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Reading Challenge Wrap-up: Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge 2012

December 24, 2012 2 comments

mia2012badgeAs you all know, the one reading challenge I host is the Mental Illlness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge.  Since we’re into the last week of the year, I’d like to post the 2012 wrap-up.

This year, I read 8 books that count for the challenge, successfully achieving the Aware level.

The books I read and reviewed for the challenge, along with what mental illness they covered, in 2012 were:

  1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
    PTSD
    4 out of 5 stars
  2. The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
    Mental Retardation
    4 out of 5 stars
  3. Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery
    PTSD
    4 out of 5 stars
  4. Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia by Megan Warin
    Anorexia
    4 out of 5 stars
  5. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
    Depression
    4 out of 5 stars
  6. Haunted by Glen Cadigan
    PTSD
    3 out of 5 stars
  7. January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield
    Schizophrenia
    4 out of 5 stars
  8. Germline by T. C. McCarthy
    Addictive Disorders
    4 out of 5 stars

The books I read covered genres from scifi to thriller to memoir to academic nonfiction to historic fiction.  I’m also a bit surprised to note in retrospect that all but one of these books received four stars from me.  Clearly the books I chose to read for the challenge were almost entirely a good match for me.  It’s no surprise to me that I enjoy running this challenge so much then. :-)

The most unique book for the challenge was The Sparrow.  The scifi plot of first contact with aliens was a very unique wrapping for a book dealing so strongly with mental illness.  Most challenging was Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia, which was my first foray into university-level Anthropology.  Something I’d like to see more of is more memoirs by parents of children with a mental illness, like January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her.  That was an interesting, new perspective for me.  I think I’d also like to read more schizophrenia books next year, as well as books that challenge the gender norms perceived of in certain mental illnesses, such as the idea that eating disorders are female or that alcoholism is male.

If you participated in the challenge this year, please feel free to either comment with your list of reads or a link to a wrap-up post.  I’d love to see what we all successfully read this year!

And if the MIA Reading Challenge sounds like a good match for you, head on over to the challenge’s main page to sign up for the 2013 iteration!

Book Review: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

May 23, 2012 4 comments

Four sets of feet in a circle with the sky in the background.Summary:
On New Year’s Eve, four incredibly different strangers accidentally meet on Topper’s House a popular local spot for suicides.  Somehow running into each other leads to them taking the long way down that night instead of the quick one.  What happens after is a continuance of their life stories that no one could have predicted.

Review:
I distinctly remember that this book made it into my tbr pile because of the suicide theme.  What makes these four different people want to kill themselves, and what makes them not do it.  Clearly this is a book about depression and suicidality.  But it is not a depressing book. Not by far.

Without revealing too much, since the revelations are part of the fun of the read, I will just say that the four suicidal people span different generations, reasons, and nations of origin.  Different levels of conservatism and liberalism.  But what makes them come to understand each other is their universal depression and suicidal thoughts.  This fact that someone out there gets them….well oftentimes that can help get a profoundly depressed or mentally unwell person over the hump.  Feeling less alone.

Her past was in the past, but our past, I don’t know…Our past was still all over the place. We could see it every day when we woke up.  (page 253)

In spite of this being a book about depressed people bonding over their depression, it doesn’t read as such.  I was reading it on an airplane and found myself literally laughing out loud at sections.  Because these people are brilliant.  They have a great understanding of the world. Of art. Of relationships.  Even of themselves.

I had that terrible feeling you get when you realize that you’re stuck with who you are, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (page 208)

That is, after all, frequently what depression can be all about. A profoundly clear understanding of how royally fucked up you are or your life is.  What’s hard is seeing past that moment.  The book is kind of a snapshot of the process of them learning to do that.  And that’s what makes it so eloquent and poignant.  Nothing is done melodramatically. Things are just presented as they are.  Even down to the four being able to laugh together periodically (and make you laugh in the process).  Depression isn’t just oh everything sucks nonstop.  There are moments of laughter.  It’s just that those moments are outweighed by the weight of the depression.  Getting rid of that weight is a cleansing, uplifting process, and that’s how it feels to read this book.  You bond and you laugh and you maybe even cry (if you have more susceptible tear ducts than this reader).  And in the end you come to an understanding of that suicidal dark place without being abandoned in it.

Overall this book manages to eloquently present depression without being a depressing book.  It is compelling to any reader who has ever struggled with a depressed period of life.  Highly recommended to the depressed and the sympathetic.  Both will be left feeling lighter and less alone.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Friday Fun! (MIA Reading Challenge Update)

April 22, 2011 7 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Since we have just one week left of April, I thought I’d provide an MIA Reading Challenge update!  I’m so pleased with the enthusiasm for the challenge shown by the participants, particularly since this is its first year existing.

By far our most prolific participant so far is Karen.  Her reads have covered everything from OCD to Antisocial Personality Disorder.  So far she has read and reviewed (links to her reviews): Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood, An Unquiet Mind, Cut, The Bell Jar, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Dearly Devoted Dexter, Dexter in the Dark, Missing, House Rules, and I Don’t Want to Be Crazy.  She’s only one book away from completing the highest level of the challenge.  Go Karen!

Jules is keeping up a nice, steady pace so far, having read two books (links to her reviews): The Bell Jar (Depression) and Alias Grace (Dissociative Identity Disorder).  Keep it up, Jules!

Jessica also has finished two books (links to her reviews): The Silver Linings Play Book (recovery from mental break-down) and The Madonnas of Leningrad (Alzheimer’s).  Excellent pace for the level you signed up for, Jessica!

I’ve also completed two books that fit into the challenge description (links to my reviews): American Psycho (Antisocial Personality Disorder) and Hunger (Anorexia Nervosa).

Thank you everyone for your participation so far this year and for raising awareness on mental illnesses.  We may be a small group so far, but hopefully each year will grow!

If you’ve read books for the challenge and I did not list you, please comment and let us all know!  Unfortunately with the way my blog is, you commenting and telling me is the easiest way for me to keep up with what everyone has read.

It’s not too late to sign up for the challenge if you’re interested!  Check out the MIA Reading Challenge page to find out more.

Happy weekends all!

Book Review: Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow’s Milk and Your Health by Joseph Keon

March 31, 2011 4 comments

Cow relaxing on a glass of milk.Summary:
Joseph Keon seeks to combat the cultural myth of dairy being a necessary part of a healthy diet perpetuated by the milk moustache ads with his book citing multiple scientific studies that have been swept under the rug by those being paid by the dairy lobbyists.  Although Keon cares about animal welfare as well (and there is a chapter on the suffering of dairy cows), the book predominantly focuses on debunking multiple myths surrounding human consumption of dairy:  the overly-hyped “need” for calcium, that dairy is good for children, and the idea that dairy prevents disease.  Keon additionally alarmingly shows the various chemical, virus, and bacteria contaminants commonly found in dairy.  Citing multiple scientific studies, he unequivocally demonstrates that contrary to what the dairy industry and government want you to think, dairy is actually bad for your health.

Review:
I’ve been a vegetarian for five years as of January 2011 (working on my sixth year).  I’ve honestly stayed away from books on veganism, because I had a feeling vegans were right, and I could not see myself ever giving up cheese.  How odd that I could give up so many other things I was raised on like bacon, chicken nuggets, etc… but not cheese.  With my recent increased interest in my health, though, I had already decided to cut back on my cheese consumption, so I figured why not give a book on dairy a go.  The first few chapters were definitely pushing the buttons I already subconsciously knew–we don’t need dairy, it’s unnatural to consume the milk of another creature intended for their young, etc….  Where I suddenly found myself nodding along and saying yes, though, was when Keon got into the similarities between how adults and children act about cheese and addicts.  Keon starts the section by clearly defining addiction:

“Addictions are considered diseases because they are out of our control, often so much so that they lead us to behave in ways that are dangerous to our health.  In its most basic definition, an addiction occurs when we are physiologically or psychologically dependent upon a habit-forming substance or behavior, to the point where its elimination from our life may result in trauma or suffering.” Location 721

Keon then goes on to explain exactly what about cheese makes it so addicting when we know it’s bad for us.

“Research has shown detectable amounts of compounds identical to the narcotic opiate morphine in cow’s milk.  Study of the morphine found in milk has confirmed it has identical chemical and biological properties to the morphine used as an analgesic.  A plausible assumption is that all mammals produce this opiate compound to make sure their offspring return to the breast to acquire essential nutrients and to bond with the mother.”  Location 722

Whoa.  So cheese, basically, is morphine.  The chemical that is healthy for a calf to ingest as it causes her to return to the mother for food, comfort, and safety, when consumed by people causes us to return repeatedly in an addictive manner to a substance that is really, almost pure fat.  WOW.  You know those  life-changing moments?  I had one right there.

There are two other sections that are mind-blowing in Keon’s book.  The first deals with multiple first world “diseases” that are often actually allergic reactions caused by prolonged exposure to the allergen–cow’s milk.  When we take all races into consideration, most people are allergic to cow’s milk: 90% of Asian-Americans, 75% of African-Americans, 50% of Latino-Americans, and 25% of Caucasian-Americans (Location 900).  Yet despite these known statistics, the federal government continues to push dairy onto schools at the dairy lobbyists’ urgings.

“The policy of pushing milk upon children in inner-city schools is particularly problematic when we take race into account.  African-American children have a lactose intolerance rate of about 75 percent…..Worse, children who have made the healthful transition to beverages made from rice, soy, or almonds are out of luck when they get to school.  That’s because any public school in America that attempts to serve these beverages in place of cow’s milk will lose its federal support.” (Location 2163)

Being constantly exposed to an allergen in childhood can cause or exacerbate multiple issues such as colic, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, acne, asthma, headaches, Crohn’s Disease, chronic nasal congestion, fatigue, depression, joint pain, and even autism.

Keon also addresses the issue of osteoporosis and breast cancer, two issues of utmost concern for women in particular.  Whereas women are told that drinking milk will help prevent the former and will not be a contributing factor in the latter, the science actually demonstrates both statements to be false.  If a woman follows a typical Western diet, the consumption of that much protein causes her body to become acidic and leech calcium.  Studies have shown that no amount of extra calcium consumed can keep up with the leeching.  This means that consuming three glasses of milk a day will do nothing for a woman following an omnivorous diet.  Add to this the fact that

“Milk has been associated with increased risk for breast cancer, and the combination of pesticides and radiation have been proposed as one possible explanation.” (Location 1816)

When the fact that dairy consumption does not prevent osteoporosis is combined with the association with breast cancer, one is left wondering why there aren’t government campaigns warning women to stay away from dairy to save their lives!  (Oh yeah.  The dairy lobbies.  Money.  It always comes down to money).  Further, studies have shown that

By age sixty-five, women who have followed a meat-centered diet have lost, on average, 35 percent of their bone mass, while women who have followed a plant-centered diet have lost only about half that amount: 18 percent.”  (Location 3195)

I’ve only touched on the surface of the shocking facts backed up by science contained in this book, focusing in on the ones that stuck out the most strongly to me.  If you have any interest at all in your health and/or the health of your children, I urge you to read this book.  Educate yourself on the facts instead of listening to government programs and advertising caused by dairy lobbyists who are only after your money.  Dig for the truth.  Read this book.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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