Just over a year ago, I attended and spoke at a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Taskforce as part of their lived experience panel. This is where I met Scottish author Tina McGuff, and learned about her book: Seconds To Snap. A native Dundonian, she is a mental health campaigner who spreads awareness of mental health diagnoses such as anorexia nervosa and psychosis, and has featured on Lorraine and Jeremy Vine. I knew from the moment I met I had to buy her book.
Unfortunately, I have just bought the book due to a lack of money and having only recently kicked back into gear my love for reading. Better late than never, I guess? But that’s beside the point.
Seconds to Snap is a detailed description of Tina’s experience with mental illness after exposure to a suddenly very traumatic childhood, which resulted in a development of anorexia nervosa followed by stays in the psychiatric unit of Ninewells hospital in Dundee. She takes you through the moment her poor mental health was set off into action and the downward spiral into mental illness.
Now, I mentioned that I have only recently got back into reading properly. It’s been a slow process. It took me nine months to finish Nuremberg Diary. It took me three months to finish Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And, it took me four months to finish Dune. I was getting ready for another couple of months of reading. This turned out not to be the case. I finished this book in two days. This was a miracle. The minute I opened to the first page I was genuinely hooked. I get so easily distracted, and nowadays I struggle to read if someone is watching TV or talking in the background, but with this book I was shut off to the world, gripped by every word.
Seconds To Snap was just so real. It broke my heart when Tina began to experience her life falling down around her, and I was begging her to stay in the psychiatric units and to drink her Build Up drinks. I was cheering her on when she began to willingly restore her weight. I wanted to hold her when she had setbacks. I was enthralled by every part of her journey, because of how real it was. She didn’t paint this picture of recovery being linear. It didn’t all just happen at once and then, boom!, she was in the hospital on her to normality. No, in fact, her mental health difficulties slowly mounted up and up and up and she sunk further down and down and down.
Reading the book made me experience feelings of hopelessness and sorrow and I was pleading someone to just help her. But that’s what made her story, and the way she told it so compelling, because that’s the reality of mental health when it becomes poor. Yes, sometimes it can happen suddenly. But usually it’s the little adjustments or missteps in someone’s life that we miss. A missed meal here. An extra run there. A few days of being tired. An altercation brushed off as teenage hormones. But, then, the way someone has been feeling and behaving based on these feelings just becomes that person’s new normal. Eventually the person’s way of life is seen as “she’s always acted this way.”
I think this book is a very valuable piece of mental health literature because it highlights how things can so easily build up yet go unnoticed. People don’t realise the ways in which trauma can impact someone’s life, especially if that person is a child who has take the brunt of the trauma. There is insight given into how it’s not just one type of trauma that can trigger a mental health difficulty and it’s not always the same mental health diagnosis or difficulty that is produced. This is shown by Tina’s development of anorexia nervosa and then psychosis induced by anxiety. She brilliantly explores the confusing entanglement of co-morbidities, especially those which feature in anorexia nervosa, and how these can ebb and flow throughout the process of eating disorder development, recovery and relapse. It is a very well put together yet raw piece of work; one in which allows the reader to hear the reality of poor mental health as unfiltered as possible. Many shows, films, and books commonly romanticise illnesses, leaving out all the messy details within mental health in particular.
I noticed as I read the book I felt a large pit open up in my stomach. I felt a level of shame and discomfort with every word concerning her eating disorder. The discomfort I felt reading these portions of the book was because I was being reminded by what I did during my eating disorder. There were many things I could relate to. The reliance on diet drinks. I drank a lot of them during my eating disorder. The dangerous diets she followed to lose weight dramatically to satisfy her eating disorder. I did this. I drank common weight-loss products that were similar to the ones she used. Crash diets. Diets meant for patients in hospitals. What she did, I did.
I felt ashamed reading her words, because I felt exposed. I remembered the shame I felt when I spoke about my eating disorder for the first time. Eating disorders spark such strong feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment as we know what we are doing is considered bizarre, abnormal and plain wrong. We know it’s dangerous what we’re doing, and we know people wouldn’t react well if we told them. We don’t want to feel those negative feelings so we often spare the details of our eating disorder or don’t tell anyone even after we’ve recovered. Yet, for Tina to put down exactly what happened, every little dark detail, the details often glossed over in the movies in favour for the so-called pretty, fragile side of eating disorders.
We need to see the harsh reality of eating disorders. The side that shows all those dark, distressing and negative emotions that emerge during an eating disorder. Reading her words made me reflect on what I did, and how terrible my eating disorder was and the behaviours that were involved. It reminded me just how much harm I put my body through. It reminded just how powerful an eating disorder is in making you think that, despite all these horrific things, there is nothing truly bad about what you are doing. I grimaced several times when she went into detail about her purging, her restrictions, the way the eating disorder clouded her judgement. But, at the heart of it, I grimaced as the person on the outside looking in, but, during the time I was unwell, I remember how much my judgement was clouded. My eating disorder made me think all of the restrictions and purges were positives and were part of my journey to being the best person I could be. Or the best anorexic in the world, as Tina says.
This book is a heartfelt window into the world of someone who has anorexia and other mental health difficulties and diagnoses. It highlights the shame and embarrassment an individual feels when they go through and also reflect on their eating disorder. These feelings should be taken into consideration when discussing eating disorders with someone who has personal experience as they may have these feelings, which can make it harder for them to be honest. They feel they are going to be in trouble or treated like a horrible and wasteful person. I was reminded of those thoughts and feelings when I read Seconds To Snap. It made me realise just how crucial it is to challenge these feelings and take special care in dealing with them. If you want to understand an eating disorder; if you want to understand trauma and its negative effects, then read this book. If you want to see that your way of thinking, as someone with an eating disorder, is common within others; if you want to know that you are not alone; if you want to know that you can recover and have a happy life without your eating disorder, then read Seconds To Snap.
I feel really privileged to know Tina and she’s a fantastic woman who fights tirelessly in mental health and a real role model for recovery.
You can purchase Tina McGuff’s book, Seconds To Snap here.
If you are affected by an eating disorder and want further advice and support, please visit Beat.