Nikki Dubose: Washed Away

Trigger Warning:  eating disorders, rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, addiction, self harm, mental illness, obsessive behavior

Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is a memoir that recounts the experiences of model Nikki DuBose as she overcomes a more than seventeen-year battle with abuse, child sexual victimization, eating disorders, psychosis, alcoholism, drugs, depression, suicide attempts, body dysmorphic disorder, and various other mental health issues, all while trying to navigate through the dark side of the fashion industry.

Her journey began as a young, introverted child with a florid imagination growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. By the age of eight she had been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused and had developed an eating disorder. The abuse warped Nikki’s self-perception and sparked patterns of psychosis, depression and destructive behavior that stayed with her into adulthood. In her early twenties she began working as a television host and started a career in modeling. Eventually Nikki attained success, appearing on the covers of magazines such as Maxim, shooting for editorials like Vanity Fair, Glamour and FHM, and appearing in campaigns for Perry Ellis.

Cast into a world of excess, superficiality, and vanity, Nikki traveled the globe and experienced the finest that the material world had to offer, all while feeling empty inside. Her disorders, addictions and mental health issues took her to the brink of mortality and only through a deeply painful inner-battle and her mother’s death was she able to reconnect the lost pieces of her soul and see the person she had so long rejected.

Her recovery from a nearly lifelong struggle with PTSD, psychosis, addictions and eating disorders has left Nikki with a passionate longing to help others who are also suffering by advocating for mental health and self-acceptance. Washed Away: From Darkness to Light will serve as a testimony to others to let them know that they are not alone in their fears, doubts, and frustrations, and that through recovery all things are possible.

 

Remember back when I read Lady Injury, when I told you that I liked a book…but then warned you not to read it? That’s exactly how I feel about Washed Away. In fact, the books are as similar as they are different, just as the two women are. Both books are about eating disorders and extremely severe mental illness. Both books are horrifically triggering and devastating. But, just as no two people are the same, no two mental illnesses are the same–and thus, no two memoirs could be the same either.

Washed Away is the story of two women, actually–not just Nikki herself, but also her mother. Nikki’s story illustrates just how strong the ties of mental illness can be–both nature and nurture. Her life was basically just a boulder rolling down a mountain–there was no way to stop it until the very bottom–and that boulder crushed everything in its path.

And Nikki was crushed by everything imaginable. I don’t often put a trigger warning at the beginning of my reviews, but it was necessary for this one. It is so easy to feel hopeless while reading a book like this because there seemingly is no end to the tragedy that this woman went through in her life. But she found her way out. I cannot imagine how impossible recovery seemed, but her epilogue was full of all the hope that was missing in the rest of the pages. It’s worth reading the rest just for that.

If you are looking for a story about someone who got out, someone who fought through bulimia and mental illness and came out on the other side–maybe look at Nikki’s book. Just be aware that this is a very triggering story, so take care.

I received a copy of this book from Book Publicity Services for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Stop the Stigma

I was discussing mental illness this morning with a dear friend of mine. She too has suffered for a long time–much longer, and much harder than I have. Now that we’ve found each other, we know each other’s moods and trigger points. While we don’t live in the same city, we try to care for each other as best we can.

We do disagree sometimes, however, and this morning was one of those times. Today is Self Injury Awareness Day (SIAD). In a nation of wacky celebrations like Chocolate Chip Cookie Day or Root Beer Float Day–actual awareness days can sometimes get lost in the mix. When I mentioned to her that today was SIAD, she asked me if I thought days like today cheapened the struggle. That sparked a lively debate. Her opinions are her own, so I’m not going to share them here. But the conversation did really make me think about my own reasons for participating in days like today, and writing so ferociously about mental illness.

While I now know that I have been living with mental illness for many years, my diagnosis is only a year old. Since that time, I have really ramped up my study in psychology. What was a mild interest has now become a serious passion. I am extremely invested in learning as much as I can about psychology, the brain, and everything mental health related. There’s a reason you have seen such an uptick in nonfiction on this blog!

Through my research, I’ve found a wonderfully welcoming mental health community online. Social media has brought together so many different people to form a unique kind of group therapy. On just about any platform, you can find forums and outlets for depression, anxiety, BPD, eating disorders, self-harm, the list goes on and on. Youtubers like Kati Morton provide informative videos, journal prompts, and worksheets to help fill in the gaps between actual therapy. Bloggers (Like me! But also Allie Brosh and Jenny Lawson) write about their own experiences–how they suffered, got help, their coping mechanisms, good days, bad days.

Some of this is general, some of it gets really personal–but for me, it is all extremely helpful. The more conversation, the better.

Today is Self Injury Awareness Day. This is not an issue I deal with personally, but I know people who do. And after reading Lady Injury recently, I grasp much more fully how terrifyingly dangerous it can be. I encourage you to pay attention to the discussions happening on social media today. If you are able, participate. Be careful though, and take care of yourself. If you don’t understand what is happening yet, listen, ask questions.

Today, and other days like today, are about awareness and education. Today is every single one of us joining hands and saying “Hello, I am here for you. I love you. Do you need help?” AND ALSO “I am sick. I need help. Here is what is happening.” AND ALSO “I love you. I want to know more. Help me understand so I can help.”

Help us reduce the stigma on mental illness. The more we share our stories, the more people can learn and understand. The more people who learn and understand, the better chance we have of improved mental health care and treatment. With less stigma, we will also have more people asking for help when they need it, as there will be less shame placed on those who are sick. We need real conversations happening around dinner tables and in classrooms and between girlfriends at lunch and in bars between bros.

START THE CONVERSATION. STOP THE STIGMA.

Lady Injury

Oh Melissa…

It’s not often I read a book that I like, and then tell you not to read it. But that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

But to be fair, even the author tells you not to read her book. And then the person doing the introduction tells you not to read the book.

I’ve never seen an author include such an intense trigger warning before. We talk about them in reviews and in comment sections, but they usually aren’t actually included in the narrative. But Melissa Water understands triggers better than most. Water has severe anxiety–some of the worst I’ve ever read about. That anxiety makes her self-harm, and she has destroyed her body.

Melissa kept constant journals while being hospitalized for her mental illness, and Lady Injury is the narrative of those journals. This memoir is bloody, devastating, and painful. There were parts of it that all but had me curled up in the fetal position. It definitely made me anxious–if I were a cutter I am not sure I would have been able to resist. Melissa puts the written stop sign at the beginning for a reason.

I am so proud of her for telling her story, though. As hard as this book is to read, I’m sure it was harder to write–and nearly impossible to live through. Water’s voice is one of many that needs to be heard.

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Wintergirls

I cannot breathe.

No…really….

There was a completely different post scheduled for today, but this weekend, I realized that it was #readformentalhealthweek and there was no way I was going to post run of the mill stuff this week. NO WAY. So I pulled up Goodreads Listopia and went to town. And of course…I went through 50 books before I found one that my library had available online:  Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.

GUYS HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?

Because I…can’t…breathe….

Anderson has, of course, made her way into my perephrial vision; and I have a few of her books on my TBR list. But until now I thought she was just another fluffy YA romance author, along the lines of Sarah Dessen or Stephanie Perkins, so I wasn’t in a hurry to get to her.

I WAS SO WRONG.

While researching books for this week, I saw one review call her “The Jodi Picoult of YA,” which really isn’t too far off. She covers big, emotional issues in hardhitting ways. In Wintergirls, Lia not only battles the recent death of her best friend, but also a life-threatening eating disorder. Her family struggles to help her, but in Lia’s mind they are just tearing her apart.

Lia’s stream-of-consciousness narration literally takes your breath away as she spirals downdowndown. Every calorie she counts, every mental correction she makes–it all becomes so obsessive compulsive that you just need to reach out the book and grab onto her, but you can’t.

Anderson has brilliantly incorporated “Tumblr-speak” into Wintergirls, which normally drives me crazy. However, because she uses it as Lia’s steady climax towards destruction, it greatly increases the anxiety for the reader. The more deterioration in Lia’s stream-of-consciousness, the nearer her imminent breakdown. It’s a pretty fantastic writing device, when used correctly, and she does it SO WELL.

I need to add, for obvious reasons, this book is extremely triggering. I’m not kidding when I said I cannot breathe. There were times during this book when I had to stop and walk away for a few minutes. If these things trigger you, proceed with caution:  anorexia, bulimia, eating disorders of any kind, depression, anxiety, cutting, suicide, obsessive compulsive disorder. Let me know if I need to add to this list. I don’t always add a trigger list to my blog posts, but when it is a book like this…I feel it deserves one.

Again, proceed with the caution you need to take, but there is some power to be gained from reading Wintergirls. Anderson’s message is much the same as the one I give over and over again here at I Lay Reading:

“There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.”

And for that message, and the brilliant writing, Wintergirls gets 5 Book Dragons.

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Unbearable Lightness

Sometimes you pick up a book and learn something you absolutely did not expect. When I saw Portia de Rossi had a book out, I thought “Oh, neat! I don’t know much about her, except that she’s married to Ellen.” And I love Ellen! So of course I want to read her wife’s memoirs!

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However, Ellen does not appear in the book until the Epilogue. If that is the only reason you are reading this…you’ll be disappointed. This is not about their relationship.

What I did not know about Portia is that she battled anorexia and bulimia from the time she was a teenager. She was a model and actress since she was 12, and she was constantly worried about her weight. I’ve heard about anorexia and bulimia in school and on TV, but I’ve never heard it described in such detail and through the mind of someone going through it. Portia does not hold back here, and this book is not for the lighthearted. I was all but in tears when she talked about being 37 kilos (81 pounds) and hardly being able to walk.

The Epilogue is encouraging. The good news is she did get better, and we’ve all seen her now. She’s gorgeous, and come on, she’s married to the most sunshiney person on earth. At least in their public persona (because no one knows what goes on behind closed doors), they are the happiest celebrity couple ever to be a celebrity couple. I wish them both the very best.