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Book: Turtles All the Way Down

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Not much to say about the plot of the book – it’s a young adult novel, and that pretty much sums it up. There are teenagers who go through a rite of passage – the discovery of who they are and what they feel. It is the beginning of an adventure we never get to see, only the gestation of it – we are left to draw our own conclusions of what happens after this episode that we have in front of us; but, in all fairness, it is this episode that you will want to read even if you had the choice of reading one out off all of them – it is here where the big conclusions are drawn; the point of no return.

While the novel has scattered all over cliches and improbable events, it does come to a good conclusion and, rounding everything up, it does appear to make some sense. It’s nothing mind-blowing, just the usual live the life you always wanted to live kind of thing.

But the novel does get one thing perfectly right, the subject of mental illness. The main protagonist suffers from severe anxiety and OCD, and both play a very important part of the character construction and some of the plot devices.

Going through such strong emotions is perfectly captured through the thoughts and actions of the character, showing the audience again and again the torments that people everywhere and of all ages suffer every day – it is the voice not of a generation, but of an illness that does not discriminate ages and genders, that creates harm out of thin air and has, over time, claimed the most talented and brilliant of individuals.

Mental illness is not always depression or another crippling disease, sometimes it is the burden that other people do not see. Anxiety doesn’t make us incapable of leaving your bed, nor does it make you crazy in the eyes of others, but it is a slow burning fire that torments relentlessly and consumes you to the point of giving up. The series of scary thoughts that never leave your head, that just come and come to the point of exhaustion, seem less important for most people, but that doesn’t mean that people that are currently going through it and people that have overcame it do not find it important, it is as defining for an individual as birth itself.

Turtles All the Way Down is a nice, short and fun read that tackles successfully a very important topic, especially in today’s lens. Although John Green’s mental illness has caused him a great deal of pain, it is refreshing to see how the human mind can overpower its traumas and, while doing so, create art.

Book: Letters to a Young Contrarian

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Christopher Hitchens is known as one of the greatest essayists since Orwell, but also one of the world’s greatest polemicists – his oppositionist views ranging from history, religion, politics to art. Almost no subject is unknown to him and he masters the art of rhetoric like no other, every sentence comes out full of poignancy and rigour – in terms of debate he has no equal, his adversaries have mostly failed against him even in his last days, weakened by the disease that stole him much too early.

It would make sense that when looking for someone to write a book in the Art of Mentoring series no one would be more equipped to tackle this than him, even if he was opposed to the idea of being called a contrarian – he delivers a lesson in what it means to bring consistency to opposition, the art and toil one must muster in order to criticise and go against something – especially if that something is already rooted in history and minds. Not an easy feat, but necessary and important if we are ever to progress and leave behind the preconceptions developed in the infancy of our species.
Offering a history of what contrarianism is, Hitchens goes to lengths in explaining what he considers not only and art form, but an obligation. Ranging from Socrates to Emile Zola the book offers us a glimpse into what is needed for an objective opinion – what tools are needed but, more importantly, what state of mind is to be better suited for the job.

Coming from Christopher there is the inescapable feeling of being inferior, how will I ever rise to the task as well as him? But although he uses examples from his own experience which, in all fairness, coming from anyone else would seem just a gross lack of modesty, but in his case just the simple and honest truth of a life served for the pursuit of truth, it is a bit hard to relate and the idea of following in the author’s footsteps seems unlikely. However, the lessons are very useful and clear cut – you don’t need to be an expert, you just need to go through the process of informing yourself and finding your voice, as these are the absolutely necessary in performing a contrarian’s job.

Reading the book now, especially if you are a fan, is extremely hard – it just shows how much humanity has lost when Christopher has passed away – he has a voice and clarity that so unique that it will make you shudder from the very first sentences. Every topic and every lesson is treated as the most important thing and given every bit of attention it requires – nothing is left to chance. This type of rigour is one of the hallmarks that have made Hitchens so loved and so despised.

How to have and defend, or go against, an opinion is an extremely valuable lesson and an area that the twenty-first century must learn how to cherish, protect and inspire if we are ever overcome the struggles that lie ahead.

Book: In Therapy: How Conversations with Psychotherapists Really Work

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Admitting to having an emotional problem is almost always seen as a sign of weakness, we are told from an early age that we need to be strong and make the most of what we got – losing it means that we are outcasts, people which are used as a negative example in society. It is this trend that makes psychotherapy a science that is avoided, as it is considered a failure if you need it, and not what it actually is: a consultation with a professional about a part of your body that is not behaving as it should. You wouldn’t consider not seeing an orthopedist when your leg hurts, on the contrary, you would assume and consider to be exactly the thing that is needed.

One of the things that is still a mistery is what is gong in inside – what will this stranger get out from me? what if I am too embarrassed and say things that I do not anyone else to know? The ins and outs of a psychotherapy session is still a reason for concern, mostly for the same reason I mentioned before: people feel ashamed for the fact that they even consider they need to speak with somebody. Multiple shows and books have surfaced in recent years trying to inform people of what to expect and what this science actually does – this book is one of those examples.

The most basic thing is that the patient is always in control – they decide what they speak about and how many details they give. The idea is not only to speak of the things that hurt you emotionally, but to get to the center of what exactly is that is hurting you. Identifying the cause is one of the primary goals of these sessions. The therapist will listen and ask further questions about the subject you want to approach, many times the subject will creep in the conversation no matter how much we try to avoid it – but this is a good thing, because once it is out there you will feel an immense sense of accomplishment, it is now that the healing begins. The questions directed at the patient are also to find the cause of the illness even if the patient is not aware of it – this is what therapists do, and in doing it they not only help you get over what is hurting you, but they will also help you understand what the power of expressing yourself really is – a simple thing like talking can have huge benefits for your mental health.

The book offers a few mock sessions with fictional patients that deal with real life issues – we get a sense of what it means to go to therapy and what subjects are discussed there. There are couples, women, and men, and each have their own issues that they need to discuss – a great variety of issues are being dealt with and are inching away at a resolution. Also, there are examples of what happens in the first session where the therapist determines what type of therapy is needed going further – all the anxiety and trauma about seeing a psychotherapist goes away. The more you know about a thing the least possible number of things for it to scare you.

In a fast world with high amounts of stress we will inevitably face all sorts mental disorders at one stage or another – seeing a therapists will become as necessary as doing routine blood work. Preparing ourselves with information for what is needed for when such a situation appears is necessary. The recent talk shows, videos and books that have appeared in order to further educate on this aspect are extremely useful and hopefully the trend will continue until psychotherapy will be seen as the helpful hand that we need.