Films and novels are great at glamorising sadness, yet in reality it’s anything but glamorous. I remember one of the lowest moments in my life was sleeping on the floor of my own sublet room in London watching a man on TV watch his own TV as part of Big Brother Live. I was broke, broken-hearted and breaking down with no idea how to get through it all. There was no epic instrumental music, no dramatic fight with a loved one or montage of me running into the ocean with tears streaming down my face. No, the reality of anxiety and depression is that it can be utterly mundane and regular, and the secret to living with it is knowing what it’s all about.
The Book of Knowing by clinical psychologist and author Gwendoline Smith, attempts to do exactly that. It goes beneath the superficial surface of what we think anxiety is to how it is triggered and how it works in the mind. The beauty of this book is that it is written for and aimed at young adults. If only I had read this book when I was a teen, I would’ve saved myself years of confusion and torment (and horrendous television viewing choices).
The book uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which it notes is “recognised as a highly effective, evidence-based therapeutic approach for the treatment of mood disorders, depression, anxiety and general dissatisfaction with life”. As a current CBT follower, I can confirm this is the shiz. CBT uses tangible practices to help change your thought patterns and Smith’s book is a great introduction to this. She notes, “If I understand how I think, I get to choose how I feel”. A more modern, less pretentious, I think therefore I am?
Smith relies on very simple language and a lot of diagrams and sketches to help. I was almost waiting for a meme to pop up, this is how relevant it is. The only issue is that sometimes it’s too simple. Sometimes it felt like it was trying too hard to target its demographic. At times too generalised, “I’m too fat!” or at worst, sometimes condescending “The guy only text xx instead of xxx”. Then again, I haven’t been a teenager for a long time and perhaps I’m finally learning to love my love handles and two-kisses messages.
What I loved about the book was its tangible approach with lists and tips to actually help you put these things into practice. One important aspect of CBT is putting things into perspective: Check the facts. This helps if you over-generalise or catastrophise the small things. Everyone hates you? Where are the facts? Separate feelings from facts. What about your mum? She probably doesn’t hate you. “Essentially the goal cannot be to change the reality,because the reality just is. You have power over how you evaluate the reality…and how you respond”. I find this particularly helpful in the dating world. I went on a date then the dude ghosted me. Must mean I will die alone. That is a great example of over catastrophising. Instead, where the facts? Can you actually see into the future? Do I choose to dwell on this and only see the negatives or change my perspective and realise dude is probably a loser whose fingers fell off, so he can’t type and that’s sad for him but whatever, I will get on with my life?
This is perhaps one of the most powerful messages in the book: you have the power to change how you respond to situations. Reality often sucks. Shit does happen. There’s a reason these make for great bumper stickers. But instead of dwelling on the idea that you cannot change it, you can change how you respond it. Climate change is happening. But how will you respond to it? People can be assholes. But how do you respond to it?
Smith’s book is an excellent read for those new to this fuckery that is our mind and how it works. It is also a good gift to give those who don’t understand anxiety or live with someone who has anxiety and they need an insight into what the actual thing is. Sadly, mental health is still stigmatized and the book makes note of this right from the start. I for one am glad there is much more accessible literature about it now, if even to just make people realise that this is something we all need to be talking about.
Gwendoline Smith’s The Book of Knowing (Allen&Unwin) is out now.Support Villainesse