I can’t believe that as I’m writing this, we’re now into May. Where the hell has this year gone? I’m determined to keep smashing through my TBR list, and while I still haven’t quite beaten my record set in February, I still managed what averaged as a book a week, so I think that’s pretty good going. I have a few days off at the start of May so maybe I’ll get a few more under my belt this month too. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading throughout April – please feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments!
No Such Thing as Normal: What My Mental Illness Has Taught Me About Mental Wellness – Bryony Gordon (Headline, 2021) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Bryony Gordon is one of the UK’s most high-profile and trusted mental health campaigners. In No Such Thing As Normal, she shares advice and guidance based on her own experiences of mental illness, which, far from damaging her, have left her stronger, wiser, and more resilient.
Her sensible, practical advice guides you through the first steps towards getting well, with topics including:
The Basics: From sleep, food and drink to work and even breathing, understanding your relationship to these key parts of life is vital to addressing your mental health.
Asking for Help: Thinking about different types of therapy, medication and support options can be overwhelming. Knowing who to ask for help – and how – can make all the difference.
Worry: Exploring day-to-day anxiety, stress, and intrusive thoughts, Bryony tackles worry head-on and provides tools and tips for how to manage it.
Connection: From the isolation of lockdown to the pain of recognising and ending toxic relationships, and also the comfort and sense of wellbeing that comes from supporting others, understand which connections are worth nurturing, and which you can let go.
The result is a lively, honest and direct guide to mental health that shows how each of us can feel stronger, calmer, and a little bit less alone.”
I discovered Bryony Gordon way back in 2016 when I was recommended her book Mad Girl, in which she talks about her struggles living with OCD. Ever since then, I have become a fan of hers. Upon the release of No Such Thing as Normal, I had to treat myself. What I love the most about Bryony’s writing is her no-bullshit approach. She doesn’t throw fancy psychological terms at you, she talks to you as though she’s your friend, and she doesn’t sugar coat the really shit stuff.
What becomes apparent immediately is the comparison between mental health and physical health – how the government is always banging on about how the two should be equal but there’s absolutely bugger all to show it. The analogies she uses in the book are simple to understand, but at the same time, she illustrates just how serious the mental health situation in the UK is. The fact that most people suffering a mental illness don’t get treatment until they’re severely unwell, and the fact that waiting times for treatment are up to six months – making someone with a broken arm wait six months before their treatment is unacceptable, so why should it be that way for mental health?
Another of Bryony’s points that resonated with me was about how you should start with the basics when it comes to your mental health – literally the simplest things like sleep, eating healthily, and doing basic self care tasks such as breathing exercises. They’re all such simple things we can do, and can be so effective when it comes to your mental health.
While this book doesn’t focus specifically on OCD, Bryony still speaks about her experience with the condition in complete honesty, and the section “A Brief History of Worries” was one of the most cathartic things I’d ever read – virtually every single thing was something I’ve worried about. Worries that you have AIDS, that people think you’re a dick, that you’ve harmed a child, that if you light a candle you’ll burn the entire house down. They’re all things that have crossed my mind on multiple occasions. She even puts the idea of living with OCD across perfectly – that it simply refuses to acknowledge what your eyes can see. It refuses to acknowledge that you’ve locked the door, that you’ve turned the oven off or that you’ve washed your hands.
All in all, No Such Thing As Normal was an incredibly powerful and cathartic read. Bryony made so many points that I felt applied to me, and in all honesty, it was one of the most helpful books on mental health that I’d ever read. It gave me more insight into my OCD and my anxiety, and it gave me a whole new outlook on how to deal with a mental illness. If you suffer with any form of mental health difficulty, I would highly recommend you check it out.
You Got This: A Fabulously Fearless Guide to Being You – Bryony Gordon (Wren & Rook, 2019) ★★★
From the Back:
“‘The most powerful thing you can be when you grow up is yourself.
I wanted to be a unicorn. I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to be a lawyer.
But the thing I really wanted to be, more than anything else, was a little less like me.
It was only recently that I realised not wanting to be me was at the heart of every dumb decision I ever made. And so now I am writing this book containing all the life lessons I wish someone had taught me.
A book for the teenage girl in me. And for every teenage girl out there.”
Okay, so really, I was not the target audience for this particular book – it’s aimed at teenage girls. However, given that I’m such a fan of Bryony’s work, I still thought I’d give it a go, and a lot of the reviews said it still had some pretty good advice for adults too. I have to say that I agree – there was a lot of stuff in this book I wish I had known when I was a teenager. She gives plenty of advice on the usual issues that teenage girls face, such as periods, relationships and school pressures, and she puts it all across in a way that’s age appropriate without being patronising. She talks to the reader almost like a big-sister, and you instantly feel at ease the second you start reading. It’s a very similar vibe to No Such Thing as Normal, but there’s more an emphasis on the general lifestyle side of things rather than the sole focus of mental health – and of course it’s a lot less sweary too!
The only reason I gave it a lesser rating than the others in this list is because I felt a lot of the advice given is stuff I’ve heard before, but of course, for many young girls, a lot of this it will probably be stuff they haven’t, so I think it’s much more that the book is targeted at a younger age group rather than anything else. On the whole, I still found it easy to read and I certainly think it will help so many teenage girls who are finding things difficult. It’s definitely something I wish had been around when I was thirteen!
The Midnight Library – Matt Haig (Canongate, 2020) ★★★★★
From the Back:
“Nora’s life has been going from bad to worse. Then at the stroke of midnight on her last day on earth, she finds herself transported to a library. There, she is given the chance to undo her regrets and try out each of the other lives she might have lived.
Which raises the ultimate question – with infinite choices, what is the best way to live?”
TW: Suicide, depression
I’ve read both of Matt’s non-fiction books – Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet – and upon seeing The Midnight Library on offer on Amazon, along with some glowing five star reviews, I thought I’d give it a try. All I can say is – wow.
Honestly, this is probably the best book I’ve read so far this year. There was so much to take from it, and it was beautifully written. The night that the main character, Nora, decides to end her life, she is transported to a library, where she’s presented with infinite choices on lives she could live – she has a chance to undo regrets and to see what could have happened had she taken different paths in her life. It felt almost like something I needed to read – one thing I’ve been dealing with recently is regret and looking back on life choices that I’ve made, and that’s something that Nora deals with throughout the book, being given multiple chances to undo them.
The book comes with so many lessons that really resonated with me. In particular, the fact that we can choose choices, but we can’t choose outcomes, as Nora finds when she wishes to live a life where she chose to move to Australia with her best friend. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll try and explain it without giving it away – while we may regret not doing something, we can’t choose what would have happened had we done it. We may be fixated on the good things that could have happened, but we don’t seem to think about the bad things that may have happened resulting from a particular choice. That lesson in particular really stuck with me.
One thing I will say is that the book discusses a suicide attempt – while it’s not talked about in hugely graphic terms, it’s mentioned throughout, and the method of how Nora attempts to end her life is made clear, so it may be triggering for some. I wouldn’t let that put you off though, the book overall is incredible, and it has the overall message of learning to appreciate the life you’re living and not to dwell on your regrets. I will definitely be checking out Matt’s other fiction work too, he’s a truly amazing writer.
The Dark Side of the Mind: True Stories From My Life as a Forensic Psychologist – Kerry Daynes (Endeavour, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back:
“The world of the forensic psychologist can be highly unpredictable – the people you meet are rarely as they first appear. They may challenge you, frighten you and make you question what you thought you knew.
The job: to delve into the psyche of convicted men and women to understand what lies behind their actions.
Kerry Daynes, one of the most sought-after forensic psychologists in the business, has seen it all. Her work has taken her from police interview rooms and the witness box to the cells of maximum security prisons and the wards of secure hospitals.
Staring into the darker side of life comes with a price. Kerry’s frank and blackly funny memoir gives us an unforgettable insight into the darker side of life.“
TW: Sexual abuse, child abuse, domestic violence
This was a slightly different flavour to what I normally read, but again, this had some great reviews and it came up in my recommendations. Obviously, psychology and mental health is a genre that I’m especially interested in, but one area of it that I haven’t really explored much is forensics.
This was a powerful and eye-opening memoir documenting Kerry Daynes’ career as a forensic psychologist, working in prisons and secure hospitals, as well as consulting on high profile cases. Alongside some of her most memorable cases, she also talks about her personal experiences, accounting incidents of being harassed by male staff in the prison she worked in, and the paralysing fear she endured while being stalked.
While this was a disturbing read at times, it was incredibly eye-opening, and it covered a wide array of topics that are incredibly prominent today – such as victim blaming and racial discrimination. There were certain stories that stuck with me, illustrating flaws within the mental health system and the prison systems in this country.
The Dark Side of the Mind was a book that kept me engrossed from start to finish, but at times it wasn’t an easy read. Kerry details moments of her career in which she worked with sex offenders and child abusers, often documenting aspects of cases in a fair bit of detail, so it certainly may not be something for everyone. I must admit, when I finished it I felt as though I needed to read something a bit more light-hearted!
Overall, this was a really fascinating read, and the psychologist in me really got into it. It made me realise that psychology is still an area of interest that I’m incredibly passionate about.
What have you been reading in April? Have you read any of the above? What did you think? Let’s chat in the comments 🙂