Have you ever sat down to read the first pages of a book only to find yourself crawling out of a black hole of space and time 5 hours later, book read from start to finish?
You see, I have this (somewhat terrible but hey, there are worst vices in life) habit of bankrupting myself over book purchases and subsequently losing myself completely and utterly to fictional worlds and the inner workings of others minds. Perhaps it’s my mild dissatisfaction with my own reality that has me diving headfirst into any fictional world that sparks the tiniest bit of intrigue? I will read anything and everything – I’m willing to give any genre a go but over the last year I’ve started appreciating non-fiction more and more and it has been this incredible life-changing experience. And while I’ve read some absolutely brilliant books throughout 2017, there are 2 that stuck out and as a bookworm, I feel it is my duty to share them with you in the hopes that you will draw as much courage and inspiration as I did from them.
- ‘Mad Girl’ – Bryony Gordon
A bit of background. I fell deeply and madly in love with Bryony Gordon back in April. I stumbled across her Instagram and subsequently her column and Instagram story (which proceeded to become the highlight of many of my days) and when I heard of this book knew that I absolutely NEEDED to read it immediately upon it’s release. Just my luck that it wasn’t due out in Canada until well-past my departure date. So upon landing in Gatwick Airport, my natural first move was to rush to the airport bookshop and get my hands on a copy. I tucked myself into bed the first chance I had, set to read the first chapter. Three hours later I had finished the book from start to finish, tears absolutely pouring down my face and soaking my top, pillow AND sheets…when I cry, I cry hard.
As I’ve written about previously, I’ve struggled with anxiety and self-harm from my early years (I topic I’ll delve further into over the coming weeks), however I didn’t experience my first major depressive episode until 2011. A fact I’ve failed to mention thus far is that it was officially diagnosed as a manic-depressive episode. Between 2011-early 2013, there are chunks of time that are simply missing from my memory, suppressed, I imagine, by the immense shame I feel towards them. You see, when my mental health decayed to that point of rock-bottom I became so deeply ashamed of the majority of my actions that I tried to simply forget about them and kept them to myself for years. While the harm done was to none bar myself, I simply couldn’t believe how out of control I had become, how far down the rabbit-hole I had fallen. At that point in time I was also a patient in a medical system that was so wildly lacking in knowledge and treatment plans that I truly believed myself to be the “Only Girl In The World To Ever Suffer Through This”. I continued to hold this belief, perhaps not as strongly yet it still remained, until I read ‘Mad Girl’.
Bryony Gordon’s account of her own struggles with mental illness was so heartbreakingly raw and candid, and in her words, for the first time, I found comfort and solidarity. I cannot even begin to list the points throughout her book that I underlined or dog-eared (or marked with the never-ending tears) so that I would be able to go back and reread them on demand because for the first time since my tween years there was finally someone else out there in the world who GOT IT. Imagine that, another human being to whom you can absolutely and completely relate to. Another human being who had experienced so much of what I had but had found the courage to candidly and publicly WRITE ABOUT IT. I was in complete awe.
At the same time, I felt myself to be a coward.
If she could write about the true state of her mental health, dodgy as it may be at times, why couldn’t I?
So after rereading ‘Mad Girl’ an additional 2 times I sat down with my laptop (a gift from the truly spectacular and one-and-only Mama Jen) and penned my first post on ‘Into The Wildish’.
It is at this point that I’d like to personally address Ms. Bryony Gordon. For you see, without her this blog would not exist.
Bryony (Ms. Gordon? Mrs. Gordon?), were it not for your book my life would be very different right now. Over the last 6 months I have healed a part of my soul that I never IMAGINED would be whole again. Through your writing, I found the courage to speak up and share my own story, sordid as it may be at times. I found the strength to laugh at myself and to accept myself exactly as-is, dodgy mind, insecurities, and all. Through your writing I realized that while the state of my mental health is indeed a large factor in who I am as a person, it is indeed not all that I am. It does not limit me nor are my depression and anxiety something to be ashamed of. Bryony Gordon, after reading your book, for the first time ever, I found the courage to share the tale of my descent into madness with my loved ones. In fact my first few posts on this blog discussed being sexually assaulted and attempting suicide – 2 topics I long ago swore to never share with a single other soul. Bryony, while I credit myself for all that I’ve accomplished and overcome, you absolutely deserve the credit for giving me the push to do so. You were my greatest inspiration, and I aspire to be as successful a writer as you someday.
Now, if I could only get my hands on a copy of ‘The Wrong Knickers’!
Phew. That is a lot of mush for only being halfway through this post.
2. ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and ‘How to Stop Time’ – Matt Haig
Where to even begin. I first discovered Matt Haig on Twitter, the day before beginning my trek across Ireland. After spending more time then I care to disclose stalking through his every tweet I immediately made my way to the nearest bookshop and picked up copies of both books with absolutely no regard to how much weight they would add to my already massive pack. I devoured these books. When I finished ‘How to Stop Time’ I shamelessly sobbed over having to part ways with such an exquisite plot.
Then I opened ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and actually took a day off the trail so I could read it all in one go. Even then, I wasn’t content to walk on and so I tore out a few of my favourite pages to tuck into my pocket and keep with me forever. It was after reading Matt’s works of mind-blowing art that I finally came to the conclusion that I absolutely do not need to hide away my anxious quirks. In fact, I decided to embrace them.
Again, it was a first for me. It’s one thing to write about your mental health, for the internet provides a bit of distance through it’s lack of physical contact and real-life engagement with those who may read the anxious thoughts one may find themselves posting. It’s a completely different story to go about your day without hiding your every anxious thought from the world. And while I’m still a ways away from truly OWNING who I am as a high-functioning depressive with a side order of anxiety disorder, Matt has given me the courage to take the steps (tiny as they may be for now) towards finally accepting my mental health for what it is.
At my lowest moments, I pull out all that remains in my possession of ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ – a tattered and weathered bit of paper with the following printed on it:
“How to stop time: kiss.
How to travel in time: read.
How to escape time: music.
How to feel time: write.
How to release time: breathe.”
A personal meditation. I read it under my breath to the rhythm of my fingers tapping an anxious beat and deep breaths (in 2-3-4, out 6-7-8).
Matt, thank you, sincerely and honestly, from the very bottom of my heart, for continuously providing me with reason after reason to get out of bed each morning.
So, that’s that. 2017 has had it’s ups and downs. It hasn’t been perfect, but what year ever really is. For me, it’s been a year of healing and self-discovery (god, I truly am a walking talking millennial cliche). And while there are many people who deserve all the credit in the world for motivating me to reach the point I have, Bryony Gordon and Matt Haig will go down in my book as 2 of the greatest highlights of 2017. While I left my copies of your books behind for others to treasure (I simply couldn’t carry them all with me across The Ireland Way) I absolutely cannot wait till I can once more have copies of both of your books to read and reread and leave behind for more strangers to find and fall in love with.
Mama Jen, you’re right up there with them.
(but more on you in my next post)
I want to leave you with this one final quote. It means the world to me, and I hope you draw as much comfort form it as I do on the occasional rainy day.
“Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”
―Matt Haig, ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’