What Happened to You? – Bruce D. Perry & Oprah Winfrey

As you move through the experiences of your past, know that no matter what happened, your being here, vibrant and alive, makes you worthy.

You alone are enough.

Sometimes a book will come into your life at exactly the right time. Traumas, both from childhood and more recent times, have been making themselves known to me with an urgency I haven’t experienced before, at a time that seems more inconvenient than pretty much any other time in my life. Although I’d love to push it all to the side, with a ‘Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy reading?’, there’s also a knowing that there’s never going to be a good time and that maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason it’s all coming up for me now.

So, here I am, trying to figure out what healing will look like for me and having conversations with people who are seeing my resilience from the outside in vastly different ways than I’m perceiving it from the inside. Then this book, which covers the trifecta of what my brain has decided is my priority right now (trauma, resilience and healing), makes its way into my world.

The shift from asking ‘what’s wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?’ is something I’ve yearned to hear for most of my life. Western society is so fixed on labels, which I know have their place and can be useful, but all too often pasting a diagnosis (or multiple diagnoses) on someone marginalises them more than it helps them. If we don’t get to the core of why a person behaves the way they do then we’re really missing the point, and the opportunity to best support them.

All of us want to know that what we do, what we say and who we are, matters.

Dr. Perry’s work in understanding how the brain’s development is impacted by early trauma helps explain why we behave the way we do, for example, why some people lash out in anger and others withdraw into themselves.

There’s science in this book but it was explained in a way that made sense to me, someone who hasn’t formally studied science since high school. Even if you don’t understand a concept the first time it’s mentioned it’s okay as it will be referred to in later conversations. If words like ‘brainstem’, ‘diencephalon’, ‘limbic’ and ‘cortex’ make you want to disengage, I’d encourage you to hold on because how the science relates to someone’s life will be explained. This, in turn, will make it easier to apply what’s being said to your own life. You’ll read about people Dr. Perry has worked with, people Oprah has interviewed and about Oprah’s own experiences.

Knowledge truly is powerful and simply having an understanding of why a smell or sound (‘evocative cues’) can cause people with PTSD to have flashbacks, making them feel as though they’re right back in that moment, feels like half the battle. If you’re not caught up in judging yourself for your brain responding the way that it does, then it frees up so much energy that you can use to regulate yourself.

I learned about how our view of the world becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy”, why self harm makes so much sense to the people who do it (even though it baffles the people who don’t), the importance of rhythm in regulation, how vital connections with other people are to healing and why I need to learn more about neuroplasticity.

I gained a much better understanding of flock, freeze, flight and fight. Dissociation, which I thought I knew all about from personal experience, make much more sense to me now, as does why I find reading so helpful in my everyday life.

I love facts and there were some that really put what I was reading into context for me.

During the first nine months, fetal brain development is explosive, at times reaching a rate of 20,000 new neurons ‘born’ per second. In comparison, an adult may, on a good day, create 700.

This book isn’t about blaming anyone for your trauma and it’s not giving you an excuse for bad behaviour. It does explain why you react the way you do and can help silence the voice inside you that tells you there’s something wrong with you because of it – your reaction is reasonable given your history but there is also hope; you can heal.

I would recommend this book to so many people. Before I’d even begun reading I’d recommended it to my GP and would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone who works in a profession that brings them into contact with young children and their families or trauma survivors.

To this day, the role that trauma and developmental adversity play in mental and physical health remains under appreciated.

I would recommend it to trauma survivors, although with a few caveats: that they stay safe while reading (some of the content is bound to be triggering), read at their own pace and make good use of their support system as needed. Loved ones of trauma survivors will find explanations for why their friend or family member behaves the way that they do and ways they can help.

I’m not someone who usually listens to audiobooks but if there’s a book that would be more suited for that format than this one, a series of conversations between Dr. Perry and Oprah, I can’t think of it. Of course, having grown up with Oprah, I heard everything she said in her voice as I read anyway but I’m definitely planning to reread via audiobook.

It takes courage to confront your actions, peel back the layers of trauma in our lives and expose the raw truth of what happened.

But, this is where healing begins.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, foster care, gun violence, mental health, murder, neglect, physical abuse, physical health, poverty, racism, self harm, sexual assault, slavery, suicidal ideation and traumatic loss.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Through wide-ranging, and often deeply personal conversation, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Perry explore how what happens to us in early childhood – both good and bad – influences the people we become. They challenge us to shift from focusing on, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or “Why are you behaving that way?,” to asking, ‘What happened to you?’ This simple change in perspective can open up a new and hopeful understanding for millions about why we do the things we do, why we are the way we are, providing a road map for repairing relationships, overcoming what seems insurmountable, and ultimately living better and more fulfilling lives.

Many of us experience adversity and trauma during childhood that has lasting impact on our physical and emotional health. And as we’re beginning to understand, we are more sensitive to developmental trauma as children than we are as adults. ‘What happened to us’ in childhood is a powerful predictor of our risk for physical and mental health problems down the road, and offers scientific insights in to the patterns of behaviours so many struggle to understand.

A survivor of multiple childhood challenges herself, Oprah Winfrey shares portions of her own harrowing experiences because she understands the vulnerability that comes from facing trauma at a young age. Throughout her career, Oprah has teamed up with Dr. Bruce Perry, one of the world’s leading experts on childhood trauma. He has treated thousands of children, youth, and adults and has been called on for decades to support individuals and communities following high-profile traumatic events. Now, Oprah joins forces with Dr. Perry to marry the power of storytelling with the science and clinical experience to better understand and overcome the effects of trauma.

In conversation throughout the book, the two focus on understanding people, behaviour, and ourselves in the context of personal experiences. They remove blame and self-shaming, and open up a space for healing and understanding. It’s a subtle but profound shift in our approach to trauma, and it’s one that allows us to understand our pasts in order to clear a path to our future – opening the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.

Grounded in the latest brain science and brought to life through compelling narratives, this book shines a light on a much-needed path to recovery – showing us our incredible capacity to transform after adversity.

The Book of Hope – Jonny Benjamin & Britt Pflüger (editors)

This book introduces you to the lived experience of 101 contributors, people whose experiences run the gamut of what it means to be human but who have all struggled with hopelessness and found reasons to hope. Rather than attempt mini reviews for each contributor, instead I will share my favourite quote from each of the book’s eleven sections.

Always Hope

To me, hope is a gentle bridge between what is and what could be. A bridge that if crossed will lead you from desire, to belief, to knowing. Knowing that tomorrow will be different and can be better. Hope is the understanding that things will change and that life will eventually move for you, too.

Jada Sezer


This is some of the best advice I have had: to take each day as it comes. Just focus on the next hour and reach for support if you need it, from people or helplines. Don’t suffer in silence as you are never truly alone, even if it feels that way.

Eleanor Segall


It’s ok to not be ok. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or a bad person. Admitting you’re unwell is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Oliver Kent

Tool Kits

It generally feels better when you say it out loud. It enables you to reality check your thoughts and feelings, to shine a light on them and test them out, rather than keeping them hidden in the echo chamber of your mind. Above all, it gives you the chance to connect with others and to realise you are not alone.

Benna Waites


For it is people who create hope; it is people who give us the strength to carry on.

Dick Moore


Imparting hope is profound and may just be enough to save a life.

Erin Turner

The Right Words

Trying to avoid it, because you’re scared of how it will make you feel, will only make things worse. So instead you let the feeling be. ‘This is me,’ you can say to yourself, ‘experiencing grief.’ Does it hurt? Yes. Will it kill you? No. Will it pass? Yes. Is it serious and important? Yes. Is it also just a feeling? Yes.

Aaron Balick


So here’s my first piece of advice: be gentle and forgiving with yourself, as if you were talking to someone you loved. It’s OK to be weak and fallible, or at least just human, to have limits. It’s OK to stop and take a moment for yourself.

Frank Turner


And yet hope is determined, hope is always there, even if you can’t see it or hear it. It’s in the tiniest of moments, shining its dim light, hoping you notice it. And hope is potent stuff, you only need the smallest glimmer, the tiniest drop, to make a difference.

Jo Love


‘You don’t have to wait to be in a crisis to get help,’ Leah said, thirteen soothing words that finally granted me permission to speak.

Amy Abrahams


Everyone’s feelings make sense once you get to know their story.

Martin Seager

There are plenty of darkness and light analogies, things that contributors would like to tell their younger selves and many writers who mentioned the importance of good nutrition and getting enough sleep and exercise. I know we all know the importance of these in maintaining both our physical and mental health but there’s something about hearing things you already know from people with lived experience that make you want to pay attention. If they helped these people, then maybe, just maybe, they might work for you too.

Some contributions had sections that read a bit like a Hallmark card, although I’m not certain that that’s a criticism; Hallmark haven’t made bajillions by telling people things they don’t want to hear. It wasn’t always clear to me why specific contributions were included in a section.

One of my favourite contributions was from David Wiseman, whose descriptions of what life looks like from inside PTSD are some of the most authentic that I’ve ever come across. I highlighted more of David’s words than any other writer. I can’t choose a favourite passage so I’ve chosen the shortest one that I highlighted.

Living with PTSD means having to have a busy mind because a relaxed mind will automatically fill with things you don’t want to think about. It means being tired all the time because that amount of thinking takes energy.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, racism, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There is always hope, even when we cannot seem to seek it within ourselves.

From the best advice you’ll ever get to the joy of crisps, the 101 brilliant contributors to The Book of Hope will help you to find hope whenever you need it most. Award-winning mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin, MBE, and co-editor Britt Pflüger bring together people from all walks of life – actors, musicians, athletes, psychologists and activists – to share what gives them hope.

These 101 key voices in the field of mental health, from the likes of Lemn Sissay, Dame Kelly Holmes, Frank Turner and Zoe Sugg, to Joe Tracini, Elizabeth Day, Hussain Manawer and Joe Wicks, share not only their experiences with anxiety, psychosis, panic attacks and more, but also what helps them when they are feeling low. This joyful collection is a supportive hand to anyone looking to find light on a dark day and shows that, no matter what you may be going through, you are not alone.

The Girl in the Dark – Angela Hart

Angela and Jonathan are foster carers who have also completed training to become specialist carers for “teenagers with complex needs”. The latest addition to their family is Melissa, who requires a short term placement. Melissa is a sweet, polite and seemingly young twelve year old, yet she has a history of running away from foster care.

While Angela and Jonathan have fostered children for several years, Melissa is the first “runner” that’s been placed in their home. They don’t know if she’s running from or to something and are given very little information about her history so they’re not quite sure what’s in store for them.

Though their experiences with Melissa are central to this book, Ryan and Marty, whose time in their home overlapped Melissa’s, are also discussed. Vicky, who I presume is the same girl in Angela’s previous book, Terrified, also appears briefly.

I vacillated between feeling like a voyeur, wanting to know more about this young girl’s life, and treating the story as fictionalised in order to assuage the intrusiveness I felt. I was glad to read that “Certain details in this story, including names, places and dates, have been changed to protect the family’s privacy” although at the same time I knew the horror I would feel if I learned a foster parent (even using a pseudonym) had published my story without my consent, regardless of how much it had been altered to de-identify me.

Given the author states she has had no contact with Melissa since the final time she ran away, there’s no indication permission was granted by her for her story to be published, which concerned me. It also seemed incongruous to be consistently reading about how the author wouldn’t divulge private details about any of her foster children to current or prior foster kids or even her mother, who was babysitting them, when I was reading all about them (albeit de-identified) in a published book.

I’ve been hesitant to read books based on real foster care experiences because of my concerns about privacy but can also see their benefit, as they provide insight into this often hidden world. It was the recommendation from Torey Hayden, whose books I devoured in my early twenties, that made me finally bite the bullet.

Good foster carers really should be praised for their tireless efforts in providing stability and a safe place for some of the most vulnerable young people. I hope books like this spur people into action who have considered fostering, as more foster carers are always needed.

I was frustrated by the rules that foster carers were expected to follow in the 1990’s when the events of this book are said to have taken place; rules that are supposed to protect foster children but instead leave them vulnerable to additional harm. I can only hope this broken system has been changed for the better in the UK since that time.

Some readers may find the themes of this book disturbing and rightfully so as it mentions suicide, child abuse and neglect, grooming, trafficking and child sexual exploitation. This was a quick read for me. I found some sections repetitive but overall the story flowed well.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Melissa is a sweet-natured girl with a disturbing habit of running away and mixing with the wrong crowd. After she’s picked up by the police, and with nowhere else to go, she is locked in a secure unit with young offenders. Social Services beg specialist foster carer Angela to take her in, but can she keep the testing 12-year-old safe? And will Angela ever learn what, or who, drove Melissa to run and hide, sometimes in the dead of night? 

The Girl in the Dark is the sixth book from well-loved foster carer Angela Hart. A true story that shares the tale of one of the many children she has fostered over the years. Angela’s stories show the difference that quiet care, a watchful eye, and sympathetic ear can make to those children whose upbringing has been less fortunate than others.

A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental: An A to Z From Anxiety to Zero F**ks Given – Natasha Devon

I think it goes without saying that a book about mental health is going to wind up with one of my famous (or is that infamous!) trigger warnings but as someone whose brain can get fairly trigger happy I didn’t have any problems while reading this one myself. However, having said that, I’m not you so please be aware and keep yourself safe if you are triggered while reading.

This is one of the best books about mental health that I’ve read, and I’ve read plenty. What sets it apart is its author, Natasha Devon, who I’ll admit I’d never heard of prior to reading this book but now feels like someone I could be friends with. Natasha is upfront about her own experiences, writes in a down to earth conversational tone and is somehow able to simplify and explain difficult topics without dumbing them down. Natasha’s aim is to present “a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand overview” and she nails it!

While I’ve been there done that on the mental health merry-go-round personally and even picked up my own psychology degree from a Cornflakes box along the way I gained new insights, knowledge and understanding while reading this book. I often find books explaining mental health to be quite dry and one of my main whinges at university was the uncanny ability of some authors to transform fascinating topics into insomnia cures. I enjoyed reading this book so much though that I wanted to start reading it again as soon as I finished it, partly because I like ‘listening’ to Natasha talk about mental health and partly because I wanted to revisit all of my aha! moments.

I particularly admired Natasha’s ability to weave her own experiences and those of people she’s met along the way with facts (including references to make people like me happy) and insights gained through her work advocating for young people. It’s a balancing act that can result in some spectacular falls when authors incorporate their personal experiences in a book about mental health. Too often I’ve read books where it becomes either a dramatic sob story that takes your attention away from the helpful information that’s hidden somewhere amongst the tissues or a holier than thou ‘I have all the answers and although I’m better than you, I will impart some of my wisdom to you. Wow, don’t you resemble an ant as I look down my nose at you from the heights of my ivory tower’ attitude. Natasha did not fall off the tightrope once.

She was able to give enough information to let you know that she gets it, show empathy so you know that not only does she get it but she also gives a damn and does this amazing thing where she can talk to you about topics that are beyond difficult to live with but she leaves you with a feeling of hope. She speaks to, not at or down to, the reader and while she is direct and leaves no room for questions marks over her point of view (I intend those as compliments, not criticisms), she’s also sensitive, empathetic and funny. She comes across as someone that I would have been able to confide in as a young person and as an old(er) person I feel like she’s someone I’d want to chat with over a cuppa.

Oh, and before you get your politically correct knickers in a twist about the book’s title you should probably know that Natasha does explain the ‘mental’ thing but better than I could so here it is in her words …

“The most important thing to acknowledge before we begin is this: I am mental. I am mental according to the most common understanding of the term, in that I have a mental illness. I am also mental in the sense that I am an intellectual and emotional being, in possession of a brain. To have a mind is to be ‘mental’. And that, reader, means that you are mental, too.”

You should probably also know that the subjects aren’t always found under the letter of the alphabet that you’d expect. For example, self-harm lives in the J chapter, as in Just Attention Seeking, but trust me, your pitchforks are not required. This makes complete sense when you read the chapter. Take it from someone who has self-harmed; if pitchforks were required here I’d be handing them out personally but Natasha deals with this topic with the same amount of sensitivity, insight and wisdom as she does with the rest of the alphabet.

I want to ask where Natasha was when I was in high school, knowing I would have benefited greatly from anything she had to say but as I’m close to her in age and across the world that’s kind of a moot point. However I am greatly encouraged that there are Natashas in the world speaking to, and on behalf of, young people about mental health.

I do have a few comments about my personal experience in Australia versus what’s described in this book about the UK. I was gobsmacked that patients only get an average of 6 minutes for a GP appointment. It made me feel so lucky that my GP has 15 minute appointments as standard and 30 minute ones available if you have a list of a bazillion things to discuss or one tricky topic. I also feel even more appreciative that I have two of the most wonderful GP’s on the planet who understand mental health conditions and who consistently go way above and beyond when it comes to looking out for my best interests.

I was absolutely appalled to read about the usual waiting times for people in the UK to be able to access mental health services. Again, my appreciation level for my equally above and beyond awesome psychologist who I may sometimes refer to as Sunshine [insert their first name here] has skyrocketed, even though I didn’t think that was possible.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t as much a traditional book review as it is me telling you the feeling I get from the author but I wonder in this instance if that’s just as important. You can say all of the right things but no one is going to want to listen to you if you’re obnoxious or you have the facts right but can’t back it up with experience or at least some compassion.

What was refreshing in Natasha’s approach was her humour. I find, probably like most people, that a good dose of humour can make even the most difficult topics easier to deal with and this book was no exception. I particularly loved the cute little illustrations by Ruby Elliott that accompanied some of the chapters and only wish there were more of them.

I am struggling to tell you who I’d recommend this book for because ‘everyone’ seems like a cop out so I’ll just tell you some groups of people that came to mind as I was reading: young people, parents, teachers, anyone with a mental illness, anyone supporting anyone with a mental illness, anyone who works in a professional capacity with young people and/or those with mental illnesses, anyone who wants to be a better friend, government and/or political types who make decisions about how money for mental health is allocated, anyone who has influence in any form of media, and anyone who wants to be a better person in general. So, yeah, everyone!

While the chapters can be read in any order I’d highly recommend you read it straight through first. I highlighted so many passages but I am having trouble picking out a favourite because they’re all so damn good. Instead I’ll tell you my favourite word of the book: cheesed-off-ness. I came across it a week ago and it is still making me smile each time I think of it. I’m also quite partial to any book that includes any of the following: shysters, wodge, almighty s**t-show, f**kwittery, bogus, skew-whiff, raison d’être.

Content warnings include mental health (duh!), self-harm, suicide, addiction and grief.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to discover this awesomeness. Natasha is definitely one of the good boxes. I know I’m going to get more out of it when the inevitable reread happens. I’m going to be recommending this book to my doctors and psychologist, along with random people who cross my path. I leave this book (temporarily – I know I’ll be back soon!) wanting to be a better person, advocate, listener and support person, and feeling hopeful and inspired.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘Am I normal?’

‘What’s an anxiety disorder?’

‘Does therapy work?’

These are just a few of the questions Natasha Devon is asked as she travels the UK campaigning for better mental health awareness and provision. Here, Natasha calls upon experts in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and anthropology to debunk and demystify the full spectrum of mental health. From A (Anxiety) to Z (Zero F**ks Given – or the art of having high self-esteem) via everything from body image and gender to differentiating ‘sadness’ from ‘depression’.

Statistically, one in three of us will experience symptoms of a mental illness during our lifetimes. Yet all of us have a brain, and so we ALL have mental health – regardless of age, sexuality, race or background. The past few years have seen an explosion in awareness, yet it seems there is still widespread confusion. A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental is for anyone who wants to have this essential conversation, written as only Natasha – with her combination of expertise, personal experience and humour – knows how.