Hi. My name is Kristen. I'm 27 years old and I battle mental illness. Fifteen years ago, after the childhood trauma of my parents' bitter divorce, I began struggling with daily panic attacks. I retreated to my own little isolated world, unable to comprehend or express my intense feelings of dread and doom. In my despair, I stopped eating, losing weight along with my youthful spirit. While other kids my age were outside doing cartwheels or rollerblading after school, I would shut myself in my bedroom to cry and hide. I felt so confused and alone, as no one could understand my pain. My mother and stepfather grew very concerned with my sudden personality change and sought the help of a psychotherapist. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with panic disorder, depression and emetophobia with atypical anorexia. Quite the combination. Because I was so young and the risk for addiction was deemed too risky, anti-anxiety medication was not an option. Instead, they reinforced cognitive behavioral therapy, breathing exercises and healthy ways of expression to deal with my problems. Over time, I was able to defeat my inner demons - or at least beat them into submission. I still occasionally deal with panic episodes (we're talking once every couple of years) and my phobia remains. In my adulthood, I've had to use Xanax a handful of times to settle my mind. But I consider myself a survivor.
I'm not afraid to share my story because I know that many people are ashamed or afraid to come forward and get help. Due to the stigmas in our society, it can be very hard to admit that you may have a mental illness. So, when I received the opportunity to review Therese Borchard's new book, Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, I was excited that she was bringing these matters to light. (And when I found out that she lives just a few miles from me in Annapolis, I was even more excited.)
Beyond Blue is half memoir, half self-help book. An extension of her popular Beliefnet blog, it describes Borchard's experience of living with manic depression and provides cutting-edge research and information on dealing with mood disorders. By exposing her vulnerability, she endears herself to the reader, providing a companion on the road to recovery and the knowledge that the reader is not alone. Beyond Blue covers a wide range of topics from codependency to addiction, poor body image to postpartum depression, alternative medicine to psychopharmacology, and managing anxiety to applying lessons from theraphy.
I will say that I found the title a bit misleading. I expected it to be more about major depressive disorder but the author suffered with manic depression or bipolar disorder, which is a completely different illness. I did not have her dramatic ups and downs, her alcohol addiction or constant thoughts of suicide. Nonetheless, as I read further, I found that I was able to relate to a lot of what the author wrote. Take, for example, her comparison of severe depression to a butterfly:
Recovery from severe depression is like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Only in struggling to emerge from a small hole in the cocoon does a butterfly form wings strong enough to fly...Butterflies are stronger and more beautiful than caterpillars as a result of their struggle.So pretty and so true! Another quote that touched me was from her "guardian angel" and confidante, Ann:
The person underneath the illness never goes away; she only waits for proper treatment in order to surface again.Therese's self-deprecating sense of humor was a bright spot in such a dark subject. As soon as I read "if you're laughing, you're not crying, even though they look similar", I knew this was not just another random psychobabble story. Her "30 Ways Motherhood is Like a Mental Illness" was particularly hilarious (#3. In both, you have to handle a lot of crap. #12. Bedtime often spells relief.) Yet there was real emotion behind the sarcasm and wit. One passage, in which she described watching her toddler son experience a panic attack and her guilt that he had absorbed her anxiety, really touched me and brought tears to my eyes. Not many books can make me laugh on one page and cry after reading the next.
Borchard interjects her storytelling with lots of facts and helpful tips, including her "Work It, Girlfriend" 12-step program for mental well-being. It's nice to hear strategies from someone who's lived it, rather than just some medical expert with textbook knowledge. Therese also clears up common misconceptions about depression. Many people assume that because depression is a mood disorder we are somehow at fault for our disease. But with the support of researchers, she asserts that depression is an organic brain disease. Having been there, I would have to agree.
Therese is a Catholic and her faith plays a large role in her recovery. If you do not believe in a higher power, you might want to skip this book. However, as I am a Christian, I found her accounts very inspiring.
Bottom line: I would highly recommend Beyond Blue for anyone battling depression and/or anxiety. It's not a breezy, beach read by any stretch of the imagination but it would be a great tool for anyone seeking help, or would make a great gift for a loved one who is suffering. We all need a companion in our darkest hour and Therese fills those large shoes perfectly.
BUY IT: You can purchase Beyond Blue at most major book retailers or online at Amazon.com (ARV $14.99).
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by The Product Review Place. I received a copy of this book from Anna at Hachette Book Group to facilitate my candid review. I was not compensated in any other way for this post.