Month: July 2019

a PTSD Love Story
by Mac McClelland

The author is a human rights reporter who witnessed some terrible things. Many difficult assignments to disaster zones, culminating in travel to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake where her particular focus was to investigate the prevalence of rape among survivors in tent camps. What she found was horrific. She went into shock, had a breakdown and upon returning home, found she could not escape flashbacks of things she\’d seen, panic attacks, outbursts of anger or self-loathing, and frightening dissociation- not being able to feel parts of her body at all. She had post traumatic stress disorder, and describes years of struggling to heal, with the help of a therapist, many different techniques to strengthen her mind and body (mindfulness, yoga, self-defense class etc, occasionally medication though she really shied away from that avenue). Through it all she was supported by the love of her boyfriend- a French soldier she had met briefly while on assignment, it became a long-distance relationship and eventually they tried living together. Wow, that that sounded difficult.

McClelland thankfully does not share details about the atrocities she witnessed that brought on her PTSD, but she is frank about the effects it had on her everyday life, in particular her sex life. Her methods of dealing with this are disturbing to read (or were for me) and honestly could be triggering for many – please be advised if you are interested in reading this book you might want to avoid it if you have suffered from sexual abuse or have thoughts of self harm. McClelland received a lot of criticism for what she wrote (initially as an article) but personally, I see her as an intelligent, sensitive and brave woman- she shared so honestly what it is like to live with her condition. Also shares some research she did into PTSD, especially among war veterans and how it affects their families as well (many spouses and children end up with PTSD themselves, from living alongside someone with severe symptoms). A lot of the book seems to drag on with her pain, confusion and exasperation that her symptoms never seem to let up, but in the final twenty pages there is some hope- the coping skills she has learned are becoming easier to employ, her episodes are becoming less frequent, she is more accepting of herself and of the love her husband gives her.

There\’s so much more to this book- things from her past, difficulties her partner also went through, strength of friendships, struggles with her work- but I can\’t possibly mention it all. I must say, it was a very difficult read. I had to put it down several times. It also clarified for me- I understand a little better some things I read in Hi, Anxiety that baffled me at first. Like the psychological need some people feel to face pain, fear and aggression, in order to heal.

I borrowed this book from the public library. Found it browsing the mental health section, it just caught my eye.

Rating: 4/5                          308 pages, 2015

Words to Say and Things to Do
by Kathleen Trainor, PsyD

My kids have anxiety (in different ways, and only one of them is actually diagnosed). I think I probably do to some extent as well- as it seems to run in the family. I picked up this book just wanting to learn more about what\’s appropriate or helpful to say in certain situations. I was honestly surprised at how relevant, practical and comprehensive this book is. It all feels very familiar. Either I have seen some of the behaviors the author describes, in those around me (not just family but also acquaintances and other people I\’ve known) or recognize them in myself. Lots of people probably have a little bit of anxiety, OCD, avoidance tendencies etc, it\’s not really a problem until it becomes overwhelming and interferes with everyday life, as the author points out.

Well, the author works a lot with children. She uses a particular method of cognitive behavior therapy that is very structured. The steps are to recognize problematic thoughts and behaviors caused by anxiety, rate their level of difficulty (in overcoming), map out strategies for improvement, come up with positive thoughts to replace negative ones, decide on a reward system, and track progress. It\’s very much centered on getting kids involved in their own treatment, letting them feel they\’re in control of changing how they think and feel. The examples- all from real patient cases- sounded like problems I have seen many people face (or heard about). Some I really wondered how the method would work, in particular with an older kid who was resentful at even being in the therapist\’s office and didn\’t see anything wrong with his life- but in the end it did.

There are, in this book, kids who won\’t sleep on their own, worry constantly about their health, stress to the point of illness over schoolwork, feel a compulsive need to be clean, avoid all outside situations (preferring to play computer games literally all day), pull out their own hair, have specific phobias, and more. And we\’re talking to the point of disrupting the entire family life- the girl who was afraid of dogs, for example, got so terrified she would not play outside for fear of encountering a dog in the neighborhood, or go to any friend\’s house if they had a dog. There was a kid so petrified of bugs he would run screaming from the house to his car whenever he had to go somewhere. A very small child with a severe phobia of water after suffering a burn from boiling hot water that spilled on her, would have panic attacks if even a drop landed on her arm. She couldn\’t take a bath, walk outside when it was raining, go swimming, etc. Some of the situations looked very simple on the surface until the therapist started helping them examine things, others looked very complicated and confusing until they sat down and figured out the root cause. (The beginning of the book explains the biological causes of anxiety, how the brain works in terms of fear response, and how culture or family situations can sometimes add to it). There was also a section about helping kids overcome PTSD caused by traumatic situations, which was a bit hard to read, but very eye-opening.

I thought at first this book would be boring or clinical, but in fact it was interesting and I felt like I learned a ton. Not that I would implement a program based on what I read alone, but it sure did make me aware of how things can be dealt with, especially  how kids can literally train their brains to think/feel differently, and to have more compassion for people who struggle with certain aspects of anxiety.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5                249 pages, 2016

Another 1,000 piece Cobble Hill puzzle. I already disassembled and put it back on the shelf, so don’t have a notation of the artist. It sure would be nice to know the names of the butterfly species? the artwork is very pretty and nicely detailed. (Click arrows to view the images)

Life with a Bad Case of Nerves
by Kat Kinsman

I thought reading about anxiety symptoms in the fictional story A Quiet Kind of Thunder (panic attacks, selective mutism) was bad enough, but in this book- a true account- the anxiety is truly debilitating. Author Kinsman describes feeling jittery, worried and out-of-sorts since early childhood- her behavior often earning her taunts from other children, later on making it hard to find or keep a job, travel, make appointments on the telephone, get in a car and drive somewhere, or even just leave the house. The physical manifestations painful, annoying and interrupting her life, the mental unending ragged self-criticism and fearful thoughts wore her down. She describes going through a series of unhelpful and judgmental (or at least perceived to be so) doctors, mentions quite a few different medications, and relates a period of self-induced (and yes very gradual) withdrawl from one particular psychotic med which sounded like a horrific experience. The part about her stint working in a dungeon as a dominatrix took me by surprise (thankfully not too much detail) but I was even more surprised at my reluctant respect for what she did there: giving other people the pain they somehow needed to feel. She tells about a series of relationships that ended badly, and then the sudden wonder of finding a good one- and her life got so much better after that. Not completely well, never healed, always with this illness to live with- but more manageable when she felt loved. Though she questioned and doubted that for a long time. And then she got a better job, in spite of her fears at being inadequate, and then she decided to just tell everyone: I suffer from anxiety: I have a mental illness. To share and get out of the box of silence. I personally don\’t know what it\’s really like to live with debilitating anxiety, but I appreciate that Kinsman could share her story, and she relates the overwhelming response she received from other people who had felt the same fears, and thought they were alone.

It\’s not exactly linear in fashion, but for once that didn\’t bother me in a book. Some parts are from her childhood, others more present in time. It seems that sections describing particular fears intersperse with chapters about life events more or less chronological in order, but it still skips around a lot and I just took things as they came. It\’s not all dark- there\’s quite a lot of humor and overall I did like reading this one.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                 221 pages, 2016

Your Guide to Recovery
by William R. Marchand, M.D.

Following No Love Allowed, I wanted to know more about bipolar and this was the only other book on the subject when I browsed the shelf, though I have since made a to-read list from the catalog. It\’s a very thorough guide (as far as I can tell) on mood disorders- mostly concerning depression and bipolar but also others such as anxiety. The book details what is known about mood disorders and brain chemistry, how a diagnosis is reached, what to expect when visiting doctors, how treatment choices are made, management of symptoms, prevention of relapse and more. It\’s all very methodical and straightforward. Not much about what it\’s like to live with the disorder, or to know someone who has it, but more about how to seek treatment and manage care. I appreciate that the author outlined his credentials, explained how trials are done on medications, what risk factors actually mean and how to find credible sources of information. It all appears to be very useful and factual. I feel it\’s a bit unfair for me to give this book a rating, because I didn\’t really read all of it- I skipped lots of pages that had charts on medications, forms to track symptoms and the like. Or parts that just weren\’t that interesting. But I did go through it entirely front-to-back and feel like I learned quite a lot from what I did read- the majority.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                 360 pages, 2012

the Unnatural History of Dogs, Cats, Cows, and Horses
by Gavin Ehringer

I don’t like the cover at all. And I found the material interesting enough, but a bit uneven. The sections on dogs and cats are more than half the book, the part about cows a little shorter than the first two, and horses felt tacked on at the end with far less coverage. Honestly I almost put this one aside, because the first chapter on how dogs became domesticated, was boring. I’d either read most of it before elsewhere, or felt my eyes glazing over on the history details. There’s a lengthy chapter on how the Victorian craze for purebred dogs changed the course of dog breeding forever, and another on how rightfully pit bulls are vilified. Curiously, this book states that overpopulation is no longer a huge problem for dogs and cats in America, that in fact a lot of shelters now have to import homeless animals to keep their operations running. Another section looks into the ethtics of dog shows and breeders- stating that most people who breed dogs knows what they’re doing and look seriously into the genetics to ensure healthy animals, but the public knowledge about what goes on is woefully behind the reality. Hm. The part about cats has a lot of Egyptian history, and about how the popularity of cats waxed and waned over the centuries- I learned quite a bit of folklore and such I hadn’t known before. There’s a strong emphasis in here on the problem of stray and feral cats- firstly it states that cats are not wiping out birds (except on certain isolated islands where they are truly invasive) that statistics blaming domestic cats for falling bird numbers across America are exaggerated or wrongly extrapolated, there being so many other factors. And examples are given how trap-neuter-release programs can be extremely effective. When it comes to cows, I found myself reading about genetic cloning, dairy farm management, criticism of feedlot operations, and the plight of unwanted steer calves among other things. And organic milk production. And the debate on hormone injections. And so on. The horse chapters were very few. There is a bit of breed history, mostly about Mongolian horses under Ghenghis Khan, the beauty of Arabians, the inbreeding of famed quarter horses, and where it is all going. I skimmed much of the last chapter, just like I did the first.

So I learned a few new things, and I found a lot of it interesting, but much more was repetitive or simply felt off-topic. If I’d wanted to read about GMO tomatoes I would have picked a different book. Maybe the title gave me the wrong expectation, but I was alternately disappointed, bored and then intrigued again (when learning something new, or reading stuff that refuted things I thought I already knew).

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                               356 pages, 2017

by Ellen McGrody

I have to admit, I find the many various ways in which non-binary persons identify themselves and the use of pronouns other than he/him and she/her, plus the discovery of new terms I never heard of before, sometimes confusing. So I decided to read about it, starting with this book found browsing at the public library. It\’s rather basic, aimed at teens, and I think covers all important points leading to further reading. The book starts by identifying what all those different terms mean (including, yes, a few I hadn\’t heard of before- such as demigirl), the difference between gender identity and sexuality, the importance of individuals in presenting as the gender they identify with- whether that be via their clothing and hairstyle, change of name, selective pronouns, etc. Everyone\’s unique, and will feel a different need to feel comfortable with their body and self. The emotional and psychological distress caused by a person\’s inner identity not matching their physical body is (as far as I understand it) the dysphoria. Not every non-binary person feels dysphoria. Some are so distressed by it, their mental health is seriously affected. The book details how to find help and support, starting with family and friends, community groups and health care providers.

I really learned more than I expected to, here- in spite of how short the book is. I didn\’t know what the term clocked meant, outside of a boxing ring, for example. I didn\’t know about the incident at Stonewall Inn in New York, 1969- which is now commemorated each year with Pride events in June. I\’m struggling a bit to recognize what microagressions are (another new term for me). I appreciate the book points out that non-binary people are not anything new. Many cultures have long recognized them: in India they are identified as third gender, in Samoa non-gender conforming people are called fa\’afafine and in some Native American cultures they are referred to as two-spirit (and there\’s even a photo of one such individual, an assigned male in female Zuni dress). I\’m sure there\’s more, but the book only mentioned these. I\’m learning.

One very nice thing about this book: it\’s full of lovely photographs, of young people from all different races, and genders across the spectrum, many whom look very happy to be who they are.

Rating: 3/5             112 pages, 2018

by Kate Evangelista

Another YA about mental illness, which I wanted to read in particular because of the subject matter: one of the main characters, Didi, is bipolar. Unfortunately, this type of book isn\’t really to my taste, so although I found it amusing, somewhat interesting and heartwarming in the end, I really had to force myself to finish reading it; sorry to say but a lot felt just downright shallow and cheesy. And if you are interested yourself in reading it, skip after the paragraph below because I wrote a bunch of spoilers.

It\’s about a rich boy Caleb, who wants to take a gap year partying and touring Europe with his cousin before college. Gets in trouble with his dad and has to do an internship at the company, required to attend all the public functions thrown by said company. He needs a date for all these events, but has already burned his bridges with every available female in his social circle. There\’s an incident in the country club where he\’s dining when dumps his current girlfriend, and the waitress Didi catches his eye. So he ends up asking her to be his fake girlfriend for the summer, and in return he will pose for her (she\’s an artist).

It\’s a complete mismatch. Caleb lives in a mansion, drives sporty cars, throws money around like it\’s nothing. Didi and her mother barely make ends meet, her mom has to work several jobs and sometimes they have to decide between paying the electric bill, or for Didi\’s medications. Of course, in spite of this huge disparity and predictable a mile away, Did and Caleb fall in love regardless. Most of the story is about the social affairs they attend, and the constant not-so-subtle flirting between Didi and Caleb. To her credit, I liked Didi. She\’s thrown into a completely foreign environment; alternately stunned, bemused or offended when Caleb or his cousin offer to casually buy her things (a new cell phone, outfits, accessories and makeup for the parties), navigates the social circles with apparent ease at the functions- thrilled by the excitement and lavish gatherings more than anything else. But after all the thrills and heightened feelings, there\’s got to be a down. A really hard one, because Didi deliberately goes off her meds (so she can paint more) and then there\’s literally a crash. (Annoyingly, all the scenes in the hospital felt unrealistic). Caleb finally finds out about her diagnosis, and it looks like it might be the end. But the man cuts short his Europe trip to return- Didi is unlike any other girl he\’s known, and he really does love her, so he comes back and declares (in a wonderfully romantic museum setting date) that he will stick with her regardless of the difficulties ahead. Really lovely ending, but it all just felt so poorly described to me. The parts about Didi being bipolar didn\’t feel like a main part of the story, just an additional characteristic to support part of the plot, which was disappointing. And I liked that she was an artist, but that part didn\’t feel real to me either. Oh well.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                   231 pages, 2016

more opinions:
Rhapsody in Books
Buried in Books

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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