Three Things I Wish I’d Known About My Mental Health

Have you been asked the question: “If you could go back into your past and do things differently, would you?”

I have, and while I definitely wish I could change past events and decisions, I know that I am in the place I am in now because of those choices. I wouldn’t change my history, but there are some things I wish I had known 20 years ago, especially about my serious mental illnesses (SMIs).

Medication Can Help Your Serious Mental Illness

Medication isn’t the villain, but it’s not the hero either.

I fought taking my prescription medication for my depression and anxiety for years. I thought that once I started to feel better, I could stop the regimen of daily pills. I didn’t want to be attached to pill bottles and med schedules when I was 19. I saw those as yet more weaknesses to my already flawed personhood. One night, after another relapse because I’d stopped my meds, my dad used the metaphor that if I had diabetes, I would take insulin every day without fighting it. My meds were the same thing, just to help my brain instead of my liver. That metaphor made an impact on me, but I still didn’t value the full benefits of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. They were the first expense to ignore when money was tight. I didn’t prioritize getting my refills like I should have.

It took years for me to understand and accept that these meds help me, but I hate that they don’t solve the problems. So often in society we see quick fixes — pills or shots or shortcuts — as the cure-alls to our pain. Some do their jobs, others don’t. Prescribing mental health meds is most often a painstaking process of balancing a cocktail of meds, finding one that works but for only one symptom, adding another to address something else, adjusting both over the course of months to get the milligrams and timing exactly right, and then one may stop working inexplicably, so the process begins again. After decades of starting and stopping medicines ranging from lithium to Effexor to Adderall to klonopin, I have come closer to a cocktail that works for me than I ever have, but the pills don’t solve everything. They’re more a supplement, a piece of the puzzle that moderates my brain chemistry.

You Are an Imperfect Human

Mistakes will be made.

I have created so much mental anguish in my life by ruminated over every mistake, whether minor or life-altering, because I believe that if I do all the things the right way, with zero errors, then I will avoid tragedy, I will be accepted, and people will love me. I realize that is not how life works. As my dad said, “Shit happens.” But I do still believe that perfection is attainable. I am a perfectionist who seeks external validation and who has abandonment issues. But I do recognize that mistakes will be made, and I know that I have work to do. That work means walking myself back from the catastrophic thinking that I must throw myself off a cliff because I made a mistake, forgot that request, didn’t parent the ‘right’ way, gained that pound. I know better now, so I have to do better. And that work, friends, is hard.

I’m retraining myself, building new paths of synapses for neurotransmitters to speed through my brain so that I can move on from a mistake, recognize that to err is human, and it’s how you recover from a mistake that matters. What I wish I’d known since childhood is that I’m allowed to make mistakes, that just because I’m not perfect does not mean that I’m unloveable. I have a sign in my office now that says, “I love you anyway.” That’s a great sentiment, but teaching myself that it’s true is harder than expected. Learning that I’m a fallible human being and still acceptable and that my accountability, a personality trait of which I am most proud, will help me fix the mistake and do better next time.

Knowing that years ago would have given me decades more to practice, and what would that look like now? I have a glimmer of that image in my head, how I would be able to unclench, to give myself grace, and to at least remotely believe that I am loved anyway, even when I make mistakes.

Asking for Help Does Not Make You Weak

Get support to climb out of the dark hole.

I do not like to ask for help. I continually see the need for help as a sign of weakness and incapability. When I have been in the dark hole of depression, the sucking-all-light-from-life place that is certainly endless and the most lonely feeling that exists, I didn’t ask for help even when I wanted people to understand the pain that I was feeling. Those experiences were when the suicide attempts happened because swallowing pills and slicing into my skin where the only ways I could express my emotions. I was at a loss because when that level of depression hits, there is no next.

Thankfully, I haven’t fallen into that hole in a few years, but the thing with SMIs is that you always know the hole exists. It travels with you, planting itself just outside your home and showing its shadows when things feel uncertain. What I know now is that before I follow the shadows to the edge, I have to ask for help. What I know is that putting words to my emotions, defining how I feel in language out loud to someone safe, helps pull me back from the precipice. I don’t have all the words yet. I still describe my emotions with basic adjectives–bad, sad, angry, lost–but I know working on identifying my emotions will help me move farther away from the hole. And that means asking for help. Hiding the pain and how close I am to falling only makes the steps more slippery. The pain that I felt, the holes that I was in, could have been a bit more shallow, perhaps more manageable from the start if I had known to ask for help.

I know that hindsight gives a more comprehensive picture of what the world looks like, what the impact of decisions is, and how behavior changes the course of the future. I wouldn’t change my path, but knowing more about myself and my serious mental illnesses would have made the course a bit easier. I am grateful that I know now.

Three Signs of Burnout

The last five months have been difficult. It started with stress headaches at the beginning of November 2022, a culmination of pushing too hard for too long and putting work stress above all else and heightening anxiety that grew by the day. Then, those stress headaches morphed into piercing migraines that bounced between my temples to the crown of my head to right behind my eyeballs, rendering me essentially useless in my daily Type A functions. That added to my anxiety, because if I’m not performing at 100 percent, then what am I worth?

Neurology appointments, a cocktail menu of new prescriptions, and a lot of frustration later, it’s now April 2023, the second quarter of the year, and I’ve barely made a dent in my 23 in 2023 goals. I’ve lost my motivation and I’m desperate to get it back. So, in an effort to regain my mojo, I’ve decided to first identify three signs of burnout that I’m currently experiencing.

Sign 1: I’m Not Accomplishing My Weekly Goals

Beginning in January, I set a list of 23 goals to meet this year. To keep me on track, I keep a weekly checklist in my Notes app. For weeks I was diligent in reviewing those to-do activities and evaluating my progress at the end of the week. After all, checking off a to-do brings me a pleasure unlike much else. Until now. I’ve barely glanced at that weekly note over the past three weeks, and I’ve resigned myself to not accomplishing those activities. My rationale includes: There’s always next week and I’ve been sick; I deserve to take a break.

Sign 2: I’m Not Taking Care of My Physical Health

The migraines are nearly under control, thank God. My body seems to have adjusted to the medication, and this week was a milestone as I was able to go four days without the painful feeling in my brain that makes me want to drive a pencil through my left temple. Even yesterday, as I felt the pain start to radiate against my skull, I was able to sleep it off and function as an adult for the rest of the evening.

So that’s the great news. The bad news is that I’ve let the progress I’d been making for my health has gone to the wayside. I’ve gone from a regular 45- to 60-minute daily workout to a half-hearted five-minute yoga practice. I’ve cut my step count by half, and my resting heart rate is in the mid-60s compared to the mid-50s that it was in December. To top that off, the last two weeks are the first time in the years that I haven’t been drinking 128 ounces of water a day.

The result of all of these changes? I’m sluggish despite not having white-hot pain in my head every day. I’m exhausted every day despite not being active like I used to be. And, it’s no surprise that my weight change continues to bounce around the same five-pound range, and I’m burning fewer calories during the day. I’m shortening the runway to reach my goal of losing 50 pounds by the end of the year. This burnout is affecting my physical health, and it’s beyond frustrating. It’s bringing on a sense of failure because I’m not perfect and not motivated, which feeds into the cycle of not feeling good enough to do what I need to do and then being paralyzed to make the changes that I need to do and then beating myself up because I don’t do what I need to do.

Sign 3: My Attention Span is Nonexistent

One of my 23 in 2023 goals is to write three pages in my journal every day. I was on a great trajectory to really nail this goal, and I was seeing an impact on my life. For the first time in my life–after all the mental health therapy and the self-help books and plans to improve my world–I saw the value of writing down my thoughts, documenting the day’s activities, and capturing my emotions. I was reflecting on things and releasing pent-up feelings that would have likely erupted like a volcano otherwise.

But now, writing three pages feels like a monumental task. I’ll write a paragraph or sometimes just a few sentences and stop, turning to my phone to scroll through social media, check the news, find new Pinterest pins. I’ll resort to repeating myself just to fill the page. And it’s not just in my journalling practice. My attention span is nil when I’m trying to think through tasks and attack projects that need to be completed. Everything is taking twice as long because my thoughts feel like they’re planted in moors of dense, soupy fog that I can’t break through.

How Do I Beat the Burnout

I haven’t found the solution of how to resolve this burnout. The easy answer, the cliched advice is to just start doing the things, to attack it with the mindset that I have to do the things and by doing the things I will feel better. Do I know that this advice will likely work? Yes. But it feels so daunting, and frankly, I’m tired. So, here is my mini-list of the things I’m going to try to overcome this burnout:

  1. Take a few days off from work. I was honest with my boss. Work has been a marathon since January, and I’ve pushed myself to the brink. I’m grateful that she was understanding and encouraged me to take time off next week.
  2. Keep a gratitude list. I started this in March alongside my daily journalling practice. Writing down one thing for which I am grateful is important because I’m able to see that there are good things in the world, and I am looking at the big and small reasons to be grateful.
  3. Just do the next right thing. I have my weekly to-do list that’s related to my 23 in 2023 goals, but I’ve started writing down my daily to-do list as well. This helps delineate what has to be done today versus what could be done or what can wait. And, by telling myself that I just have to do the next right thing, whether it’s just taking a step outside and then walking a mile after I put my shoes on, that’s a win because it’s a mile that I didn’t walk the day before.
  4. Realize that it’s okay not to be perfect. I’m learning a lot about the downfalls of perfectionism, and I can see how it affects my life and my approach to the world. My need to be perfect is a key part of why I’m feeling burned out. Reminding myself that no one is perfect and that good enough is okay too can be a great achievement.

Do you ever feel burned out? How do you deal with it?

Six Years Later… Grieving My Dad and How It’s Changed

Friday marked the sixth anniversary of my dad’s death. In many ways, I’ve defined the past six years by his absence. While he would have hated the term “daddy’s girl,” I was definitely that. I’m the youngest child (by a lot), and I spent a lot of time with Dad. We had similar interests; he is the one who taught me to love reading. He taught me to work hard and never to accept anything less than 100% from myself. And, he was the one I could talk to most freely about my mental illness. He didn’t understand every nuance of my depression, anxiety, or eating disorder, but he listened and oftentimes didn’t give advice. He just let me talk so that I put words to the pain and sometimes work things out on my own. When I was fighting the idea of having to take medication for my mental health, he was the first to use the metaphor: “If you had diabetes, you would take insulin every day and wouldn’t be ashamed of it, would you? This is the same thing, just for your brain.”

So, I loved my dad deeply. I know that I’ve built him up to a hero’s status in my mind, but that is who he is to me. He was not perfect and never claimed to be. I didn’t always agree with him, we had plenty of arguments, and my teenage self was embarrassed by him often; things that I think are all normal in a father-daughter relationship.

Anyway. I woke up this Friday morning early, thinking about how six years ago I was awakened by my phone ringing with my brother on the other end of the line to tell me that Dad had passed away. I hugged my husband and went upstairs in my parents’ house to tell Mom, in the dusky darkness of a February morning, that he was gone.

It wasn’t unexpected. Dad had his first stroke years before and had rallied, beaten prostrate cancer, and then experienced multiple transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs or mini-strokes). Within the last six months of his life, he’d fallen and could no longer live at home without 24-hour support. I desperately didn’t want to let him go, but I didn’t want to see him suffer anymore. None of us did. When I got home that Monday night before his death, I immediately went to his care facility and stayed up all night with him. I just wanted more time. I hadn’t lived in the same state as Mom and Dad for 10 years. We saw each other three to four times a year, depending on everyone’s schedule and when we could gather all the kids.

But, he wasn’t the same Dad I knew anymore, this husk of a man in a hospital bed. He would have been raging at us all in frustration because of how much he’d declined. He would have been furious with himself. Still, it was so hard.

How My Grief Has Changed

One of the trite statements people tell you after you lose someone is that grief gets easier the longer someone is gone. I appreciate their support and their desire to comfort, but I disagree. Grief doesn’t get easier. It changes. For me, my grief of losing Dad was a huge, raw wound I carried on my body for at least a year. Slowly, that wound started to scab over, but it was still there. But I don’t believe that it has dissipated or lessened. I think it’s morphed into a part of my being. It’s like that patch of skin on my elbow that I don’t think about every day, but I know it’s there, and when it itches, I’m keenly aware of that small part of myself. Sometimes all it takes is a simple brush of the hand against my skin to calm the itch, like when I share a memory of Dad and blink away tears. But other times, the itch is rampant, and I scratch it until it bleeds. The only thing that helps is balm and bandages, and the only thing that helps with my grief is wrapping myself in a blanket and lying there with my memories and my tears.

I’d planned on doing many things on Friday to honor Dad, to change the narrative of it being a day of itch-scratching and solitude. But, my body had different plans, with a painful migraine and interrupted sleep all night. Still, I did take a long walk to move my body — something Dad firmly believed in — and I hugged my loved ones. And, I know that it’s not just about memorializing February 17, 2017; I know it’s about living a life that he wanted for me: one that is physically and mentally healthy, full of love for my family, and with a strong work ethic to achieve goals.

23 in 2023

I had every intention of publishing this post on January 1st, but failed! Luckily, I’d put a lot of thought into the following already, so here it goes–out into the interwebs and ready to keep me accountable.

Taking inspiration from others, I decided to put together my list of 23 in 2023: 23 goals I want to accomplish this year. Some are small, indulgent plans while others are big and life-impacting. So here it goes.

23 Goals for 2023

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with Jim every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with Jim
  8. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  9. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  10. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  11. Run an in-person 5K race
  12. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  13. Go sugar-free for a week
  14. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  15. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day
  16. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  17. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation
  18. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  19. Keep a personal budget of $250 per month
  20. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  21. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  22. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  23. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Because I love to segment and chunk a list into categories, I focused on several different areas of my life for this list.

Focus 1: Stronger Relationships

First, there are the relationship goals that focus on spending time with my family, expressing my love, and growing my faith. There are seven of these relationship-based goals.

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with my husband every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with my husband

Focus 2: Better Physical Health

And then there are the health goals, which range from cooking more to building a better, healthier body. There are eight goals here, but the most important ones to me are Numbers 2 and 7, losing weight and stopping my binge eating behaviors.

  1. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  2. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  3. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  4. Run an in-person 5K race
  5. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  6. Go sugar-free for a week
  7. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  8. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day

Another goal that needs to be on this portion of the list is to identify the cause of my migraines and find some type of regimen that keeps them at bay.

Focus 3: Improved Mental Health

Obviously it’s integral for me to achieve better mental health. 2022 was a year filled with anxiety, more so than depression, so I’m keyed into the importance of better mental health. There are only two goals on this portion of the list, but they’re really important.

  1. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  2. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation

Focus 4: More Creativity, Less Spending

This last category of my 23 in 2023 is a catch-all of how I want to be more creative and more discerning about my entertainment. Some of these are very indulgent – like growing my Bookstagram (@jessicareadsmanybooks), but hey, they’re still goals.

  1. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  2. Keep a personal monthly budget for entertainment (i.e. books)
  3. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  4. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  5. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  6. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Next Steps

So how is my progress so far? Well, it’s the fourth Sunday of the year, and we haven’t been to church yet. I’ve gained about 2.5 pounds, but I have walked/jogged 21 miles each week, and I’m pretty consistent about writing morning pages (or sometimes evening pages). I have started keeping weekly goal lists and monitoring everything so that I can make adjustments and see progress.

Do you have goals for 2023?

Five Stars for Someday, Maybe

Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli – A Five-Star Book Review

What would you do if you lost the person closest to you? And how would your response be if that person chose to leave by suicide? That’s what Eve, the protagonist of Someday, Maybe, must experience when she finds her husband, Quentin, in a pool of his own blood. Eve doesn’t know why her Q died by suicide. All she knows is grief at this unimaginable loss.

What I Loved about Someday, Maybe

This book, the debut by Onyi Nwabineli, is a deeply moving novel about grief, family (both born and found), and grappling with death. I loved Someday, Maybe for so many reasons, including the characters, the writing, and the message.

The Characters

Much of this book is a character study of a widow who is entrenched in guilt, shame, and loss as Eve tries to understand why Q would die by suicide. He did not leave a note, so there is no evident answer, despite Eve’s efforts to find the reasons. I loved Eve’s journey as her actions and thoughts were realistic and uncontrived. And, just as important, I loved the side characters in this story. From Eve’s Nigerian parents and grandmother, to her headstrong sister Gloria and her blunt brother Nate, to her best friend Bee and the people she meets along the way, these characters are four-dimensional, true-to-life loved ones who help Eve find her way. And then there’s Aspen, Q’s mother and Eve’s antagonist. Somehow Nwabineli makes this snobbish, hateful woman a realistic portrait of a mother in grief, too.

The Writing

I highlighted so many passages in Someday, Maybe. Not only are Nwabineli’s words powerful and impressive, but she fits together sentences and meanings, uses metaphor to show us the pain Eve feels, and lets us sit in Eve’s grief alongside her. This is one example:

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Onyi Nwabineli (Someday, Maybe, pg. 337)

The Message

Reading this book at the end of December 2022 (and finishing it on January 1, 2023) felt especially timely as we saw news of Stephen Laurel “tWitch” Boss’s suicide. News story after news story have posited questions about tWitch’s death by suicide, as the dancer and DJ appeared to have a happy family, career, and life. But it’s not our place to know all the details of why. It’s our job to have empathy for his family and friends, letting them grieve and share if/when they are ready. Also, it’s our job to understand that whatever outward presence a person shows is not always a true indicator of their internal thoughts, struggles, and feelings. That is the message that I felt carry through Someday, Maybe. Eve doesn’t understand why Q died by suicide. She feels shame for not being able to save him and shame for not seeing beneath his charismatic, successful exterior and place as her husband of more than a decade. She blames herself for not knowing he was in pain, and her journey in this book walks us through those stages of mourning and grief.

There aren’t enough adjectives to properly describe how much I loved Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli. Please just take my word for it, and pick up this book to experience on your own.

In the Existence of Mental Illness

Book Review

The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva

Amy is existing. She goes to work, makes excuses to avoid happy hours, and moves through life while knowing that simple existence is not right. She has something, a voice, a compulsion, a suffocating threat to any semblance of the life she used to have. Her friends continue to be there for her, but her secrecy, excuses, and separation keep her from accepting their kindness.

Lana Grace Riva has delivered a book that encapsulates mental illness, giving voice to every bit of Amy’s struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Reading Amy’s first-person account of her mental illness was true and gave a voice to what it’s like in the thick of it, not after years of medicine, therapy, and improvement. It’s a rare book that truly does this.

Thank you to Ms. Riva for gifting me with a copy of this book to review and provide my own thoughts about this valuable mental health novel.

Overthinking About You: A Read-Along

Mental health is a passion for me. I struggle with severe mental illness (SMI), as I’ve shared on here before. But mental illness doesn’t just impact the diagnosed; it impacts their loved ones and anyone close to them.

Mental health and relationships come with their own sets of challenges. I am so grateful for my husband who supports my mental health journey and who is my unbending advocate.

That’s why I was excited to participate in The Tandem Collective Global’s real-along for the book Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression by Allison Raskin (Workman Publishing). This read-along was a great way to immersive myself in the book and answer questions about my contributions to my marriage while dealing with SMI.

What I Liked about Overthinking About You

I loved the thoughtfulness of this book. Ms. Raskin writes with a warmth and honest approach about anxiety, OCD, and depression, and how to navigate relationships while you have a mental illness. Another quote that hit me hard: “I might not feel this way or see the world this way, but I acknowledge and respect that you do” (p. 90).

This book is practical advice, research from experts, and nuggets of wisdom. While Overthinking About You is written from the standpoint of new and relatively new relationships, I found the discussions about anxiety and conversations about mental health applicable to my marriage. My husband is incredible, but I know my mental health puts challenges on our relationship. And that’s on me.

Activities in the Read-Along

As I completed the read-along, I highlighted passages and filled my notebook pages with resonating words. Here are three statements that rang incredibly true for me:

  • A useful acronym to respond to anxiety – “STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed” (p. 40).
  • “It’s a lot more reasonable to ask someone to weather a storm with you when you already have a strong foundation” (p. 59).

And my absolute favorite:

“None of us are Superman, and that’s a good thing.”

Allison Raskin, Overthinking About You (p. 78)

Another activity asked about your healing rituals. Here are some of mine:

  • Sit outside with my husband.
  • Go for a long walk, ideally while listening to an audiobook.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Pet my dog.
  • Let myself have a good cry.

Also, I liked the read-along activity that asked us to think about our senses and what awakens them. I came up with these:

  • Seeing the bright colors of tulips and the Northern Lights
  • Tasting a delicious dessert
  • Smelling a great perfume, coffee beans, and fresh-cut grass

Final Thoughts

Ms. Raskin understands the importance of mental health, and she writes from a place of honesty and realism. This book isn’t full of broad-stroke advice that you’d see on a motivational Pinterest board. Instead, it’s a thoughtful look at how you can manage your mental health, specifically anxiety, OCD, and/or depression, and be in a positive romantic relationship.

I’m happily married to a wonderful man who supports me and my mental health. While some of Ms. Raskin’s messages were solely for people in the dating stage, I still took away some great points about how I must communicate what I need when I’m struggling and how I can take hold of my own mental health in relation to my marriage.

Overall, this is a 5-star book for me, and I highly recommend if you struggle with mental health and are/want to be/have been in a relationship. It’s a great read with a long-lasting message!

Two quotes I’ll end with:

  • “There is power in knowing you are not going to change your morals in reaction to pain” (p. 193).
  • “No matter what happens, my life is in good hands. They just happen to be my own” (p. 196).

What Anxiety Looks Like

I’ve been fighting back crippling anxiety for a week now. I’ve tried to explain what my anxiety feels like before, but my words don’t seem to accurately define it. I am going to keep trying, though.

My Picture of Anxiety

  • Checking my email inbox obsessively to see if my boss’s boss approved of my work.
  • Feeling like a did 30 minutes of cardio when I’m just sitting in my chair. Heart pounding, shallow breathing, body aching.
  • Knowing I need to complete my to-do list, but not being able to focus, and then feeling ashamed that I can’t check off my priorities.
  • Counting calories and steps with a fear I won’t meet my goals.
  • Snapping at my husband because he asked how I am feeling.
  • Panicking when I realized I booked a non-refundable trip.
  • Clicking Buy Now on Amazon because a book or a dress might make me feel better.
  • Being proud that I was able to leave the house for 20 minutes.
  • Spending an hour talking myself up so I can leave the house for 20 minutes.
  • Sleeping because I’m exhausted, but having to take Klonopin to help me sleep.
  • Dreaming about trauma and failure.
  • Withdrawing from my family.
  • Cancelling a trip to the city to see friends because I can’t imagine getting on a train.
  • Wishing I could spend the day in bed, but feeling obligated to close my Apple Watch rings so that nothing bad happens.
  • Saying the same prayer every night so nothing bad happens.
  • Feeling like I’m walking in a razor-covered high wire.

Unbound: The Story of #MeToo

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

A Five-Star Book

Tarana Burke is an activist and the founder of the Me Too Movement that opened the door for thousands of women to finally raise their voices and share their stories of sexual abuse, violence, and harassment. Ms. Burke is a powerhouse, a woman who stands for so many BIPOC, for so many women and girls who do not have the words or the voices to speak up. She empowers us all to speak up and calls for the end of the horrors of sexual assault.

Ms. Burke begins her memoir by sharing the morning when her words, Me Too, became a viral hashtag that finally gave a voice to the silent suffering. But her memoir is much more than a recounting of how Me Too began. It is a vulnerable, painfully real story of truth that began when she was sexually assaulted as a child. With her truth, Ms. Burke shines a light on the meaning of #metoo, demonstrating that it’s not just a hashtag but a highly nuanced movement to hold others accountable for sexual violence.

As a Black woman, Ms. Burke explains how Black culture addresses sexual violence under a lens of not just taking care of others but with caution because of the countless Black men who have been violently accused and condemned and murdered by whites. This feels so wrong yet so relevant to what has happened in the U.S. for centuries. Her explanation was both vivid and heartbreaking.

Much of Unbound is about Ms. Burke’s realization that others have experienced the same type of pain and suffering. Their stories helped her to find her voice, and she returns that gift to others. This book is raw, honest, and brutal. But it is hopeful as well, as she encourages us to speak out and give others our voices.

I am thankful for Ms. Burke’s activism, her voice, and her courage to share her story. I do not yet have all the words for what violence and scars I carry in my past, but one day I will share my #metoo story. I hope it gives others’ strength to do the same.

The Surprises of Honey Girl

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

A five-star book review – Includes spoilers

I ordered Honey Girl as one of my Book of the Month picks a few months ago, and oh how I wish I’d read it sooner.

This debut novel by Morgan Rogers was such a surprise for me. I thought it would be a sweet romantic comedy like many others, but Honey Girl stands out. It has heart. It tackles serious mental health issues. It is life-affirming.

What I Loved About Honey Girl

The representation in Honey Girl is amazing. Morgan Rogers is a Black Queer author who incorporates diversity into every page of her novel. The protagonist, Grace Porter, is a lesbian born to a strict, military father who is Black and a white mother who travels the world in search of herself. In a drunken frenzy after receiving her PhD in astronomy, Grace marries Yuki Yamamoto, an Asian radio host and waitress, in Las Vegas. That’s where the story begins, but Grace goes on a much more nuanced journey than only trying to get to know her wife. Grace’s friends are just as diverse as she and Yuki are, making this book a refreshing read.

This book is a romance, but it’s also described as a coming-of-age novel. Grace is struggling to find her home in academia. She is determined to be the best, and that means achieving the top position. She has been following the plan laid out by her father, Colonel, for eleven years, with her only rebellion being that she chose astronomy over medicine. Her job interviews sour Grace from the field as interview panels imply that her sexuality and race are “unsuitable” for a researcher. Despite being the favored student by her professor and mentor, Grace is distraught because her dream career has stalled.

This lost feeling really resonated with me. I could relate to Grace because of my own experience after my Master’s program. You work so hard in school and do everything right, but then when you graduate, you lose that student identity. I felt lost for a few years after I got my Master’s and eventually started my doctorate program to get back some of that identity and ultimately prove something to others. That is a disheartening sentence, but it’s the truth. I still question whether I’m living up to my potential and my worth as dictated by those two degrees.

But back to Grace. Her mental health is hurting, and I cheered for her when she came to that revelation. Ms. Rogers described mental illness in the most realistic way I have read in a very long time. From anxiety and depression to a damaged self-esteem to the struggle of finding a proper mental health therapist, Grace’s story felt real in every aspect.

Those are just a few of the reasons I loved this book. I especially loved Grace’s found family of roommates Ximena and Agnes, as well as her coworkers Raj and Meera. Honey Girl is a love story between two lonely creatures who find themselves bound by marriage. It is a beautifully written debut from an author I will be following closely. It is a book that I highly recommend!