A friend loaned me this book a while back and I've been on and off enthusiastic about reading it. There are some parts that are very helpful, some parts that are difficult to work through, triggering all sorts of responses from mee, and some parts that I find pretty reductive and/or downright disagree with. I think for anyone who has never had the benefit of working directly with a good therapist, it's a very good starting point. But as happens with most books like this, it's trying to be all things to all people and so it is a bit lacking in nuance, I feel. I'm not rushing out to buy it but I wouldn't dismiss out of hand the idea of coming back to it and reading it again. Again, like many books of this type, you'll probably take different things from it each time, depending on where you are in your life at any particular time of reading.
At any rate, there is plenty of food for thought and I wanted to make a note of some of the stuff I've marked. Having read most of it a couple of months ago, I can't always remember why I marked everything (I wish I could get over my dislike of writing in books although given that this is someone else's book, I couldn't have done that anyway) but I'm sure I had good reasons for all those little bookmarks. I found it interesting, although it's probably not surprising, that I flew through and didn't take much from the section on Anger and Anxiety yet spent much longer on and had to work through, rather than just read, the sections on Depression, Self-Esteem and Social Anxiety.
One thing that I think he does very well is the section on suicide and especially how to act around someone who may be suicidal. There's some really good, practical tips and advice there. Suicide is a huge problem all over the world and I don't think I know anyone in Ireland who hasn't been lost someone to suicide, even if "only" an acquaintance. It is a huge problem there and it's good to see it being talked about more and more over the last few years.
Page 54: Sometimes we Irish find it hard to do affirmations. It is a part of self-expression that has been squashed over time by powerful others. Despite the Irish saying "Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí" ("Praise the young and they will bloom"), certainly for those of us who are middle aged and older, praise is not something we commonly heard from authority figures when we were growing up. It did not seem to be part of the philosophy of the majority of the religious who ran our schools. Finding fault was considered the most effective way to form our characters.
Page 56: There is one fundamental finding from over 125 years of psychological science: you can act your way into a feeling, but you cannot feel your way into an act.
Imperfection. It's okay, it's real, to be imperfect. Don't seek perfection. Don't let perfection become the enemy of the good. Most people who are perfect are unhappy.
Nutrition. Take care of your body - it's the only place you live in.
[It's possible I was also annoyed by this one, and that's why I marked the page so I'm adding in anyway]Faith. The power of faith can offer help, support and sustenance during times of need.
Page 88: [Given that I also marked this page, I think it was likely that I was getting annoyed at the reference to faith. I know many people get great comfort from their faith but, coloured by my own experiences obviously, I also think it's something of a cop-out and shouldn't be given much, if any, of a role when it comes to achieving good mental health. And even using the slightly ambiguous "faith" or the even more ambiguous "spiritual" it seems to me that in 99% of cases, at least where I come from, that faith/sprituality is going to mean "religion", which is exactly what can be least helpful when it comes to achieving good mental health.]Be spiritual. Faith, prayer and spirituality play an incredible role in some people's emotional life. There is massive research to show that all of these act as important stress buffers. Many of us have latent beliefts that could be activated. This can afford you another avenue for growth and exploration.
Page 89: Get out of your comfort zone. We need to challenge and to stretch ourselves; otherwise our world only gets smaller. I know people who have had a lifetime full of money and yet won't spend any on themselves - generous, thoughtful people who won't go on a holiday, who number their successful days by how little they have spent, who won't go out for a meal. Why? You only live once. [YOLO should possibly become like a Godwin's Law - whoever uses it as a justification for anything loses their argument. In any case, the implication that not spending money will make you miserable is something I really, really dislike because too many people will grasp immediately onto the idea that spending money will make you happy. And that's something, I'm fairly certain, that has been disproved fairly often. This is one of those instances where I feel the book is very reductive and lacking nuance.]
Page 106: Doing things for a quiet life is a barrier between you and your real self.
Page 128: Major life events, such as bereavement, unemployment, illness, a new baby, separation and divorce may trigger a depression, but such life events in themselves do not cause depression or bipolar. [This is important for me to remember. No matter how often I accept that depression in an illness, each relapse can feel like a failure, rather than simply a relapse.]
Page 132: You will find that the terminus of depression isn't an inevitable one, and that the course of that train journey can be changed. While the beginning is always the hardest, once you tell yourself that there is hope, anything is possible.
Page 140/141: For some people, though not all, who experience depression, their early childhood may be characterised by emotional loss and sadness. Sometimes this loss is tangible - say, the death of a parent; for others the loss is more subtle: the non-availability of love, growing up in a cold or harsh environment. In these circumstances something is missing, but this goes unrecognised, because the state of loss becomes the child's norm.
Page 146: There is increasing evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness in the treatment of depression and, importantly, in the prevention of relapses.
Page 152: With depression, you have a negative lens on the world that filters out positive achievements and positive personal qualities.
Page 153/154 lists a load of qualities and tells you to choose those you possess. I remember doing something similar with my own therapist at the beginning, when I struggled to find the words to say how I was feeling and he would hand me a list to choose from. And since I often struggle to find good things to think about myself, this will be a very useful tool.
Accountable, adaptable, adventurous, alert, ambitious, appropriate, assertive, astute, attentive, authentic, aware, brave, calm, candid, capable, certain, charismatic, clear, collaborative, committed, compassion, connected, conscious, considerate, consistent, contributor, cooperative, courageous, creative, curious, dedicated, determined, diplomatic, direct, disciplined, dynamic, easy-going, effective, efficient, empathetic, empowering, energetic, enthusiastic, ethical, excited, expressive, facilitating, fair, faithful, fearless, flexible, friendly, generous, good, communicatior, gracious, happy, hard-working, have integrity, honest, honourable, humourous, imaginative, immaculate, independent, innovative, inquiring, integrated, intelligent, intentional, interested, intimate, intuitive, joyful, knowledgeable, leading, listener, lively, logical, loving, loyal, loyal comrade, manges time well, networker, nurturing, open-minded, optimistic, organised, patient, peaceful, planner, playful, poised, polite, powerful, practical, present, proactive, problem-solver, productive, punctual, reliable, resourceful, responsible, self-confident, self-generating, self-reliant, sense of humour, sensual, serves others, sincere, skilful, spiritual, spontaneous, stable, strong, successful, supportive, tactful, trusting trustworthy, truthful, versatile, vibrant, warm, willing, wise, zealous.
Page 162: The advice I give here is generic, based on my experiences.
This is no substitute for an individualised mental health assessment
that takes into account your unique story, desires, beliefs. [So glad
this comes up and feel it cannot be repeated often enough. This book is
an excellent tool but it will not be able to fully replace proper
therapy with a competent professional.]
Page 167: Because depression is so insidious - it can creep up on you, grab you and potentially choke the life out of you - the treatment needs to be incredibly proactive, utilising multiple approaches simultaneously.
Page 182: "Thoughts are thoughts - they are not facts."
Page 189: [I'm including this because it is important and if you feel so inclined, please find the corresponding information for your country and post it on your blog or anywhere else it might reach somebody. It's given as part of the Safety Contract and Plan.] If you are feeling suicidal contact Samaritans (in Ireland) on Freephone 116 123 or Console (in Ireland) 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444. A quick google gave me the following numbers for Germany: 0 800 / 111 0 111 and 0 800 / 111 0 222.
Page 191: Your life is worth living. You have a lot to offer. With the right help and support, you will move to a place of hope; to a place where you will grow, be nurtured and nurture others; to a place where you will be loved and you will love others. In may not seem like that now. But you can move towards a life in which you will live with compassion towards yourself and others. You have so much to give. You have so much more to grow. Give yourself time and space to live authentically.
Page 192: ...I believe we need to have a broader national conversation about living well - a conversation that moves beyond mental health to the development of mental and emotional fitness as a proactive strategy to protect ourselves and our youth.
Page 249: People who are constantly putting others down, criticsing everything and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger.
Page 259: That's what self-esteem is: our internal evaluation of our worth. ... ... ... We all see ourselves in the light of the attitudes, comments and reactions expressed by others - parents, teachers and friends - in our younger years. Recovering from the negative messages we absorbed in those years can take a lot of effort.
Page 262: Your self-esteem develops in childhood and during your teenage years. Events and how you are treated during those times can affect how you think of yourself as an adult. ... ... ...Having low self-esteem means that you believe yourself to be of little value. Factors leading to low self-esteem often occur when you are young and vulnerable.
Page 263: Similarly, low self-esteem is a drag on you; it complicates your ability to navigate the inevitable challenges that arise in your life; and even when everything is plain sailing, it stops you from progressing with as much purpose and direction as you might otherwise have.
Page 270: Similarly, with low self-esteem you have a selective lens on the world that filters out your positive achievments and positive personal qualities.
Page 272: When things don't go right, don't be hard on yourself. Remember to aim for "good enough". There is no such thing as perfection. The person who seeks perfection is more often than not a very unhappy person. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough. [Something my recent American visitors said to me and I remember at the time thinking that although I'd heard it before, it had never really resonated so much before. I'm thinking of printing it out and framing it for my wall. Perfectionism, trying to accept that that's what I do/what holds me back and how to deal with it might be the next big thing I have to try and deal with. It has kept coming up as a theme over and over from multiple sources over the last few months.]
Page 276: When you were growing up, you may not have learned how to take good care of yourself. In fact, much of your energy may have been expended on just getting by, or on taking care of others, or on being "well behaved". It's now time to take good care of yourself. Treat yourself as a good parent would treat a young child, in a nurturing and encouraging way, or as one very best friend might treat another. If you work at taking good care of yourself, you will find that you feel better about yourself. Learning to look after yourself is important: it gives you the energy to tackle other things that are going on in your life.
Page 312: So weigh yourself at least once a week to track your progress. [Aaaaaggghhh. The entire section on Emotional Eating simply left me with the impression that this is not at all his area of expertise. He kind of (not quite but kind of) conflates emotional eating and eating disorders and in the process does neither any favours. Again though, this is all very coloured by my own experiences.]
Page 322: Not even going to type what he says here. He lists the different types of emotional eating as blowout, grazing, compulsive overeating, food addiction (saying that food addiction is an extreme form of compulsive overeating). When last I checked (about eight years ago) compulsive overeating was not listed in the DSM as an eating disorder (nor was food addiction). I joked with my therapist that until they gave it a Latin name, it wouldn't be taken seriously as an eating disorder. I do know, however, that I had always struggled with the label "food addict", at first grateful that there was a label and then disappointed that it just didn't really say what it was. Attending my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting and hearing people introducing themselves as compulsive overeaters, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I'd never heard the phrase before and it was just so much more accurate than food addict. I'm obviously not a mental health professional and things may have moved on so that his descriptions are indeed what is now the accepted norm but, all in all, I wasn't impressed with this part of the book.
Page 358 (a section in the appendix on how to find the right therapist): How many session do you think I'll need? I am not a big fan of therapy that doesn't end or that goes on for years. It says to me that the emotional control (power) in this situation is with the therapist and not with you. Any experienced therapist will know how long they work with most of their clients and will be able to give you a ball-park figure of the number of sessions you can expect to have. [I wonder if this is the kind of thing therapists argue about all the time. Or if it's a CBT versus psycho analysis thing, perhaps? It seems to me that any therapist who tells you in your first session or even before your first session that you can expect x number of sesssions is the very opposite of a good therapist. How many people would then expect to be "fixed" after about that many sessions and feel like a failure if they weren't? It took me almost a year to be able to get through a therapy session without crying for the best part of the hour. How could anyone have predicted that in the first couple of sessions with my relatively straightforward, not terribly serious issues? It was only during many months of work that some of the more serious issues even came to light.]
Overall, this is an excellent book and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants to start looking at their own mental health or refresh themselves on things they may have forgotten. I hope I haven't fallen foul of any publishing/copyright issues by typing out so much (if so, publishers please contact me and I will remove those parts of this post). I suspect I'll end up buying my own copy of this as I think it'll be a useful tool to have around from time to time but for now these notes will do.