THE ANTI-COOL GIRL by Rosie Waterland

TheAntiCoolGirl

Intensely touching, deeply emotional, confronting and at times horrifying, Rosie Waterland recounts her troubled childhood, difficult teenage times and early adult years in The Anti-Cool Girl.

Raw, honest, brutal, her narration is conveyed with a sense of humour and self-awareness that prevents the story from becoming overwhelming. Without these touches of humour, the story would be too traumatic to read. Basically, Rosie’s life sucked; she has experienced the most shocking childhood that I’ve ever read about, and this is no novel – this is real life, so there’s no switching off to those actions, to the pain that she suffered, the harrowing events that she endured, along with her sisters. But, it’s not all pain and agony, there are moments of joy, and her humour in retelling of some events shows her strength and courage in the face of such difficult circumstances.

There are some really great lines and insights into Australian culture and dating that made me laugh, such as:

“The wedding was a stunning piece of Aussie lower-class perfection… The reception was in a brightly lit hall on the side of a busy main road, so the ambience was obviously just gorgeous…”

There’s this gem describing a bad kissing experience:

“It was like a fat slug rolled around in mucous and was now trying to mate with my tongue… I had no idea that a tongue could be soft like an oyster and hard like a tampon at the same time… This guy needed help, and if I didn’t offer it to him, he might subject some poor other girl to his oyster tampon.”

Rosie and her sisters were often shuffled from family member to friend and back again due to her parents being addicts and her mother constantly searching for love, finding it briefly with a new man and then chaos would erupt destroying the relationship. The girls never had a stable home.

“We stayed with an uncle for a while. We stayed with our birth grandma for a while… But nobody seemed to want to keep us. Whatever test you needed to pass to be a kid that adults wanted around, we were just not passing it. We were told that all three of us might be split up – that three girls together was too much of a commitment for most carers.”

At one point Rosie and her sisters are put into foster care and are molested repeatedly by their very wealthy foster father, over the course of a year. The man in question sexually molested several foster children, after Rosie left, and despite complaints being made he has never been formally charged. There are obviously serious flaws in the screening process and the system if sexual predators can be awarded foster parent status, especially if their wealth somehow plays a part in them being perceived as better than others or more charitable. Rosie’s story highlights that flaws in the public health system and the foster system make already vulnerable people even more vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

Something that really stood out for me was how the public health system and the foster system failed Rosie and her sisters, and most certainly other families like them. Her mother is bipolar but never received treatment; her father was diagnosed with schizophrenia but never received treatment. The lack of understanding of mental illness and the stigma attached to mental illness meant that Rosie’s parents lived traumatised lives themselves, and by never being treated they inadvertently went on to severely damage the lives of their children. Her parents were also addicts, which complicated and amplified their behaviour issues.

Deeply intense and dark in sections, The Anti-Cool Girl is also about hope, about having dreams, and about finding yourself and believing in yourself despite having been to the darkest of places. Rosie always wanted to make people laugh, and even as a child she would write winning Oscar speeches. Those desires, that dream stayed with her, and she found her way to a second-rate drama school, and then went on to complete a degree in creative writing, and from there, combined with her love of watching TV, she accidentally stumbled into a writing role for an online women’s website. Through all of that she not only achieved her goal of making people laugh, but also of being one of the ‘cool’ people, only to realise that she didn’t want to be cool; she wanted to just be herself.

It is Rosie’s realisations and self-reflections that make this book such a powerful autobiography. She exposes herself completely, and it takes courage, bucket loads of courage, to talk so frankly and openly about your own life like that. She could have edited sections, kept some of the darker, unpleasant bits to herself, but she didn’t – she is upfront and totally honest, and that’s admirable and makes for potent reading. She tells all about her eating disorder, her nude acting role attempt, her enjoyment at sitting at home in her underpants drinking wine and watching TV, and her weird Tinder date with the guy who wanted her to get to know his ‘little me’ more intimately.

She talks intimately about her battle with obesity:

“Gaining ninety kilos was the experience that taught me to love myself. To really love my myself.”

And about what’s most important in life:

“I realised that as soon as you stop listening to what everyone else wants from you, and start listening to what you want from you, your life will get easier.”

Ultimately, hers is a story of courage, of facing her pain so that she could then begin to heal. Profoundly touching, The Anti-Cool Girl certainly puts life into sharp perspective.

Rating:   5/5

 

The Anti-Cool Girl by Rosie Waterland (Fourth Estate 2015)

ebook ISBN: 9781460705223

Want to know more about Rosie Waterland? Then check out Rosie’s FB page.

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CHASING THE SCREAM: The first and last days of the war on drugs by Johann Hari

Chasing the screamChasing the Scream is an excellent book filled with fascinating facts and personal stories that will challenge your outlook and beliefs about drugs and how to solve the drug problem. It looks at drug users and addiction, and also the supply of drugs and how to end the drug wars that ravage so many communities.

This book is an absolute must-read. It’s not often that I say that. It’s a big statement, but I’m willing to stand by it. Chasing the Scream is a brilliant, powerful book that will turn your ideas about drug use and drug addiction upside down, and offer insights and solutions that you perhaps never thought were possible.

Johann Hari’s book focuses on the war on drugs that is occurring the world over, how western countries approach the drug problem, and their attitudes toward tackling that problem. The drug prohibition act started in America in 1914, but it was Harry Anslinger’s appointment as the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that changed it from a tiny agency on the verge of being abolished to a seething, raging machine that ferociously and relentlessly targeted drug users. Quite often Anslinger’s policies were founded on false pretences or fabricated information. Even though statistics and research revealed that drug prohibition was not working (just like alcohol prohibition didn’t work) and that allowing a moderated use of drugs was more effective, Anslinger buried this evidence in favour of promoting his own agenda, that of focusing his personal rage and disgust at drug users and channelling it through his governmental power. That has since escalated over the past 100 years to influence the anti-drug campaigns that are now standard in most governments, and along with it the attitude that drug users are low life losers who should be scorned, and pushed to the outer fringes of society.

Hari himself admits throughout the book to having a negative attitude toward drugs and drug users through both his own personal experiences – he’s had loved ones spiral out of control due to drug use – but also through government propaganda generated through the media that conditioned his ideas and attitudes from an early age, as it does most people, because it was backed up by science. No one questioned this information because after all how could the government and scientists be wrong?

What is admirable is that Hari is determined to face up to his predetermined ideas about drug use and consider other perspectives. His research is well balanced and he approaches his subject from opposing sides, attempting to get a clearer picture about drug addicts and why they constantly return to substance abuse, to understand what drives that addiction, and to find out what the best means of treating that addiction might be. This is not a dry, history text. The evidence that Hari uncovers is makes for fascinating, page-turning reading.

For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) conducted a study in 1995 into drug use, and the results showed that “experimental and occasional use are by far the most common types of use, and compulsive/dysfunctional [use] is far less common” (p148). The report was suppressed and never published because the US government threatened to cut WHO funding.

Around ten per cent of users are addicts, and yet is it this small minority that are the focus of the drug war. They are the focus of arrests, government campaigns warning against the impact of drug use, and symbolise the addict that is to be feared and reviled, as portrayed in various forms of media.

And yet, Hari writes

“… the overwhelming majority of people who use prohibited drugs do it because they get something good out of it – a fun night out dancing, the ability to meet a deadline, the chance to get a good night’s sleep, or insights into the part of the brain they couldn’t get on their own. For them it’s a positive experience, one that makes their lives better…” (p.148)

Hari talks to American writer Nick Gillespie who states:

“ ‘There is such a thing as responsible drug use, and it’s the norm not the exception.’ “ (p.148)

Hari looks closely at the marginalised ten per cent of drug users that are the prominent image projected as the reason for the fight against drugs. The peaking, freaked-out, out of control drug user squatting in abandoned buildings, roaming the street looking for their next score, rotting teeth and sores on their body, the junkie that will jump you in the dark.

What he discovers is that these people are damaged, that they have suffered severe traumas in their life, that they were damaged before they turned to drugs. They use drugs as a form of self-medication to escape the pain. He also discovers clinics where these people are treated as real people, shown kindness and compassion, given psychological treatment, offered education, and yes are allowed to still access their drug of choice in a safe, clean environment. The results are astonishing. The US government’s response to these clinics is also surprising, and the lengths that people will go to to suppress the truth is frightening.

I’m not going to include any more teasers. All I can say is that if you want to know about the incredible solutions that are available and yet not being applied to the war on drugs, then you want to read this book.

Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the war on drugs by Johann Hari (Bloomsbury Circus 2015) ISBN: 9781408857847

Website: Chasing the Scream

Facebook: Chasing the Scream

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum

SelfishShallowSelfAbsorbedIt was the title of this book, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, that piqued my interest, along with the tagline in a review by the Huffington Post that touted the book as being confrontational, on purpose.

This book, a collection of essays, written by both female and male writers, tackles the sticky subject of women choosing to remain childless. There is an unspoken stigma, a taboo attached to women who elect to forego the path of motherhood. Women who say no to procreation are often vilified, while men who do the same are generally viewed as incorrigible bachelors.

Meghan Daum, editor of the collection, put together Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed with the aim of “lift[ing] the discussion out of the familiar rhetoric, which so often pits parents against nonparents and assumes that the former are self-sacrificing and mature and the latter are overgrown teenagers living on large piles of disposable income”.

The essays contained within this collection are written with tenderness, care, humour and a deep sense of careful reflection and consideration for choices made. There is an openness, honesty and candour in the essays, and as the reader we are granted access to the intensely personal and intimate sections of the authors’ lives. Not all of the authors suffered traumatic childhoods, but many did, and they write unflinchingly about their experiences, and the impact this had on their decisions in life. I believe it takes great courage to open yourself in a public platform such as this, to expose an unhappy childhood populated with traumatic memories, parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t love you, and still be able to find love in your life, to want to pass on love to others, just not through having children.

Childhood trauma is not the only reason why these women chose not to have children. Several tried to have children but circumstances intervened – either by miscarriage or abortion, and this enabled them to realise that they were attempting to fulfil someone else’s dreams or desires. Some of the women (and men) simply did not feel the pull to procreate. The ticking biological clock did not kick in, the overwhelming desire to have a baby did not materialise.

One thing that is abundantly clear through all of the essays is that these authors have thought long and hard about whether or not to have children. They have agonised over the decision, looked at it from all viewpoints and taken into consideration their own financial stability, their ability to provide for a child, their own personal nature and ability to offer nurturing 24/7, their emotional states, and the ways in which they contribute to society and other children. There is a deep understanding of what it takes, of the commitment that is required, to raise children. Additionally, there is the honouring of the self, of having the strength to stand by convictions that they know are right for them and their lives.

None of these essays reflect the desire to pass on having children in favour of living the high life of luxury. There is praise for the fortitude of those people who do choose to have children and acknowledgement that it is a difficult, tedious, time consuming and rewarding commitment.

Some of the honest insights offered by the authors include:

Sigrid Nunez, in her essay, The Most Important Thing, discusses her traumatic childhood and its impact on her (p.93).

“I remember that when the time came to think seriously about whether or not to have children, the same idea occurred to me: the crucial thing would be to make sure that they not be afraid of their mother. It was a goal I believed I could achieve. But there was something else. As a child, I never felt safe. Every singe day of my entire childhood I lived in fear that something bad was going to happen to me. I live like that still. And so the big question: How could a person who lived like that ever make a child feel safe?”

Danielle Henderson discusses her own unhappy childhood and reflects upon the judgement cast at her by others who are less concerned with her reasons for remaining childless and more occupied by their own opinions about it, in Save Yourself (p.147 – 148).

“Living in a culture where women are assumed to prioritize motherhood above all else and where a woman’s personal choices are often considered matters of public discussion means everyone things they have the right to discuss my body and my choices, so anyone who is curious about my lack of spawn feels the right to march right over and ask me about it… As bothered as I am by having to defend my decision, I’m more incensed that people think they have the right to ask. That’s because to ask me why I don’t have children is really to ask me to unpack my complicated history with parenting, or to try to explain something I’ve felt since I found out where babies come from… I admire women who look at the rigors of parenting and decide they’re just not cut out for it, or just don’t want to try, and I wish that we had more conversations about childlessness that didn’t force us to approach them from such a defensive place.”

Geoff Dyer conveys a delightful, wicked sense of British humour in his essay, Over and Out (p.187-188).

“It’s not just that I’ve never wanted to have children. I’ve always wanted to not have them. Actually, even that doesn’t go far enough. In the park, looking at smiling mothers and fathers strolling along with their adorable toddlers, I react like the pope confronted with a couple of gay men walking hand in hand…

I may be immune to but I am not unaware of—how could I be?—the immense, unrelenting pressure to have children. To be middle-aged and childless is to elicit one of two responses. The first: pity because you are unable to have kids. This is fine by me. I’m always on the lookout for pity, will accept it from anyone or, if no one’s around, from myself. I crave pity the way other men crave admiration or respect. So if my wife and I are asked of we have kids, one of us will reply, ‘No, we’ve not been blessed with children.’ We do it totally deadpan, shaking our heads wistfully, looking forlorn as a couple of empty beer glasses… The second: horror because by choosing not to have children, you are declining full membership to the human race. By a wicked paradox, an absolute lack of interest in children attracts the opprobrium normally reserved for pedophiles.”

Tim Kreider, in The End Of The Line, is candid and open about his perspective on parenting (p.250).

“Parents may frequently look back with envy on the irresponsible, self-indulgent lives of the childless, but I for one have never felt any reciprocal envy of their anxious and harried existence—noisy and toy-strewn, pee-stained and shreiky, without two consecutive moments to read a book or have an adult conversation or formulate a coherent thought. In an essay, I once describe being a parent as like belonging to a cult, ‘living in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, subject to the whim of a capricious and demented master,’ which a surprising number of parents told me they loved.”

Many of the stories resonated with me, probably because I am one of those women who decided not to have children and as has such have felt the wrath of others for making such a ‘selfish’ decision. When I was 35, my husband and I stayed with my in-laws after returning from three years spent living overseas. Whenever I was within earshot, my mother-in-law took to announcing to an otherwise empty room that “women who don’t have children are selfish and self-obsessed”. This contempt was repeated in dinner conversations centred around a couple that my parents-in-law had gone sailing with, and the woman in question was scathingly torn to shreds, determined as ‘selfish and self-obsessed’ due to her childless state. What my mother-in-law and most others who cast judgement my way neglected to was ask was why I, along with my husband, had made this decision. Like many of the authors in this book, I come from a family that lacked a loving, supportive environment, and fear and a lack of safety were dominant. Like Danielle Henderson, I too have a ‘complicated history with parenting’ that cannot be casually explained in a superficial conversation. It doesn’t mean I don’t like children, it simply means that I have intensely personal and valid reasons for not having children.

I admire and respect the essays in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed. They are heartfelt, there are moments of lightness, and all are richly rewarding to read. I agree wholeheartedly with Daum’s statement that ‘It’s about time we stop mistaking self-knowledge for self-absorption—and realise that nobody has the monopoly on selfishness’.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum (Picador 2015)

ISBN 978 1250 052940 (ebook)

DEALING WITH DEPRESSION by Gordon Parker

DealingWthDepression_1Depression is an illness that is oft misunderstood and, despite growing public awareness, is still very much stigmatised. Dealing with depression is a book that coves new ground in understanding the different types of depression, how it affects people, and offers suggestions for management systems through both psychotherapy and medications.

The author, Gordon Parker, is a leading international expert on depression and mood disorders, a Scientia Professor of Psychiatry, and also the Executive Director of the Black Dog Institute. The Black Dog Institute, based in Sydney, Australia, is a not-for-profit organisation and world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

The difference between Dealing with depression and other books about depression that I have read is that this book goes beyond the general outlook of categorising people as suffering from either major or minor depression. Instead, Gordon Parker argues for an alternative model, one that is more complex than a time frame. He and his researchers believe that personality types predispose people to developing the various depressive conditions, which are all markedly different. They also suggest that “personality style shapes the clinical depressive pattern, and perhaps more importantly, influences the chance of responding to differing treatments”.

So, rather than advocating a “horses for courses” generalised approach to depression, this book takes a more holistic approach, which considers life events, biological factors and personality style, and then formulates suggestions for treatments. Instead of following the “major” and “minor” diagnosis, common in North America, which Parker states are simply too vague and do not do enough to describe the actual problem that the person is experiencing, he classifies clinical depression disorders into three categories:

  • non-melancholic
  • melancholic and
  • psychotic melancholia.

 

Each of these forms of depression and their subtypes requires different considerations for treatment.

Non-melancholic depression is caused by excessive stress or a major life event combined with personality style and displays a lack in psychomotor disturbance (PSD). There is often has a high spontaneous remission rate whereby suffers get better naturally, without intervention or help from therapists or medications.

Melancholic depression is much more severe, PMD is evident, but there is a low rate of spontaneous remission. This form of depression is believed to be biological in nature, and as such responds well to antidepressant medications but treatments such as counselling and psychotherapy have little impact.

Psychotic melancholia features severe depression, PMD, hallucinations and delusions, and pathological feelings of guilt. The only treatment that works is antidepressant medications.

Bipolar disorder and its classifications of bipolar I and bipolar II are also closely discussed. Dealing with depression also lists the general features of depressive and bipolar disorders, which highlight the differences in behaviour, thought processes, and emotions experienced by suffers of these disorders. Parker also presents in-depth information on personality styles and behavioural traits; what a medical assessment for determining depression might cover; what patients should be told; and various antidepressant drug treatments that are available and their effectiveness on the depressive subtypes.

What I found particularly interesting is that Parker does not advocate staying on one medication for an extensive time period to see if it works. He argues that not all medications are equal, that this is a myth, and that some antidepressants are “far more powerful than others in helping certain types of depression”. If a medication does not work, he recommends changing it, trying another medication, until the person finds one that works for them and their condition. Parker writes that some sign of improvement should occur with the first 10 days, and that if no improvement has been seen within 2 weeks then reassessment of dosage levels, or change to another drug may be required.

 

“It’s important to challenge the myth that antidepressants need to be trialled for many weeks or months so as to ensure that patients are not left on an antidepressant for an extended period with the view that it might start working after two or three months.”

 

I found this advice exciting and refreshing as it challenged what many GPs advise. I have a close family member who suffers from depression. They asked their GP to change their medication because they weren’t noticing any changes, weren’t feeling any better after 3 months on the medication. The GP refused to change the medication, revise the dosage or alternative options claiming that they needed to be on the medication for another 3 months before any real improvement could be seen.

Dealing with depression contains a lot of useful information and clearly explains the different types and subtypes of depression in easy to understand language. Real life examples are used to support the research and claims. The exploration and reclassifying of depression using the Black Dog Institute’s categories was stimulating and encouraging to read and certainly made more sense than the major/minor depression classification system that is so predominant in the health care system.

This book is an excellent resource for anyone suffering from depression; for family and friends of suffers; or for anyone interested in learning more about the complexities of what it means to suffer from a depressive disorder.

Dealing with depression: A common sense guide to mood disorders – 2nd edition (Allen & Unwin 2004)                                                                                                ISBN: 1741142148