2016 Reading Highlights

In 2016, I broke out of my reading rut and found some new favourites.  Are any of these your favourites?  I’d love to hear about the highlights of your year in the comments below!

break3 Continue reading

Book Review | Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

symptoms-of-being-human-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Symptoms of Being Human
AUTHOR: Jeff Garvin
PUBLISHER: Balzer + Bray
RELEASE DATE: February 2, 2016
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction, LGBTQI+

For the purpose of this review, I will use the gender neutral pronoun “they” when referring to protagonist Riley, to acknowledge the non-binary nature of Riley’s gender identity. 

Symptoms of Being Human is a timely novel for young adults.  Our protagonist, Riley, is gender fluid, meaning their gender identity moves along a spectrum between male and female.  This book explores Riley’s identity on multiple platforms, and how they learn to express themselves authentically despite fear of violent backlash.  While far from perfect, this book should inspire important discussions.   Continue reading

Audio Book Review | Smiling Mind: Mindfulness for Everyone, Everyday by Jane Martino and James Tutton

smiling-mind-audio-book-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Smiling Mind: Mindfulness for Everyone, Everyday
AUTHORS: Jane Martino and James Tutton
PUBLISHER: Bolinda Audio
RELEASE DATE: August 15, 2016
GENRE: Nonfiction; Mind, Body, Spirit
DURATION: 1 hour 56 minutes

Smiling Mind is the perfect starting place for anyone interested in incorporating mindfulness meditation in their daily life.  I also strongly recommend this audio book to anyone who’s never understood what mindfulness is all about.  It strips away the mumbo jumbo and explains the scientific and socio-cultural foundation of meditation.  It also engages listeners in short exercises that help you start your own mindfulness journey. Continue reading

Book Review | Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

challenger-deep-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Challenger Deep
AUTHOR: Neal Shusterman
PUBLISHER: Harper Teen
RELEASE DATE: April 21, 2015
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

Challenger Deep is a rare and wonderful mental illness narrative.  It portrays schizophrenia accurately and non-judgmentally, illuminating both insider and outsider perspectives towards it.  With inventive storytelling, this book balances serious with hilarious.  

15-year-old Caden is an ordinary American teenager, except for one thing – he believes in an alternate reality in which he’s a pirate on course to plunder the deepest point of the ocean.  As Caden’s hallucinations and paranoia worsen, his realities bleed into each other.  This is a story of hitting rock bottom, and finding the way back. Continue reading

Book Review | Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

girl-interrupted-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Girl, Interrupted
AUTHOR: Susanna Kaysen
GENRE: Nonfiction, Memoir

On the surface, Girl, Interrupted is a witty memoir about being human.  Deeper down, this book confronts the stigmatisation of mental illness.  

The year is 1967.  18-year-old Susanna Kaysen is struggling with her slipping grasp on reality and suicidal impulses.  Misinformed and arguably misdiagnosed, she is incarcerated at McLean, a psychiatric hospital famous for its celebrity patients including Sylvia Plath and Ray Charles.  There she meets a diverse cast of female characters, all of whom have hit rock bottom.  Susanna’s journey to recovery revolves around rejecting society’s attitude towards mental illness to validate her experience. Continue reading

My 2016 New Years Resolutions

This year, instead of the usual plans for self-improvement – i.e. do more squats and eat more greens – my resolutions apply the life lessons I learned in 2015. Each one is a promise to care for my mental health and stay close to the things I value.   

1. I will invest in the right people

I recently had to cut a lot of negative people out of my life. Fostering friendships with people who didn’t care about me was damaging my mental health. When those toxic relationships fell apart, I found support from a handful of old friends. The experience taught me to only invest in people who care about me as much as I care about them.  I’m so grateful to them for grounding me during the tough times.  From now on, I will only invest in kind and positive people.

2. I will fit university around my passions

Uni is supposed to get me closer to my dreams, but so far I’m too busy to work on the projects I’m passionate about. As long as I enjoy the journey, I’m in no rush to get to the destination. I will make my university timetable work for me instead of putting my passions on hold to get good grades. If that means studying part time, so be it!

3. I will put my hand up for opportunities

If jobs, internships, or competitions pop up I will go for them with guns blazing. Now with a degree behind me I can confidently apply for any and all opportunities I see, no matter how intimidating they look. You gotta be in it to win it.

4. I will be aware and responsive to my emotional habits

Although you aren’t always in control of your feelings, you are in control of your actions. Sometimes I let small things ruin my day by indulging in irrational thoughts and sabotaging myself by moping. I often chose not to prevent a bad mood swing even if I see it coming. In 2016, I want to be more aware and responsive to my emotional habits by stopping my own destructive mind games. Depending on the scenario I might try finding positive outlets through art or going for a drive, or talking to a friend instead of letting the feelings eat away at my insides.

5. I will be loving in my platonic relationships

Poet Lora Mathis gorgeously articulates the importance of embracing platonic intimacy – that is, showing love and vulnerability to your friends through actions such as hugs and holding hands. Although emotionality is typically seen as weak – or reserved for romantic relationships – I think my strength lies in offering kindness to the people I care about. I don’t want to withhold how much I love my friends. I will take every opportunity to be loving in my platonic relationships.

6. I will take care of myself

I will try to avoid toxic situations, settings, and relationships and instead seek out positive ones. Moving house is my latest act of taking care of myself because I left a toxic setting to create my own positive future. I will spend time with people who make me feel safe and confident, and invest in a lifestyle that gives me time to cook good meals and relax.  After not taking proper care of myself in 2015, I realise I have to be just as kind to myself as to others.

I hope that each of these resolutions takes me a step closer to my goal of finding health and happiness in 2016.  What are your New Years resolutions?  I would love to hear what life lessons you learned from 2015 and how you plan to make 2016 a great one!

My Writing Retreat + Internet Detox

When the going gets tough, the tough get going…  Sooner or later though, even the tough need to take a break before they burn out.  After a hard semester full of unexpected life challenges, I really needed a break.  I decided to refresh myself with a writing retreat and internet detox.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.38.56 amI escaped to my grandma’s little unit at Caloundra with some books and a stockpile of snack food.  There’s something about sea air that is cleansing and relaxing, and I indulged in midday naps and long beach walks.  I could just feel the breeze blowing away all the cobwebs in my brain.

I’ve heard someone say that you’re most authentically you when you’re alone, probably because there are no inhibitions or external influences weighing on you.  For that reason, I’m glad I snatched some alone time.  I love to surround myself with beautiful friends, but getting a short break from conflicts and dynamics and pressures made me feel a bit better grounded.  I now have more strength to deal with that stuff.

I committed to trying to finish my novel for NaNoWriMo, so I had some pretty ambitious goals I wanted to achieve.  However, reaching those goals became stressful and exhausting.  I decided that since the whole point of a retreat was to feel refreshed, I wasn’t going to wear myself out.  So I started writing early in the morning, but then put everything down at lunch time to spend the rest of the day reading and relaxing.  I could have done more work, but the balance left me feeling much more fulfilled.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.38.37 amDetoxing from the internet for three days is surprisingly easy.  When I didn’t have good ol’ Facebook and YouTube to help me procrastinate my good writing hours away, I found it much easier to get work done.  Then when work was finished for the day, I turned to a book instead of a laptop.  I enjoyed getting lost in Vernon God Little much more than getting lost in the backlogs of Tumblr.  The one thing I did notice though was that I missed sharing with people.  Dozens of times during my stay I saw something that made me think of someone I care about.  Normally, I would use the internet to share that thing with them instantly.  Getting away by yourself is fab, but any longer than three days and I wouldn’t have been able to resist sending messages to my friends.

Get this, first day back and I have a dentist’s appointment.  What a rude return to the real world!  I hope that as we get closer to holiday season you can get a break and take some time to look after yourself.  Writers, don’t forget you can add me as a Writing Buddy on NaNoWriMo!

Review | The Pause by John Larkin

The Pause won the 2015 Griffith University Young Adult Book Prize after its release earlier this year.  I got to meet author, John Larkin, at the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards.  Larkin’s intimate and confronting acceptance speech explained how he wrote this book to give young adults a language to discuss depression and other mental illnesses – something he saw a desperate need for during his own mental breakdown and hospitalisation.  

But I didn’t give it a chance because the agony was too much, my nerve endings had ruptured, my sense of logic and scale had vanished.  It was too much because I had no reference point.  I called it quits on an impulse when all I had to do was ride it out until it had passed.  And pass it would … I thought I would be stuck with this agony forever.  But I had the wrong mixture of chemicals whirring around in my brain … My mind was broken.  And when your mind breaks you need help.  External help.  Because the thing you rely on most to get you through the screaming darkness is the very thing that’s broken.  And that’s where and why it all falls apart – page 40

The Pause 
is told from the perspective of 17-year-old Declan.  When he attempts suicide, the narrative splits into two alternate realities Sliding Doors style: in the first, he dies and is stuck in purgatory; in the second, he pauses and eventually recovers from his depression with medical and psychiatric help.

Statistics published on Mindframe Australia’s website show that in 2013, suicide accounted for a total of 2,522 deaths in Australia.  That is 6.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.  

9780857981707John Larkin uses this book to help break the stigmatisation around mental illness.  He considers this to be especially important for young men who are less likely to be confident with communicating their difficult feelings.  Without discrimination, The Pause shows the recovery process and demystifies the causes of suicidal thoughts.  The result is a story that gives validation and hope to people who don’t know how to process or articulate their experiences.  A lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of lasting connections with caring family members and friends.  Declan has to learn to ask these people for the help he needs, rather than making the fatal mistake of thinking he’s a burden to the loved ones who would give the world to help him.

This book was written for people who aren’t big readers.  Its cast of characters and plot cover easy-to-recognise cliches, successfully making the story palatable and entertaining.  Young adult readers will love its Australian setting and constant authentic references to topics every Aussie kid will know by heart.  It reminds of an Australian equivalent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Perks – both the book and the movie – is a massive hit with the same demographic as The Pause, and deals with many of the same ideas, although without John Larkin’s clarity and focus.

I think that The Pause is essential reading.  It delivers an unforgettable message and gives  young adults, especially young men, the words to talk about their experiences of depression.  My copy is now battered and dogeared at my favourite pages- nothing is more moving than reading a passage that expresses, validates, and puts into context something you thought only you felt.  These aha! moments can save lives.  I am grateful that John Larkin survived his own experience of depression to give us this incredibly important book.  

What’s Your Promise? | World Mental Health Day

Leading up to World Mental Health Day on October 10, Mental Health Australia has released an incredible campaign that makes it easy to make a difference.  I went into a coffee shop today and picked up one of their postcards.  It encourages you to make a promise to yourself.  There are so many simple things you can do to improve your happiness and wellbeing.  Find out what I promised at the end of the post.  This post is longer than average, but super important to me!

You may already know that I struggled with anxiety a lot this year.  Now that some things have changed and I am looking after my mental health better, I am a lot happier.  A few people even complimented me that I look much healthier too!  I am now more aware than ever of the importance of caring for my mental wellbeing.

Mental Health Australia’s postcard has a list of tips.  I feel passionately about a lot of these.  Please think about how you could start to use them in your own life.  They don’t take much time or effort to do, but will make a huge difference.

Ten Tips for 10/10

1. Sleep well

Having trouble getting to sleep?  There are so many guided meditations and other relaxing sound files you can listen to that can help calm down your mind.  I also find that a warm bath and a hot cup of tea relax me enough to sleep.  What things work best for you?

2. Enjoy healthy food

Good food makes my body feel energised.  I feel peppy and fab after a delicious, fresh meal.

3. Plan and prioritise your day

I used to struggle with this a lot in high school.  I always put a lot of pressure on myself as a high achiever, but I soon discovered that I couldn’t be perfect all the time.  Learning to plan and prioritise took a weight off.  Writing a to-do list could empty my mind enough to calm down and approach things one at a time.

4. Tune in to the music you love

What things make you happy?  Do them and love doing them!  Public approval not required.

5. Cut down on bad food and booze

As soon as I cut down on sugar and caffeine, my natural energy comes back.

6. Switch off your devices and tune out

I find that reading a book is super relaxing when the back lighting of my laptop or phone is keeping me buzzing.  I can usually only read for half an hour before my nodding head let’s me know it’s bed time.

7. Hang out with people who make you feel good

I think this tip is the most important to me.  Throughout the roller coaster of this tough year, the thing that has made me feel happiest, calmest, and best about myself is being around loving people.  Like everyone else, I need time by myself to do work and chill on the computer.  But when blah feelings kick in, nothing gets rid of them like spending time with people who bring positivity.

8. Join in, participate, and connect

Some of the best times I’ve had were when I built up the moxie to go do that thing I was invited to but was thinking of skipping because I couldn’t be bothered.  Putting in the effort to join in can be surprisingly rewarding.

9. Exercise your body and mind

Ah yes.  That one where your body has to move from the couch.  I was afraid it would come to this.  In all honesty, I actually find exercise so energising.  Even if I don’t go for a run, a short walk is a powerful way to unblock your head and feel more focused and grounded.

10. Seek advice and support when you need it

There are so many services available if you don’t feel like you can talk to your friends or family about things you are experiencing.  Do a Google search for walk-in centres near you, or for free, anonymous hotlines you can call to chat with a professional.  You absolutely never need to feel alone.  There is always someone else who has been in your exact same position.  I’m sure you have at least one friend who is a good listener and will open their arms to you.  Do you have someone in mind?  Give them a call.  Meet up for coffee and talk to them.

Now that I’m finished writing about this postcard, I’m mailing it to my dear friend who I think will appreciate it.  I love that this campaign makes it so easy to share the love!

What’s Your Promise?

I am going to make a promise to myself.  Something small and simple that I know will make a long term difference to my mental wellbeing.  Something I should never have stopped doing in the first place!

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 4.47.05 pm

What promise will you make?  Follow this link to submit and share your promise.  You can also get inspired by talking a look at the Promise Wall.  Over 9,000 people have shared their mental health promises!

I would love to see your promise if you would like to share it in the comments section.  Well done, you, for doing something positive to care for yourself.  Now share this with someone else!  

Book Review | The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

the-marriage-plot-book-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: The Marriage Plot
AUTHOR: Jeffrey Eugenides
PUBLISHER: Harper Collins
RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2011
GENRE: Adult Fiction

Do you ever find it hard to recommend a book that really impacted you?  Reading is so personal and books like The Marriage Plot are a unique experience for every reader.  I love how this story opened me up to deep self-reflection.

College graduates Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell are trapped in a love triangle.  Mitchell muses over his unrequited love for Madeleine during his gap-year search for religious epiphany.  Leonard’s manic depression endangers his career and relationships.  Madeleine finds her romance with Leonard waxing and waning as she struggles with her definition of love.   Continue reading