The Book: Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk
As a nonfiction junkie, it’s not too often that I curl up in bed with a YA novel – or any novel for that matter. But Lauren Wolk’s Echo Mountain was a welcome distraction from everything going on in our world today.
Clearly, I enjoyed the book. But why am I sharing a review of Echo Mountain on a blog about living well with chronic illness? (Besides the fact that reading YA novels is as good a way to pass the time in quarantine as anything else). At its heart, this is a story about healing, both physically and mentally.
While twelve-year-old Ellie spends her time scavenging the mountainside for ingredients to treat the physical wounds of her father and her new friend, it’s the mental and emotional wounds that truly need healing. Ultimately, it’s a combination of time, empathy, music, honey and puppies that brings healing to the families of Echo Mountain.
In a time of uncertainty, this story serves as a reminder of the simple joys in life – like holding a newborn puppy or savoring a fresh slice of homemade pie. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s a happy one. And I think happy endings are something we could use a lot more of these days.
The Tea: Stonewall Kitchen Wild Maine Blueberry Tea with Honey
Even though I drink loose-leaf tea almost exclusively, this delicious blend has become a summer staple in my house. Give it a try yourself and let me know what you think in the comments!
The Book: The Upside of Being Down by Jen Gotch
The Upside of Being Down is part memoir, part self-help book and part business guide, written by Jen Gotch, the founder of ban.do. Jen chronicles her experience of growing up with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and anxiety, and her journey to better mental health as an adult. She recounts everything from the details of her relationship with her mom and her cross-country move to launching a business, finding a therapist and getting divorced.
Jen describes herself as “genetically predisposed to optimism,” and as the founder of a brand that practically screams joy and optimism, that makes sense. What may surprise some readers are the struggles she’s faced on the road to success and her commitment to helping others conquer mental illness.
While I’ve never been convinced that my skin is green or struggled with crippling anxiety, there were definitely parts of Jen’s story that I could relate to. The chapter about her relationship with her husband and subsequent divorce was so honest and accessible that I found myself reflecting on my own failed relationship with fresh eyes.
Jen’s personality clearly shines through every page of this book, and its value lies in both the insightful reflection on her life with bipolar and anxiety and the uplifting conclusion that things can get better. She applies that philosophy to her company too. You can learn more about what she’s doing at ban.do to bring awareness to mental illness here and download free resources here.
As schools transition to online classes and more people are confined to their homes, I’ve noticed more than a few desperate Facebook posts seeking ideas to keep both kids and adults occupied. It seems as though, for the first time ever, spoonies around the world have suddenly become the “experts” on something. Of course, we don’t always have the energy for activities when we’re stuck at home, but we’ve gotten pretty good at keeping ourselves entertained when we can.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive, low-stress boredom buster (that’s family-friendly!), look no further. Here are my top five coloring books to get you started on a colorful, creative journey:
Do you have a favorite coloring book that I didn’t mention here? Tell me in the comments!
Mister Rogers played a starring role in the childhood of my generation. Not only was he there in our living room every morning, wearing his signature cardigan and singing a familiar song, but his legacy and the lessons he taught us continue to echo through our adult lives today. When I learned that Tom Hanks – an icon in his own right – would be portraying my childhood hero in the new film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I decided it was worth the splurge on a movie ticket.
After dog-earing half the pages in my copy, I decided to compile my favorite quotes for my own easy reference. If you have a chronic illness, these quotes might resonate with you too. Here are 13 of my absolute favorites, but I also recommend reading the entire book!
"What’s been important in my understanding of myself and others is the fact that each one of us is so much more than any one thing. A sick child is much more than his or her sickness. A person with a disability is much, much more than a handicap. A pediatrician is more than a medical doctor. You’re much more than your job description or your age or your income or your output."
"I believe that the basis of any health education lies in a person’s caring enough about himself that he’ll want to take care of himself. If we want people to eat the right food, brush their teeth, get the proper exercise, seek regular checkups, avoid cigarettes, dope, and poison, we must help these people feel that they’re really worth taking care of."
"We’d all like to feel self-reliant and capable of coping with whatever adversity comes our way, but that’s not how most human beings are made. It’s my belief that the capacity to accept help is inseparable from the capacity to give help when our turn comes to be strong."
"Some of my richest experiences have come out of the most painful times… those that were the hardest to believe would ever turn into anything positive."
"Most children who are ill or have some kind of disability are afraid of their angry wishes. Their parents are afraid of their own anger, too. They’re afraid that any anger in themselves and in any others around them might end up in death."
"Being in the best hospital in the world is still second-best to being home… and well."
"When we can resign ourselves to the wishes that will never come true, there can be enormous energies available within us for whatever we can do. I know a woman who remembers the time when her wish to be married and have children would not be realized. She remembers the struggle of the final resignation, and then she remembers the outcome of that resignation. Enormous energies were available to her, which she used in developing uniquely creative work with young parents."
"Some days, 'doing the best we can' may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect – on any front – and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else."
"There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth."
"There are certainly no easy answers to growing older and being gracious about it, because there are going to be some days that you just don’t like it when you ache. But there are going to be other days when you can receive what others give. I don’t think any of us is going to be any one way all of the time."
"Part of the problem with 'disabilities' is that the word immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or can’t talk about their feelings? Or can’t manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the truly crippling disabilities."
Q: What inspired you to create the Woosah Warrior book?
A: As an artist living with epilepsy, brain fog, trouble concentrating and mood fluctuations have always made it difficult for me to keep up with other artists. Anxiety and overthinking often get the best of me, and I find it a struggle to finish personal creative projects that aren’t linked to my professional clients. In an effort to be creative without feeling overwhelmed, I turned to coloring books as a way to feed my creativity, ease anxiety and rest.
I tried so many types of coloring books, but I never felt that they helped to accomplish my goals. The books were either too child-like and over-simplified or marketed to adults and contained extremely detailed illustrations. I found myself bored by the children’s coloring books and overwhelmed by the adult coloring books. (Brain fog is no joke, and sometimes the simplest task can feel like too much.)
In an effort to appease my wants and create something for the chronic illness community, I decided to create Woosah Warrior, which combines coloring pages with journaling questions to encourage you to dive a little deeper. I found while coloring children’s books, my mind would wander off; the journal pages provide gentle nudges to bring you back to the present.
Q: Can you tell me a little about the process you went through in creating the book?
A: This is my first dive into creating a book, so it was a bit of a bumpy road to get to the finished product. Procrastination due to fear of failure was an overarching theme throughout the process, but I did my best to work through it. I started by coming up with empowering messages for each coloring page and tweaking as needed.
Then, I thought about what type of graphics I wanted to create for each coloring page, and went through a brainstorming process for each page – deciding which style and graphics to move forward with before continuing on to create the journal pages. The journal pages were the easiest part for me to create because they correspond to the adjacent. The messages of empowerment set the tone and flow of my creation process, while keeping me inspired to finish the book.
Q: How has your experience with epilepsy shaped your art?
A: Epilepsy has shaped my art in a few ways. The first being that I’m more cautious during my design process, meaning I do not include flashing imagery or lights that may trigger photosensitive seizures in some people with epilepsy. Secondly, I began creating clothing and accessory designs for epilepsy warriors, which was never even a thought prior to becoming an advocate for the epilepsy community.
Q: What's next? Do you have any big projects planned for the future?
A: I’m actually considering a break! I began studying Herbalism this year and would like to take some time to focus on school and for some much needed rest and reflection. The past few years have been a bit of a whirlwind. I felt like I gave so much of myself away without recouping, and I’ve been facing some neuromuscular challenges. I think it’s time to focus on my health and wellness and take a step away from it all. I still intend to release a book sharing my epilepsy story, but I don’t currently have a launch date in mind.