The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast, you must first make it beautiful”
Sarah Wilson has been diagnosed over the years, everything from anxiety to depression to bipolar. She’s been on medication, off-medication, happy and functional, manic and gone and suicidal. This is a book for people who suffer from what she refers to as anxiety, but covers any sort of mental health issue where you feel like your brain doesn’t mesh with life.
This book is less a treatise on how to live with anxiety and more of a blend between memoir, research, blogging, and self-help held together by the common theme of anxiety.
For the most it worked well. Wilson writes from a very personal place yet still manages to make it feel general in a way that can be applied to your own life.
I’m not sure you can review this book fairly without disclosing your own mental health, much of it felt like a kindred spirit, and the sense of “finally-someone-has-a-brain-like-me” carried me through a lot of the book. The first half of this book was especially intriguing. As someone who has had multiple diagnoses over the years, gone into treatment, gone out of treatment, been fine, only to find the beast return later with a different head, the idea that you’ll never be cured is one that I’ve personally had to wrestle with, because I’m a fixer DAMMIT! I make stuff happen! So for the first half of this book I was fist-pump-in-the-air excited to learn that I was FINE. That my brain was cool and awesome and unique and enough and that I was going to do GREAT THINGS.
Then the issues start arising as Wilson dives deeper into her own personal strategies for managing her mental health. She tries and dismisses so many things that it makes you dizzy and mostly goes against her own advice of accepting and inviting in. She brings out her own personal theories about stuff which is hit and miss.
Cognitive behavioural theory is grand, yet anyone who lives with mental illness knows the frustration of having to put in miles of work before anybody else is even up, so you can go to school, to work, to parties and be normal™. And sometimes this is just too exhausting and we want an out, to be able to be more like other people who just get up and go, to live life without rituals, rules, and rigid structures. Wilson dismisses CBT and says that we must instead understand why we feel anxious and then the healing will come. Reality is probably somewhere in between this; understand the why so that we can fix the real problem with CBT.
Anyways, the second half of the book is Winston admitting that even as she set out to make the beast beautiful she’s still not fine. While she had loads of lofty thoughts about mental illness and the function of anxious brains in communities, and loads of ressources to travel the world to “fix” it, she didn’t fix it. She might have put some lipstick on the beast, but it is not beautiful and so she cannot conquer it.
The fatphobia in this book also runs rampant and I am not a fan of her “I Quit Sugar” initiative. She speaks often of running and hiking in order to deal with her anxiety as well as eating healthily. This reads like a huge red-flag to me. Just because your rules about food are socially acceptable, does not mean that they’re not irrational rules grounded in a disorder.
The language and structure of this book is choppy and jumpy and exactly like living in my own mind to the point where my heart started racing and my mind felt inflamed. For some this book will read as light and conversational, but I had to put it down and I often found myself longing for a quiet book, with long flowing sentences about scented flowers and soft grasses.
So in the end this Wilson does the best she can, as someone who has no answers yet, to remind us to sit in the pain, to accept it and find the beauty where we can. It is a valuable lesson, but not one that needed to be 300 pages long. Read this potato instead.
CBR10Bingo: Cover Art. I’d actually read a review somewhere that this book was “eh, so so.” But then I saw the book in the library and it was so pretty and irresistable that I had to pick it up.