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.

Mental Health Literature: A Review of “Seconds To Snap”

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.

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If you are affected by an eating disorder and want further advice and support, please visit Beat.