Friday, October 1, 2010

Catholic Post Book Group Review: Beyond Blue shares Hope and Persistence in Mental Health Journey

This is my review of Therese Borchard's Beyond Blue  that appears in this weekend's print Catholic Post.  Look next week for an exclusive Q&A with author Therese Borchard.  I think it's appropriate, but coincidental, that this review appears in print and here on October 1, the feast of St. Therese, the Little Flower.  Happy Feast day to Therese Borchard and all "little flowers."

You‘ve probably heard the old quip about the man who prayed to God every night for to win the lottery.  Faithfully the man prayed, night after night, unceasingly pleading to win the lottery.  Finally, he heard the voice of God: “You need to meet me halfway here—buy a ticket.”

Sometimes, people of faith can be prone to fall into a dangerous tendency, expecting prayer and a deep relationship with God to cure all ills in ourselves, in our relationships, and in our world, without any help from us.  Yet that’s not truly Catholic.  What is Catholic is to recognize the good in the world that God made, and utilize that good, along with our faith to help overcome difficulties (if not exactly win the lottery).

Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Best of Bad Genes is a searingly honest look at Therese Borchard’s struggle with mental health issues.  Borchard, a writer (formerly a syndicated young adult columnist for the Catholic Post, among other newspapers, and currently author of the popular Beyond Blue blog on Beliefnet) writes the book from a Catholic perspective, but the book is really about the good tools she uses to get to and maintain wellness.

Beyond Blue is terrifically written, but frankly, at times it’s hard to read.  Borchard shares low points that include two hospitalizations, dozens of drug combinations, bad physicians, and suicide plans.  So why read the book?  Let me quote from Borchard herself:

“My sincere intention for Beyond Blue is that anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression—even in the slightest way—might find a companion in me, some consolation in the incredibly personal details of my story, and a bit of hope to lighten an often dark and lonely path.”

I think she has absolutely succeeded with this intention—and much, much more.

Everyone can learn from the self-care principles Borchard recounts in Beyond Blue as part of her recovery.  She writes well of how prayer and the spiritual life, attention to diet, exercise and good sleep; and healthy friendships, can all help maintain or lift one’s mood.   For many people, practicing these can be enough to achieve or keep on an even keel.

But we also learn from Beyond Blue that for some people, even those who haven’t been through Borchard’s deep struggles, this kind of self-care may not be enough.   And we can and should be enormously grateful to God for the minds of scientists and physicians who create medicines to treat the mind just as they treat the body.

The overarching message of Beyond Blue is something a dear priest friend likes to say: “Keep on keeping on.”  For most, that means “keep on” practicing self-care principles.  For those who find themselves in crisis, that means “keep on” reaching out for help, and “keep on” trying to find the right counselor or physician if there is not a good fit at first.  If medicine is helpful in your journey, “keep on,” as Borchard did, working with a medical team to find the right combination of medicine and other tools to achieve mental wellness.

Jesus said, “I came so that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).  Beyond Blue provides an honest, inspiring and hope-filled look at how one brave person continues to seek that abundant life. 

1 comment:

  1. I love her take on life and her sense of humor about an illness that is so misunderstood. Life's perceptions are so diverse and we can't judge each other's pain.

    If you or if you know someone with bipolar disorder or any mental illness, consider reading this book. It can give you an insight to the self talk that happens.