Detached by Christina Kilbourne Review

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Synopsis

Anna has always been so level-headed, so easy-going, so talented and funny. How could anyone have guessed she wanted to die?

Anna is not like other people. For one thing, she’s been an accomplished artist since she was a preschooler. For another, she’s always felt like she didn’t belong: not with other kids, not with her family, not in her body. It isn’t until her grandparents are killed in a tragic accident, however, that Anna starts to feel untethered. She begins to wonder what it would be like if she didn’t exist and the thought of escaping the aimless drifting is the only thing that brings her comfort.

When Anna overdoses on prescription pain killers the doctors realize she has been suffering from depression and start looking for a way to help her out of the desperate black hole she never thought she would escape. It’s then that rock bottom comes into sight and the journey back to normal begins.

Review

I want to begin this review by first recognizing the author’s dedication to writing a book of hope rather than writing for the purpose of glamorizing mental illness. While I believe that there can be tremendous value and inspiration found in the pages of books about mental illness, I also believe that if authors are not careful, their work can do more harm than good. Christina Kilbourne not only recognizes this fact, but she does a wonderful job of harnessing the power of written words in a way that inspires the reader to seek help or empathize with the character rather than triggering copycat behavior.

While I was in the initial stages of researching this book, I came across a quote from the author which states, “I wanted a story that would be sensitive, but not suggestive. I wanted a story that would appeal to teens, yet not scare off parents, teachers or librarians. I wanted a story that would show the despair suicide brings to family and friends without being preachy […] I wanted to write a book about suicide that would bring hope, understanding and perhaps a measure of comfort to anyone who might be reading and want to end their life. At the same time, I wanted those who had lost a loved one to suicide to realize it wasn’t their fault”.

My reader’s note to the author (if she ever happens to read this…) is that Detached absolutely 100% without a doubt achieves each and every one of these goals. I did not find the book to be the least bit suggestive or preachy and as a mid-twenties reader I could definitely see myself referring Detached to teenagers and older adults alike. The story is written with such finesse and the reader truly gets to experience an inside look at depression, suicide, and the debilitating reality of mental health conditions. If you are someone who has personally experienced depression, suicidal ideation, or suicidal behaviors, you might just find yourself feeling incredibly understood  and inspired by the pages of Detached. Alternatively, if you are someone who has not personally struggled but has a loved one who does, you might begin to better understand what your loved one is feeling by reading Kilbourne’s novel.

Detached is both deeply saddening and yet somehow powerfully inspiring. I felt such a strong connection to the main character, Anna, due to my own experiences with mental illness and I can honestly say that Kilbourne did an excellent job of depicting Anna’s struggles realistically rather than glamorizing it for a more dramatic storyline. But don’t let that statement convince you that the story is not dramatic; on the contrary, I found Detached to be an entirely gripping novel to read. I could NOT put this book down! In fact, when my alarm woke me up at 9am the morning after I finished Detached I mentally scolded myself for staying up until 3am reading, but it was definitely well worth staying up to finish!

One unique element to this book which I have not previously found in any young adult fiction about mental illness is the inclusion of an adult point of view. The story is told from the rotating perspectives of Anna, her best friend, and her mother. This aspect of the book is both intriguing and functional because it allows the reader to approach the story from their own perspective whether they are the person who is struggling or the person who is looking in trying to help. In my opinion, this element of the novel makes it more appealing to a wider audience because adults might actually find it easier to relate to the story from the adult perspective. Of course, this is just a theory as I am not a parent nor an “adult” (I refuse to embrace that title until I’m at least 25) but I might test this theory by referring the book to a few of the more “adultier” adults in my life to see what they think!

On another note, I also wanted to take a moment to appreciate the applicability of the title of Detached. When I think of my own experiences with depression, the first thing that comes to mind is the overwhelming feeling of being detached and isolated from the world around me. While no two people will experience mental illness in the same way, I know many people who have expressed a similar feeling of detachment from both themselves and those around them. I can think of absolutely no better word to describe Anna’s story in this novel and if I’m being completely honest, it was the title which initially drew me to this book and inspired my decision to contact the publisher for an advanced reader copy. So in this respect, I suppose you might say that I began empathizing with this book before I even turned the first page.

Overall, Detached is an incredibly remarkable story about grief, suicide, substance abuse, and learning to rebuild a shattered life. Upon further reflection I realized that this book is reminiscent of one of my favorite quotes by J. K. Rowling which states, “rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life”.  This quote has been something of a mantra that I have adopted into my own life when I am struggling and I found myself relating to Detached in the same way that I relate to the quote. The story allowed me to feel as though my struggles are valid while still recognizing the fact that it is possible to overcome even the darkest of depressive episodes.

I honestly believe that this story has the potential to save lives. If you or someone you know is struggling, perhaps you might consider reading this novel. It might just help you shine a light on all the darkness in your life.

Lastly, I would also like to point out that the Detached blog tour is perfectly timed to align with the approaching World Suicide Prevention Day which occurs on September 10, 2016. I can think of no other book which would be better suited to raising awareness about suicide so it seems especially fitting that Dundern Press has arranged for this book tour to take place in alignment with such an important day. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be part of this book tour and I would like to encourage all of my readers to not only read Detached which was recently released, but also to raise awareness and start conversations on World Suicide Prevention Day. Every voice counts in the fight to end mental health stigma!

xo
Ayla

Note: I received a complementary copy of this book from Dundurn press in exchange for an honest reader review and participation in the Detached Book Tour. The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own. 

“HER” by Felicia Johnson: Bookworm Bloggin’

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The most recent book that I’ve been reading (and absolutely LOVING) is HER by Felicia Johnson. 

The book follows the life of a soon-to-be eighteen year old woman named Kristen who is in a short-term psychiatric facility after attempting suicide. As you progress through the book you will learn that Kristen’s younger brother, Nicholas, was sexually abused by his father (Kristen’s step-father), Jack. Throughout the story Kristen shares feelings of grief and guilt over her inability to stop the abuse after discovering that it was happening. As a means of coping, Kristen uses self-injury in the form of cutting in order to punish herself for not protecting Nick. Her self-harm is later identified as a symptom of a larger issue when Dr. pelchat, her psychiatrist at Bent Creek,  diagnoses her with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Essentially, the book follows Kristen’s life as she navigates the trials and tribulations of recovery and makes strides towards reclaiming her life and her happiness.

Overall, I found this book to be deeply moving, extraordinarily raw, and ground-breakingly honest about the realities of mental illness. Johnson tackles so many taboo topics from incest to self-mutilation to suicide and so much more. Kristen experiences so much pain in her short life and I found myself empathizing with so many of her experiences. As someone who has many things in common with Kristen, I felt an immense amount of compassion for her character. Alternatively, looking at Kristen’s story from the perspective of someone who has experienced none of these challenges I believe that this book could serve as a learning tool to help people understand what it is like to live through traumatic experiences and deal with the consequences of others’ destructive actions.

I believe that this book is something that everyone should read. If society was more educated about the experiences of individuals who are victims of abuse (or otherwise exposed to abuse) then I believe there would be less stigma attached to mental illnesses that are a direct result of such abuse. As someone who has experienced childhood sexual abuse, I can attest to the fact that society teaches everyone to turn a blind eye to the suffering of victims. I personally survived years of abuse and developed multiple mental health conditions as a result, one of which was self-harm. However, due to the stigma attached to my illnesses, I suffered in silence until my mental and physical health had deteriorated to a potentially life-threatening state. This never should have happened and I honestly believe that books such as HER could prevent other’s from suffering in a similar manner by raising awareness about such issues and diminishing stigma.

If I’m being completely honest, I was initially a bit hesitant to read this book for fear that it would trigger my own self-harm urges. However, I think that Johnson does an excellent job of exposing the reader to the reality of self-harm without resorting to triggering language or imagery. She describes Kristen’s emotional suffering and her addiction to self-harm in a way that I believe readers might be able to empathize with. I personally empathized with Kristen in this respect as a result of my own experiences, but I believe that even people who have never resorted to self-injury might be able to imagine what Kristen was feeling in those moments. In fact, I think that the way Johnson describes Kristen’s self-harm urges would be useful to parents, friends, and care-providers who are supporting an individual struggling with self-harm. Readers could really learn to empathize and truly understand the struggle of self-harm addiction by reading this book.

I truly believe that this book could change the way that people understand mental illness. Books such as HER are bringing us one step closer to abolishing the stigmatization of mental illness and I must commend Felicia Johnson on her absolutely wonderful novel. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Seriously, go read it!

As always, thank you for reading!

xo

Ayla

Cyber Danger: Mental Health Edition

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Hello internet users near and far! If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a fan of the internet. Admittedly, I too am a fond lover of the world wide web; but what about the dark hidden corners of the internet?

I think of the internet similar to a large city. Just as a city has the big giant buildings and corporations, the internet has it’s own giants such as Google, Facebook, and so on. Then there are the smaller scale privately owned shops which are the equivalent to this little blog that I’ve got going on. For the most part, cities are wonderful; but there are also those back alleys and unsafe areas that you must approach with caution and never walk through alone (if at all). Unfortunately, these dark places also exist online in many forms, but the one area that I see these dark places manifesting is in online pro-eating disorder, pro-self-harm, and pro-suicide communities.

These communities are dangerous and damaging. These communities thrive on the mental illnesses of people and often operate by preying on people when they are at their weakest. These communities target people who are already struggling and take an issue from bad to potentially catastrophic.

The saddening part about this is that the people who are creating and maintaining such online forums are often just as sick as the people who join them. These people are looking for support and trying to find someone–anyone–who can understand their struggles and provide them with validation. Unfortunately, this “support” often comes in the form of tips and tricks which allow individuals to become sicker and sicker until they are consumed by their illness.

What begins as a community intended to make people feel understood turns into a life threatening community. Unfortunately, with something so large as the internet, it is impossible to prevent these online communities from popping up again and again. But what we can do is educate people about the dangers of such communities. Just as not talking about sexual health does not prevent pregnancy and STDs, avoiding the subject of dangerous mental health forums will not prevent people from seeking them out. We as a society need to take a proactive approach to this issue rather than a reactive approach. We need to help educate people about the dangers of the internet while simultaneously pointing them in the direction of the helpful resources which can also be found online.

It breaks my heart to know that someone somewhere is online right now getting advice about how to end their life or starve themselves down to a life threatening body weight or how to injure themselves worse than they have already been doing. It’s a horrible reality and something needs to be done to prevent these communities from growing in numbers and users. We need to find a way to show people that the dark alleys of the internet are not the places to find support.

Thoughts?

Ayla

Life flashed before my eyes

Today I had a terrifying experience. Today I came very close to a fatal accident. 

My day started off like any other with my usual morning routine and an hour long drive to school. The drive to school is usually a relaxing experience for me because it gives me time to myself to just listen to music and think. But today was different. Today a woman decided to change lanes without checking her blind spot. Today my car horn did not work. Today I was forced to swerve into another lane at 120km per hour in a panic. Today my car fishtailed out of control and nearly collided with a cement barrier at 120km per hour. Today I came within a few feet of death. Today my life flashed before my eyes.

It sounds so cliche but in that moment I was terrified; I honestly thought “this is it, I’m going to die”. I was saddened at the thought that my life was going to end in such a tragic way; I’ve always thought that the death of young people in car accidents is terrible because it is so unexpected. It happens so fast. The experience was so terrifying but it opened my eyes to something: I don’t want to die. 

I’ve barely had a taste of life. I have yet to experience so much of what the world has to offer. I want to LIVE. I want to get married and buy a house and start a career and travel the world and grow old with the people that I love. 

Lately I have been struggling a lot with my anxiety and panic disorder and it sadly got to the point where I was having suicidal thoughts. It was not so bad as actually thinking about HOW I would do it, it was just empty thoughts about having nothing to live for. I kept thinking that there was nothing to look forward to and that there really was no reason for me to stick around. The emotional pain I was and still am feeling had gotten to the point where I was cutting on a regular basis again. I was slipping back into my bulimia. I was having panic attacks on an almost daily basis. I didn’t know what to do. 

Today I realized that I was wrong. There is so much to live for, so much to be thankful for, so much potential for my future. I want to live and be happy and fight through all of my hardships because I will become stronger. 

I will not say that I am happy that the incident happened today (in fact, if I ever met the woman that cut me off I would certainly give her a lesson on checking her blind spot) but it did open my eyes to the fact that deep down I really dont want to die.

This is something that many people take for granted, but if you ever suffer from a mental illness and you reach a certain level of hopelessness, it becomes extremely difficult to fight off suicidal thoughts. As terrifying as that may seem, its the truth. While I can honestly say I dont think I would ever actually act on the thoughts, it is still terrifying to have such thoughts. I just really hope I can overcome the thoughts in the future because I really do have so much to live for.