Saturday, 18 August 2018

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Dear Fahrenheit 451
A Librarian's Love Letter and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life
Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You have been a pleasure to read. You popped up on Amazon a couple of months ago as a recommendation and I ordered you from the library, feeling my heart sink a little when I realised there was only one copy of you in the system and that with a mobile library which meant it would be WEEKS before I got you.

You were worth the wait.

I admit, I didn’t read you from start to finish. I went through your contents and cherry picked the letters I wanted to read first. I saw there was one for Matilda by Roald Dahl and made a beeline for it. From there it was To Kill a Mockingbird and The Yellow Wallpaper. A dozen more including the eponymous Fahrenheit 451. Having assured myself that your intentions were honourable by how you addressed my faves, I read all the ones in between, and then on to the last section which is chockful of recommendations.

Your love of The Virgin Suicides is somewhat on the rabid side. I read this book decades ago, recall enjoying it but not to the degree that you obviously did. It’s now on my ‘To Re-Read’ list. I have the first in the Frog and Toad books on order from the library because of this quote you referenced:

Frog, said Toad, let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop. Fred and Toad ate one very last cookie. We must stop eating! Cried Toad as he ate another.”

I feel this Toad character might be my spirit animal, judging by this and the other quotes you selected about him.

I’m saddened you don’t mention The Secret History, Donna Tartt’s best book in my eyes. You neglect it in favour of The Little Friend (which I gave up on after page 102 as I just couldn’t get into it) and The Goldfinch (which I never even bothered to pick up as I didn’t want it to be a repeat of TLF). In your defence your writing about these two titles does make me think perhaps I should give these books a proper go.

I worked in a library from age 16 to age 22 and so it isn’t just the books that drew me to you but the evocation of librarian life. The nostalgia for the good times and the good partons. The shudders over the not so good characters like Balaclava Man with his penchant for porn and his creepy putative-sex-offender aura. I know you know what I’m talking about! I can recall the state some books were returned in. I don’t just mean visually hideous. I mean nasally offensive too. I remember a pile of children’s picture books dumped on the counter by a woman with squat broad shoulders and a face like a bulldog licking piss off a thistle who skewered me with her belligerent gaze just daring me to say something about the stink of urine and shit palpably rising from the abused items. I was 17 at the time and said nothing. After that customer walked away, my manager quietly told me we could be binning those items, and there was a discreet wipe down of the counter surface moments later. So, thanks for helping me relive that. I still recall that smell.

I don’t think my local village library ever stock anything as racy as The One-Hour Orgasm, which makes me about 10% sad that I didn’t have the prurient delight of seeing it on the shelves and 90% glad that I never had to handle a book which you so aptly describe as being for ‘people to hold in one hand while they squeeze their lubed-up balls with the other’. It makes even the aforementioned human-waste ruined books seemed like a better alternative.

I love the wide selection of genres you encompass. You mention Banana Yoshimoto, who I enjoy and haven't heard mentioned by anyone else I know. You share the same favourite Jane Austen novel as me - Persuasion. It really is the best, isn't it? We have the same reaction surrounding the name 'Ralph' - thank you, Judy Blume's Forever. You even address the library in Beauty & The Beast with the right amount of reverence. And I enjoyed your regular use of the word 'fuck' to emphasise appropriate points.

I want to sit down and go through you again from cover to cover and make a list of all the books you recommend but I know that that way Serious Overwhelm lies. Instead, I am giving you the greatest accolade by adding you to my Christmas list so come the end of December I can consult your recommended pages and see what I fancy to see in the New Year with.

Thank you, Dear Fahrenheit 451. You have been an entertaining delight to read, and one I will be compulsively recommending to anyone who utters the phrase 'Read anything good lately?' in my hearing.



9 out of 10

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Joy of Reading

From ManorBooks blog
As a child and a teen, I read with a voracious appetite. Anything. Fiction and non-fiction, whatever caught my eye. Poetry, prose, plays – if it had words, I read it.

I began to get out of the habit of regular reading for pleasure when I was at university, oddly enough. There was so much reading to do anyway for history and English that the recreational part of it got squeezed further and further to the sidelines. After university, I did still read here and there, especially when I commuted to and from work by train at a time when there were a LOT of delays and what should have been a simple 20 minute trip home could take an hour, but I didn’t read with the commitment of my younger years. In my late twenties and throughout my thirties, commuting behind me, I read sporadically. Picked up a book that was recommended; browsed in the library and got something when temptation struck. I got into audiobooks but enjoyable as they are it isn’t quite the same as sitting down with a book.
Quote found on Pinterest
After I had my first experience with depression and anxiety, part of me became a little wary of reading certain things. I had absorbed a fear into my bones and for a few years I was over-cautious in what I read, wary of triggering a mental health trip up. This resulted in a censoring of the books I chose which reduced my reading still further. Having recently had my third episode of d&a, I have realised the importance of facing my fears rather than letting them dictate my actions.

One piece of advice on recovering from depression is to set goals to give yourself something to work towards. Not great huge targets but simple things you can chip away at each day.

The goal I have set myself?

Get back into reading.
From Pinterest
I’m not using a reading challenge or setting myself a sterile goal of this many pages per day and this many books per month. No. I’m talking about reading like I did when I was younger. Every day. Picking up whatever I fancied.

Nearly 4 weeks ago, I started a reading journal to support me in this goal. In the back, I listed the books I had from the library and the few unread books I had on my shelves. In the front I wrote my plain and simple goal, and under that I have listed a number of other meandering goals with no inherent date for completion. Read a book published in each year from 1900 to the present day. Find and read a BookCrossing book (done). Finish something from my owned and unread pile and release that into the BookCrossing world (also done). Read my first MaryWesley. Random ideas on things I would like to do.

I write down quotes that speak to me from the books I am reading. I note down new words I pick up – four so far if you are interested, transpontinemanquée, scripophily and squamate – and I write about my reactions to the stories and the characters I am absorbing.

It’s so lovely to be reading regularly again. I can already feel the calming effect of it; the pleasure of using my 'reading muscles' on a day to day basis. This article lists 8 way reading can boost mental health. Harriet Allner talks about self-medicating with books, and there's the Reading Well project that promotes reading as a route to health and wellbeing, so it's not like I'm the first to the party making a connection between reading and the benefits it can have.
From CountryLiving
Anxiety has affected my ability to feel comfortable in my own skin. I need to re-learn how to sit and stay where I am. Reading is one of the primary tools I can access to do just that. And it enables me to meet dragons!

Friday, 3 August 2018

A Child of Books

This is a beautiful, beautiful book. Technically, it's aimed at children, but if you are an adult who needed books and reading almost as much as air when you were a child/teen then this book will speak to you.

The illustrations on each page incorporate text from a variety of sources - classics like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea to fairy tales like the Goose Girl. The text is used to create waves on which a boat floats, branches coming off a tree, dense clumps forming a horned monster clutching a castle.

The two 'characters' of the book have no names. There is the little girl, self-possessed and composed of all she has read and dreamed. There is the little boy, pale and anxious and unsure, being tempted into the wonderful world of stories by his confident new companion. 

The final line of the book reads 'For Imagination Is Free'. Such a true and exhilarating statement.

I am a child of books. The words in this story are so simple and yet they resonated with me. Can't wait to add this book to my collection.

10 out of 10

Thursday, 2 August 2018


What an unobtrusive word to say. No jarring consonants. No long dragging vowels. Nothing remarkable about the sound it makes. You’d hardly believe how toxic a word this could be.

Normal is a word I am challenging at present. When I’m at my lowest, one of the unhelpful phrases that runs around and around my noggin is:
I just want to be normal.

It has the same self-denying properties as ‘Iwant to be better’ but it also has the nasty edge of comparison to it.

What do I mean by the word ‘normal’?

I mean Happy. Not only not having depression and anxiety but NEVER HAVING HAD THESE THINGS.

I mean Content. Content to get up, go to work, come home, watch the telly, go to bed and then repeat ad infinitum. To not want or need anything that is beyond easy grasp. A lack of restlessness. No impulse for wild, impossible dreams. No ache for life to be more than it has turned out to be.

I mean Perfect Physical Health. No illnesses, no suffering, no dodgy genetics, no diagnosed condition that means storms ahead and difficult decision re treatment and/or surgery.

It’s a relatively short list. Do I know anyone who fits this description? Um . . . no. You know why? Because it’s impossible to be or have or achieve all these three things permanently for an entire life.

This list is not the standard list. Everyone will have a different definition of ‘normal’ – quite often one that is in opposition to what they have or are capable of having. We so often set ourselves a standard that our own experience and existence excludes us from.  

So. When you are having a bad day and thoughts like ‘why can’t I be normal?’ start swilling around your head, maybe it would help to write down everything you mean by 'normal'. And see if that actually applies to anyone you know.

Sunday, 29 July 2018


Another of the words I can find myself focussing on. Not in a proactive way but in a whiny, tired child way:

I want to be better.

When things are bad, this sentence rolls around and around the inside of my skull.

I want to be better.

What do I mean by ‘better’? What does ‘better’ look like to me?

Image from Pixabay
If I’m entirely honest, in the context I think it in, the word definitely has amnesiac qualities. By ‘better’ I mean free of all depression and anxiety, and that includes the memories of these things too. I want this to have been some awkward phase that I will never, ever, ever go through again. I want to recapture my previous complacency. My ignorance. I want to shed the darkness and the panic like an old unwanted skin and leave it rotting in the dirt as I blithely skip away. It isn’t about being re-born. It’s about regressing to a previous innocence.

And that is never going to happen.

As it stands, ‘I want to be better’ is an impossible statement and one I need to challenge and replace with something more positive and realistic. The words come straight from that inner child part of me that is, frankly, terrified of the bleak places I have discovered inside myself and would do anything, ANYTHING, to turn back the clock.

I let my inner child control a lot of my thought processes during my second episode and it led to weeks of suffering, and months of recovery. This time, I am trying a new tack.

Take a step back. Look at the words that come up over and over. Work out the thinking and the meaning behind them, and adapt and rewrite to give me ideas on how to move forward.

I want to understand my depression and anxiety better.

I want to be better at self-acceptance.

Of course, this kind of change takes repetition to reinforce but I’d rather start today than not at all.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018


One of the words I hate most in the English language is ‘should’. It’s a relatively small word and looks innocuous enough but that word alone has caused suffering on a great scale.

For 5 years I have been living with the background fear of a recurrence in anxiety and depression. At age 40, I have now had my third episode, and though I had the power of hindsight to recognise the signs and get help from my GP and my community of family and friends very quickly I know that recovery is not as simple as take-this-pill-every-day-and-do-lots-of-the-things-you-enjoy.

I’m tired of the fear and feel that now is the time to tackle things in greater depth than I have before. To list and address all those shoulds that riddle their way through my thoughts at 2am in the morning.

BRCA1. That was the catalyst for the mental rearranging that left me wide open to mental illness. A letter from the genetics team at Cambridge confirming that I, like the majority of my paternal family members who had gone for testing, carried this gene. Breast cancer risk – 85-95% depending on who you asked. Ovarian cancer risk – 40%. Referrals to this hospital department and that. A breast MRI. An ultrasound scan and blood test looking for elevated CA125.

We are given the rational advice not to imagine the worst that can happen. It makes no sense, we are told, to do this. One positive BRCA1 diagnosis later and that is turned on its head. You are ordered to think the worst. A breast consultant coolly looks you over and tells you that you are ‘stupid’ if you don’t get your breasts removed as soon as possible. A gynaecological specialist airily tells you that HRT will solve any problems you get when you have your ovaries removed and your body goes into early menopause.

It has been nearly 8 years since I heard about BRCA1. Roughly 7 since my blood test results came back. 4 years this August since I had my preventive mastectomy.

In my head, I see a life cut off. Anything I could have been or done – cauterised. Off I went on a tangent.

And I realise that part of what lurks behind my anxiety and depression if the fact that I can’t forgive myself for the way I should have handled it and didn’t.


I should have been able to view the facts with dispassion. I should have been able to weigh up the pros and cons of each option and make the best one for me, and once that decision was made to move on blithely with life.

I shouldn’t have succumbed to depression and anxiety. I shouldn’t have needed the level of support I did from friends and family. I shouldn’t have been so sledgehammered by grief and anger and a sense of betrayal.

I have a friend who has this year received confirmation that she has MS. MS and a BRCA1 diagnosis are miles apart but one thing that links them is that if you have it you find yourself in a position where you have to make choices. You are given a shit sandwich and told that you have to take a big old bite. You get to choose where from but the act of sinking your teeth into something you don’t want to touch is non-negotiable.

When I meet my friend for lunch, do I look her in the eye and tell her she needs to be calm and practical? Do I tell her that I expect her to be clinical in her decisions? To not let those decisions and their aftermath cause her grief and pain? That she shouldn’t expect her friends and family to support her whenever she needs it?



Because she is my friend and when she needs me I will be there, not because I have to be but because I want to be.I think she has every right to whatever grief and rage course through her at the unfairness of what life has dealt her. I want her to know that she is not alone and she is loved. 

What does forgiveness look like? I'm not sure but I know I need to accept what has gone before and realise that I made the decisions I was able to based on the tools I had at my disposal.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Depression Cha-Cha-Cha

After my 40th birthday earlier this year, I decided it was time to come off my citalopram. I began to phase it out in April and by early May I was off. Hurrah! I had done it! I was drug free! I revelled in my new socially acceptable status. I could now be one of the normal people again!

Did I come off my pills after talking it over with my doctor? No! I didn’t need to do that. I’m all grown up and mature and know what to do with my own body.

Did I put anything in place to monitor my state of mind so I’d be aware of any changes that were symptomatic of a returning depression? No! Because I didn’t need the pills anymore you see. I was ‘fixed’. I’d only needed to take the pills to sort out blips. Just blips. I didn’t need to think about long term monitoring or anything tedious like that. Did I mention, coming off the pills meant I was normal?

Today, I went back on them. I had an emergency 2 week supply I wisely left over after decreasing and coming off. Today I phone my doctor’s surgery and ask if it’s possible to get a prescription for them again, two days after bursting into tears in front of my doctor at his suggestion that I do just that while vehemently saying I didn’t want the pills.

Robert Brault defines an Optimist as someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha.

That’s how I’m framing things at the moment in my head: I’m in the midst of mental health cha cha.

I’m also in a depression. Fuck. Do you know how hard that is to type? It’s not a one-off thing. Not a things-are-shit-in-my-life-I-can-justify-the-state-of-my-head depression. My brain has always turned in on itself with sharp, sharp knives. The only thing that has changed is that in my mid-thirties under the strain of a BRCA1 diagnosis and the pressure for surgery my body discovered the physical symptoms of anxiety – and that really has been a game-changer. Anxiety and insomnia have literally given me nowhere to hide from myself.

Events in the last couple of days have shown me that I need to stop thinking of these episodes as blips inspired by outside events. They come from my own internal chemistry. It isn’t about taking pills short term and being able to move on like nothing happened. It’s accepting the fact that just like with a physical condition I need to be aware of how to monitor my mental health.

The most painful part of this process? Realising I can’t be the person I should be. Not want to be or aspire to be. Should be. The responsible one. The rational one. The reliable one. The common-sense one.

I start hypnotherapy next week. Now, I won’t be starting it with a ‘this will cure me totally’ attitude. Because nothing is going to cure me. Nothing. There are things like yoga and meditation and hypnotherapy that will give me tools to manage better. But they can’t change the fact that I am never going to be the woman I ‘should’ be. And part of the process for me over the upcoming weeks is going to be accepting the woman I am.

So. This morning I feel quiet and thoughtful and sad and small.

And I'm also looking at my wardrobe to work out the best dress to wear for my cha-cha-cha.