Mental Health Literature: A Review of “Untamed”

Following my post that gave a snippet into my life with anxiety, I was contacted through Twitter from my supervisor from my masters dissertation with a book recommendation. If you haven’t read the post, it focused on the trepidations within anxiety, which cause you to feel you are doing everything wrong. So, Rachael felt I would enjoy Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, as the feelings, thoughts and emotions I had been struggling with was a common theme throughout the book. Come pay day, I ordered it and there it sat very impatiently waiting for me to finish The Man In The High Castle by Phillip K. Dick. Literally, you wouldn’t believe how many times I walked past my bookshelf and Untamed’s gorgeously colourful cover caught my eye, begging me to read it.

After a week or two, I finished my previous book and could finally take Untamed out from its place on the shelf. Five days later, it was completed. I couldn’t quite believe how addictive the book was, which is ironic once you read some of the topics within the books. Within the first night, I powered through sixty pages like it was nothing. Another night, I kept trying to put the book down and would find myself reading another page, and another page, and then another chapter, and then just one more chapter.

Untamed is a book, wherein the author Glennon Doyle reflects on her life throughout childhood through to her forties and how her perception of her life shifts towards a more realistic, settled and positive light. It isn’t necessarily a ‘mental health’ book like my previous post on Seconds to Snap, but I found many elements within this book which I related to in my journey within mental health.

Glennon, herself, has recovered from an addiction to substances such as alcohol and drugs, as well as bulimia. She also is diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety to which she is medicated for these conditions. She has some tough experiences within her childhood and within her first marriage. Now, married to the ex-soccer player, Abby Wambach, she has a different outlook on her mental health and wellbeing, particularly her coping mechanisms. I was recommended this book, because I’ve been reflecting introspectively on my mental health and wellbeing since I was eighteen or nineteen, after many years of poor mental health being a mainstay within my life. However, as evidenced by that post which triggered Untamed’s recommendation, I am able to be introspective, but I am not quite able to be as introspective and reflective as Glennon achieves during the book.

Interestingly, I noticed that I disagreed with the way she expressed some instances in her life. I encountered what I would describe as a cognitive dissonance whether that was a way she interacted with her child who wanted to play soccer (Abby changes her opinion, however) or there were ways she dealt with anxiety that I didn’t agree with. However, as I got towards the end of the book, she mentioned that, now she is in her forties she sees things differently, and life and the interactions within it have moulded how she sees her life. As she goes through her journey throughout the course of the book, the reader observes Glennon figure out new and more adaptive ways to react and recognise when she reacts according to her maladaptive yet instinctive mechanisms.

I, in my mid-twenties, although aware of my mental health journey and trauma, am still reliant on less than perfect, and often damaging coping mechanisms. While my eating disorder is not wholly one of the coping mechanisms anymore, I still harbour the bad thoughts and I let them take over and play into other parts of my life. I am still trying to figure out that part of my life. Therefore, the experience of reading this book is different to someone who is a few years older than me than it is to me. I enjoyed the cognitive dissonance I encountered when I read something I didn’t agree with immediately. As I went on, I learned that the cognitive dissonance was likely a case of: I am not quite at that part of my reflections, or: I am not Glennon and Glennon is not me. She is very understanding throughout the book that we have our similarities as humans so often do, but we are different.

Untamed often features contradictions. Initially, this irritated me, because I felt Glennon was saying one thing is right and then she would fall back on something she said was wrong, something she didn’t agree with and saw as less healthy in others and in her past-self. It was a common theme in parenting her eldest daughter. However, the cleverness of these contradictions is that you see how the human brain works in real time (or the time it takes to write a chapter and then make edits.) Glennon brilliantly lets you into her insight, wherein she jumps back and forth, changing her opinion, falling back onto old mechanisms, realising new ways of thinking were not as great as she believed them to be. She reflects and summarises, and sometimes tackles similar subjects with chapters in between to give a different view on how she coped with a situation at this age in her life.

This, I believe, is the real essence behind being ‘untamed’, citing the title of the book.

When you are deemed as someone who has a good grasp on your mental health, it can be hard to be vulnerable. You’ve spent so much of your life being exposed and being vulnerable that people now think you are able to climb upwards. You’ve achieved half the battle of openness and honesty. You’re in therapy, maybe, you’re medicated, and you’re about to have some insight in your mental health, so people develop this well-meaning but false idea that you are invincible to any further stressors and upsets. Glennon brilliantly deals with this throughout the book, as she fights with her tamed side, her destructive side, which may come from trying to regain control of her untamed side, and then her untamed side that she wants to be at forefront often. However, she understands in herself that it can be hard to uncage yourself and be free to explore your untamed side. She is so transparent within her journey. Something we need more of, because we need to end this falsehood that the minute we are aware of what triggers our mental health that it’ll go away.

Generally, I found this book to be real and relatable. Yes, at times, I was reading things she had said in conversation, and thought “no way, would I say this to my mum or my friends in normal day-to-day conversation.” But, it was the things I would think upon on reflection, or it would be what I wanted to say or should have said. Things I would say in moments of deeper conversation. I always appreciate whenever I read or hear the stories of others who experience similar things to myself. It makes you feel less alone, and it makes you feel like you can always experience an up no matter how many downs there are.

Untamed is chock full of advice, and while there are some things you can put into practice such as her Reset Buttons vs. Easy Buttons (something I am going to put into practice), there are more moments which involve you reflecting and normalising the way you are being made to feel due to your environment. That ability in itself is very powerful. Once you normalise your reactions and gain the ability to dissect them then you can begin to make progress in developing an insight in your mental health and wellbeing. It is not the cure. I don’t believe there is a cure, to be honest, but it is a way to cope and a way to learn.

I highly recommend this book. I adored it.

Learning to unlearn, learning how to become untamed – it’s a process. I am a different stage in my life than Glennon Doyle is so I know I may think differently to some of the things she discusses, but, all the same, it is fun to become untamed.

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