaining weight from all my psychiatric medication. After a suicide attempt saw me go on life support, I began having therapy and going into recovery, I developed the belief that life is too short to be on diets. Of course, for a lot of people it isn’t that ‘simple’ but that was what helped me.
In reading Dave’s book, I think something we should always believe in is that we can learn a lot through talking to others and hearing their story/journey.
“This is just our challenge. Other people have their challenges, too.”
January First is a memoir written by the Father of a young girl (January) who becomes the youngest person to be diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Michael details January’s childhood and the struggle that he and January’s Mum had in getting their Daughter the diagnosis she needed to be able to access the most appropriate help and support for her rapidly deteriorating mental health.
I think this book taught me empathy because I also experience hallucinations and whilst I don’t have a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, and my hallucinations aren’t the exact same, I can relate to January. This is something I think is important though, that people recognize not everyone’s hallucinations are the same – that you can experience visual hallucinations and they don’t always equate to monsters or something equally unrealistic/unfamiliar.
When I first started experiencing auditory hallucinations in the form of voices in 2009, there’d been very little (meaning absolutely NOTHING) in the media about mental illness so I was immediately terrified as to what it meant. I was so genuinely convinced that if I were to tell someone I’d be put in a straitjacket and kept in a psychiatric hospital for the rest of my life, that I kept it a secret for almost two weeks; when it got to the point that I attempted suicide and was admitted to hospital anyway! Seeing other inpatients hearing voices was partly comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in it, but also saddening to think that others were going through what I was, and then also frightening to realize that they were all hospitalized too…
When I was finally admitted to a psychiatric hospital specializing in my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I think that the one quality which helped all the inpatients to not constantly argue with one another, was empathy. We all had some idea of what the other person was doing through. Maybe we had a better idea than the staff, who’d spent years supporting people with BPD, did. And whilst there was a huge amount of empathy, part of that also contained the knowledge and respect that we couldn’t completely understand another person’s struggle because we felt that no one could understand our own.
I think that developing empathy, has been a massive help in my blogging career and the content I create because it means that I’m more capable of avoiding saying something that might be perceived as patronizing. And reading January First has really helped me to continue to home in on this quality and improve it in myself.
‘If you’re a Blogger working on a number of projects, try not to take on too much work.’
I’ve been a follower and reader of Victoria’s content on www.inthefrow.com for a good few years now – at least from when her hair was purple! I think that some people don’t really understand my love for the work she produces because she’s primarily a fashion and beauty Blogger so I guess some people are like, ‘why would that kind of content be relevant or interesting to a Mental Health Blogger?’ But it’s not all about the content…
When I was younger – at some point – I wanted to be a Fashion Designer and I actually took Textiles as a GCSE subject. Unfortunately, my Teacher was overly critical and negative of my work and I lost all confidence in pursuing a career in that industry. But that didn’t take away from my interest and fascination with fashion.
As I got older, I also became passionate about beauty and the incredible number of products out there for your skin, your hair, your makeup… well, it still astounds and amazes me and fills me with happiness! I used to be embarrassed and ashamed to say things like this because I was so worried, I’d sound superficial and shallow to take so much pleasure and put so much importance in something so ‘materialistic.’ But I now have the attitude that so long as I know I’m not being shallow, then why care so much what everyone else thinks?
I’m honestly so into fashion and beauty that I’d love to blog about it but there are so many Bloggers – like Victoria – who will be so much better than me in producing content about that industry. Victoria’s high standard in her content is another reason why I keep an eye on what she does; it’s inspiring to see someone be so creative and put so much effort and dedication into their work. She’s unlike all the bloggers who rest back on their laurels and just expect opportunities to roll in, she puts herself out there and works her ass off to earn and deserve collaborations with hugely popular companies. Whilst she definitely seems to always appreciate the projects she works on, she never seems to settle – she always strives to better her content.
Hate List by Jennifer Brown: £8.99
“Just like there’s always time for pain, there’s always time for healing.”
This book was definitely one of those ones that you just have to keep reading and can’t put down or stop!
I realized that to explain why I’ve labelled this book as being relative to reading about controversial issues I would have to give some details as to what it’s about. I didn’t want to give too much away though so here’s the official blurb:
‘5 months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend opened fire on their school cafeteria, killing five students and one teacher before turning the gun on himself. Valerie, who was shot trying to stop him, is initially implicated in the shootings because of the hate list she helped create. The hate list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.’
I think that it’s one of those books where a number of people could read it, and everyone would have mixed beliefs around it and have different parts stand out and be more important to them. I think this is a really good quality for a book to have because it’s sort of a representation of life and reality; there’s always going to be issues that people disagree on or a situation where everyone would react in a different way.
One controversial issue this book made me think of was the differences in considering whether some people are ‘victims.’ I once had a Healthcare Assistant in a medical hospital say, ‘I was abused when I was younger too, but you don’t see me self-harming or trying to kill myself!’ As though there’s a rule on how to react or cope if you’ve ever been abused?! Her comment left me feeling as though I had no right to be doing what I was to cope with the memories. And then I’d get people tell me that by self-harming or attempting suicide, I was allowing myself to become his victim. That he was ‘winning.’
Another controversial subject this book raised is around mental health and crime… If a person has a mental illness and commits a crime, should their illness be seen as a mitigating factor? Should their crime be more ‘understood’ in terms of having the thought process that the person did it in response to their mental illness?
I think that in bringing controversial issues to light – as this book has – we learn a lot more about ourselves and we develop a greater understanding of our own morals and ethics. Doing so, allows you the opportunity to both go on to meet likeminded people, or to develop communication skills when confronted with someone who has an opposing view/opinion.
I hope these recommendations have been helpful and I’ll see you all tomorrow!