Book review: What Happened to You by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce D. Perry

Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing

This book starts out with making sense of the world where it explores the hierarchical organization of the human brain using an upside-down triangle to model four layers (brainstem, diencephalon, limbic, and cortex) representing the basic organization of the brain. Next up is seeking balance where Dr. Perry explores the impact of our early relational experiences on our self-regulation which is based on the Tree of Regulation (regulation, relationship, and reward).

Moving on to how we were loved which explores how what happens to a person as an infant has a profound impact on the capacity to love and be loved which revisits the concept of fight or flight. In the spectrum of trauma, Dr. Perry highlights the four symptom clusters of PTSD which are intrusive, avoidant, individual experiences change mood and thinking, and alteration in arousal and reactivity as the stress-response networks come overactive and overly reactive.

In connecting the dots, Dr. Perry explains that much of human invention and practices are transmissible, including the negative aspects of humankind, certain psychological traits, emotional characteristics, and behavior patterns. With coping to healing Oprah and Dr. Perry explore the manifestation of dissociation as a coping mechanism when stress-response systems are activated. He highlights the five states—calm, alert, alarm, fear, and terror—explaining how dissociation occurs when fight or flight is impossible. Also highlighted are why victims of abuse are usually drawn to situations where they are abused.

In post-traumatic wisdom, they discuss the misconception that children are resilient. He uses the metaphor of a hanger being bent and the inability to be returned to its original shape and the more it is bent and straightened the weak points finally break. They discuss the importance of connectedness in helping us achieve resilience or “bounce back.” Our brains, our biases, our systems explore trauma informed care and how language is getting in the way of progress by turning it into a buzzword. Relational hunger in the modern world focuses on how our world is relationally impoverished and that the disconnection makes us more vulnerable and that our ability to tolerate stressors is diminished because our connectedness is diminishing.

This book, written in interview format features a plethora of stories from both Oprah and Dr. Perry that shouldn’t be missed to get the overall knowledge. They aim at reframing our approach to trauma and understanding how important relational connectedness is in promoting healing. Read the book in its entirety by getting it here.

Until my next post, why not check out my YA novels about mental illness, memoir writing, novel in verse, or even my Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreadsLinkedInBookbub , BookSprout, or AllAuthor.

My Reason for Starting This Blog

I started this blog to reach out and connect to people with similar challenges in a healthy and positive way. The blog has personal history, ideas on lessening the severity of some symptoms, insight, goals, and therapies for those with similar diagnoses or those with family members or friends that are curious on how to communicate or help their loved one.

Photo by Kindel Media on

It’s fulfilling and therapeutic to open up about my past, present, and future goals. I’ve enjoyed the messages that I’ve received from likeminded individuals through my books’ contact information. Some of the things that helped me aided them as well. That makes it all worth it.

Photo by Madison Inouye on

By finding articles and researching studies to write my own articles, I learn more about my diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment for my disorders and those of loved ones such as depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, self-harm, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, among others.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

Some people who read this mental health blog are concerned individuals who want to reach out and connect with the mental health community to understand what their children, family members, friends, or acquaintances experience. Some of the earliest posts on this blog are from a few years ago when I started it. My mental health took a downturn for a brief time, and I became distracted. This time around, I’m in a better place and have learned more than I knew before and continue to take part in therapies to lessen the illness. I welcome those new readers and thank those that have written to me about the topics I share here and those in my books.

Enjoyed this post? Why not check out my YA novels about mental illness, memoir writing, or even my Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads, LinkedInBookbub, BookSprout, or AllAuthor.

Book review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016

High school junior Morgan Grant can divide her life into two parts: Before and after the devastating events of October 15. Before, Morgan was a bright, popular athlete with a promising future, whose days were filled with friends, sun, sand, swimming and school. After, Morgan is a survivor of a deadly tragedy whose worsening anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder have caused her to become a shadow of her former self.

Traumatized by what she has experienced, terrified of a world she can neither control nor predict, and haunted by feelings of guilt and culpability for what has happened, Morgan’s agoraphobia worsens until she no longer is able to leave her family’s two-bedroom apartment and she seeks comfort in a familiar, daily routine filled with little more than soap operas, home schooling, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Underwater is a sincere, heartfelt exploration of mental illness and a topical, all too important reminder that the story does not end when the final shot has been fired and the cameras finished rolling. For some, the story has only just begun.

Morgan’s journey to recovery is a difficult one. This YA author offers no easy answers or simple solutions for Morgan’s agoraphobia, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but rather demonstrates the impressive mental and emotional labor and strength required to rediscover and remake oneself in the wake of a tragedy. Though Morgan’s progress is gradual and she often becomes frustrated with her missteps and failures along the way, Reichardt’s inherently charming and endearing protagonist is never presented as any less worthy of help, love or acceptance or as being beyond hope or recovery. Morgan is allowed to shine in other ways, most notable of which is evident in her devoted relationship with her single mother, a hard-working nurse, and her precocious younger brother, Ben, for whom she clearly cares deeply. Though the circumstances surrounding Morgan’s illness and the severity of what she suffers are arguably extreme, there’s little doubt that the essence of Morgan’s story – of being unashamed of one’s illness and working to better take care of oneself – will resonate with Underwater‘s readers, particularly those who also suffer from anxiety, as Morgan does.

There have been many novels written the about the subject of school shootings in recent years. Many writers have tried to make sense of an act that is, by its very nature, senseless, but what’s different about Underwater from its peers is its chosen focus. While other stories have focused largely on the psychology and motivation of the perpetrator or the details of the shootings themselves, debut author Marisa Reichardt instead chooses to focus on the devastating aftermath of such an event. Reichardt neither sensationalizes nor exploits this topic, instead offering a sensitive, empathetic portrayal of the repercussions of such a tragedy. In doing so, Underwater has the potential to act as a source of comfort for those who suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia and/or post-traumatic stress disorder and an excellent resource for readers who wish to better understand and empathize with those who do.

Underwater‘s synopsis does the novel a disservice in that it implies that Morgan’s recovery is mainly due to Evan’s appearance in her life. In reality, this could not be further from the truth. While a potential romantic relationship with Evan can provide Morgan with an additional incentive to pursue treatment and regain some semblance of normality, it is not the sole motivating factor in her recovery. Before Evan’s introduction, Morgan had already been undergoing treatment for her anxiety, agoraphobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder for four months. This treatment includes both the use of prescription medication and ongoing therapy with her psychologist, Brenda. Evan is not perfect–Evan grows frustrated and impatient with Morgan’s progress (or lack thereof) and is not always as supportive or as understanding as one might hope–but it’s to be commended that their blossoming romance is never presented as a solution to Morgan’s problems. There’s also something to be said for the strength and empowerment that can be drawn from a strong support system and the grandness in forming such a community. From her burgeoning relationship with Evan to her unconditional love for her mother and brother, Ben, Morgan has several positive relationships in her life from which she draws comfort and courage.

Underwater is a poignant, powerful, and ultimately uplifting and inspiring story of recovery and forgiveness that successfully attempts to lessen the stigma surrounding mental illness. It accomplishes this by providing readers with a positive and responsible portrayal of therapy and medication as effective tools in managing mental and emotional trauma and encouraging readers to embrace hope and possibility, even in the face of what might initially appear to be insurmountable obstacles. This YA novel is a genuinely kind and heartwarming narrative about triumph and love in the wake of adversity. 

Book review: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Greenwillow Books, 2017

Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk straddles two worlds: in real life, she’s a shy and friendless high school student, but online, she is known as LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the highly popular webcomic: Monstrous Sea. Eliza finds so much joy online that there’s hardly any joy left for her life offline. She lost herself in the world and characters she created, and it was so much easier for her to remain cocooned in her imaginary world than challenge herself to make real-life connections. But when Wallace Warland transfers to Eliza’s school, he reveals himself to be Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, rainmaker. Though Wallace and Eliza grow close and bond over their love for Monstrous Sea, Eliza struggles with revealing her own identity as the creator of the webcomic.

Wallace even begins to draw Eliza out of her shell. After a series of strange events threaten to expose everything, she’s worked to keep hidden, Eliza finds that her world has begun to crumble around her. She deals with anxiety, depression, and overwhelming pressure as she tries to learn how to reconcile the two halves of her life that seem so far apart. She lives in her comics and her dedication to her creation and her fandom borders on an unhealthy obsession as she treads the boundaries between her online presence and reality.

Shyness, escapism, obsession, and low self-worth were all very relatable in this story. It’s a great look at the messiness of love when depression and low self-esteem get in the way of communication. This heartbreaking, quick read is also worth reading for parents that are wondering, no, struggling to understand why your teen is a part of a fandom. The book has little drawings and stories from her webcomic throughout, making it more interactive and engaging. It’s delving into PTSD, anxiety, and depression is a trigger warning for this near tearjerker about teen angst and romance.

Book review: Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Harperteen, 2016

Paula Stokes YA novel, Girl Against the Universe is a fresh, informative, and powerful look at PTSD, grieving, and the rollercoaster of falling in love when your world is imploding. In this book we follow the protagonist, high school junior Maguire Kelly, who believes she makes bad things happen. After all her father, brother, and uncle died in a car crash that Maguire walked away from, a tennis mishap with Jordy, an unfortunate fall by his sister, or the neighbor’s house catching fire. There was even a time when a rollercoaster went off its tracks injuring her two friends leaving her thinking she’s a jinx.

So, what does Maguire do about it? She buys good luck charms and performs rituals, compulsive behaviors, so bad things don’t happen when she’s around. What she doesn’t do is listen to the logical explanation by her therapist. Instead, Maguire shields herself and hides away in her bedroom. That is so no one else can get hurt. What changes? Maguire meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star who enlists in helping her break her unlucky streak. They’re supportive of each other both in and out of therapy. It’s a very realistic, contemporary romantic tale about young love, therapy, and family relationships at a time when the character believes the whole world is against her.

Book review: I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Henry Holt and Company, 2015

The protagonist, Skylar lives in a dusty California named Creek View where so far she’s beaten the odds of being a Creek View girl with a baby, in a mobile home, with no future. In a piddly three months Skylar can escape to fulfill her dreams. She has an art scholarship and is focused on moving. Just as she is about to leave, her mother loses her job and stays in bed all day, kicking off a chain of bad things.

Then she reconnects with Josh, a nineteen-year-old wounded warrior who escaped the only other way possible, joining the military. But Josh loses a leg in Afghanistan, and his jerklike attitude, and is also isolated in evolving ways that only Skylar may understand. They find each other at their seedy place of work, the Paradise Motel which becomes more of a home than his real home. Skylar also works at the motel, but spends her time dreaming about escaping the town.

These pained characters ultimately tell the hopeful tale of swimming against the tide in a tired town and of relationships that are complex and flawed. It’s a heartfelt, complicated, realistic look at love amidst poverty, PTSD, and depression.

Run Fast, Run Far

Run_Fast_Run_Far_Cover_for_Kindle (1)

Run Fast, Run Far by Angela Grey

For me, returning to therapy after twenty years, only to discover that the pain I’d left behind years ago was only hiding under the surface and waiting to reappear in memories, daydreams, and nightmares. As a sexual abuse survivor, I thought I was bad, defective, crazy and alone. I felt unwanted, rejected, hated and despised for a lengthy portion of childhood. The trauma was engrained in my mind, soul and body. How would I recover from lingering effects of childhood trauma and achieve a rich and fulfilling life despite the emotional flashbacks and self-injuring response that childhood trauma forces some survivors to adopt? With a linear progression of recovery, focusing on identifying what I’ve already accomplished, and learning to figure out what is best to work on and prioritize now to identify the signs of recovery and to develop reasonable expectations about the rate of recovery. With the aid of a psychiatrist (medicine) and psychotherapist (counseling), I, Avery, tackle the sudden and flooding thoughts by working through the past and grounding myself to the present using psychodynamic therapy interwoven with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Buy at Amazon

%d bloggers like this: