This book is a great insight into something a lot of readers will relate to, especially at the current time when we’re in the middle of the third lockdown of this pandemic. Mental health referrals are soaring, particularly for anxiety, OCD and depression, and although I’m not counselling at the moment I know there are clients who would really benefit from reading this book. It definitely helped me too. Some people expect counsellors to have their mental health in tip top condition, but often we’re ‘wounded healers’ who have experienced mental ill health. I’ve had bouts of depression and anxiety in the past, and so do others in my family, which lead me to a career in mental health. I encourage clients to read books like this one. There’s a great sense of solidarity in knowing you are not alone, gaining an insight into what someone else’s inner thoughts are like, and how they affect their day to day lives.
Amy is the narrator of the novel and despite functioning well on the surface, she has all three of the conditions I’ve already mentioned. Amy works full time, has a home to maintain and manages to keep up with friends. On the outside she is coping. Inside though, she is battling against a constant, exhausting, barrage of intrusive and dark thoughts. I thought the author did an incredible job of creating this relatable and loveable character, because it helps the reader empathise with her daily difficulties and journey moving forwards. It’s a very difficult balancing act to show the reader how it feels to be in Amy’s shoes while creating an easy and engaging read that never felt too heavy. The writer shows us how simply daily living, like going on a bus journey. Amy has to somehow negotiate paying, balancing while the bus is moving, and getting the bus to stop while all the time her brain is screaming ‘Don’t touch that handrail’ or ‘don’t press the button’. Then the hardest part of all is keeping a serene, swan-like surface so that nobody around her notices anything different. Followed by the constant worry about whether people noticed or thought she was weird.
I felt Amy was in a position a lot of people with these mental health conditions face; she could identify her anxieties and concerns as ‘wrong thinking’ but she needed coping strategies for day to day. At lot of readers might identify this as a time when they were part way through therapy, or when facing a flare-up of their symptoms and needing to update or refresh their coping skills.
I found Amy very difficult to leave within the pages of the book when finished. She played on my mind for a few days as I thought about her struggle and what insights I’d gained from the novel. Therapists read case studies all the time, but it was impactful to experience Amy in the format of a novel. Clients bring to therapy their frame of reference. The therapist sees events through their eyes and accepts their account as their ‘lived experience’ without judgement. There are times when we might sense another version of events, and this is what the novel gave me. I felt more immersed in her life, could see how she functioned with family and friends, and in her work situation. The author stripped away all the medicalised jargon and the impersonal language of a case study and instead gave me a fully-fledged person to know inside and out. I did find myself running through how I would help and support Amy.
The novel emphasised something I’ve always thought vital for someone experiencing these conditions; the existence of a strong, support network. In fact, Amy hits her lowest point when her closest friend announces she’s moving overseas. When we’re feeling mentally unwell we don’t always recognise or feel able to accept offers of help. Being honest with friends and family about how we feel and allowing them to support and help us as we move on is so important I felt a lot of hope for Amy going forward, and for the clients I will be able to help more fully after reading her journey.
Meet The Author
Lana Grace Riva has written two books, one nonfiction the other fiction, both based on her experiences of mental health. Her first book ‘Happier Thinking’ is a short collection of tips and exercises to maintain a healthy mind. Her second book ‘The Existence Of Amy’ is a fictional story based on a very real depiction of mental illness.
If you enjoyed this I would also recommend the memoir Pure by Rose Cartwright for an insight into Pure OCD.