Help Me by Marianne Power

*Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It is truly a great feeling when a book surprises you in the best of ways. “Help Me” by Marianne Power is one of those books for me. This is a true story of one woman’s quest to build the life she desperately wants through self-help books. This book will make you laugh but it will also make you reflect on the big questions asked by the author. It is equally hysterical and thought provoking. In short, it was one hell of a ride that made me laugh out loud in public (I suspect onlookers were confused as to how I was laughing so much while reading a book titled “Help Me”)

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Synopsis:

“There comes a point in every woman’s life when she realizes that things cannot carry on the way they are” – Marianne Power.

On the surface, Marianne’s life seems great. She’s a thirty-six year old freelance journalist living in London. She has supportive group of family and friends. She wears designer clothes and travels often. However, deep down Marianne feels unfulfilled, lost and behind in life. As Marianne is nursing a bad hangover one Sunday morning, she comes to a realization that things need to change. She decides to turn to the world of self-help books to help her become a perfect person, with the perfect weight, living in a perfect home with a perfect life partner. The problem with this plan: there is no such thing as perfect.

Marianne embarks on a twelve-month journey in which she will read one self-help book per month. She decides that she will not only read self-help, she will DO self-help. She will follow the advice given in these books, no matter how scary it is. What follows is a year filled with uncomfortable challenges, facing fears and questioning damaging subconscious thoughts.

Does Self-Help Really Help?

“The dangerous expectation that can be created by self-help books is that if you’re not walking around like a cross between Mary Poppins, Buddha and Jesus every day you’re doing it wrong. You must try harder.” – Marianne Power

Marianne starts her self-help journey with the book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” by Susan Jeffers. This book inspires her to do things that she is afraid of, and so she writes up a list of scary things she would never imagine doing. She finds herself becoming a nude model for an art class, chatting up a random man on public transport, doing stand up comedy, and skydiving. I loved reading this chapter specifically because you could really feel her fear through her writing. I know there were times when I was cringing and feeling proud of her at the same time.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the chapter on rejection therapy, a game created by Jason Comely in which the goal is to seek out rejection in order to overcome the fear of rejection. It was an absolute riot reading the scenes where Marianne asked for free coffee, a discount in store and asked to join strangers at cafes. Her inner dialogue is gold! This chapter was not only funny, but eye opening as well. It turns out that even when Marianne was searching for rejection, she would not always get it. People would surprise her with their kindness and openness, leaving Marianne to realize that she had gone out of her way to avoid rejection her whole life and barely lived as a result.

The Downside to Self-Help:

As her journey progresses, Marianne explores more self-help books like “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey and attended a Tony Robbins seminar called “Unleash the Power Within”. What starts as an inspirational journey becomes overwhelming and Marianne soon becomes burnt out from all the self-helping. She finds herself alone with all the voices of the authors in her head leaving her feeling even more emotionally exhausted. I really think this portion of the book is important as it shows what happens when you go too far with these books. A self-help plan can be equal parts self-growth and alienating if not done right.

As Marianne realizes her friends and family are starting to worry and pulling away, she presses pause and reexamines her commitment to reading self-help. Perhaps this is the most important part of her self-growth as she looks into her own behavior and realizes she does not have do all this on her own. That asking for help from actual people and reconnecting with the people she loves can be just as empowering. It is with this realization that she takes a giant leap forward and continues with reading what turn out to be the three books that leave the biggest impact: “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown and “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay. I believe the reason why these books made the greatest impact was because she realized a journey towards self-development does not have to be taken alone.

My Thoughts:

This book was unlike any other nonfiction book I have read before. It is deeply personal, vulnerable and hilarious. At times, it felt like I was reading a novel, mainly because of the hilarious dialogue between Marianne and her mother. The mother’s advice, skepticism and genuine concern were both hysterical and endearing.

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I found myself laughing, gasping, feeling sad and rooting for the author every step of the way. The chapters are broken down according to the self-help book the author was reading. Marianne manages to capture the biggest lessons from every book she reads. If you enjoy nonfiction books that are funny and inspiring, then this book is for you. In fact, I think this book can be for anyone. You do not have to like or even appreciate self-help books to enjoy this deeply personal story.

Happy reading!

Shazia.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Publisher: HarperCollins

I would like to thank HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig in exchange for an honest review.

This was an inspiring and thought-provoking book to read. It is truly refreshing when an author shares his or her personal journey with readers. To feel an author’s vulnerability in their writing is a beautiful thing and to reflect on your own life afterwards is where the magic happens.

Matt Haig is one of those authors that takes you along on his personal journey and helps you understand the lessons he learned along the way. This book explores the link between anxiety, stress and our modern world. It is not just meant for the Millennials or the Generation Y group. This book is aimed for all humans who live on this nervous planet.

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Notes on a Nervous Planet

We have come a long way when it comes to discussing mental health. However, in this book Matt points out an interesting thing that we do when people discuss their mental health issues. He discusses how people continue to say things like “You are so brave for sharing your story”. As pointed out in the book, it should not be thought of as being brave for someone to have shared his or her struggles. It should be considered normal.

I paused when I read this and thought back to all the times I used a similar phrase when reading or listening to someone’s story. It’s a completely valid point that I thought should be shared. While there were many themes in this book, I would like to discuss the three big ones that stood out for me: Technology overload, loss of connection and life overload.

Technology Overload:

We live in a chaotic, overly stimulating and faced paced world. More than ever before we are being bombarded with notifications from the overwhelming amount of apps we have on our phones. We have to comb through text messages, whatsapp messages, emails, tweets, direct messages and Facebook messenger messages. Matt describes how this can be anxiety provoking. He describes the feeling of being on high alert while waiting for text messages or when receiving new notifications. We are constantly plugged in and being distracted.

Matt acknowledges how hard it can be to distance yourself from your phone and he shares his own struggles. However, he provides useful tips on how to control social media time rather than letting it control you. He recognizes the struggles with advancing technology, but also acknowledges the positives. This book does not bash technology and blame it all for our unhappiness. On the contrary, it presents the problems we may face and provides us with advice on how to create a space to foster peace and shape the life we want.

Loss of Connection:

Matt describes how the rise of the Internet and social media makes us more connected but also physically draws us further apart. An interesting point is made about how many things that pulled us out of our homes in the past are now available on the Internet. It is also so much easier to communicate with friends and family via Skype and Facetime rather than putting all that effort into getting out into the world to meet them. Loneliness seems to be one of the side effects of social media. I loved how Matt offers readers tips on how to remain human in a world that has become addicted to cell phones. It resonated with me as I sometimes find myself scanning the the people on the bus and counting how many of them have their cell phones in their hands, myself included.

Life Overload:

Matt refers to our world as a global nervous system. We are connected in more ways than ever thanks to technology like the Internet and the telephone. I think one of the most interesting points of this book was that because we have become so globally connected, we might feel emotions collectively through this large nervous system. We feel the group’s emotions and these emotions become our own. We get reminded of a time when we got our news with the morning newspaper and the evening news. That’s it. Just twice a day.

These days, news coverage goes beyond the newspaper and CNN. It is also present in the trending topics of Facebook, discussed on Twitter, shared on Instagram and Google news offers us a plethora of news articles to comb through. There is definitely an information overload, especially when the news being presented revolves around topics that sadden or frighten us. This book explains how it can be anxiety provoking, leading us to stress more and become anxious over the impending doom that may befall on us.

My Thoughts:

This was such an enjoyable book to read. I really can’t say that there is anything that I disliked about this book. It was broken down into sections that are quick and easy to read. There are many themes that are explored through funny anecdotes, lists and short discussions. It was an honest and insightful account about how to live your best life possible in a modern world that is designed to make you feel anxious. It is about creating a space of peace for yourself, to unplug and live in the moment. I think we could all benefit from Matt Haig’s reminders and advice. Highly recommended!

Happy reading,

Shazia.

Is There Still a Stigma Around Self-Help Books?

I notice an acquaintance, let’s call her Jane, clutching a book to her chest. It is bright yellow and I immediately recognize it.

Me: “Are you reading, “You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero?”

Jane: “Oh, yeah I am. I got it as a gift or else I would never pick it up myself. I usually don’t do self-help books”.

Me: “I loved that book! I read it twice”

Jane: “Oh really? That’s good. I hope I enjoy it. I don’t care for self-help books, but it seems funny”.

It is then that I notice the subtle signs of discomfort: her nervous laugh, the way she hides the title by holding it to her chest and how she shifts from one foot to another. Not to mention, she states she doesn’t care for self-help books twice.

This whole interaction made me wonder: Is there a stigma when it comes to reading self-help books?

I have seen it a few times over the years. Discomfort when someone sees me reading a self-help book. Sometimes it’s an eye-roll, other times I see an eyebrow raising and a few times it’s been a downright “you read that stuff?”

Well, yes I do. In fact, I love this “stuff”.

The Good News:

In the last few years, I have seen more enthusiasm related to self-help books. I have seen these books on display more often than before. I have listened to podcasts with the authors from this genre discussing their books. I have also seen these books included in popular book clubs. More of these kinds of books are shared on platforms like bookstagram and goodreads.
Chapters Indigo even has a section called “The Wellness Shop”, which features a whole array of self-help books related to self-development, meditation, coping with anxiety and alleviating stress. I have met people who asked questions about self-help books. I have had lengthy discussions about the themes and topics covered by the authors regarding mental health. This often leads to stories being shared about our personal struggles and how we incorporated teachings from these books into our lives. These are the conversations we need more of in our lives.

The Resistance:

What makes some people uncomfortable about being seen in the self-help section of the bookstore? What makes some people uncomfortable about reading their self-help books in public? Is it the idea that seeking these books is a form of weakness? Is it the fear of judgment from others?

I truly believe that people’s resistance to self-help books is basically centered on a lack of knowledge about this genre. Some people may think these books are filled with schemes. Others may think these books provide a false notion of “you will be fixed by the end of Chapter 20”. A few may even believe that there is nothing written that we don’t already know.

There may be some truth to these ideas. I’m not saying all self-help books are wonderful and contain pixie dust that will “bippity boppity boo” away all your insecurities and struggles. What I am saying is the genre itself deserves to be treated with an open mind. So next time you see someone roll their eyes or raise an eyebrow so high it looks like it’s about to shoot off their forehead, maybe try to have a discussion. Maybe ask the person why they dislike self-help books. Share why you like this particular book you are reading. You don’t have to change their mind or bring them over to your side, but sometimes a conversation can lead to openness or just a great book related conversation.

My Favorite Self-Help Books

I can’t do a blog post about this genre and not include some of my favorites.
Here are some of the self-help books that I found immensely important and life changing. I believe that for a self-help book to be a success, you need to feel a certain level of vulnerability from the author. You also have to be willing to feel your own vulnerability. Here is my top five list:

1) Good Vibes, Good Life – Vex King

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I have been gushing about this book since Christmas to everyone who will listen to me and I have no intention to stop anytime soon. Vex King is such a gifted author who shares his own life experiences and the lessons he learned along the way. I love books that promote self-love and positive vibes.

2) Daring Greatly – Brene Brown

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Brene Brown spent twelve years getting up close and personal with vulnerability. She shares her years of research and her own personal struggles with vulnerability and helps us realize that vulnerability is where courage can be found. There is so much to learn from this book as it left me reflecting on my own thoughts and experiences.

3) The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson

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While many self-help books and social media quotes focus solely on positivity, Mark Manson discusses the importance on how to stop being positive all the time so that we can truly become happier people. It is an interesting concept about how we need to fully feel our sad moments in order to move forward.

4) You are a Badass – Jen Sincero

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This book is badass! The author has a great way of weaving humour and real life experiences to ultimately help readers love their badass selves. Lots of laugh out loud moments and advice that makes you think about living your best life.

5) Unlearn: 101 Simple Truths for a Better Life – Humble the Poet

This book is a collection of writings and insightful quotes to remind you of your potential and ways of thinking to deal with whatever life throws your way. I loved the little lessons that were shared. This book is both insightful and motivational.

Final Thoughts:
We have come a long way as mental health awareness is being discussed more and many authors are stepping forward with their stories. Is there a stigma? I believe we are seeing less and less of it. There may always be some level of discomfort either from the reader or from the outside world. What’s important is that we keep talking about it and sharing the message from these books. Sometimes all people need is a gentle reminder of self-love from authors who want to spread their message and help the heal the world one page at a time.

Happy reading!

Shazia.