Book Review: I Wanna Be Well (Miguel Chen)

I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads Link | Author Website

Interesting reading, if a bit sweary.

TL;DR – Bite sized chunks of wisdom, spiritual insights and self-help guidance from the punk perspective.


Ragdoll Rating: 4/5 Buttons

Recommended For: People with a more sceptical view of spirituality, who want to dip their toes in the water

About the Book…

I Wanna Be Well is sort of spiritual smorgasbord, in a good way. Drawing from a range of sources from Buddhism, yoga, the 12-Step program and others, Miguel Chen provides insights and advice, backed up by years of experience practicing what he preaches.

Each chapter takes up a specific issue, for example, breathing, compassion, forgiveness, and explains the concepts with reference to various spiritual traditions and Miguel’s own life story. Each chapter ends with a different practice for you to try, drawn from a number of sources.

What I thought…

I almost gave up on this book quite early on, because if I’m being completely honest, I was thrown by the authors use of swearing. I’m not opposed to swearing, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t swear myself, but for some reason it felt abrasive, and it made me uncomfortable. Having completed the book, I would reassess that position, and suggest that in reality it is just the way the author talks, and this book is written in an informal style to help better engage people who might find all this ‘spiritual talk’ dry and hard to follow if it was written in the style I am accustomed to. I’m still not sure I like it, but I do at least understand it.

The content of the book is actually pretty good. Miguel uses examples from his own life to explain various concepts in a simple and informal way, and offers regular reminders that none of the stuff in the book needs to be thought of as inherently religious or spiritual, it’s just useful things to help calm your mind and help you live your best life.

At the end of each chapter, there is a practice to do, broken down into simple steps and with a tl;dr after each if you just want an overview. I actually really liked this, as it tied everything together nicely. I imagine if you picked this book up and read a chapter a day, or every other day, by the time you finished you would have a really good set of tools to help you cope with life. There are also step by step pictorial instructions for the various sets of yoga practices the book contains, which I thought was another useful touch.

Final Thoughts…

I’m glad I finished this book. The writing style caught me off-guard, and kept me that way, but the practices and explanations contained in this book made that small discomfort worth enduring. Actually, thinking about it, I could have probably done with this book as a teen.

Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Changing Ways (Julia Tannenbaum)

I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads Link | Author Website


Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Anybody who wants to take a gut-punch to the feels (in a good way).

About the Book…

TW: This book contains details of self harm, anorexia and other mental health issues, psychiatric wards and hospitals.

For Grace Edwards, life is a bit of an emotional storm. Her father left after her mother had an affair. That, combined with the usual high school horrors would make anyone miserable. But it’s not all bad. Her dream of playing varsity soccer has just come true, and things are starting to look up. Then it all falls apart.

Grace finds herself hauled off to a psychiatric ward and gets hit with a scary diagnosis. Anorexia.

Changing Ways follows Grace through the early stages of her battle with her mental health demons.

What I thought…

I’ll start this section with a warning. I had to stop reading after a few chapters as I was in a bad mental health place myself, and if I’m honest, this book cut pretty close to the bone. Having now completed the book, I’m really glad I waited until I felt better. The content of this book is obviously emotionally complex and if you’ve been through something similar, can be difficult, even triggering to read. But it’s worth it, when you’re in a better head space.

My first impressions of this book were primarily curiosity. This book is set in the US, the land of private health care, and I’m in the UK where we have the NHS. I was really amazed at the difference in mental health provision between the two countries. I even took to twitter to ask for confirmation that this as an accurate representation of how things worked over there. Apparently it is! For those of you who are interested, I’ve been in a psychiatric ward twice in my life for various reasons, and it took an incredible amount of effort and problems to get there. Grace goes from being caught self-harming to a psychiatric facility in a matter of hours, which is apparently standard practice. It was quite the culture shock, but as it turns out this disconnect in experience really opened up the rest of the book for me.

Since Grace is whisked off immediately for observation, she really doesn’t want to be in the facility. She doesn’t see the point and she resists at every turn. The idea of the controlled environment and treatment plans makes her feel infantlized and robbed of her independence. Her diagnosis makes her feel broken, and it’s heartbreaking, but also infuriating because from the outside you can see how damaging it is. From my point of view, it was a really insightful look at how mental illness affects those around us which is so difficult to consider when you’re in the throws of your own crisis.

Eventually Grace is moved on to an outpatient program, and it would have been easy at this point, to want Grace to just get better and stay that way, especially considering how terrified Grace is about being forced back into hospital. But she doesn’t. As Tannenbaum so rightly suggests, recovery takes time, a lot of time, and you don’t just leave the hospital feeling fine. Grace finds herself in a program for people with eating disorders, and her struggles increase when she start comparing herself to other, thinner patients.

Throughout the book, Grace’s ability to cope and follow her treatment plan fluctuates. Sometimes she struggles, other times it’s a little easier. Grace’s recovery isn’t just a steady climb back to normal, and actually at the end of the book (If you want to avoid the spoiler, skip the rest of this paragraph) Grace finds herself back in hospital over Christmas, her worst fears realised, and obviously, she hates it. It sounds like a miserable ending, but actually it’s beautiful.

My favourite part of this book, I think, comes towards the end, when Grace is having one of her better periods, and she is sitting round the table waiting for another girl to finish her small meal for over an hour. This is something Grace has struggled with herself throughout the book, but she is infuriated. She wants to grab the girl by her shoulders and shake her back to sense. It’s a beautiful moment, because this was how I’d been feeling for most of the book, and Grace has the clarity of mind to notice that this is something she has found difficult.

“I wanted to shake her bony shoulders and exclaim, “Just eat already! Why can’t you just eat!?”
But I didn’t. Instead, I played with the new admission bracelet around my wrist and reminded myself that not too long ago, I was her; petrified of every bite, every calorie that entered my body.”

It was a wonderful moment, because this is such a difficult thing to come to terms with, and it made me hopeful that this knowledge would fortify Grace in her difficult periods.

Final Thoughts…

Changing Ways is a story of complex and difficult concepts, written in a way that is incredibly easy to read. It is emotionally draining at times, and beautiful throughout. I love it when I read something that makes me feel like the author understands a bit of my world, and that is exactly how I felt reading this book. I’m so glad I read it.

Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Notes on a Nervous Planet (Matt Haig)

Goodreads Link | Author Website

Insightful, thought provoking, and very, very real.

TL;DR – This book takes a good, hard look at anxiety, grabs it by the collar and yells “Not today!”

5 Button


Why I read it…

My mum used to read my chapters of “Reasons to Stay Alive” at night, during one of my worst periods of mental ill-health, I’m not sure how much of it I took in, but it just seemed that reading Haig’s latest offering would be a good idea during my most recent mental health crisis.

The Book…

I suppose you could call this book a self help book, but that doesn’t cover it. More accurately, I supposed it is a collection of ‘anxiety things’, bunched together into a really helpful little manual.

The purpose of the book is to take a good hard look at anxiety, it’s effects on society, and societies effects on it. Through personal stories, quotations, lists and data, Haig takes us through the world of anxiety and offers us things we can do to combat it.

I suppose the big take-away from this book is that modern society is a breeding ground for stress and anxiety, and human beings have not had time to adapt to it. BUT, there are ways to make things feel that little bit better.

This book isn’t going to be a one-stop cure for anxiety disorders, and it isn’t supposed to be. It’s just a collection of useful information and tips, to make something really bad, a little easier.

What I liked…

I suppose the thing I like most about this book (and “Reasons to Stay Alive”) is the fact that Matt Haig doesn’t hold back on his personal experience. He’s not afraid to stand up and talk about his mental health, and to talk about it in detail. One of the parts that stuck out most for me, was when Matt talks about having a panic attack in a shopping center – being surrounded by crowds, being in tears and feeling like the worst has happened. It stuck out for me because I’ve been there, but also because outside of a group therapy session I’ve never heard anyone talk about that before. It’s one of those things that are really hard for people to understand, because they don’t necessarily make sense. These stories of his personal struggles – and the distinct lack of pointless psycho-babble and other rubbish – make the book really relatable, and help to make the rest of the book easier to engage with.

The problem with a lot of books on anything mental health related, is the tendency for them to be written by people who have never personally experienced the things they are talking about, written using a whole bunch of technical sounding terms that tend to just come off as annoying. THIS BOOK DOES NOT DO THIS. The whole book is written in really simple language – as if Haig was sitting in the room telling you his story, instead of you reading it. It’s comforting, and much more approachable. But he also only gives you advice he has tried, and more importantly, he admits the bits of advice he finds hard to follow himself, or that he isn’t very good at doing. It is infinitely easier to follow the advice of someone you  just know understands how overwhelming the advice seems. Someone who freely admits they should be doing something, but they aren’t good at it. Stuff they are trying to get better at.

I also love the way that the book puts focus on the way modern society affects us and can cause us considerable stress and anxiety. Haig explains how elements of society, for example shops or social media or news rely completely on people not feeling content. Feeling they need more, or that something isn’t ‘quite right’. How social media is designed to reward extremes of opinion. Or how the constant stream of camera-phone footage of horrible things happening, can make us feel more involved but also more scared of current events than we ever have been before. He also talks about how many of the things we do day-to-day, are like an addiction. Compulsively checking social media, or taking quick email breaks instead of focusing on one thing at a time. It’s hard to take in frankly. But it is true – I didn’t realise how many random marketing emails I saw every single day until I started unsubscribing from them as a result of reading this book.

Obviously Haig isn’t the only person ever to have spoken about this kind of thing, but he is the only person I’ve come across who managed to put it so clearly, and so obviously that I felt compelled to do something about it.

One final thing I loved about this book was the format. This book has no consistent structure. It is, as Haig puts it, ‘intentionally disorganised’. Each chapter starts with a quote or two, and then the chapter is broken up into seemingly random segments. There are lists, personal stories, data from psychological studies, advice, analysis of society, anxiety and stress…and so on. The reason I love this formatless format so much, is because it makes the whole thing so much easier to take in. You don’t get pages and pages and pages of advice from someone who doesn’t care if you follow it or not. You don’t get long explanations of complex quotations from someone who cares more about coming across intellectual than a ‘real’ person. You get little bits and pieces. Here a story about panic attacks, there a list of things that have gotten faster in recent years, here a bit about addiction and social media, there a little happy thought or bright idea. Mental health is hard to read about, especially when every story can trigger memories of your own – but this quirky little format experiment breaks it all up, and makes for a peculiar, but brilliant read.

What I disliked…

I didn’t dislike anything about the book. I disliked how I felt reading it at times, but that is obviously not Matt Haig’s fault.

One thing you should note, is that Matt does talk about suicide at times so if that’s a trigger for you, be aware.

Final thoughts…

This book made me feel a little less alone. I think everyone should read it, just to get a real, pure look into mental health problems.

Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!