It is my absolute pleasure today to be taking my turn on the Blog Tour for What Doesn’t Kill You : Fifteen Stories of Survival Edited by Elitsa Dermendzhiyska, published by Unbound.
This is a collection of essay, each written by individuals whose lives have been touched in some way by mental ill health. Their stories are unique, all as a consequence of entirely different circumstances, experiences and illnesses.
But each story is told with a raw honesty; each writer has opened up a small part of themselves to share their experiences sensitively and with compassion.
It seems to cliched to call the writers assembled here brave, but it is also undeniable. In an increasingly challenging world, the acceptance of and discussion around mental ill health still,all too often, feels like a struggle. Wrapped in their eloquence and empathy, each story within this collection offers a glimmer of hope.
Each story is different. That seems a mad and ridiculously obvious thing to write, yet it struck me as I was reflecting on this book, how beautifully these essays collectively illustrate the point that no one person’s story, diagnosis or journey is the same. The complexity and breadth of mental health issues is laid bare within these pages. Yet there is a shared understanding of the fact that no one path of recovery is the same. There is not one catch all drug, no one all encompassing therapy, no magic time limit on recovery. Nothing about mental ill health is linear; recovery is as individual as experience and diagnosis.
But recovery is possible. Each of these stories is a beacon of hope. And each holds that essential element; acceptance and communication. As each story unfolds, it seemed clear to me that the binding thread, the pivotal moment within each account, was the moment when the illness was acknowledged. At this point there was a small shift from a perceived battle, towards a sense of moving on with the illness, diagnosis, condition as a recognised part of life.
As Julian Baggini points out in his contributed essay No Cure for Life , when supporting friends and loved ones who are treading this path you can offer support but no salvation. This journey is unique and often lonely. And, as Baggini rightly states universal happiness is not possible or even desirable. What is labelled here as The Fairy Tale Template, and is perpetuated by our increasingly crazy world of social media and consumerism is one of the biggest barriers to good mental health. Because to appreciate the light, there has to be some dark. The key, and the recognised challenge lies in maintaining the balance,
All stories here contain lifelines, each thrown out by different people, different circumstances, in different times and places. Recovery hinges on catching the right lifeline at the right time and place.
Each story within this collection is an inspiration. It isn’t my intention to talk about each in turn. But like all books there are certain references which will stay with me. For example Rory Bremner’s ADHD and Me was a fascinating insight, particularly for me as an SEN teacher. The acknowledgment of the difficulties but most importantly the gifts his condition presented really struck a cord. His honestly about ADHD being part of his core, part of him, was refreshing,
One of the most powerful depictions of ongoing mental ill health came for me in Eight by A.J. Ashworth. The sense of self laid bare in her vivid descriptions of panic attacks, experienced from a young age, was quite breathtaking. Like so many of these stories, the key to learning to cope comes from acknowledgment and identification. In Ashworth’s case she describes her attacks as ‘a black bulb buried deep that I cannot find the switch for.’
There are so many poignant examples of strength and honesty in this collection I could go on far beyond the edges of this blog post. You need to experience the beauty of Irenosen Okojie prose as she details how her writing slowly brought her through what she describes as her ‘winter’, her silver and grey period.
Or Kate Leaver’s powerful battle with and recovery from anorexia; her turning point coming in the form of Hunger Strike by Susie Orbach. The feminist writings were her way forward to recovery.
What each of these stories by their very nature and being illustrates is the power that we can find in the written and spoken word. Shared experiences and communication won’t eradicate mental health issues, but they bring it out into the open. Acceptance and discussion is a powerful weapon.
It has been my pleasure and privilege to read, and offer my review. I hope this collection is read and appreciated for the gem it is
And there is more…
For more reviews and reactions to this collection, please check out the rest of the blog tour…