Advocacy has always been a focal point in my life, as well as in my career as a therapist, usually targeting mental health, social justice, and/or education rights, which I love and will always feel a deep passion and action toward.
Unfortunately, within the field of mental health, and throughout society, there is a tone of secrecy – other aspects of advocacy that are only discussed behind closed doors, or more often, not discussed at all. I’ve compiled a few areas of advocacy that are tough to talk about, but deserve attention and ongoing awareness. These books may even serve as a tool for someone not ready to address these topics, but who might be in search of validation and normalcy. My hope is that you leave here with something that you need, feeling just the littlest bit more ready to face the tough stuff.
This stack of books represents varying experiences of mental health and the variety of ways advocacy is impactful in the field. In order from top to bottom, we have:
A Shining Affliction by Annie G. Rogers, Ph.D.
This book details the experience of a mental health therapist providing mental health support while unearthing some of her own aspects of mental health that have been long suppressed and unprocessed. This book validates that everyone has experienced something, and may need support at times, even if you’re the person providing it most of the time. You’re allowed to acknowledge your experiences and ask for help, and your therapist is allowed to seek out therapy, too.
Okay Fine Whatever: The Year I Went From Being Afraid of Everything to Only Being Afraid of Most Things by Courtenay Hameister
While this book focuses on overcoming a lifetime of anxiety, it packs so much more depth than that. The author faces a wide spectrum of fears, goes on adventures, tries something different, explores outside the comfort zone, learns something new, says yes, says no, and most of all, accepts. Most of this is done within the context of acknowledging and overcoming anxiety, and the experience is nothing short of fantastic.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
If you are someone that has experienced anxiety throughout life – from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood – this book may meet your needs. Targeting a young adult audience, this book faces true and deep anxiety head-on and is not shy about addressing the realness and impact anxiety has on one’s life. It sneaks up on you and is one of the truest forms of the experience I have ever read and I could (and have) write about it forever.
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach
One of the most real, raw and heartbreaking tellings of watching another person – particularly a loved one and partner – experience deep and debilitating mental illness. I have never read a memoir like this before. A husband’s perspective of his wife slowly experiencing a long road of psychosis, and how life is managed throughout the experience. The appreciation I have for this book is almost impossible to describe, because this is hard work – facing and living all of this, and then sharing it with the world. It’s likely going to be seen and felt as more helpful, validating and real to the world than the author will ever know.
This stack* focuses on books that have to do with the body, particularly surrounding ownership, advocacy and the realness of one’s body.
*Disclaimer: some of the content in these books can be unsettling, as there are details and descriptions of sexual assault. In order from top to bottom:
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
The moment I heard about this book, I anticipated its release. Having been an adolescent girl myself with siblings that I feel like I could do anything for, this one really got me. It also details a complex and lovely queer relationship, which just adds to my love for this book. In this book, we follow twins, Mara and Owen, through their loving sibling friendship, and through their experience as teens. The beauty behind the tight-knit friendships they share feels whimsical and brings you back to those free-spirited days of being a teen. Everything shifts within the matter of a night, and we are left wondering if the accusation of sexual assault is real, and what it all means. This book is the book we all needed when we were younger – to better inform us of the real things that go on as an adolescent, and to teach us to be better at speaking up, using our voice, being ourselves and fighting for what is right.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
When approaching this book, know that you are in for a raw, real, honest, heartbreaking and empowering journey through Roxane Gay’s personal evolution through her experiences of childhood, adolescence and present-day realities. Gay notes from the beginning that every individual has a story, as well as a way to tell it, and she chose to do so by illustrating an understanding of her body and her hunger. This was easily my favorite read of 2017, as Gay has a beautiful, comforting and loving way of detailing the horrific experiences she went through, and supporting you to hold it and handle it with her, especially if you have been sexually assaulted yourself. She did not have to tell this personal and intimate story, but it can be felt throughout that she may have known that not only did the world need to hear it, but she was ready to tell it.
Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes
This graphic novel exists, and for that fact alone, I am grateful. This covers the experience of abortion, and details, with illustrations and easy-to-digest language, the options you have when facing an abortion. I understand the controversial thoughts this book may evoke but hear me out. If the decision is made to have an abortion, this book provides details and information on how to safely go about doing so and the rights you have throughout the different processes. This book will forever be on my shelf as a therapist, as it is easy for youth and adults to understand in order to make safe and informed decisions about their bodies. This also makes the whole topic feel less scary, and hopefully less isolating. Hoping this brings the littlest bit of comfort to those who need it.
Take It as a Compliment by Maria Stoian
Catcalling. Unwelcome grabs. Feeling violated in public. Feeling violated in private. Moments of feeling unsafe. This book covers each and every experience a woman may go through that could feel violating or unwanted, and faces the realities of the blame, shame and complete lack of accountability that they may receive in response to speaking up or calling it out. This graphic novel is beautifully illustrated, and incredibly authentic, based on experience. This book serves as a platform for women who have experienced these unwelcome gestures and validates that their discomfort and right to feeling safe is valid, heard and seen. This is another one that will always be on my shelf, as it can be read and understood by any age. However, the content and illustrations may be challenging for those who have had these experiences due to the realness of the content. A must-have, must-read.
These books detail a variety of experiences within a family and address areas that are deserving of better understanding and advocacy. In order from top to bottom:
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
So far, my favorite book of 2018, easily. Frankel details the experiences of a large family, full of love, complexities and quirks. With a perspective shifting from mother to father, we witness the parental experience of parenting a young, free and beautiful transgender youth, Poppy. Poppy has a large number of siblings and is holding a big secret from her friends, due to how her friends where she previously lived reacted in response to learning about her gender identity. Another book I could write about for days, however, you must know how important, imperative, and impactful this book is for any parent raising any child, as their child will likely interact with someone who identifies “differently” from them, in a variety of ways. I imagine parenting is not easy, but staying informed and educating youth is crucial to healing and growing as a society. If you read any book this year, have it be this.
Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
If you are a therapist or working with youth in some capacity, hands down you should have this book, along with her sequel, Three More Words, because I promise you, there is a lot you can learn. This book details the experience of growing up as a youth in the foster care system. It is complex, heartbreaking, heartwarming, will bring you up, then bring you down, then make you curious, then make you angry. It will take you everywhere, and it should, because it’s the littlest bit of insight as to what the author experienced, times ten. Her sequel details her experience becoming a foster parent, and with the two coupled together, you get a fuller picture of her life, growth, development, experiences and ways to cope. This should be a book you pick up, regardless of your involvement with the foster care system. This book will support you in better understanding others, and hopefully will create empathy and understanding for another person’s experience.
Every Other Weekend by Zulema Renee Summerfield
I can honestly say that I have never read a book that details any experience of divorce, especially from a child’s perspective, and this book does so and does it beautifully. I was completely absorbed by this book while reading, and then for a while afterward, as I felt completely validated in my own experiences with this topic. It’s complex, challenging, confusing and incredibly complicated. I appreciated the youth perspective, and how it may provide the littlest bit of insight to parents as their children go through this experience. I completely understand and empathize with how this experience is never easy and is one of the most difficult decisions to make, and I think knowing how to prepare your children is some of the most valuable and important information you could ever possibly have in your toolbox.
While each of these stacks of books detail various forms of advocacy in a specific topic, it is important to know that you do not have to wait until you are faced with that experience to then pick up a book to educate yourself. These experiences are happening all around us, and we interact with each other on a daily basis, attempting to grow and understand one another, while also navigating our own lives. Being proactive about advocacy and informing yourself on real experiences that go on outside of your context would be a game changer for our society, and is at least part of the answer for making this world a better place. Start slowly. Start with something familiar. Keep expanding, keep learning, keep growing. We all have so much to learn, and such little time to learn it. This is a good place to start.