Perfectly Hidden Depression by Margaret Robinson Rutherford

No one knows the real you because you never let them in. You’re not comfortable with the reality of you so you pretend it doesn’t exist.  If this sounds all too familiar to you, then you need this book.

5/5 stars.
ARC, ebook, 232 pages.
Read from May 29, 2019 to May 31, 2019.

You always meet your deadlines regardless of how you’re feeling, you push forward through difficult circumstances and hide behind a facade in order to keep an appearance of having it all together. All because you don’t want to be perceived as incompetent or weak, yet inside you’re constantly battling with yourself, your feelings, and your self-worth. You’ve tried to line yourself up with the standard definitions of depression yet you never fully fit it due to your heightened sense of responsibility, your inability to recognise or share your feelings, and the high sense of control you constantly try to implement in your life. No one knows the real you because you never let them in. You’re not comfortable with the reality of you so you pretend it doesn’t exist.  If this sounds all too familiar to you, then you need this book.

After some harrowing experiences with patients, the author of this book noticed a pattern and began to put together the shape of this unique type of depression that often goes unnoticed and undiagnosed. Coined by the author, Perfectly Hidden Depression (PHD) can be the result of a variety of factors such as upbringing, ingrained beliefs, and personality traits. The author states that there isn’t anything in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) on this type of depression but that this is an acknowledgement and an observation from her own professional experiences (which she details and provides resources for). The author believes PHD is a subset of depression that many practitioners miss because it doesn’t present the way the DSM has listed. The author gives this list of defining features that make up someone with PHD:

  • Are highly perfectionistic and have a constant, critical,
    and shaming inner voice
  • Demonstrate a heightened or excessive sense of
    responsibility
  • Detach from painful emotions by staying in your head
    and actively shutting them off
  • Worry and need to control yourself and your
    environment
  • Intensely focus on tasks, using accomplishment to feel
    valuable
  • Focus on the well-being of others but don’t allow them
    into your inner world
  • Discount personal hurt or sorrow and struggle with
    self-compassion
  • May have an accompanying mental health issue, such
    as an eating disorder, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or addiction
  • Believe strongly in counting your blessings as the foundation of well-being
  • May enjoy success within a professional structure but
    struggle with emotional intimacy in relationships

Think of some of the shocking celebrity suicides that have happened recently, Anthony Bourdain, for example. Everyone thought he has this dream life and that he seemed like a generally happy and satisfied person. What if Anthony was the epitome of PHD? In that, he felt his personal value was only in his accomplishments, driven by how grateful he thought he should feel, and then feeling burdened and overwhelmed by the mask of achievement and perfection that he felt he had to wear. He also had addiction problems. If we knew more about people that presented with this perfectly masked depression we could provide them with better treatment and save them and those around them an immense amount of suffering.

“Anthony Bourdain was apparently not physically ill, not financially destitute, not concerned about getting his next meal, and not lacking in fame. In fact, he remarked he had “the greatest job in the world.”” – Toronto Sun, July 7, 2018

It’s hard not to get personal in reviewing this book as I picked it up from Netgalley out of my own personal interest. After reading The Gifts of Imperfection eight years ago I worked through my own PHD, which at the time was just learning to be vulnerable again. I started talking and writing about my issues and the condition, dermatillomania, that still plagues me, something that would have been unthinkable before. I made steep headway with Brené Brown’s book but it wasn’t enough. This book feels like the acknowledgement and the validation I need to press forward in my own personal growth and happiness in terms of the regressions I have made at this point in my life.

The author of this book is shedding light on an area of depression that requires some serious attention. Her writing is personable, concise, insightful, informative, resourceful and clinical. I have already recommended this book to at least three people I know and I anxiously await its publication as I look forward to adding this to my permanent bookshelf.  At this time, I have not done the reflections recommended in the book as I was excited and anxious to get through all the content because of how alarmingly relevant I found it. I am now looking forward to re-reading the book and diligently doing the reflections which I believe will be immensely valuable. I’ve already started recommending this book which is due to be published on November 1, 2019. I highly recommended this book to anyone who feels they fit this description, and if you do, chances are you’re reluctant to reach out for help, so start with this book, no one has to know.

Acne: Just Another Four-Letter Word by Aarti Patel

“Acne is shaped by our thoughts, our emotions, and also by social influences all around us.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 131 pages.
Read from April 28, 2019 to April 29, 2019.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review (thanks Aarti). While I don’t have a hefty battle with acne, I do contend with dermatillomania in which the frustrating feeling of helplessness and shame are remarkably similar to those suffering from acne. Such as the of never-ending obsessive thoughts about your skin, whether that’s covering it up, faster ways to heal it, or the constant search for that miracle product or system that will help break the vicious cycle of anxiety and negativity.

The purpose of this book is meant to shape the way you view your skin and your acne. The author defines acne as a bully, by giving it its own persona and making it something other than yourself. Similar approaches are taken when viewing things like depression or anxiety, in that these thoughts and feelings are not you and don’t define who you are. The author also addresses the extremes that many of us go through in order to deal with our skin from fad diets to expensive skin care regimes that ultimately make us feel as if our bad skin is of our own fault and if we can just somehow control it with the right diet, skin care, exercise etc. our life will be better. The author has a flowing and easy to read writing style that’s technically good and works well for the topic at hand.

While I cannot speak for the author’s claims on curing acne with this kind of thinking, it is still a beneficial approach for anyone who has ever struggled with their skin. I appreciate her sentiments on the approaches the medical field takes towards acne but it would have been nice to see some case studies, testimonials, or even some anecdotal evidence to support her claims as it would have added some scientific clarity to her work.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend this book as a cure, there is something to be said about the mind and body connection and reducing stress and anxiety. This book would be beneficial for anyone who struggles with insecurities, depression, or anxiety involving their skin, regardless of the physical outcome as changing negative thought patterns is one way in regain control over our worries and vicious thought cycles.

The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from March 3, 2019 to March 9, 2019.

Lindsay Wong describes the Woo-Woo as a Chinese superstition that ghosts are the cause of bad things in your life, which unfortunately for her and mental-health-ridden family, meant an array of irrational behaviour followed by never seeking treatment. This book is in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist after a few near misses in previous years so no doubt this book will be a fan favourite for the debates.

canada-reads-2019-joe-zee-defends-the-woo-woo
Joe Zee defending The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong during the debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.

Lindsay and her siblings are first generation Chinese-Canadians. Her family came over from Hong Kong and settled in Vancouver which has a large Chinese population giving the city the appropriate nickname of Hongcouver. She lives in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood with her mother father, brother and sister, and for a short time her grandmother. Lindsay basis of daily dealings with her family and her life included things like swearing, name-calling, bribes with money, escaping life decisions and people with makeshift camping trips, and smothering bad feelings and “ghosts” with junk-food. Shouting matches, arguments, grudges and personal hang-ups are what Lindsay thought being a family was all about.

Despite her family having a comfortable income Lindsay wore old, dated clothes and showered once a week. Lindsay lacked the social skills to make friends but her aggression made her an excellent hockey player, an endeavour her father bribed her into to achieve some sort of Canadian-dream status.  Her father insisted that she was extremely stupid and fat as some messed up means of motivating her to achieve more along with a sick sense of dark humour. While her mother fell prey to the mental illness that plagued her own mother resulting in her being obsessed with ghosts and trying to protect her family from them. Her protection came in the form of insisting that her family never show any emotion as to not invite the ghosts in, terrorizing midnight wakings, lighting Lindsay’s feet and bedding on fire, day-long walks in shopping malls, and more.

Lindsay grew up in fear the Woo-Woo as she saw it slowly wreck her grandmother, her mother and eventually even her Aunt, whom she thought was safe. Without the means to empathize and deal with normal human situations in a healthy manner, Lindsay was in constant worry about her own mental state. Despite all this Lindsay managed to get into a university far from home where she was relieved to finally escape her family, only to find that the Woo-Woo seemed to have followed her there.

Even with these enormous hurdles to overcome, Lindsay seems to have found peace and understanding with her upbringing. Despite the dark and sometimes traumatizing events that Lindsay endured she approaches her story with a stoic and entertaining sense of dark humour. This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all. It brings awareness to the stigmas around mental illness and the barriers we still have to overcome, especially culturally, which healthcare systems could benefit from learning more about.

If you live in Vancouver, I would absolutely say this is a must-read. This is also a relevant book for those looking from some reprieve from their own families and mental health struggles.

The most moving part of this story comes from Lindsay finding the courage to write such an intimate memoir about her family, especially since she is writing from a standpoint of success in battling her inner Woo-Woo and family troubles. It’s a testament to the power of healing yourself and finding faith in yourself against the odds.