Book Review: The Year I Didn’t Eat – Samuel Pollen

14-year-old Max has a fight on his hands. Living with Anorexia is tough enough without having to be at school and trying to keep it secret from your closest friends. As Max writes to ‘Ana’ and tries to navigate his illness he has to deal with the new girl at school who won’t stop staring, family drama and seeing his therapist. Can he beat this?

I was asked if I would like to receive a copy of this novel and I was immediately intrigued. There are very few stories of teenage boys going through an eating disorder, so of course, I wanted to read, I’m incredibly glad I did.

Starting and ending on Christmas day, the novel chronicles a year in Max’s life, alongside writing a diary to his disorder – aptly named Ana. This was a particular highlight for me, the writing was emotional but not sad – I actually laughed a fair bit reading this. Pollen isn’t trying to make Max a sympathy figure. The combination of the diary entries and showing some of the obsessive thoughts was incredibly well done –  I could see similarities between Max’s and my own thoughts from our respective mental illnesses.

It is mentioned a few times within the novel the disconnect that Max feels from what is stereotypically viewed as what a with Anorexia looks like – a teenage girl. By confronting this head-on, Pollen shows insight into something incredibly important – anyone can get a mental illness. The fact that Max is a teenage boy, known for being quite geeky with a loving family and great friends and still has these problems reinforces that.

This shows a new level of representation that is rarely seen, in fact, I don’t believe I have ever read a novel featuring a guy with an eating disorder – which is absurd! I’m hopeful that this will start more conversations. The fact that Pollen has drawn on his own experiences makes this even more realistic.

The novel shows not only the impact that eating disorders have on the person with the illness but also the pressure it can put on families. We meet Max’s family and often feel for them as much as him. That said, despite the hardships faced, Max’s relationship with his older brother Robin was probably my favourite part. They truly seem to care for each other and Robin’s encouragement of Geocaching really seems to be a turning point.

Of course, this is a tough read and it does give descriptions of disordered eating and calories – if these are tough for you to read it might be worth picking this up at a later point.

Is it any surprise that I gave this 5 stars?  This is a novel that needed to be written. Showing that eating disorders can affect anyone and that, by talking about it, we have more of a chance of helping those going through it. I absolutely adored this novel – it will truly make its mark. I truly feel that this will make people feel less alone.

Thank you to the author, publisher and Conker communications for the chance to read this in exchange for an open and honest review.

My Top 10 books featuring Mental Health

I love reading about mental health, I love characters who feel real to me who can educate others about all the different experiences. My Mum once asked me if it made me more depressed to read about others and it really doesn’t. On a bad day it might be a little bit more difficult but I’ll put the book down and do something else and go back later on. When I read these books I feel educated about other illnesses or other symptoms, I’m reminded that this is just a PART of a person, not everything about them and I feel comforted, like being in some kind of family of people who understand. One day I aim to write my own book about mental health, I have ideas for both fiction and nonfiction, but I’ll let you know more about that when I manage to start it! The books listed aren’t in any particular author but I loved them all and they each taught me something. Enjoy!

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The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

As my regular readers know I absolutely adore Sylvia Plath, so much so I wrote my Undergraduate dissertation on her work (see here if you want to know more!). Plath is known as much for her suicide as her work, which is a sad fact. The Bell Jar, however, was focused on Plath’s younger life as a college student who’s confused to say the least and the impact this has on her mental health. Few novels have spoken to me in the way this one has, one of my ultimate favourites, written in a time where women couldn’t speak about mental illness, but Sylvia defied them all.

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Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Haig’s book is recent but now well known. This book is for not only people living with a mental health condition but also for their loved ones. The tone of the book is refreshingly honest and open, imagining conversations between past and present self and really showing you that life is worth living, even if it tries to kick your butt. See my review here.

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Brave Girl Eating- Harriet Brown

Memoirs like this appear to be few and far between, while we’re used to reading memoirs from survivors of eating disorders it’s uncommon to read the perspective of the family around them. Brave Girl Eating is written by a mother who is watching her daughter starve herself to death, it’s about trying to understand and support her while dealing with her own emotions and caring for the rest of her family. An incredible book I could not recommend enough.

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It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini

The first YA novel in this list, Vizzini really understood what he was writing about and how to portray it. The best thing about this novel is the way in which recovery was written about and how people hide their illness. Lovable characters and a great ending too. Read my review here.

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All of the Above – Juno Dawson

This novel really reminded me of the importance of friends in the face of mental illness. I’m a firm believer that having friends who have been mentally ill is one of the most precious things, having someone that understands and has been through what you’re going through is such a relief. Dawson takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions with this novel I laughed, I cried and I loved all of the characters. A definite must read.

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The Time In Between – Nancy Tucker

Nancy’s memoir of life with an eating disorder was both charming and fascinating. I also admired the fact that she refused to use numbers in the memoir, as she didn’t want it to encourage anyone else with an eating disorder, she is very mindful of this. The book goes through not only Nancy’s fight and recovery but also the reasons behind her eating disorder as she understands what they are. Wonderfully written and well thought out too.

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The Skeleton Cupboard – Tanya Byron

Another memoir that shows a fascinating perspective. We often forget that mental health professionals are people too. The novel follows the now well known Tanya Byron’s early years training to be a clinical psychologist dealing with the reason she chose this path, her patients, supervisors and the emotional hardships of doing this work. It made me really think of all the people working in mental health and appreciate all that they have to go through.

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The Illustrated Mum – Jacqueline Wilson

Wilson never shied away from dealing with difficult subjects in children’s novels. The Illustrated Mum was my first encounter with mental illness in literature, of course I didn’t really understand at the time but I just accepted that the Mum was poorly. That was that. The older I get I realise how heartbreaking this book was and how much it might help children with mentally ill parents to know they’re not alone. Dolphin and Star’s Mum has tattoos all over her body, a big temper and the girls manage as best as they can with her various moods, as an older reader I now understand that the Mum has Bipolar Disorder. These kind of books teach kids about different people and situations, I think Wilson’s books made me the empathic person I am today. Even as an adult this is worth a read.

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Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic – Carrie Fisher 

For my last two I have included Carrie Fisher’s memoirs. They’ve had mixed reviews on amazon and goodreads but personally I loved them. Carrie talks openly about shock therapy, the influence her childhood had and the life she lived alongside having undiagnosed bipolar disorder. The best part though is Carrie’s humor, I like it when people can still have humor talking about mental health, because we’re still people and it’s about knowing what’s appropriate. The only downside to these is that they’re short, I’d love to have known more BUT these were also used when Carrie went on tour with them so I understand. Either way for me humor is vital in defeating low days and Carrie certainly has a lot of it!

 

 

 

Living with a mental health condition at Christmas

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Ah mental illness, you little pest, of course you want to pop your head up for the holidays. I’ve been thinking a lot about mental illness and christmas time, I say thinking and I mean getting anxious about it. I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time but almost couldn’t find the words for what I wanted to say.

For most people Christmas equals joy and happiness, right? For some of us though our mental health threatens the celebrations every year whether we like it or not. Not only is it hard for the person dealing with the illness, but also the people around them and so I’m going to be frank. One day of the year doesn’t make a mental illness magically disappear, it doesn’t work that way.

In the past I’ve been ill on birthdays and ill on Christmas day and it sucks. I’d probably call it one of my absolute worst points of the illness. I was 16 and even though I loved all the gifts that I’d gotten and my family I was on a low and it wouldn’t shake no matter how hard I tried. So my family got a ‘meh’ response, I cried, my Mum got upset and my Dad was confused. It was Christmas, why was I upset?!? This was long before any diagnoses or medication and I felt like I was drowning. I hated myself for not being excitable like I normally was. A phone call changed everything though. I spoke to my Gramps on the phone and we talked, I cried again and he said not to worry Christmas can be an overwhelming time. We spoke more and by the time we ended the conversation I felt better and hugged my Mum to tell her it wasn’t anything she’d done at all.

Thankfully the further I’ve gotten into my recovery the better Christmas has been. Last year I woke up before my little sister and woke her up in our matching onesies. This year after assignments I was finally excited, singing christmas songs and getting excited about presents. Am I anxious about lows? Sure. Right now though I’m doing things to combat it, I’m getting as much sleep as I can, eating healthier and will be exercising this week at home.

I have to point out I’m at a stage in my illness where this is all possible. 16 year old me was too absorbed by it to do anything. So I guess what I’m trying to say is if you live with someone with a mental health condition they’re not doing this because they hate christmas, because they want to ‘make things difficult’ or because they’re not trying. They doing it because it’s a part of the illness. So if someone is depressed, anxious or struggling with their food just let them deal with it the way they can. If someone with an eating disorder needs to have something else at the dinner table, don’t make a fuss or judge. If someone needs half an hour of alone time because things get too much then let them. Basically they need to do what they need to do to get well.

As a message to the others who are anxious about the holidays. It’s one day ofthe year, it may seem like the biggest thing but next year there will be another christmas. The most important thing is taking every day one by one and that is what you will do. I’ve been there, when you feel like you’re going to ruin everything and people would be better off without you but that’s not you speaking, that’s the illness I promise.

So as I travel home for Christmas today, I just want to tell people to be kind. Love no matter what this Christmas and remember a hug can mean more than a million words. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas before we hurtle into 2016!

Chloe

P.S I’ll still be blogging every day over Christmas! Don’t think you’ve gotten away from me that easy!

Book Review: Paper Weight – Meg Haston

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Twenty-seven days to freedom… I am caged 

Stevie wants to disappear and in twenty-seven days that’s exactly what she’s going to do, whether they like it or not. Sent to a treatment centre for eating disorders Stevie knows they’ve got it all wrong, she doesn’t need to be here, she doesn’t want to he and she’s going to get out of here one way or another. Abandoned by her best friend, her mother and not coping with the death of her brother, Stevie has no alternatives she’s going to get back to her brother.

Haston’s novel is quite simply, brilliant. Seeing the world through the eyes of seventeen year old Stevie is heart breaking. I’m going to be honest and say that the novel is challenging to read, it deals with a lot of issues, grief, anger and living with an eating disorder. The anger that Stevie radiates is made easy to understand under the circumstances but all I wanted through the whole novel was to reach through the pages and comfort her. There are important lessons to be learnt while reading Paperweight. 

The story in no way glamourises eating disorders, it shows the reasons and the misery that they can bring and celebrates the girls around Stevie who are moving forward, even though she resents them. Haston has also made the girls normal and explores the different reasons why eating disorders develop, it has obviously been well researched. Like any novel of this nature it can be hard for people to read who have gone through eating disorders or problems with food.

One of my favourite parts of the novel is the relationship between Stevie and her therapist, whom she calls Shrink. The therapist felt like a real person and I felt she was an honest character and represented what a good therapist should be, even if Stevie isn’t keen on opening up. Stevie’s relationships with others throughout the novel are also a real eye opener and although I’ve not had an eating disorder, as someone who has had depression I found her reactions to be realistic.

The only negative that I have to say about the novel is that in the beginning I found it hard to keep track of who’s who as a lot of characters are introduced quite quickly. That said I think the novel is a good length and doesn’t dwell too much, it moves at a good pace but allows enough time for the reader to appreciate Stevie’s thoughts and feelings.

I’m giving this novel 4 stars ****, a great new YA read. The character of Stevie is a little unapproachable at first but this story really picks up and teaches you about the range of people and emotions that are related to eating disorders.

Review by Chloe Metzger

Eating Disorders Awareness Week

8eaedae3c0c1099c92bc6cf82b8ed737I found the above quote on Pinterest and thought it would be a good start to todays post. Today is the last day of Eating Disorders awareness week and of course I wanted to feature it on my blog. I’ve never had an eating disorder, although for a while I had an issue with my body image. That said I have watched friends struggle through eating disorders and it’s a very slippery slope.

A lot of people have the misconception that ED’s are about food and being vain and feeling fat. Wrong. Bulimia and Anorexia, for example, are mental illnesses, they’re not to do with not fitting into a certain dress or wanting to look like a celebrity. They are illnesses which unfortunately people can die from. It’s important to know but not what I want to put forward in this blog.

I want to talk to you all about being supportive. The best thing you can do for someone with any kind of mental health condition is to support them, to do your best to understand. Some of the following things are good to know

Be patient 

Eating Disorders don’t just go away in a week, they are not a cold. Recovery can take years and for some people they need a little bit of support for the rest of their lives. It can be frustrating and so hard to watch when a loved one goes through this but your patience can mean everything.

Listen 

Don’t talk, listen. Listen to what they want and need to say. Even if they are scared and you can’t understand why. Even if what they’re saying is hard to hear just listen and ,when you can, respect their wishes.

Know when they just need you there 

Sometimes it’s not about having a big conversation, it’s just about having someone there and knowing they’re there.

Try and do some research 

You don’t need to get a PhD in Psychology but just doing a little research on ways to help for example or knowing what the illness is. Some people find it helpful to learn with the person who is living with the illness.  It can make things easier to understand.

Work with them through things 

Having support through it all is one of the most important things. Celebrate their achievements and be there if they have bad days and work through it together. You never know how much it can mean to someone.

I wanted to make it clear that this is something that people recover from! It takes hard work but it is possible to recover with the right help and be happy and healthy, as with any mental illness. If anyone is struggling with an Eating Disorder at the moment then I will leave details at the end of this post. Don’t be embarrassed, or ashamed, you can get through this. Talk to someone you feel you can, go along to a doctors appointment (you don’t have to see your own GP!) and please, please don’t give up.

Beat – UK 

http://www.b-eat.co.uk/

National Eating Disorder Association

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

SEED – Eating Disorder Support Service

http://www.seedeatingdisorders.org.uk/