Heather‘s book arrived at my house yesterday morning while I was on a walk with a friend. I had a few errands to run but figured I’d read a chapter or two while I ate my lunch around 11am.
I was finished by the time I had to pick up Nikki from the bus.
I posted my full review here on Goodreads but on the blog I’d like to discuss it more personally.
First – as someone who talks openly on the internet about her own mental health struggles (just no where NEAR to the audience Heather has THANK GOD) – the way people talk about mental health is sometimes so…well…depressing. It’s ALMOST worse than being pregnant, in the way everyone seems to have advice about everything. Everyone wants you to exercise more (although Heather needed to exercise less as she discusses the mental abuse marathon training took on her) or eat differently or try meditation or yoga. “You just need sleep!” which is often true but also VERY DIFFICULT IF YOU’RE SUFFERING FROM CRIPPLING ANXIETY WHICH IS WHY YOU’RE MESSING AROUND WITH MEDICATIONS WHICH YOU ARE POSITIVE I COULD GIVE UP IF I COULD JUST SLEEP MORE.
And I don’t mean on this blog, that stuff rarely happens here. But since I talk about it everywhere – even on Facebook – this happens in real life encounters sometimes. You’ll find out that everyone seems to think they know more about your situation than you do. Inevitably someone will either A) suggest something you’ve already tried, B) suggest something your doctor ruled out for a certain reason, or C) suggest something that’s impossible given your current mental health situation.
“Have you tried getting outside more? The sun will do you good!”
I’m too depressed to leave my bed, thanks.
So for Heather to write this book and to tour with it publicly I’m just blown away at her courage and her patience. I can’t imagine how many people are going to come up to her at book signings and say, “But…did you ever try ayahuasca?” (Which, truth be told, I’d like to try someday but NOT AS A TREATMENT TO MY MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS.)
Heather’s writing about her postpartum depression and her general mental health challenges is what gave me a lot of the language I needed early on to begin to understand how to talk about my own. Here’s some truth-telling: There was a time in my early 20s when I would roll my eyes at talk of depression. I wasn’t really struggling with mental health then (I was struggling with being an asshole though, so don’t be fooled) so I was very dismissive which I long regret. Especially when I look back on some encounters I had with people who were in obviously crisis…I could have 100% been a better friend 100% of the time.
But when Heather started writing about it, something clicked in my head from my youth. I was like, “Wait. She is describing EXACTLY what I felt from like age 10 to age 19.” I have theories that getting pregnant with Eliah and the hormone surge shattered some of the chemical imbalances in my brain because I look back now and realize I was having severe mental health issues even at 18 (when I first attempted cutting…long before I knew the word “cutting”), right up until I got pregnant with him. But then miraculously everything settled at “normal” for many years after.
At least in the area of brain chemicals, like I have said before, for the first 4-5 years of Eliah’s life I was struggling with some major personality issues and was a total dick to just about everyone. BUT NONE OF THAT WAS RELATED TO DEPRESSION OR ANXIETY! Just general immaturity and lack of understanding of self.
But the longer Heather wrote about it, the more I would look back on my tween/teen years and say, “Holy shit. I was soooo depressed.” And reading that in my late 20s shifted the way I approached conversations of mental health which was REALY GOOD, because then after Dad died I had the language and the open heart to understand what grief was doing to me and how to get help and I’ve been getting help every since.
This is why I think that I’m going to make Donnie read Heather’s book. Because once again – the way she talks about her own suffering is so perfectly visceral that you can’t help but read it and say, “OH. So that’s what it feels like.”
Donnie and I agreed to each read ONE book the other person suggested for 2019. I have had a hard time deciding which one to “make” him read but I think it’s going to be this one. Donnie is very understanding and has learned to be accepting of a lot of my challenges, but he still doesn’t quite GET it, you know? My words are just not as good as Heathers and my words are loaded with defensiveness and so my messages get tangled when he and I talk and so I really think it would help to read about that despair from someone who also hilariously talks about constipation.
(Donnie loves a good poop joke.)
My favorite (that’s a weird word choice) part of Heather’s book is how she talks about wanting to be dead. When you meet with a new mental health professional there’s always questions about “thoughts of suicide” but I have always struggled with those questions because, while I did ACTUALLY think about suicide as a teen/tween…my lowest moments of despair as an adult have just been thoughts of not wanting to be alive anymore.
Those two things are different but also hard to explain and Heather does it beautifully. I didn’t make plans, google medications, buy a gun, any of that stuff. BUT I WANTED TO BE DEAD. The worry of life was too much and I just wanted it over. Which means when the questionnaire asked me about “thoughts of suicide” I would always say, “None,” but then I would want to clarify. “But…you know…I do often want to be dead. I just don’t want to kill myself.”
(Sidenote: This is why I will never own a gun. I am obviously for gun control politically, but personally? A gun seems like a dangerous thing to have in a house of someone who has been known to fall into pits of despair. And I don’t want to know what would have happened during my teen years if I had understood anything about the guns my Dad kept hidden in pieces around the house. Thank god he didn’t keep them assembled and loaded anywhere that I had access to.)
ANYWAY! The way she talks about that pit of just wanting to be dead…and how there’s no joy in anything…it’s just magical. You can FEEL what she’s feeling which is what makes the joyful return of music and light SO BEAUTIFUL.
I am very lucky that I’ve never had to suffer as long as Heather. I’m receptive to medication changes and new therapists and types of therapy and those things always get me out of the deepest hole enough that I can then start applying the lifestyle changes that always HELP but I can never do when I’m in my darkest moments. I can’t imagine suffering in my darkest despair for 18 months and knowing that medication changes haven’t helped in the past.
Actually, I can imagine it because Heather wrote it that well. You are in her pain beside her because she describes it so vividly you can almost taste it.
Which is why this book is so powerful because she lets you into her darkest place so that you can feel the light with her as it starts to shine through and suddenly it doesn’t matter WHAT is working to treat her depression, you are just celebrating with her that SOMETHING IS WORKING.
I know a lot of people are questioning the actual treatment but something about her writing just makes that feel so secondary. Her long-trusted psychiatrist suggests it and you are just grateful that he had that in his arsenal because you already know she’s losing the war.
But this book is also so very powerful in how it discusses Motherhood. First from Heather and how being a single Mom shapes so much of her mental health. All I kept thinking was, “THANK YOU GOD FOR GIVING ME GOOD MENTAL HEALTH DURING THE YEARS I WAS A SINGLE MOTHER.” At one point she has this beautiful moment led by her therapist where she has to ask her Mom for help and it just feels so real to anyone who has ever felt like they don’t DESERVE to ask for help. My heart broke 100 times in this book but nothing as intensely as during that part.
But amazingly – the part about her Mother is what hit me the hardest. Mainly because it reminded me so much of my Dad. My Dad would have helped me in ANY WAY I HAD ASKED, and her Mom did the very same. Reading about the way her Mom stood by her made me miss my Dad so desperately.
There’s so much unconditional love written into every page in this book and it’s really earth-shattering. She talks about friends helping her into bed and her stepdad teaching her how to drive a stick shift. She talks about her siblings witnessing one of her treatments in such a powerful way that I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit. It just shook my heart in such a beautiful way I wanted to just sit with it.
I love people the way Heather is loved. I would serve people the way Heather is served. And it was a good reminder to stay open to those people and that love every day and to be forever grateful for it.
5 stars. Will most definitely read again.