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  • Writer's pictureKate Warren

On the bookshelf... Books inspired by Lived Experience

Welcome to Spring and to the new Stay U Blog! It's me, Kate, the Counsellor and Career Guide who is here to talk about the trending topics in mental health and careers. I hope you are all well, and ready for another interesting and informative blog.

This month I will be talking about the emergence of novels - both fictional and non-fiction - inspired by the authors' lived experiences of depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.

Learning from lived experiences can be helpful in many ways. People who have gone through a particular experience often understand the complexities of dealing with it, which is why it is important to include their voices in helping and educating the community on mental health issues. Empathy is important, but it cannot always replace lived experience. By listening to and learning from people with relevant lived experiences, you’re more likely to create useful mental health research that makes a difference.

Lived experiences can also be a source of inspiration or passion for a cause. They can do more than fuel a personal mission. They can inspire other people and be a source of expertise. Your lived experiences can help you connect with others and find your passion.

The first book I would like to discuss has a fairly triggering title but is one of the best I have read in a long while. Part autobiography, part self-help book, I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki is a book to keep close and to reach for in times of darkness. It will appeal to anyone who has ever felt alone or unjustified in their everyday despair.

Written by South Korean, Baek Sehee (and translated by Anton Hur) - a successful young social media director at a publishing house who begins seeing a psychiatrist about her persistently low, anxious moods. It is advantageous to have a basic understanding of Korean culture and how their views on mental health differ from those of the Western world.

Mental health has always carried a negative connotation in Korean culture. In the past, individuals who were diagnosed with a mental illness were often ostracised and considered a burden on society. This stigma was perpetuated by cultural beliefs that equated mental health issues with weakness or a lack of discipline. However, there have been significant attempts to shift this narrative, especially among the younger generation. Traditional Korean culture places a great emphasis on self-reliance and personal responsibility. As a result, therapy has not always been viewed as a viable option for addressing mental health concerns. Thankfully, this attitude is slowly changing as more people realise that seeking help is not a sign of weakness. That is why this book is so special - it not only shows young Korean readers that asking for help is okay but translates across to Westerners as well.

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful - a new story about anxiety is written by the queen of quitting sugar, Sarah Wilson. I will openly admit that I am not a fan of her other books, or her Quit Sugar Program, but this book is a different story.

Sarah Wilson has been someone who has experienced anxiety her whole life.

In her new book, she directs her strong focus and fierce investigatory skills onto her lived experience of anxiety, looking at the triggers and treatments, the fashions and fads. She reads widely and interviews fellow anxiety warriors, mental health experts, philosophers, and even the Dalai Lama, processing all she learns through the lens of her own experiences.

Sarah pulls at the thread of accepted definitions of anxiety and unravels the notion that it is a difficult, dangerous disease that must be medicated into submission. Ultimately, she re-frames anxiety as a spiritual quest rather than a burdensome affliction, a state of yearning that will lead us closer to what really matters.

Practical and poetic, wise and funny, this is a small book with a big heart. It will encourage the myriad of people living with anxiety - one of the world's most common mental illnesses - to feel not just better about their condition, but delighted by the possibilities it offers for a richer, fuller life.

Last, but certainly not least, is Different, Not Less, by one of my favourite human beings, Chloé Hayden. This book is an empowering lived experience guide to embracing and supporting neurodivergence. It certainly resonated with me, as a fellow Aspie and ADHD warrior, but I believe it would also be inspirational to anyone who has ever felt overlooked, left out, or alienated.

Different, Not Less is a moving, at times humorous story of how it feels to be neurodivergent. It is also a practical guide, with insights on how autism and ADHD present differently in females, advice for living with meltdowns and shutdowns, tips for finding supportive relationships, communities and workplaces and much more.

'This book, like the author themselves, radiates a fierce, unapologetic and joyous Disability Pride that makes it impossible to put down . . . This book is a marvel.'

- Jordon Steele-John, Disability Rights Advocate and Australian Senator

If you are unfamiliar with Chloé Hayden, you can check her out on the Netflix remake of Heartbreak High. She stars as Quinni, a character who quite accurately reflects the real-life Chloé.

That is all for this month's blog. I hope you have enjoyed it and get a chance to read one or all of the books I have recommended. If you have any recommendations on other books written by Lived Experience Advocates, please drop them in the comments below. As always, please remember that a problem shared is a problem halved. Take care of yourself.

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