This week we will focus our nonfiction list around biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs, because there is no story quite like real-life experience.
That moment when you’re walking down the aisle and then find out that your groom was not only already married the entire time you were dating, but had his wife stuffed in the attic WHILE YOU WERE LIVING IN THAT SAME HOUSE. Right? No? Exactly, no. Because no one with a bare-bones sense of humanity would actually do that. I’m sending that poor woman a fruit basket with a key hidden under the pineapple, an escape map of the Rochester grounds, and a machete in case she wants to get revenge on her way out.
Before I found out about the existence of Wide Sargasso Sea (which has remained on my TBR for far too long), the “woman in the attic” storyline within Jane Eyre, framed by our male lead as some kind of terrible misunderstanding where he is the victim (*sighs in fucboi recognition*), gave me the heebie-jeebies for more reasons than the ones in plain sight. Mr. Rochester does not stop at duplicity, lying, or even the eye-popping, mind-boggling cruelty of imprisoning his spouse in an attic; he is violently and arrogantly ignorant, plagued by Victorian imperial entitlement, and, in plain English, thoroughly dehumanizing his wife.
If Antoinette Cosway Mason—her name before Edward Fairfax Rochester pulled the classic colonial gargoyle move of changing a creole woman’s name into something more English—had been of fine, stout mental health when she got married, she could have understandably hit her breaking point after her marriage. Victorian British repression, the war against the mythical female hysteria, and the iron fist of colonialism with all its layers (elitism, violent racism, rampant sexism) are the true forces behind the making of “the woman in the attic”—nameless, mad, villain. So much gaslighting my head hurts.
Mental Health Day is coming up. So, if you find Mr. Rochester as problematic as I do, humor me for a moment, and let’s speculate: what would have happened if Mr. Rochester had not been an imperial-minded, densely patriarchal, oppressive fucboi with severe allergies to accountability? Well, we’d be talking about a whole new character. Let’s give Antoinette a better partner: what would he look like? Let’s study the facts first.
As of European imperialism, mental health in people of color has developed a branch particular to being under the boot of the colonizer. Every subject of the British empire who was not born on British soil to a completely white family and raised under British customs, was subject to a viciously layered form of oppression. We’re talking about a strong cocktail of dehumanization (“your life is of no value/less value than European lives” and quite literally “you’re not actually human”), powerlessness (“you do not nor will ever make the rules here”), abuse (“your purpose in life is to be used by others”), marginalization (“don’t forget this is not your country, stay on the sidelines and take the scraps”), and invisibility (“justice, laws, and protection do not apply to you”); take a moment to truly put yourself in these shoes, and you will need no further explanation as to why I maintain that Antoinette did not need a complicated family background to have become mentally ill.
She does, however, also have a traumatic family history; as per Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette Cosway Mason’s childhood includes sinking into poverty, an abusive stepfather, losing a sibling, losing a home, becoming separated from her mother, and witnessing her mother’s mental downfall due to financial and family struggles. Antoinette was also privy specifically to Englishmen taking advantage of vulnerable local women, as this was the reason why her mother acquired the English surname Mason in a second desperate marriage.
Upon marrying Rochester, Antoinette faces a blackmailer demanding money and threatening to destroy her reputation, and a cheating husband who flaunts his affairs and starts calling her Bertha? (Run, girl). Her marriage falls apart, she is an orphan, and (cherry on top) is shipped to England, where she knows no one. Enter attic arrest.
So, now that I have left you with some empirical context and stepped aside to drill a hole into my punching bag (which I labeled “Empires of the World”), let’s get back to the creative portion of this article: if I could have my way and put a different dude in Antoinette’s path that was loving, supportive and actually helpful, what would this person look like? Do you feel a list coming? I do.
1. Support, support, support
Antoinette has had a difficult life, and aren’t relationships supposed to be a kind of safe haven? The right person (let’s call them Human Jollywoke—Hugh, for short) would know this and maybe reassure Antoinette that she is no longer in that same turbulent place that was her childhood. She is safe now and she has a friend.
2. Thou shalt not gaslight
You don’t get to hit someone over the head with a (metaphorical) lead pipe and then complain that they’re on the ground. They’re on the ground because you hit them. Maybe if Rochester had asked Antoinette (not Bertha, DAMN IT) why she was upset, he might have realized that he was the one being a crapper.
3. Awareness is sexy.
If Mr. Jollywoke was English, he would be aware of his privilege and use it for good. He would not leave Antoinette stranded in a sea of racism and nonexistent opportunities, but would help amplify her voice in their social circles, and walk by her side as a person who respects her. Mr. Jollywoke would not act like Antoinette is crazy when she points out that proper English ladies think less of her for being creole. He would listen to her, do his best to understand her, and use his influence to help empower her.
4. To diagnose or not to diagnose
Some of those who have studied Jane Eyre from a clinical perspective have come to the conclusion that Antoinette exhibits symptoms of Huntington disease. I personally don’t know if I buy it (see the aforementioned lead pipe), but I’m not above finding myself in the wrong. If she did develop Huntington disease at some point during her traumatic life, the answer was NEVER to have her husband tie her to a chair and lock her away from humanity. A clinical label is not a “certifiably crazy” stamp, but an invitation to take special care. I still hold the belief, though, that Antoinette’s only illness was being a traumatized creole woman in a consistently retraumatizing living situation.
5. Death already did us part because you are dead inside
It was too common a tale in colonial West Indies for European men to marry local women of white-enough appearance and upbringing, the result often being humiliation and abuse and a lot of men taking advantage of vulnerable situations. Mr. Jollywoke would be someone with no interest in silencing, taming, or stashing Antoinette away. Ideally, Hugh would have a healthy enough self-esteem to consult Antoinette on where they would live and what kind of a role she would have in their married life.
In honor of Mental Health Day, please remember to do your part in crushing the systems that keep, in the words of George Orwell, some people “more equal than others.” Also, remember that red flags are real, and that they exist to keep you out of relationshits. Isolating and controlling someone’s access to the world are some of the early signs of an abusive relationship, so please please please call a friend or a domestic violence hotline if you fear for your life. Never forget you are the full weight of an Antoinette; it is no one’s right to make you a Bertha.
featured image via Khambay’s Words, Words, Words
“Your now is not your forever”. – Aza, Turtles All The Way Down.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I had no inkling of what was wrong with me. I was down the rabbit hole and it seemed like nothing ever would change. I stayed in the rabbit hole for a very long time. No sign of light. All I could feel was a coldness around me while I lay stark naked. Some days I still find comfort there. In complete darkness. There are nights where I feel like I’m the only person in the world. When I was drowning in my emotions, the only thing that kept me afloat was John Green.
John Green is a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me, he is the light at the end of the tunnel. When I didn’t even feel like getting out of bed, his books were what kept me awake. When I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I found solace in his writing that illuminated my life with the answers I needed.
I remember the first time I read his book The Fault In Our Stars. My mom got me a copy and I devoured it in 4 hours. I laughed, I cried, and the book was like the best friend I never had. The therapist that reminded me “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” And the realisation that “Oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have.” It was a love story. But to me, it was what gave my life a new perspective.
I quickly looked him up and other books by him. This time, I decided to read him chronologically.
His very first book, Looking for Alaska is really underrated. It’s the one that pulled me out of my void. It’s the book that I keep going back to every time I spiral my way into oblivion. “You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” But at the same time, it gives you the strength to know that, “We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreparably broken.” If I weren’t scared of needles, I would have this tattooed on me.
The best part about reading John Green books is that the characters are flawed just like we are. Just like his flawed characters are worth loving, it’s a constant reminder that we are too. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being worth loving despite the flaws. We are what we are, and in that we are whole. And chances are that when you are feeling what you do, you’re never alone. Somewhere out there is thinking and feeling the same. Even if they are just characters in a book.
Whether it is his first novel Looking for Alaska or his latest one Turtles All The Way Down, Green’s books teach you what it means to be human. How you can live your life in the best way possible. That your mental illness is just a small part of you and no matter what you’re going through right now, it’s not going to last forever. “Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”
I wish I had read books by him growing up, as I came across them much later in my life. I love how all of his books have an element of normalising mental health. When I first read Turtles All The Way Down, I made a point to give a copy to everyone who was close to me so they could understand what anxiety feels like. Of course, mental illnesses show differently on different people but I finally had the right words for what I felt. “The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”
But wait. What’s a 20-something doing reading coming-of-age novels? Aren’t these books meant for teens? NO! These books are meant for anyone and everyone who has ever struggled with any mental health issues. They transport you to a time where these issues are normalised. They make you believe that there isn’t anything wrong in feeling what you feel. And that’s exactly what you need sometimes. He saved my life. If you haven’t dug into John Green’s books, there’s no better time than now to start reading!
Featured Image: The New York Times
Bryant’s idea for the book came from his reflection on the loneliness of swimming, having spent time with elite swimmers during the Olympics.
If there is any one thing that has proven to be incredibly beneficial and important in the face of a global pandemic, it’s wellness. From mental wellbeing to physical fitness, this period of immense change, stress, and adjustment has been ideal for taking a step back from our busy lives, and figuring out how we feel, and how we can take control of our lives.
Whether you have taken up running, lived for your lockdown morning yoga session, or scheduled a Zoom call with your therapist, it’s likely that you have developed your own methods of keeping well, and staying centred and happy. We asked five wellness authors and experts about how they have changed their own routines, and what they suggest for wellness in the ‘New Normal’.
1. What aspect of wellness do you consider your area of expertise?
Michelle DesPres: Intuition is the key to all wellness as insight is the healing component. While Intuitive Therapy is akin to talk therapy, it goes deeper into a person’s soul’s history, yielding instant physical, emotional, mental and spiritual results while eliminating the need for clients to toil trying to find their solutions. This is why clients tell me that 1 hour with me is like 10 years of therapy. Intuitive sessions generally offer breakthroughs in all aspects of one’s life from growing personally to reconciling relationships, finding purpose and even mending the world.
Anna Penenberg: I work with the mind-body connection. My healing approach integrates neurobiology, psychotherapy, and wisdom traditions into personal pathways of re-patterning. Releasing the root causes of held emotions and early beliefs through the body and inner children, can bring healthy integration.
Brooke Lewis Bellas: I would consider my area of expertise in wellness as the area of LOVE, whether it be self-love as a board certified life coach or love as a dating and relationship expert… It’s all about love.
Coaching From A Professed Hot Mess: TIPS to help you embrace your HOT MESS, BE FEARLESS and OWN IT!
So, in 2016, I chose to embrace my “crazy” and use my blessed and beautiful bedside table book to profess…”I am a HOT MESS!” Yup…I said it, rock it and OWN IT! Now, being an Actress, Life Coach and Dating Expert in the public eye, some may think I am really “crazy” sharing this with the world! There is something valuable in these pages for everyone. You will find advice and tips for Life, Love, Female Empowerment, LGBT Support, Self-esteem, Body Image, Bullying, Ageism, Dating and Online Dating. If one thing I coach helps you, this was worth all the frustration. If you only read one chapter that speaks to you, this was worth it. If you keep this book on your bedside table to turn to when you need a tip or reminder, this was worth it. If you learn to love your body, no matter what number is on the scale, this was worth it. If you learn to face your fears, this was worth it. If you feel compelled to get back out there and date after a breakup or divorce, this was worth it. If you choose to try online dating, this was worth it. If you learn to honor yourself and your choices, no matter what (flaws and all!), this was worth it.
Ms. Vampy’s Teen Tawk: There’s A Lotta Power In Ya Choices:
The Ms. Vampy’s Tween Tawk, Teen Tawk & In Between Tawk series and the book are designed to inspire tween and teen girls, and address issues that girls face today, including body image, inner beauty, self-esteem, making powerful choices, dating and relationships, bullying, facing fears, following their dreams, and, most importantly, being themselves!
Sherianna Boyle: I consider myself an expert in emotional processing. I find labeling an emotion is one thing, learning how to process an emotion is a whole different ball game.
Kay Hutchison: My expertise is knowing all the wellness options and helping pick the right one for a particular situation or problem. I have experience of a broad spectrum of different therapies from a time when I had a number of health concerns to deal with myself. Eventually I recovered thanks to those therapies and therapists and, experiencing them all for myself, I know what is most likely to be beneficial for specific health complaints.
Kay Hutchison is a content creator with extensive experience in radio, television and publishing. After gaining her BMus and MA in music at Glasgow University, she joined Decca Records in London and then BBC Radio as a Producer. Kay moved across to television with Channel 4 and went on to lead the launch teams for Disney TV and Channel Five. In the build-up to the 2012 London Olympics, she successfully led the legacy partnership that delivered a long-term future for the multi-million-pound Olympics Broadcast Centre. Kay founded her own company, Belle Media and launched Belle Kids in 2015, producing multi-platform, conservation-focused content for children. She is the author of My Life In Thirty Seven Therapies: From Yoga To Hypnosis and Why Voodoo is Never the Answer.
image via bythebook
2. When did your wellness journey begin? Has it always been a part of your life?
Michelle DesPres: My wellness journey began in my early 30’s when I was in the midst of a life crisis. However, I would later learn that my journey really started when I was only 4 years old. Intuition taught me that my early childhood experiences were designed to send me in the direction toward awakening my higher self. As a result, I also learned how to heal my inner-child which has been a large part of my wellness journey.
Anna Penenberg: Yes, it has always been a part of my life. I grew up dancing and I have always eaten whole foods and exercised.
Brooke Lewis Bellas: I truly feel that my wellness journey began long before my awareness of it. I have always been an incredibly sensitive and empathic person, and I started consciously studying wellness, spirituality, intuition, and metaphysics in college, but I don’t think I knew, then, how profound it would become in my adult life and career. I think from my own challenges since childhood, with divorce, chronic health issues, like allergies, asthma and fibromyalgia, I was sort of forced to tap into my intuition, feelings and body. I feel I have gained a keen sense of empathy, intuition, wellness, awareness, and spirit that has followed me throughout all of my various careers as an actress, producer, life coach, dating expert, author, and philanthropist.
Brooke Lewis Bellas is an award-winning Board Certified Life Coach and Dating and Relationship Coach and Expert, as well as a renowned actress and author. From The Ms. Vampy’s Tween Tawk, Teen Tawk & In Between Tawk to Coaching From A Professed Hot Mess, which hit #1 New Release in both Etiquette and Guides & Advice on Amazon. This book was also the Winner of the Beverly Hills Book Awards 2016 Self-help Motivational Book, London Book Festival Awards 2016 How-to Book, and Independent Press Awards 2017 How-to Book. Following the success of her book, Brooke partnered with Metal Babe Mayhem to brand and launch their ‘Rock Your Hot Mess’, ‘Ms. Vampy’ and ‘Scream Queen Brooke Lewis’ clothing lines. She was also branded with the hypoallergenic Makeup and Skincare Company TASH Cosmetics to launch their ‘Profess Your Hot Mess’ and ‘Ms. Vampy Girl’ makeup lines. Brooke is also a committed philanthropist.
image via twitter
Sherianna Boyle: Yes, I have always been interested in self improvement, exercise, the mind and body since I was a teenager. I would say it began around age 15.
Kay Hutchison: Wellness was not part of my life until I became ill and had to do something to change. My wellness journey began when I had a mid-life crisis and many things that I had come to take for granted, suddenly fell apart in one way or another. These included my stable home with my husband of 20 years, my close family, my job in tv and my physical health. Through this experience, I realised that wellness needed to become front and centre from then on. It’s often difficult for women to focus on self-care and yet it’s the most important part of living a happy and balanced life. Rushing around, looking after everyone else is what we usually learn, and do rather well. That’s a lovely aspect to our make-up, but as life speeds up and becomes more complicated, we need to ensure that those vital energies that keep us going are regularly replenished.
3. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, how did you transfer your routine from the gym/outdoors to your home?
Michelle DesPres: With the COVID-19 outbreak, I’ve transferred a large part of my gym routine to gardening and house maintenance. Although, I’m lucky to live in Colorado where there is a lot of open space and so my sweetie and I have also been trekking (with masks) the local trails in our area where we are least likely to come in contact with others.
Michelle DesPres is a certified clairvoyant medium trained under the Berkeley Psychic Institute program for inner development. She is the author of the books The Clairvoyant Path, and most recently, INTUITIVELY YOU, Evolve Your Life and Mend the Word, helping others discover personal and collective fulfillment. She also published the Intuitive Ethical Standards, establishing guidelines for alternative therapists.
image via DesPres
Anna Penenberg: I have a regular practice of yoga and meditation that I do with my daughter on zoom every morning. I sometimes take yoga or dance classes on zoom. I also have a Pilates reformer on an outside deck, that I work out on a couple of times a week. And I live near hiking trails and take walks often.
Brooke Lewis Bellas: Working as an actress in the public eye and being naturally on the more thick and voluptuous side, I have always been compelled to work out and work hard to at least maintain my weight. One of the greatest purchases I ever made years ago (and, I am now on my fourth one!) was purchasing a treadmill to keep in my home and, let me tell you ladies, it has been a blessing in every way prior to, and during, COVID-19. I am so grateful that I have continuously kept my treadmill up to date, because for any career women out there, women in business or women in film, it is an absolute for me and I don’t know what I would do without a treadmill in my home all these years. Even if it means between meetings, running over and doing a 30-minute run on the treadmill, I can just figure out a way to work out and I have been so grateful to have it during COVID-19. Oh, by the way, did I mention I have ordered more pizza during COVID-19 than I have in 10 years?
Sherianna Boyle: Fortunately, I was already in the process of getting ready to bring my Cleanse Yoga® practices to an online platform. The virus just gave me and my business partner for Cleanselife.com a kick in the butt. The platform offers a variety of on demand practices Cleanse Yoga® (each of which include our signature emotional cleanse).
Kay Hutchison: I think the transition was less stressful because I had learned about staying calm through meditation, a 10-day silent retreat and regular yoga. I missed meeting friends, but because we all knew it was about staying safe and well, at first we just got on with it in our homes on our own. But soon the gym instructors discovered zoom and the schedule began to fill up with virtual sessions. When we eventually get back to socialising, I believe we will equally appreciate group sessions and solo practice. Covid-19 has allowed us to experience the value of peace and slowing everything down, including exercise.
4. How are you keeping busy in lockdown?
Michelle DesPres: Interestingly, the minute we went on lockdown, I doubled my efforts to get my online school launched, something I’d been working on prior to. I also quickly organized all my clients and students into an online platform, knowing they would need my support and the support of one another to get through this time. I am now expanding my online reach in an effort to be there for more people as a calming resource during these chaotic times.
Anna Penenberg: I am busy with phone or zoom sessions with clients and writing blogs, articles and media for my new memoir. I have two daughters and we are very close. One lives with me and the other visits with social distancing hikes and dinner.
Brooke Lewis Bellas: Honestly, I have been as busy as ever, just more virtually than ever before! I am a firm believer in keeping energy moving, whenever possible, even during crisis and challenging times. I am currently in post-production on film and TV projects with various teams for Red Rooms, Stripped, and The Second Age of Aquarius. As we know, a lot has been halted with COVID-19, but we have been forging ahead! I have been watching and voting on a lot of content as a Judge for The New York Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NY NATAS) and for the horrific Shriekfest Film Festival. I have been doing a lot of COVID-19 charity fundraisers and working behind the scenes to raise money for The Actors Fund and Frontline Responders Fund during this pandemic crisis. Lastly, I also just shot a super fun video for Breaking The Chains Foundation (BTCF) where I am a celebrity ambassador to raise awareness for eating disorders, body shaming, body image issues and healing them through the arts. Founder, Debra Hopkins, and I produced a video series, MATURE WOMEN EMBRACE YOUR BODIES & BE FABULOUS, we are passionate about and cannot wait to share with women and your readers!
Sherianna Boyle: Oh, boy well I just started the Emotional Detox Radio Show on Healthylife.net which has kept me super busy. I also finished another book and like I mentioned earlier, we launch cleanselife.com which has multiple offerings including Corporate Wellness.
Sherianna Boyle, MED, CAGS, is an adjunct psychology professor, author of eight books, and founder of Emotional Detox Coaching, C.L.E.A.N.S.E. Method, and C.L.E.A.N.S.E. Yoga. Her work has been featured in more than eighty articles in publications such as Yoga Journal, Psychology Today, Organic Authority, Prevention, and First for Women. Sherianna provides Emotional Detox workshops through renowned centers such as Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and 1440 Multiversity. Find her Emotional Detox podcast, workshops, and services at SheriannaBoyle.com.
image via Sherianna Boyle
Kay Hutchison: I’m busy with writing and running my children’s book publishing business. I also produce a podcast about Books & Stories, and am busy planning a new children’s book series. When I’m not working, I enjoy walking in the picturesque countryside of Kent – lots of trees, wildlife, birds and sheep. I’m about to start a cleanse which I’ll need time to do properly – preparing and eating vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in lots of simple dishes.
5. What do you think is the best way to incorporate healthy (mind/body) practices into your everyday?
Michelle DesPres: Intuitively checking in with my energy and my motives throughout my day is how I maintain a healthy mind/body. For instance, I know that if I’m not speaking my truth, I will get a cold. So, if I’m intuitively witnessing my energy field and I see a block in my throat, it’s a sign that I need to communicate something or I’ll get sick. These intuitive check-ins show me the state of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies allowing me to find a well-rounded sense of health.
Anna Penenberg: It is best to make a schedule of mind/body practices for a general routine. This brings structure and creates a foundation of self-care that can support you over time. You can then depend on showing up for yourself and feel the benefits of regular physical, emotional and mental practices that allow you to be your best. Eating well, sleeping well and exercising/sweating are our best tools for wellness.
Anna Penenberg works with individuals and families affected by trauma. A healer by nature and training, her approach integrates neurobiology, psychotherapy, and wisdom traditions into personal pathways of re-patterning. Anna holds a BA in Psychology and MA in Dance Therapy from UCLA, with certifications in Marriage & Family Therapy, Body-Mind Centering®, Infant Developmental Movement, and Kundalini Yoga & Meditation. She is the mother of two adult daughters and lives in Topanga, California. Dancing in the Narrows is her first book.
image via goodreads
Brooke Lewis Bellas: Balance, Baby! I think balance is so important, and I will be the first to admit that I am a hypocrite when it comes to balance and I need to balance more in my own everyday life. I want to work a little less and have a little more fun! I strongly believe in moderation and I think in order to have the healthiest mind and body each one of us can have, we have to put equal work into our mental health, physical health and spiritual health. And, you know what ladies…It is okay to cheat on our diets once in a while… it’s okay to miss a workout every now and then… it’s okay to take a day off of work and play hooky and find your truth that feeds your soul! Find balance, whatever that means to you, because segueing right back to my book Coaching From A Professed Hot Mess, we are all “perfectly imperfect” just the way we are!
Sherianna Boyle: Find something you really enjoy and commit to it. Make sure the thing you do brings you joy. In other words, don’t just think about results that will only get you so far in the mind/body journey. You want to look forward to your routine.
Kay Hutchison: Give yourself time at the start of each day to think about what’s important. Underlying everything, should be your health and wellbeing. It’s not about rushing around doing as much as possible, it’s about taking the time to do what needs to be done and balancing periods of rest and quiet reflection with bursts of activity. Making sure you have the right kinds of food in the house and that you make enough time to enjoy it will help your digestion work well. And making time to prepare for sleep will help you to put life into some perspective, no matter how strange our days might seem right now.
Be kind to yourself. That way leads to good health.