book reviews · Bookish

The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl (Review)

I’m pleased to be bringing you a book review as part of the #LoveBooksGroupTours for The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl. Available now on Kindle, in Hardback and Paperback editions.

The Boy at the Door is a psychological thriller based in Norway and goes between the perspective of Cecilia and Tobias. Cecilia, the main character, is married to Johan and has two daughters. She initially appears to be a snobby, obnoxious and entitled woman, but it turns out that there is way more to her than you’d think, and frankly, the blurb doesn’t do the tale justice.

Tobias is a young boy who met Cecilia when he was at the same swimming lessons as her daughter, and when nobody came to pick him up after his lesson.

This book was a strange read for me, although an enjoyable one. I felt a few parts dragged a little, but this negative point was far outweighed by the excellent way Dahl built up the characters and their world and the parts that dragged were a part of that. Can’t have it both ways! So while I wanted to get on with the “meat” of the story, I was happy to really get to know the characters. The writing style was different to what’s typical of the genre and may not appeal to people who dislike a direct sort of tone and prefer a more nuanced style of writing.

Cecilia is not a good person. She’s also clearly got some mental issues. She makes you mad but also evokes sympathy from the reader too. She’s hard to be angry at even though she’s clearly quite regularly in the wrong. Tobias is written so well that you will want to just scoop him up and soothe him at times. The other characters mentioned are easy to visualise – one in particular, Annika, have a very firm and significant presence through the book and her characters story is woven through and will give you a dose of “feelings” too.

The story hits you with a significant event fairly early on and from there, it’s a wild ride. I guessed a small portion of the outcome but there were a bunch of twists that were entirely unexpected. Cecilia is a master at deception. So much so, she manages even to convince the reader with her lies.

We get to the truth in the very end, and I found myself rooting for Cecilia, despite all that she had done. I wanted the ending to be happy, but instead, the ending felt unfinished and left me with so many questions. One significant question – What about Tobias? It felt a little like a see-saw. Up and down and up and down but then the other person gets off and you go down with a massive thump and you’re a bit stunned. It ended with a bang but personally, I find these types of endings a little unfulfilling – I’m bad at imagination, even though you can likely fill in the gaps yourself. This is the only thing about the book that bothered me personally. That being said, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book as a whole and I would recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers that are a little bit different.

About the Book

On a rainy October evening, Cecilia Wilborg – loving wife, devoted mother, tennis club regular – is waiting for her kids to finish their swimming lesson. It’s been a long day. She can almost taste the crisp, cold glass of Chablis she’ll pour for herself once the girls are tucked up in bed.

But what Cecilia doesn’t know, is that this is the last time life will feel normal. Tonight she’ll be asked to drop a little boy home, a simple favour that will threaten to expose her deepest, darkest secret…

About the Author

Alex Dahl was born in Oslo, Norway, and is half American, half Norwegian, fully Francophile, and London resident.

Alex is the author of The Boy at the Door, published world-wide in 2018.

She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, as well as an MSc in Business Management. Alex loves to travel and has previously lived in Moscow, Paris, Stuttgart, Sandefjord, Switzerland and Bath.


book reviews · Bookish · mental health · Uncategorized

Start by Graham Morgan (Review)

Today, I am on the Love Groups Tour for Start by Graham Morgan, available now in both Kindle and Paperback editions. This is a non-fiction read about Mental Health, so I’m really pleased to have been given the opportunity to share this with you. Having poor mental health myself, I leapt at the chance to be a part of this tour.

Start by Graham Morgan is compelling read. It’s honest and brave but it doesn’t beg for sympathy or attention. You’ll be taken through a spectrum of feelings as Graham discusses his current life, his past and his journey with his mental health.

Life is messy as it is, life is extra messy when you’ve got mental illness in the mix and Graham does an excellent job at portraying this. Sometimes it’ll make you laugh and sometimes it will absolutely wrench at your heart. At one point, he talks about how some people are also suffering, and how it is horrific and unacceptable and why are we so suspicious of medication that helps?  “..so glazed and consumed that they cannot muster the energy to step foot outside the door, so lacking in confidence that they are unable to take the decision to make a cup of tea, then I think, ‘this is horrific’.” this in particular really hit me, because it resonates so strongly with myself; I felt awful for the people he was talking about, but at the same time, realised I was one of them, I just didn’t recognise it a lot of the time and then I realised Graham does this himself at points through the book too. It made me feel a little vulnerable but also I felt like I got some additional insight to myself, if that makes sense.

What is the “self”? What is “reality” and “truth”? What is “mental illness”? These questions spring to mind when Graham talks about how he is sick, but also, he talks about an “evil” inside of him and how he wants to keep it there and not spread it to others or unleash it on the world. He talks about talking about this to the people who would decide that he needs to remain detained. He talks about life, relationships, how mental illness can effect them, cause havoc and mayhem and how his life was effected all interwoven with being compelled to receive treatment for his struggles.

Graham puts an emphasis on the people around him, other people in his life and how he affects them – or thinks he affects them. It’s very personal and intimate but he is also very candid about his tale which is something I found quite comforting in itself. Mental illness can make you feel so alone; even in a room full of people – even those you love dearly, you can feel more alone than you could ever imagine and I found this book to be an excellent companion during that time.

Alongside all the struggles of life, Graham also talks about some of the absolute glories of life. Some things that many people don’t think about or take for granted. Every day things that are absolutely blissful. “It is lovely to be caught unawares by cliches and to feel that joy with which they can inspire you.” Reading a book and listening to the rain. The less extraordinary things of daily life can in fact be extraordinary if you just notice them and appreciate them.

I feel like I both understand Graham more, myself and other people with mental health struggles. It’s that extra perspective and insight. Mental illness is hard to accept, it’s another thing Graham talks about (alongside basically anything you may be wondering, I found), how basically it means accepting your reality is not quite true and these other people are right, that you are wrong, and how that is a horrible feeling. This really struck me as I found it the hardest struggle for myself when I first sought treatment for my poor mental health and I know it’s a common difficulty. The fear. The accepting that there is something wrong and that you’re not okay.

The book ends on the note that he is lucky for what he has and how so many people don’t have the support system that he has and that he would like that to change. Above everything, his concern for others shines through the darkness of his own struggles and to me that’s commendable but also inspiring.

This book is a must-read. It’s inspiring, it’ll make you giggle, it’ll make you wince and it will make you appreciate things you didn’t previously pay much mind to.

About the Book

Graham Morgan has an MBE for services to mental health, and helped to write the Scottish Mental Health (2003) Care and Treatment Act. This is the Act under which he is now detained.

Graham’s story addresses key issues around mental illness, a topic which is very much in the public sphere at the moment. However, it addresses mental illness from a perspective that is not heard frequently: that of those whose illness is so severe that they are subject to the Mental Health Act.

Graham’s is a positive story rooted in the natural world that Graham values greatly, which shows that, even with considerable barriers, people can work and lead responsible and independent lives; albeit with support from friends and mental health professionals. Graham does not gloss over or glamorise mental illness, instead he tries to show, despite the devastating impact mental illness can have both on those with the illness and those that are close to them, that people can live full and positive lives. A final chapter, bringing the reader up to date some years after Graham has been detained again, shows him living a fulfilling and productive life with his new family, coping with the symptoms that he still struggles to accept are an illness, and preparing to address the United Nations later in the year in his new role working with the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland.

About the Author

Graham was born in 1963 in York. He went to university as an angst- ridden student and was quickly admitted to one of the old mental asylums, prompting the work he has done for most of his life: helping people with mental illness speak up about their lives and their rights. He has mainly worked in Scotland, where he has lived for the last thirty years, twenty of them in the Highlands. In the course of this work he has been awarded an MBE, made Joint Service User Contributor of the Year by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and, lately, has spoken at the UN about his and other peoples’ experiences of detention. He has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and has been compulsorily treated under a CTO for the last ten years. He currently lives in Argyll with his partner and her young twins. Start is his first book.

Health · mental health · Uncategorized

Being Fat and Having an Eating Disorder

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(If it’s not obvious, this post contains details of having an eating disorder. It includes mentions of vomit and poop. You’ve been warned.) It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I began it back in March. It’s not because I’ve been avoiding sharing my story. Those who follow me on twitter know I always share and will always try to help – it’s just this has been very difficult for me and sometimes, it’s hard to put feelings in to words.

 

Being fat with an Eating Disorder. You heard me. Yeah, that’s a thing. There seems to be a sort of perpetual notion that only skinny young girls can have eating disorders and that. Wrong. Anyone can have an eating disorder. Let’s talk about that.

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Like many people, I’ve been struggling with my weight for quite a long time. I hit a point once we moved in to the house I previously lived in, that my weight just kept climbing. I felt out of control. I found myself going to the shop to stock up on junk food. Sometimes I’d hide the rubbish from the food or hide food away because I was ashamed by how much crap I was eating. I knew it was messed up. I kept eating till I felt sick, then I would make myself sick – it wasn’t difficult, my body was already threatening to upchuck it. I didn’t care. I’d keep throwing up until it hurt and I was sure it was all gone. Over time, I learned various “tricks” that made the entire process easier which was a double edged sword because while it made the individual “session” less painful, it meant vomiting was easier and it only encouraged me to do it more. I wont share those “tricks” here for some obvious reasons… You get the idea. It was pretty grim.

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I knew I needed help. I realised I had a serious problem and if I didn’t do something, it would kill me in one way or another, be it from my rapid weight gain itself, choking on my own vomit, having a heart attack or organ failure. Something was going to go wrong. So, I decided to ask for help. I thought at this point it would get easier. I mean, I knew recovery would be hard work for sure, but I’d have medical professionals supporting me. Oh, my poor misguided soul.

I went and saw my GP and while I wasn’t 100% truthful as I was ashamed of my purging, she listened and then she did something I know realise is awful. She prescribed me diet pills. Those things that stop your body from absorbing fat and make you shit it out. Spoiler alert, they’re not as magic as they sound. They have you crapping out orange oil – if you’re lucky. If you’re not so lucky, they’ll have you leaking orange oil stuff out of your arse. I was not so lucky. As if I didn’t feel awkward enough in public at the time. Oh boy. And farting in the bath? Yeah. That happened. Exactly what you think. She said that it should persuade me to consume less fat. What it ACTUALLY did was have me crying and vomiting harder.

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I stopped taking those damn pills and was grateful for my arse no longer feeling like a slip and slide, but I still needed HELP. I was referred to a dietician and the lady was very nice and said that it wasn’t right for me right now and agreed I needed help beyond her scope of expertise. So, I looked up about eating disorder care in my area as my GP was adamant that there wasn’t any and it wasn’t suitable for me. I was determined to get the help I needed. I saw her, armed with the information I had at my disposal and finally got her to refer me after months of her basically insisting I was just being a normal greedy person. FINALLY! I would have a professional to help me take that first step towards recovery.

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Blue Morpho butterflies symbolise a change in fortune and the spirit seeking transformation in change. Very apt imagery, I thought.

So, after a little while, I got my first appointment through which was an assessment with a Nurse Therapist – I forget her exact title and a dietician at the local Mental Health hospital. I went in via the inpatient area without realising there was a different entrance. It was a pretty harrowing experience and confirmed my resolve, but added to my fear. I didn’t want to have to be there with them. I didn’t want to end up like that.

They were very kind to me, though the appointment was very tough. They actually had me come back a second time to finish it, which is apparently normal. They were appalled at the way my GP had handled my situation and were confident they could help me. On the second appointment, they told me my diagnosis (officially, an EDNOS/OSFED – Binge Eating Disorder with a bulimia sub-type) and the course of treatment. 20 sessions they said. I kind of snuffed at it. People don’t fit in to neat little boxes like that. I thought “there is no way I’ll be better after 20 sessions.” I had so little understanding back then. I was fairly sure they wouldn’t be able to help me but I hoped so much that they could.

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The world got a little brighter. It took 6 months before I had my actual first appointment to start therapy as part of my treatment. They had directed me to a book called Overcoming Binge Eating which turned out to be basically like the actual treatment program.. But by the time I had that first actual treatment appointment, I’d managed to basically stop purging. I’d still do it on an odd occasion but it was no longer ritualistic. It was significant. I thought maybe it meant I was basically better and no longer needed the therapy. I was wrong. So wrong. I learned so much during my treatment and just how messed up things were but with the understanding came the ability to make changes and get better.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It was tough. SO tough. I even gained more weight which really freaked me the hickedy heck out, but she explained that my body was levelling itself back out again after the abuse and sure enough, the weight I’d gained during that period dropped back off as I kept up my treatment and the things we had implemented. One thing was making me eat every 3-4 hours. I struggled so much with that. I also learned that binging means different things to different people. To some, two biscuits is a binge. It was wholly about my mental state, not what I was actually consuming. I learned to stop considering some things as acceptable and others as unacceptable. I stopped seeing my binges as binges and my entire mindset changed.

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I found peace and acceptance within myself. I finished my treatment – which in all honesty, was terrifying. I’d have only myself to hold me accountable. To point out when my thinking was going down the wrong path. I had a “check in” after completing treatment to see how I was getting on and if there was anything I needed to ask etc before they discharged me. That was a year and a half ago now. I’m in recovery. A place I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it to – but I did.

It’s still tough, sometimes it’s really damn hard and those invasive thoughts do pop up; but they’re just thoughts. It’s up to me what I do with them. My eating disorder gave me the illusion of control, when really, it controlled me. It dictated my actions. What I ate. When I starved myself. When I made myself vomit. What I did. Now, that little “voice” pipes up sometimes, but I choose what I do and how I react to it. Sometimes it makes really convincing arguments and on some rare days it even manages to convince me, but it’s no longer dictating my entire life. I remember what I learned and implement some of the things I’d done in therapy if need be.

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I’m in a far better place now. It’s a weight off my shoulders. It’s liberating. I didn’t magically lose weight. I also didn’t gain weight (beyond the aforementioned part of my treatment). I’m fat. I’m 280lbs. Give or take. Weight fluctuates based on hormones, water retention, whether you had a shit today or not. It’s important to remember that and not obsess over the scales like I used to. Weighing myself several times a day. I was 296lbs at my heaviest) Now I’m in a better mindset, weigh myself much less often – rarely, in fact, have better tools to deal with my thoughts, have a deeper understanding of myself and a more significant respect and feelings of love for my body. With that love and acceptance, more positive changes can be made. Am I still vulnerable? Yes. Am I going to fight it anyway? Hell yes. I’m Liz, I’m fat, and I’m in recovery from an eating disorder.

I debated whether or not to go in to more detail or not in this post, but it’s already 1,500 words long apparently, so I’ll leave it on that note; but know that you’re not alone and it’s okay to seek help. Even healthy weight people can struggle to get treatment for eating disorders as it’s something still so misunderstood – but know that you ARE worth it. If you are ready to heal, seek recovery. Keep pushing. I’m so glad I kept pushing and got help. It changed my life for the better.

Stay safe. All my love x

body · disability · Health · Life · self-care · Uncategorized

Have you heard of Flotation?

Have you heard of flotation? I don’t mean those big inflatable pool-floaty things or those foam pool noodles or rectangles you use to help you to learn how to swim. Turns out, floatation actually has nothing to do with swimming at all. Shows like Stranger Things brought a little more attention to floatation, but many people still haven’t heard of it or know what it does, so I had a chat with Mark Smethurst – The owner of a flotation therapy center in my little town of Stafford (the first one that opened in the West Midlands, actually!) to find out about the center and what flotation is actually all about. Spoiler alert: It’s fascinating, and I think everyone should give it a go!

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Time to Float‘s location was a little bit surreal to me, as it turns out, it’s actually in the building of an old radio station that I used to volunteer for. I’m good at getting lost, so thankfully, it means I know exactly where the place is! (Which is at 146 Marston Road, Stafford, ST16 3BT, if you decide you'[d like to give it a go!)

So what actually is flotation? It’s basically a less scary way of talking about a sensory deprivation pod. It doesn’t make you awaken latent crazy powers like TV may have you believe, but it can do a lot of other things for you; but I’ll go in to that shortly. First I’m going to tell you a little about this particular flotation center.

As I mentioned, Time to Float was the first flotation therapy location to open in the West Midlands. Flotation is gaining more traction in the world and when you understand what it can do, it’s easy to see why! The location is a small one in the Northern Quarter of Stafford county town (which has some lovely places to visit in general) and delightfully cosy with warm and welcome staff who are happy to have a good natter with you or just let you do your thing.

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So, what do you do, and what can it do for you?

Well, I won’t go in to too many details of what happens when you get there, but basically you fill out a health form, have a little tour and have the place explained to you and this introduction is tailored to you based on your responses to the health form if you have certain medical issues.

In the room is a flotation pod (it’s actually about the size of a Mercedes A Class) and a shower and a few other bits and bobs that will be explained to you before you start, and they’ll only leave you once you’re comfortable! You have a shower and get in this big-ass pod of water and literally sit back and float, thanks to the 800lbs of epsom salt! Now, its advised you close the pod and turn off the light but you can have the light on if you want or prop the pod open or whatever you like.

The water in the pod is heated to body temperature, as is the air, which is circulated to keep the flow of oxygen. Thanks to the 800lbs of epsom salt (which leave your skin feeling so soft, and you don’t look like a prune when you get out either!), you just float in the water effortlessly. (The pod water is filtered four times after each use and the room cleaned, plus the salts are a natural disinfectant too, if that concerns you at all!) Apparently, it’s so relaxing, many people simply fall asleep half way through, which is totally okay! In fact, sleeping for a short while in the pod can have the effect of several hours of really blissful sleep. The salt has a sort of anti-gravity effect, resulting in a feeling of weightlessness; this also helps muscles to get complete rest (and breakdown lactic acid) and for your skeleton to re-align in its natural position. This effect, combined with the high levels of magnesium thanks to the salt (which is also anti-inflammatory) mean floatation can actually help a huge variety of ailments and chronic illnesses, including chronic pain, sleep disorders, mental health issues, or even just being sore from a workout.

Music lulls you away and will also slowly bring you back to reality after your hour is up. You get out, shower to wash all the salt away and get changed and then there is a little recovery room with a hair dryer and mirrors and some skincare products if you wish to use them. Then it’s back through to the main area where they will give you all the water you can drink and let you chill for as long as you like. They’re happy to talk about your float or just leave you to it. Whatever you’d prefer to do basically.

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There’s way more I could go in to, but this post is already getting a little lengthy. However, chances are, if you suffer from any ailment, floatation can probably help as an alternative therapy – keep in mind though, it’s not a magic cure, nor does it claim to be! However, as someone with chronic illnesses, I couldn’t resist looking in to it and the science checks out. Though you’re welcome to do your own research or contact the center for a chat if you want to learn more. If you choose to book, they have a Float More program they can tell you about too. (that link will take you to referral by me, but if you go in person or talk on the phone or social media, be sure to give me a cheeky little mention)

Even if you feel pretty well in yourself, floatation can really have a great effect as it helps encourage production of endorphins and a reduction of cortisol, so it may just be good for some self-care or a slice of zen. I think that it’s certainly worth a go. If anything can help my pain without having to dose up on medication, that’s always good.

You can find out more via the Time to Float website or catch them on twitter @timetofloatuk. Have you ever tried floatation? Or do you want to give it a go now? I’m interested to hear what you think!

 

Health · Life · self-care · Uncategorized

6 tips for Self-Care

Self-care is SUCH an important thing, yet many of us fail to do it on a regular basis. Life is hectic and often, we are too busy trying to be kind and help other people that we forget to do it for ourselves. So, today, I thought I’d share some of my self-care tips/activities outside of basic human functioning (maybe I’ll do another post on that?)

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Read a book – Maybe even go and read outside if the weather is nice. Your body would benefit from the dose of vitamin D. Books allow us to escape in to an entirely different world and escape from our own heads for a little while. This is one of my favourite hobbies and it benefits my mental health greatly.

Spend 20 minutes outside – As I mentioned in my previous point, the body benefits greatly from Vitamin D. Living in England, it’s so easy to be deficient in vitamin D, so it’s good to take some time and sit outside, even if you just sit there texting, have your lunch, make a phone call or whatever. It’ll give you a nice little boost.

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Drink more water – An obvious one yet so many of us don’t do it. We can often be so busy that we forget to sip water here and there. You can add fruits or cucumber or mint leaves or whatever to have infused water for a refreshing twist. Our bodies have a high percentage of water and while you may not feel particularly thirsty, even slight dehydration can have a negative effect on the body. Keep your brain-sponge full of water and you will be more prepared for dealing with your day.

Use a facemask – It’s good to stop and have a little pamper. You don’t even have to stop now with a lot of facemasks. Throw one on while you’re in the bath, reading, playing games, cleaning the kitchen; or actually lie back and just take the time to rest. Your skin will be happy for the care and it’s good to look after yourself.

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Get off social media – We’re all guilty of being a little addicted to social media. Have you ever thought about how much time you waste passively using social media; such as just scrolling through facebook and not really doing anything? There have actually been studies that show this can have a negative impact on mental health. (Sorry, if you wanna see the studies, you’ll have to google them yourself! The youtuber Boyinaband summarised my point in his video about internet addiction really well though.)

Colour in a colouring book page – You’re a grown adult. So what? Nothing compares to going back to child-like roots where you colour in or scribble with reckless abandon. The image in a colouring book is already there so there is no pressure to get something drawn; you don’t have to really think about it. It’s a good escape and it makes your brain happy. If you’re like me and still feel a bit like you need to colour perfectly and use the right shades or whatever, there’s a book called Colour Quest which is basically like a colour by numbers but they’re all tessellating shapes – you won’t figure out the image until you’ve coloured a lot of it in!

That’s it for this post. I may do another one soon if people enjoyed this. I have quite a few more ideas! If you have any fun or unusual tips for self-care, I’d love to hear them.

Remember to be kind to yourself!