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Posts tagged ‘mental illness’

HEADLINE PUBLISHING – Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Time for book review number 5 for my 52 Books by 52 Publishers reading challenge. Today’s publisher is not an indie, but a biggie. It’s…

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About Headline Publishing Group:

PASSION, VISION, AMBITION

We have the virtues of an independent with the clout of a publishing giant: physically, digitally, globally.

Relationships are our business: we are passionate in our drive to deliver bestseller success and the whole team believes they can make a difference to an author’s career.

Our unique focus allows us to see the maverick potential that delivers the bestseller success others miss.

Headline’s non-fiction team has a highly commercial focus across a range of genres, including: biography, and autobiography, cookery, lifestyle, diet and fitness, popular science, sport, history and military, gift and humour, media tie-in and business. Our 2015 bestsellers include THE WRONG KNICKERS by Bryony Gordon, THE ROAD BENEATH MY FEET by Frank Turner, THE END OF AN EARRING by Pam St Clement, THE GLAM GUIDE by Fleur De Force and KEW ON A PLATE WITH RAYMOND BLANC by Kew Gardens.

Learn more about Headline here.

 

The book I’m reviewing today, from Headline, is…

 

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Bryony Gordon has OCD.

It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.

A hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a bestselling author, and a happily married mother of an adorable daughter, Bryony has managed to laugh and live well while simultaneously grappling with her illness. Now it’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humour, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.

Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.

I actually picked up and read this book back in January while on holiday in Tenerife. I knew that when I came back to England I was going to start a brand new job as a copy editor for a mental health non-fiction publishing company, aiming to publish easy-to-read self-help books and inspirational stories from mental illness survivors. So, it was a no-brainer! (No pun intended.)

I can’t emphasise how much books like these are needed in today’s society. In this book Bryony is brutally honest about her OCD. She opens up about her fear of being a danger to young children, her drug dependency, and the other mental illnesses that her OCD has caused over the years. She debunks myths along the way and points a bright shining spotlight on the stigma still surrounding the subject today. She gives quite harrowing and stark accounts of some of the most grim times in her life, including fighting with bulimia and going through horrific mental breakdowns.

Most importantly, this book shows you the real, true reality of OCD. Not the theories, and general conceptions or misconceptions of OCD, but the real-life impact of it. So many people today think they know what OCD is, and what it involves. Bryony shows you that there is so much more to it than what we know.

What’s refreshing is that she manages to do all this while still being hilariously funny. Even the most distressing times are depicted in a way that both captures her distress perfectly and provides comic relief at the same time. She is warm and compassionate to the reader. She knows she’s talking about a sensitive subject. She knows she’s going to come up against people who don’t understand, and is helping to educate them anyway. She’s offering support to those readers who feel lost by telling them they’re not alone, and they don’t have to suffer in silence.

Bryony was incredibly brave in telling this story. In her first book, The Wrong Knickers, she admits to taking cocaine, being a party girl, and all manner of other things. But she didn’t mention her OCD at all. In this book, she decides to bare all to show the world that being mentally ill is nothing to be afraid of. Just by writing this book, she has made a huge step forward but also made a huge statement to society: do not be ashamed.

Most importantly, this book gives the reader inspiration and motivation. If Bryony Gordon can go through all of this horrific stuff, why can’t you? You can, and will, get through it.

This book is so illuminating, so funny, so enjoyable and so eye-opening. As a mental health advocate, I implore you to give it a read. You won’t regret it.

This is a definite 5 out of 5 for me.

five stars

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Nutters by P.J. Davy

This was one of the books I bought from the Book Sale at the Hull Central Library. I got it at a bargain at £1 – especially since I later found it for sale at W.H Smith at around £8. Definitely couldn’t grumble at that!

I do love finding and reading books by independent publishers. They prove to me time and time again that the indies can publish just as well as the Big Five and bigger companies.

So, today’s review is about this book:

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Nutters by P.J. Davy is published by Snowbooks.

Mental illness is extremely topical – now more than ever, as society tries to find more effective ways to increase awareness and understanding for those who suffer. It’s for this reason that this book caught my eye. It looked to address an important subject but in a light-hearted and comical matter, which made it more appealing. Not to say that I’m not open to reading more serious books on the matter, but that was part of why I was interested in buying the book.

Rufus Waters has had enough of being labelled a loon. Enough of medication and therapy. Enough of the pitying looks and nervous changes of subject. Enough of being stood up and turned down. Enough, in short, of being a nutter.

‘I choose sanity,’ he informs his erstwhile girlfriend, bi-polar Kate. Rufus shrugs off Kate’s misgivings and forges ahead with his plans for the New Improved Rufus Waters. He bins his medication, sacks his glamorous psychiatrist, and quickly acquires both job and new girlfriend in a matter of days.

This promising start is, however, a false dawn. Soon his re-invented self, in his freshly-picked sane world, is falling apart and it takes the wisdom of a drug-addled Latin professor to bring some sense into his world once more.

The strongest attribute of this novel is its wonderful array of interesting and flawed characters. Because, let’s face it, they’re what keep life interesting. Rufus, the main character, is from a middle-class, well-off family, and is a brilliant representation of how mental illness can befall anyone in any circumstance, not just those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. When he first meets his future girlfriend Kate, a girl who comes from a more modest working-class family, he has to fight hard against her stereotypes. They meet at a support group and she gives him a hard time for being there.

‘Depression my arse. What have you ever had to be depressed about? He’s had everything, all his life. Posh school, posh house, shed loads of money. Skiing every year, shouldn’t bloody wonder. Doesn’t even have to get a job.’

Rufus found his voice. ‘Excuse me for not coming from a sink estate and being the product of a lesbian mother and an alcoholic father,’ he said. ‘I suppose you’d prefer that.’

‘It’d make more bloody sense.’

Rufus raised his eyebrows with some effort. ‘Well, well, who’d have thought it. Nutters can be bigots too…I thought, and this is must prove how mad I am, that a person who knew what it was like to be a nutter from personal experience might possibly have the teeniest bit of insight into what it was like for someone else. But no, how wrong I was. Everywhere I go it’s the same. Priveleged plus posh, plus depressed, equals whingeing failure. Dragged up in a high rise by parents with a combined IQ of room temperature, plus packs of feral children to play with, plus any fucking psychosis you like, equals poor unfortunate deserving of our sympathy. Now I know what they mean by the NHS being a postcode lottery.’

This works so effectively at demonstrating the attitude of many people today. This scene is a microcosm of what happens in society, and what genuinely needs to stop if people are to get the help they need.

Rufus’ friend Teach is another example of this. Once a well-respected and top professor in his field, with a good reputation and strong intellect, Teach has succumbed to the pressures of society and spiralled into pit a of hopelessness, homelessness, drug abuse and depression. Despite this, he continues to talk, and think, like the professor he once was. He talks with an intellectual flair and formality, but his subject matter is far removed, and he often quotes Latin and poetry incorrectly, as though he’s a slightly broken and off-kilter version of his former self. This makes him even more charming and loveable. The contrast between his filthy appearance and his speech is very funny yet very sad all at the same time.

‘In point of fact, I have indeed been aboard that conveyance of the sober and the clean. Naturally, I see the benefits of a brief period of abstaining from recreational drugs and alcohol. I stand before you evidence of the efficacy of that system. However, I am with Monsieur Descartes on this one. Cogito ergo sum – which loosely translates as “I drink, therefore I am.”‘

P.J Davy balances the humour in the book with a stark and sobering depiction of the realities of mental illness. In this way, the author doesn’t cheapen or trivialise the subject matter. Counterbalancing the kind of humour that features in the above quotation, comes brilliantly written passages such as this:

He turned to lean over the rail, the flaking paint on the rusting ironwork gritty beneath his palms. He gazed down at the angry water below. Deep, fast, deadly water. His hands tightened on the rail, his grip whitening his knuckles, his jaw set, his breath held. Then, suddenly, the fight went out of him. As if a switch had been thrown. A plug pulled. He felt such a draining of energy, such a lack of power that his legs could barely support him. He staggered back off the bridge as if under a weight so tremendous it might press him into the ground. He might lie there, suffocating beneath it, too spent, too flimsy, too insubstantial to move.

The writing is therefore honest but makes mental illness more accessible, which is definitely no mean feat.

The third protagonist in the novel, Rufus’ ex-girlfriend Kate, suffers with bi-polar disorder. She has a beautiful singing voice and such a strong passion for the choir in which she performs. When she isn’t feeling low, her zest and energy and enthusiasm for life shines through. The real tragedy with Kate is that often her medication dulls this, and often affects her performance in the choir. She finds herself in a constant battle between staving off the depression which compromises her classical music career and embracing her talents while risking real mental decline.

What is wonderful about Kate is that despite her inner demons, she always remains loyal to her friends and is never afraid to give her opinions to them straight. She wants what’s best for them and often she recognises that this involves tough love and hard truths. But ultimately it comes from love and wishing to the right thing. She understands the limitations that people like her and Rufus face.

The only thing I will say that I wasn’t too impressed with in the case of Kate’s character was the overuse of the word ‘chuffing.’ Kate is originally from Pontefract and so uses this expression a fair bit. Now I live just outside of Pontefract and so have probably come across this expression before. But in this book, whenever Kate is prominent in a particular chapter, the word ‘chuffing’ features up to and probably sometimes more than four times per page. I know different dialects feature different words but I’m just not convinced that, no matter where you’re from, anyone actually uses a regional word so often. It’s almost constant. It even appears mid-way through a particularly energetic sex scene. By the end of it I think I developed a physical tick whenever I read the word. If I never read or hear that word again, I’ll be a very happy woman!

Rufus, Kate and Teach are examples of how many people with mental illness struggle and fight the often doomed battle against their demons by themselves. The stigma attached to their problems and issues puts pressure on them to deal with things alone and ‘pull themselves together’. Kate faces discrimination and bullying at the hands of her peers who see her as a nutter and crazy rather than simply a talented girl who struggles with bi-polar disorder. Rufus faces adversity even from his own mother, who fails to understand his issues and sees him as a failure. Teach’s character, among many others in the book, provides the reader with an insight into what can derail a person’s life, often through no fault of their own.

This book is an entertaining eye-opener and an enjoyable read. The book industry needs more of this kind of book. Thank you to independent publisher Snowbooks and P.J Davy for tackling such a subject so bravely and successfully.

The Shock of The Fall by Nathan Filer

There seems to be a little bit of a theme running through the books I’ve been reading recently: namely, mental health, and how the protagonist deals with their own ill health. The last book I reviewed was The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman, which dealt with Alzheimer’s, and now I have just finished reading The Shock of The Fall, a bittersweet and moving story about a man who has been committed to a psychiatric ward in the local hospital.  I’ve now also started reading Elizabeth is Missing, another narrative about dementia. This hasn’t been deliberate, but it’s sure been interesting!

 

 

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I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he never was the same after that.

 

The Shock of the Fall was written by Nathan Filer, a registered mental health nurse. This is part of what attracted me to the book; I was interested to see how having that experience of taking care of mentally ill patients day in, day out would help facilitate writing a book from the point of view of someone who often refers to himself as ‘mental’ and ‘crazy.’ The book follows the story of Matthew Homes, a teenager who struggles with mental illness and whose tragic past, including the untimely death of his big brother, Simon, continues to haunt him.

 

Perhaps because Matthew’s trauma occurred when he was a young boy, and because it then influenced every part of his life, he speaks with quite a childish voice and uses simple, straightforward language. Matthew’s story is written on a computer or sometimes a typewriter, and he always accompanies his own words with pictures and illustrations, much like a child.  He identifies his illness almost as a another person or entity that shares and lives life with him. However, despite his childish manner of communicating, he has a belief in the theory that all the atoms in the universe have also been part something else entirely in the past –

 

These are the things we learnt.

We learnt about atoms.

This illness and me.

I was thirteen.

….

“Billions of years ago exploding stars sent atoms hurtling through space and we’ve been recycling them on Earth ever since. Except for the occasional comet, meteor, some interstellar dust, we’ve used exactly the same atoms over and over since the Earth was formed. We eat them, we drink them, we breathe them, we are made of them. At this precise moment each of us is exchanging our atoms with everyone else, and not just with each other, but with other animals, trees, fungi, moulds -”

 

 

It is this belief in this rather sophisticated scientific theory that leads him to see – and feel – his brother Simon everywhere. He hears him in the wind, sees him in the air, and feels him nearby. To Matthew, Simon is never truly gone, because his atoms are everywhere, a wonderful coping mechanism but also a devastating side-effect to his illness. It also makes fascinating reading.

 

Matthew is quite an unreliable narrator, as is to be expected, but it’s his outlook on this notion that is quite refreshing. He is aware that his own perceptions and memories can’t be trusted, and he often points this out. He is fully aware and accepting that he is “mentally unwell” and understands that he needs to be careful not to relapse into bad habits or miss his medication.

 

I don’t know why it was this day I decided to follow him. Perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps it was another day.

 

He often points out that getting the story exactly right doesn’t matter, and it makes sense, especially in understanding the story. In order to understand the narrator and how he thinks and feels when he’s battling schizophrenia, reality more often than not doesn’t come into it. It’s about understanding why he thinks, and feels, and remembers, and copes the way he does. If reality and sense came into it, this novel just wouldn’t be what it is. The treat here is that Nathan Filer has helped us understand the human condition – and one human condition that is often under-represented and  misunderstood.

 

Nathan Filer also does a beautiful job of creating the characters of Matthew Homes’ parents. His mum and dad are obviously hit hard by the premature death of one of their sons and the slow deterioration of the other. I won’t go into detail here about what happens with them in the novel – I don’t want to give everything away in one review! – but it is worth reading the book for this exploration of the different ways in which one family copy with familial tragedy.

 

As is often needed with tragic stories, the narrative is punctuated throughout with humour and provides relief from the heartache and confusion. Matthew’s frankness about himself is quite hilarious, and it keeps you going through a book that might otherwise be a bit too sad to bear. Hearing himself refer to where he lives as the ‘Crazy Crazy NutsNuts ward’ gives you that urge to cringe and laugh simultaneously – something special in and of itself.

 

Matthew…suffers from command hallucinations, which he attributes to a dead sibling. Crazy shit, eh? Problem is he’s been known to interpret said hallucinations as an invite to off himself….he sits alone in his flat, tapping away endlessly on a typewriter his grandmother gave him, which if you think about it, is a bit mental in itself.

 

The book was so much more than I thought it would be – it was a perfectly balanced tale laced with humour, sadness, wit, and philosophical musing. The book forces laughter from your throat at the same time as breaking your heart, little by little. And while you’re always on the outside of the story looking in, Nathan Filer is amazingly skilled at making you empathise with Matthew and see the world through his eyes – if only for a little while.

 

This book won Costa Book of the Year award – and I can see why! Have you read the book? Please let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!

 

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